House Republican intel panel members seek major probe of COVID-19 origins

House Republican intel panel members seek major probe of COVID-19 origins

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Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

House Republicans on the intelligence oversight panel are pressing President Biden to launch a major probe into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on intelligence, noted that GOP members of the panel are conducting their own inquiry into the virus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

“We write to request that you initiate a whole-of-government effort to identify the origins of the virus and to direct federal agencies and departments to examine all plausible scenarios as part of such investigation,” Mr. Nunes wrote in a letter to the president on May 16.

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The committee is pursuing the matter in studying “Chinese threats to U.S. economic and national security,” Mr. Nunes said. 

The Republican probe uncovered “substantial circumstantial evidence” a laboratory accident in China caused the outbreak — a theory rejected by a joint World Health Organization-Chinese government inquiry earlier this year. The WHO-China final report said no further investigation into the laboratory origin should be carried out unless new information surfaces.

Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, have shown no interest in conducting an inquiry into the virus origin, a congressional aide said.

China’s government has denied the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the central focus of American intelligence agencies investigating the virus’ origin. The WHO probe said the jump from an unknown animal host to humans is still the most likely source of the global pandemic.

Recent congressional testimony by intelligence officials triggered a public debate on the laboratory leak theory that for more than a year was dismissed by many scientists and several news outlets, including The Washington Post and USA Today, as a fringe conspiracy theory.

Former New York Times science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. disclosed on Monday that editors at the newspaper spiked a 4,000-word report on the laboratory leak theory in the spring of 2020 because it ran counter to the narrative at the time that a lab leak was impossible.

Last week, 18 biologists including several leading experts on the virus published a letter in the journal Science calling for a new investigation and demanding that China release the information its laboratories have on the matter.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress last month that U.S. intelligence analysts assess that a laboratory leak and animal-to-human transmission are the two most plausible sources for the coronavirus. China so far has refused to open its records to international virus investigators regarding work conducted on viruses at the WIV.

The Trump administration in January said the Wuhan lab is suspected as a source for the pandemic because workers there became sickened with COVID-like sickness in the autumn of 2019. The lab also worked on a bat coronavirus that is 96% similar to the COVID-19 virus. WIV also worked on secret experiments for the Chinese military, the State Department said at the time.

“It is critical that this possibility be thoroughly examined, particularly in light of the Chinese government’s obstruction of multilateral bio-forensic investigations and its destruction of important evidence,” Mr. Nunes said. Citing Ms. Haines’ testimony, he added, “It is unclear, however, if the intelligence community or any other part of the U.S. government is seeking to determine the truth.”

The House Republicans noted the comments of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said learning the origin of the virus is important to prevent future pandemics and create a stronger health security system.

Mr. Nunes also said the U.S. government funds have supported, directly or indirectly, dangerous dual-use scientific research at the WIV. 

“Our findings, though incomplete, suggest the United States supported such work despite clear evidence of the People’s Liberation Army’s involvement at the WIV,” he said.

“It is essential that your administration examine this matter and ensure that appropriate threat assessments are conducted anytime the U.S. government considers collaborating with a foreign adversary on future dual-use research,” Mr. Nunes said, adding that the president should launch an inquiry into government funding of dangerous foreign research. “My Republican colleagues and I hope you will agree that getting to the truth is of critical importance.”

A White House spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment on whether the White House will support a major virus origin investigation.

Iran’s FM Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with pope about Israeli-Palestinian violence: Report

Iran’s FM Zarif meets with pope about Israeli-Palestinian violence: Report

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In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a conference in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File) more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought to win Pope Francis’ support for Tehran’s perspective on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence during a private meeting between the two at the Vatican on Monday.

Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, an official outlet of the government in Tehran that critics describe as a propaganda website, reported that Mr. Zarif used the meeting to tell the pope that “Palestinians are in a deplorable situation.”

It was not immediately clear how the presentation was received. Vatican News, an official website of the Vatican, carried no mention of the Iranian foreign minister’s visit on its English-language version Monday.

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U.S. officials blame Iran for backing Hamas and other Palestinian groups launching rockets into Israel, while Tehran accuses Israeli forces of deliberately pounding Palestinian civilian targets in Gaza.

Francis has been outspoken in a geopolitically neutral fashion toward the Israeli-Palestinian violence over the past week. On Sunday, the pope called for an end to fighting in Israel and Gaza and stressed that the death of innocent people, particularly children, is “terrible” and “unacceptable.”

“I appeal for calm, and for those responsible to end the clamor of weapons and to take the path of peace,” he said in a weekly address to faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, according to Reuters.

“Many innocent people have died, amongst them there are also children. This is terrible. Unacceptable,” the pope said. “Their death is a sign that [people] don’t want to build a future, but destroy it. … I wonder where hatred and revenge will lead?”

The Islamic Republic News Agency, meanwhile, reported that in addition to talking to Francis about Palestinians, Mr. Zarif used his visit to the Vatican to note that “sanctions have “had a terrible impact on the Lebanese people.” The news agency went on to assert that “the Catholic Church is sensitive to the situation in Lebanon.”

The United States has long accused Iran of being a state sponsor of terrorism and of backing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement, which the U.S. State Department has designated as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” or FTO, since 1997.

Last week, the Biden administration announced sanctions against seven Lebanese nationals over what the U.S. Treasury Department described as links to Hezbollah and its financial operation known as “Al-Qard al-Hassan.”

A Treasury Department press release said the seven have been listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), and Al-Qard al-Hassan, which was previously designated for sanctions by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) back in 2007, is presently used by Hezbollah “as a cover to manage the terrorist group’s financial activities and gain access to the international financial system.”

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals named above, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC,” the press release said.

Hezbollah’s activities in Lebanon are multifaceted and complex. In addition to militancy, the group has emerged as a major factor on the Lebanese political landscape in recent years, creating headaches for Washington, which has used sanctions to try and derail the group’s influence.

In September, the Treasury Department sanctioned two former Lebanese Cabinet ministers whom U.S. officials described as being allied with Hezbollah in what The Associated Press characterized as a “rare move” by Washington against politicians close to Hezbollah, despite the fact that the group has been listed by the State Department as an FTO for more than two decades.

The sanctions appeared to be designed to send a message to politicians in Lebanon and to Hezbollah and its allies who control majority seats in parliament in the Mideast country, which is experiencing its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, that Washington will not tolerate a Hezbollah takeover of the Lebanese government.

Joe Biden pledges 20M doses of U.S.-approved coronavirus vaccines to the world

Biden pledges 20M doses of U.S.-approved vaccines to the world

Brings total to 80M, with 60M AstraZeneca doses set for export

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President Joe Biden speaks about distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

President Biden said Monday the U.S. will share 20 million doses of its approved COVID-19 vaccines with the rest of the world after it receives June deliveries from a trio of drugmakers and ensures that no American is still waiting for the shots.

It is the first time Mr. Biden pledged vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to other parts of the world.

The development brings the total amount of COVID-19 doses pledged for export to 80 million.

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Previously, the U.S. said it would share 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries once they pass checks by the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine is being used elsewhere but hasn’t been approved in the U.S.

“This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date. Five times than any other country, more than Russia and China, which have donated 15 million doses,” Mr. Biden said of the new total.

Speaking from the White House East Room, Mr. Biden said the U.S. will work with COVAX, a large vaccine-sharing alliance, and characterized America as the “arsenal of vaccines” as experts say he needs to do more to counter vaccine-diplomacy by rival superpowers.

Scientists have pressed the Biden administration to share more of its vaccine largesse with the rest of the world, or at least form a more comprehensive plan, as poorer nations struggle to get their rollouts off the ground.

They’ll have to wait until at least next month under the steps outlined by Mr. Biden on Monday. He said he will huddle with leaders on additional virus-fighting efforts at the Group of 7 nations summit from June 11 to June 13 in the United Kingdom.

Aggressive variants, in particular, pose a threat as the virus pings around the world and evolves in hard-hit places such as India.

“We know America will never be fully safe unless the pandemic that’s raging globally is fully under control,” Mr. Biden said.

Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy group, said the commitment was “akin to tossing a bucket of water at a raging inferno.”

“If India were to receive all 20 million doses, it would vaccinate less than 1% of its population, beyond what it has already,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program. “Communities around the world have no idea when, or if, the vaccine they desperately need to protect their people from death and further suffering from the coronavirus will arrive. Dose donations are welcome, but they are no substitute for a plan of scale and ambition to end the pandemic.”

At home, Mr. Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, the date he circled as an entry point to normalcy. He expects data to show the country has reached 60% of adults by Tuesday.

Mr. Biden also said COVID-19 cases are trending down in all 50 states alongside the rollout.

He said there may be flare-ups from the virus but he believes an increase in vaccinations will keep the progress going.

“States with low vaccination rates may see that rate go up, see this progress reversed. Ultimately those who are not vaccinated will end up paying the price,” he said. “It will be a tragedy and a needless one to see COVID cases among those who do not get vaccinated go up. We’re not done fighting this virus. We still have tens of millions left to vaccinate.”

Nearly half of the overall U.S. population — 47% — has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 37% is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna versions.

The CDC on Thursday said fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most settings, shocking state officials and business leaders who weren’t given any warning of the change and had to adjust or maintain their policies.

Mr. Biden said some people might want to keep wearing a mask and some businesses will maintain their mask policies.

“Let’s all be kind and respectful of one another,” Mr. Biden said.

Israeli strike kills Palestinian commander as cease-fire calls mount

Israeli strike kills Palestinian commander as cease-fire calls mount

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People look at a residential building after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel, Monday, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo) more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

Fresh Israeli strikes on Gaza killed a top military official Monday of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group the State Department considers an Iranian-backed terrorist group blamed for some of the thousands of rockets launched at Israeli in recent days.

The killing of Hussam Abu Harbeed, the armed commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in north Gaza, was seen as a major battlefield gain for Israel at a moment when Israeli leaders are reportedly weighing whether to pull back and embrace international calls for a cease-fire after more than a week of war.

“There is a sense Israel could seriously talk cease-fire by midweek,” one diplomatic source in the region told The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.

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But there was little sign of momentum toward a truce on Monday, despite mounting international calls for a halt to the violence. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which is aligned with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and politically controls Gaza, might be within reach.

“Egypt is going to great lengths to reach a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians — and hope still exists that a collective action could end the conflict,” Mr. el-Sissi told the Al Arabiya news outlet.

Mr. el-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah spent the weekend scrambling to erect diplomatic back channels between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But there are indications that both sides continue to seek strategic war gains.

Analysts say the Palestinians and their Iranian backers are pressing the narrative internationally that Israel is the aggressor in the latest round of violence. Israeli forces, on the other hand, are seizing the current moment to pound militant positions in Gaza in response to waves of rockets fired from there toward Israeli cities and towns.

An Egyptian diplomat said on background that the current efforts to negotiate a cease-fire are focused on two issues — an end to all attacks from both sides and halting Israeli policies in the contested city of Jerusalem that helped spark the fighting more than a week ago. These include police raids against Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned evictions of Palestinians by Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem.

The diplomat said mediators were counting on the Biden administration to put pressure on Israel to stop its offensive and there were expectations for action in the coming 48 hours.

But Washington has so far declined to publicly criticize Israel‘s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Monday that Washington will support any initiative to stop the fighting, but signaled the U.S. does not intend to put pressure on the two sides to accept a cease-fire.

“Ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire,” Mr. Blinken said.

A State Department spokesman later said Mr. Blinken spoke by phone Monday with Jordanian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi and that “both agreed on the urgency of working toward a sustainable calm.

During the call, Mr. Blinken also “reiterated that both Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety and security,” the spokesman said.

The comments came after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinian group has been contacted by the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of cease-fire efforts, but “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people.”

The commander of Iran’s elite military Quds Force, meanwhile, has promised Hamas that Iranian forces will provide strong backing for the group in the escalating clash with Israel. Brig. Gen. Esmaeil Qaani, who heads Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ overseas force, spoke by phone with Mr. Haniyeh over the weekend, praising what he called the “resistance forces’ successful confrontation with the Zionist enemy.”

The call was reported Sunday by the Iranian Tasnim news agency.

The State Department has designated both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations since 1997. The department has separately listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984, and the most recent “Country Reports on Terrorism” compiled by the department contended that Iran in 2019 “provided support to Hamas and other designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad.”

Israel‘s military unleashed a wave of heavy airstrikes on Gaza, saying it destroyed 9 miles of militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. The strikes came a day after the deadliest attack in the current round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza‘s Hamas rulers, which killed 42 people and flattened three buildings in Gaza.

Gaza‘s mayor, Yahya Sarraj, told Al-Jazeera TV that the strikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

“If the aggression continues we expect conditions to become worse,” he said.

Palestinian militants also continued their rocket attacks, launching them from residential areas in Gaza and targeting civilian population centers in Israel.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Antony Blinken signals no immediate U.S. press for Mideast cease-fire

Blinken signals no immediate U.S. press for Mideast cease-fire

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, following their meeting at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eigtveds Pakhus, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Monday, May 17, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo … more >

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By Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Lee and Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled Monday the U.S. still would not press for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza‘s Hamas rulers as fighting entered its second week, with more than 200 people dead, most of them Palestinians in Gaza.

Blinken’s stand comes despite growing pressure from the United States’ U.N. Security Council partners, some Democrats and others for President Biden’s administration and other international leaders to wade more deeply into diplomacy to end the worst Israel-Palestinian violence in years and revive long-collapsed mediation for a lasting peace there.

Speaking in Copenhagen, where Blinken is making an unrelated tour of Nordic countries this week, Blinken ticked off U.S. outreach so far to try to de-escalate hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, and said he would be making more calls Monday. 

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“In all of these engagements we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said. 

He said he welcomed efforts by the U.N. — where the United States has so far blocked a proposed Security Council statement on the fighting — and other nations working for a cease-fire.

“Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support,” he said. “And we are again willing and ready to do that. But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire.”

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes as of Monday, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Blinken also said he had asked Israel for any evidence for its claim that Hamas was operating in a Gaza office building housing The Associated Press and Al Jazeera news bureaus that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike over the weekend. But he that he personally has “not seen any information provided.” 

Blinken’s comments came after U.N. Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened emergency weekend meetings to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed, as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks Sunday in the week of fighting.

Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the Security Council on Sunday that the United States was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to stop the fighting.

But as battles between Israel and Gaza‘s militant Hamas rulers surged to their worst levels since 2014 and the international outcry grew, the Biden administration — determined to wrench U.S. foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and Afghanistan — has declined so far to criticize Israel‘s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region. Appeals by other countries showed no sign of progress.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that the return to armed conflict would only put a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict even further out of reach.

However, the United States, Israel‘s closest ally, has so far rejected moves by China, Norway and Tunisia in the Security Council for a statement by the U.N.‘s most powerful body, including a call for the cessation of hostilities.

In Israel, Hady Amr, a deputy assistant dispatched by Blinken to try to de-escalate the crisis, met with officials. Blinken himself has no announced plans to stop in the Middle East on his current trip.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, urged Biden on Sunday to step up pressure on both sides to end current fighting and revive talks to resolve Israel‘s conflicts and flashpoints with the Palestinians.

“I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence, bring about a cease-fire, end these hostilities, and get back to a process of trying to resolve this long-standing conflict,” Schiff, a California Democrat, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” 

And Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, the senior Republican on the foreign relations subcommittee for the region, joined Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the subcommittee chairman, in asking both sides to cease fire.

“As a result of Hamas‘ rocket attacks and Israel‘s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further,” the two said. 

Biden focused on civilian deaths from Hamas rockets in a call with Netanyahu on Saturday, and a White House readout of the call made no mention of the U.S. urging Israel to join in a cease-fire that regional countries were pushing. Thomas-Greenfield said U.S. diplomats were engaging with Israel, Egypt and Qatar, along with the U.N.

Netanyahu told Israelis in a televised address Sunday that Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on Hamas. That will “take time,” Netanyahu said, signaling the war would rage on for now.
Representatives of Muslim nations met Sunday to demand Israel halt attacks that are killing Palestinian civilians in the crowded Gaza strip. 

At the virtual meeting of the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the U.N. was actively engaging all parties for an immediate cease-fire.

Returning to the scenes of Palestinian militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes in the fourth such war between Israel and Hamas, “only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said.

Eight foreign ministers spoke at the Security Council session, reflecting the seriousness of the conflict, with almost all urging an end to the fighting.

___

Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City, Lee from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Lederer from New York. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed.

U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

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Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo participate in a roundtable with women-led small business owners Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

The U.S. and the European Union agreed Monday to begin talks on steel and aluminum supply in a bid to smooth over trade relations and lift tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on national security grounds.

The parties said they want to reach a solution by the end of the year that addresses World Trade Organization disputes over tit-for-tat levies and “global excess capacity” from China and elsewhere.

“The distortions that result from this excess capacity pose a serious threat to the market-oriented EU and U.S. steel and aluminum industries and the workers in those industries,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in a joint statement.

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The parties “agreed that, as the United States and E.U. Member States are allies and partners, sharing similar national security interests as democratic, market economies, they can partner to promote high standards, address shared concerns, and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account.”

Mr. Trump imposed a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum in 2018 as part of his penchant for using levies to gain an upper hand in trade relations and protect domestic workers.

The moves chagrined allies abroad and free-trade supporters at home and led to disputes before the WTO.

The EU imposed more than $7 billion in retaliatory tariffs in phases but delayed the second batch until June of this year.

Now, the EU says it will hold off completely as the talks unfold.

“In our effort to reboot transatlantic relations, EU will temporarily suspend the increase of its rebalancing measures on U.S. 232 steel & aluminum tariffs,” Mr. Dombrovkis tweeted. “This gives us space to find joint solutions to this dispute & tackle global excess capacity.”

Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline report positive trial results of COVID-19 vaccine

Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline report positive trial results of COVID-19 vaccine

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In this Nov. 30, 2020, file photo, the logo of French drugmaker Sanofi is pictured at the company’s headquarters, in Paris. Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s potential COVID-19 vaccine triggered strong immune responses in all adult age groups in preliminary trials, boosting … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

A COVID-19 vaccine from drugmakers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline produced antibody responses on par with those who experienced natural infection, the companies said in early clinical results, paving the way for a late-stage trial in the coming weeks.

The companies said the recombinant DNA vaccine exhibited no safety problems in a randomized, double-blind study involving more than 700 people ages 18 and older in the U.S. and Honduras.

Participants showed robust antibody levels after two doses, with higher levels observed in those ages 18 to 59.

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Persons who were previously infected by the coronavirus produced high levels after a single injection, giving the companies hope that their vaccine could serve as an effective booster.

The drugmakers plan to enroll more than 35,000 adults in multiple countries to test the shots against the original strain and the aggressive South Africa variant.

Several COVID-19 vaccines are circulating now, though scientists say it is good to employ multiple options to bolster supply and have a range of vaccine platforms capable of fighting the wily virus.

Sanofi’s recombinant technology inserts genetic information for the coronavirus directly into insect cells, so they can grow proteins that match features of the virus’ trademark spike and teach the body to attack it. 

GlaxoSmithKline is supplying what’s known as an adjuvant, an ingredient that boosts the immune response to the information from the protein vector.

Their platform does not require a deep-freeze cold chain like the messenger-RNA shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which consist of a snippet of genetic code that’s encapsulated in lipids and instructs the body to make impostors of the coronavirus’s spike protein, so the body knows how to fight the real thing.

“Our Phase 2 data confirm the potential of this vaccine to play a role in addressing this ongoing global public health crisis, as we know multiple vaccines will be needed, especially as variants continue to emerge and the need for effective and booster vaccines, which can be stored at normal temperatures, increases,” said Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and global head of Sanofi Pasteur.

The companies, which received U.S. government funding to support their efforts, said they will test formulations of the vaccine against specific variants to see if it could serve as an effective booster shot — regardless of the initial vaccine someone has received.

The drugmakers hope to seek regulatory approval by the final quarter of this year.

Joy for U.K. pubs and hugs tempered by rise in coronavirus variant

Joy for U.K. pubs and hugs tempered by rise in coronavirus variant

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Libby Jones, right, with her colleague Shannon Maiden, both nurses from Great Ormond Street hospital who have just finished an overnight shift, have a pint of cider at the Shakespeare’s Head pub, which will be reopening for the first time … more >

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By Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Pubs and restaurants across much of the U.K. opened for indoor service for the first time since early January on Monday, even as the prime minister urged people to be cautious amid the spread of a more contagious COVID-19 variant.

The latest step in the gradual easing of nationwide restrictions imposed on Jan. 4 also includes the reopening of theaters, sports venues and museums, raising hopes that the economy may soon start to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. The government is also relaxing guidance on close personal contact, such as hugging, and permitting international travel, though only 12 countries and territories are on the list of “safe” destinations.

But the rapid spread of a variant first discovered in India is tempering the optimism for pubs and hugs amid memories of how another variant swept across the country in December, triggering England’s third national lockdown. Public health officials and the government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing and hygiene guidance, even though they say the situation is different now because almost 70% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

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“Please, be cautious about the risks to your loved ones,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter. “Remember that close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease, so you should think about the risks.”

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different reopening paths.

Monday’s reopening allows people to go out for a drink or a meal without shivering in outdoor beer gardens or huddling around sidewalk tables, as only outdoor service was permitted after the rules were initially eased last month. The next phase in Britain’s reopening is scheduled for June 21, when all of the remaining restrictions are set to be removed. Johnson has said a big surge in COVID-19 cases could scuttle those plans.

Both confirmed new cases and coronavirus-related deaths have risen over the past week, though they remain well below the peak reported in late December and early January.

New infections averaged about 2,300 per day over the past seven days compared with nearly 70,000 a day during the winter peak, according to government statistics. Deaths averaged just over 10 a day during the same period, down from a peak of 1,820 on Jan. 20.

Britain has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest figure in Europe. 
Despite concern about the new variant, people are venturing out. Some pubs opened at midnight, ready to scoop up any trade.

Ian Snowball, owner of the Showtime Bar in Huddersfield, northern England, said it was nice to be inside again, rather than facing the island nation’s unpredictable weather.

“I don’t have to have a hoodie or a coat on any more — it’s great,” he said. “And hopefully we don’t have to go back outside again, hopefully this is the end of it now.” 

Other Britons couldn’t wait to leave altogether. Holidaymakers got up early to check in for the first flights to green list destinations such as Portugal. 

Keith and Janice Tomsett, a retired couple in their 70s, were on their way to the Portuguese island of Madeira. They booked their holiday in October “on the offchance” it could go ahead. They had followed all the testing guidelines and were fully vaccinated.

“After 15 months of being locked up this is unbelievably good,” Keith Tomsett said. “It was even worth getting up at 3 o’clock this morning.”

Dogged by Mideast crisis, U.S. envoy Blinken visits Denmark

Dogged by Mideast crisis, U.S. envoy Blinken visits Denmark

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, waves after disembarking from his airplane upon arrival at Copenhagen Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sunday, May 16, 2021, on his first stop on a five-day European tour. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Denmark on Monday for talks on climate change, Arctic policy and Russia as calls grew for the Biden administration to take a tougher, more active stance on spiraling Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Blinken is seeing Danish leaders as well as top officials from Greenland and the Faeroe Islands in Copenhagen on Monday before he heads to Iceland for an Arctic Council meeting. That gathering will be marked by his first face-to-face talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a time of significantly heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Russia on Sunday called for an immediate ministerial-level session of the “quartet” of Mideast peacemakers to discuss the escalating Israeli-Palestinian crisis but there was no overt indication that the U.S. would agree. There was also no sign yet that Blinken was changing his travel plans, which currently have him returning to Washington from Reykjavik late Thursday after a brief stop in Greenland.

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The Mideast quartet includes envoys from the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. With Blinken and Lavrov both attending the Arctic Council meeting, Iceland could serve as a venue for the group to gather.

The U.N. Security Council held an urgent session Sunday on the Mideast at which U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the administration was working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to stop the fighting. President Joe Biden spoke with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, Blinken worked the phones with his counterparts while flying to Copenhagen on Sunday, and a senior U.S. diplomat is in Israel meeting with the parties there.

Yet calls for a greater U.S. response are growing, especially in Congress, where a large number of Biden’s Democratic allies are clamoring for more action, including a demand from the administration for a cease-fire. Biden has thus far resisted such calls, reaffirming staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip while maintaining that both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal right to peace and security.

Israel on Monday unleashed a wave of new airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, saying it had destroyed 15 kilometers (9 miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine Hamas commanders. Gaza residents described the barrage as the heaviest since the war began a week ago. At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes and over 1,200 have been wounded, while Hamas rocket attacks have killed eight people in Israel.

In Denmark, Blinken met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe. He also saw the foreign ministers of Denmark’s semi-autonomous far north territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.

Climate change is expected to dominate the discussions. The Biden administration is seeking to restore U.S. credibility with allies on the topic after four years during which the Trump administration either downplayed the threat posed by climate change or urged other nations to take advantage of the commercial possibilities resulting from a loss of sea ice and melting glaciers.

After their meeting, Blinken and Frederiksen both noted the change.

“It’s a different approach,” Frederiksen told reporters. “That means a desire for cooperation around the Arctic region, where changes are taking place.”

In a statement, the State Department said Blinken “had emphasized the importance of advancing our mutual goals of combating the climate crisis, developing green technology, and continuing common efforts with the Kingdom of Denmark on the Arctic.”

Former President Trump had also created a stir when he proposed purchasing Greenland from Denmark, an offer roundly rejected by both. Trump then canceled a scheduled state visit to Denmark in 2019, creating more ill feelings.

A senior U.S. official said Blinken hoped to get beyond any lingering doubts on Greenland by highlighting “all of the things that we’re doing with Greenland as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.”

___

Jan Olsen contributed.

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

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In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, exile Tibetans use the Olympic Rings as a prop as they hold a street protest against the holding of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Dharmsala, India. Groups alleging human-rights abuses in China … more >

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By Stephen Wade

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

Groups alleging human-rights abuses against minorities in China are calling for a full-blown boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a move likely to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors and sports federations.

A coalition representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others issued a statement Monday calling for the boycott, eschewing lesser measures that had been floated like “diplomatic boycotts” and further negotiations with the IOC or China.

“The time for talking with the IOC is over,” Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. “This cannot be games as usual or business as usual; not for the IOC and not for the international community.”

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The Beijing Games are set to open on Feb. 4, 2022, just six months after the postponed Summer Olympics in Tokyo are to end.

Rights groups have met several times in the last year with the IOC, asking that the games be removed from China. A key member in those talks was Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress.

Tethong, herself, was detained and deported from China in 2007 – a year before the Beijing Summer Olympics – for leading a campaign for Tibet.

“The situation where we are now is demonstrably worse that it was then,” Tethong said, pointing out that the IOC said the 2008 Olympics would improve human rights in China. “If the games go ahead, then Beijing gets the international seal of approval for what they are doing.”

The push for a boycott comes a day before a joint hearing in the U.S. Congress focusing on the Beijing Olympics and China‘s human-rights record, and just days after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said boycotts are ineffective and only hurt athletes.

“People have worked to engage with the IOC in good faith to have them understand the issues directly from the mouths of those most impacted – the Uyghurs at the top of that list and the Tibetans and others,” Tethong said. “It’s clear the IOC is completely uninterested in what the real impacts on the ground for people are.”

The IOC has repeatedly said it must be “neutral” and stay out of politics. The Switzerland-based body is essentially a sports business, deriving about 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and 18% more from sponsors. It also has observer status at the United Nations.

“We are not a super-world government,” IOC President Thomas Bach said recently.

China‘s foreign ministry has criticized “the politicization of sports” and has said any boycott is “doomed to failure.” China has denied accusations of genocide against the Uyghur people.

A recent U.S. State Department report stated explicitly that “genocide and crimes against humanity” have taken place in the past year against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

Tethong said she knows some athletes may be opposed. But she said others, who gained traction from Black Lives Matter movement, may become allies. She acknowledged this as a “gloves-off” moment.

“There are obviously a lot of people who are concerned about the athletes and their lifelong work,” Tethong said. “But in the end it’s the IOC that has put them in this position and should be held accountable.”

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, spelled out the dilemma for athletes in a recent interview on CNN.

“You certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights like morality versus being able to do your job,” she said.

Tethong suggested coalition members might lobby the IOC‘s top 15 sponsors, American network NBC, which generates about 40% of all IOC revenue, sports federations, civil society groups “and anyone that will listen.”

Activists have already singled out IOC sponsor Airbnb for attention.

“First is the moral question,” Tethong said. “Is it OK to host an international goodwill sporting event such as the Olympic Games while the host nation is committing genocide just beyond the stands?”

In meetings with the IOC, activists say they have asked to see documents in which China has given “assurances” about human rights conditions. Activists say the IOC has not produced the documents.

The IOC included human rights requirements several years ago in the host city contract for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it did not include those guidelines – the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – for Beijing. Paris is the first Olympics to contain the standards, long pushed for by human rights groups.

Last week, human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts.

At the meeting, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, Barbara Woodward, called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

“The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups,” Woodward said. “Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”

Israel says Gaza tunnels destroyed in heavy airstrikes

Israel says Gaza tunnels destroyed in heavy airstrikes

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An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in the Gaza Strip, at the Israeli-Gaza border, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine) more >

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By Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military unleashed a wave of heavy airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Monday, saying it destroyed 15 kilometers (nine miles) of militant tunnels and the homes of nine alleged Hamas commanders.

Residents of Gaza awakened by the overnight barrage described it as the heaviest since the war began a week ago, and even more powerful than a wave of airstrikes in Gaza City the day before that left 42 dead and flattened three buildings.

There was no immediate word on the casualties from the latest strikes. A three-story building in Gaza City was heavily damaged, but residents said the military warned them 10 minutes before the strike and everyone cleared out. They said many of the airstrikes hit nearby farmland.

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Gaza’s mayor Yahya Sarraj told Al-Jazeera TV that the airstrikes had caused extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure. “If the aggression continues we expect conditions to become worse,” he said.

He also warned that the territory was running low on fuel and other spare parts. The U.N. has warned that Gaza‘s sole power station is at risk of running out of fuel. The territory already experiences daily power outages of 8-12 hours and tap water is undrinkable.

The war broke out last Monday, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the Holy City between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint holy site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

Since then, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says are targeting Hamas‘ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,100 rockets into Israel.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war,” he added, referring to the most destructive of the four wars fought between Israel and Hamas.

The military said it struck nine houses in different parts of northern Gaza that belonged to “high ranking commanders” in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the territory since seizing power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

In recent days, Israel has targeted the homes of a number of senior Hamas leaders, including Yehiyeh Sinwar, the top leader inside Gaza. The group’s leadership goes underground when the fighting begins and it’s unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is much higher and has released the names of and photos of more than two dozen militant commanders it says were “eliminated.”

The military said it struck 35 “terror targets” as well as the tunnels, which it says are part of an elaborate system it refers to as the “Metro,” used by fighters to elude aircraft. The military says 54 aircraft took part in the operation.

In a televised address Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time.“ Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group.

Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, has called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP office on Saturday. The Israeli military alerted staff and residents before the strike and all were able to evacuate the building safely.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.

The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. The news agency’s cameras, operating from its top floor office and roof terrace, offered 24-hour live shots as militant rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt released a statement after Saturday’s attack saying he was “shocked and horrified” that Israel targeted the building. He said the AP had “no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”

“This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.

Afghans who helped the U.S. now fear being left behind

Afghans who helped the U.S. now fear being left behind

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In this Friday, April 30, 2021, photo former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) more >

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By Rahim Faiez and Ben Fox

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — He served as an interpreter alongside U.S. soldiers on hundreds of patrols and dozens of firefights in eastern Afghanistan, earning a glowing letter of recommendation from an American platoon commander and a medal of commendation.

Still, Ayazudin Hilal was turned down when he applied for one of the scarce special visas that would allow him to relocate to the U.S. with his family. Now, as American and NATO forces prepare to leave the country, he and thousands of others who aided the war effort fear they will be left stranded, facing the prospect of Taliban reprisals.

“We are not safe,” the 41-year-old father of six said of Afghan civilians who worked for the U.S. or NATO. “The Taliban is calling us and telling us, ’Your stepbrother is leaving the country soon, and we will kill all of you guys.’”

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The fate of interpreters after the troop withdrawal is one of the looming uncertainties surrounding the withdrawal, including a possible resurgence of terrorist threats and a reversal of fragile gains for women if chaos, whether from competing Kabul-based warlords or the Taliban, follows the end of America’s military engagement.

Interpreters and other civilians who worked for the U.S. government or NATO can get what is known as a special immigrant visa, or SIV, under a program created in 2009 and modeled after a similar program for Iraqis.

Both SIV programs have long been dogged by complaints about a lengthy and complicated application process for security vetting that grew more cumbersome with pandemic safety measures.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last month that the U.S. is committed to helping interpreters and other Afghan civilians who aided the war effort, often at great personal risk. The Biden administration has also launched a review of the SIV programs, examining the delays and the ability of applicants to challenge a rejection. It will also be adding anti-fraud measures.

Amid the review, former interpreters, who typically seek to shield their identities and keep a low profile, are becoming increasingly public about what they fear will happen should the Taliban return to power.

“They absolutely are going to kill us,” Mohammad Shoaib Walizada, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, said in an interview after joining others in a protest in Kabul.

At least 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016, and the Taliban have made it clear they will continue to be targeted, said Matt Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, an organization that advocates on their behalf. He also served in the country as an Army officer.

“The Taliban considers them to be literally enemies of Islam,” said Zeller, now a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. “There’s no mercy for them.”

Members of Congress and former service members have also urged the U.S. government to expedite the application process, which now typically takes more than three years. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said May 10 that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had temporarily increased staff to help process the visas.

In December, Congress added 4,000 visas, bringing the total number of Afghans who can come with their immediate family members to 26,500, with about half the allotted amount already used and about 18,000 applications pending.

Critics and refugee advocates said the need to relocate could swell dramatically if Afghanistan tumbles further into disarray. As it is, competing warlords financed and empowered by U.S. and NATO forces threaten the future along with a resurgent Taliban, which have been able to make substantive territorial gains against a poorly trained and poorly equipped Afghan security force largely financed by U.S. taxpayers.

“While I applaud the Biden administration’s review of the process, if they are not willing to sort of rethink the entire thing, they are not going to actually start helping those Afghans who are most at need,” said Noah Coburn, a political anthropologist whose research focuses on Afghanistan.

Coburn estimates there could be as many as 300,000 Afghan civilians who worked for the U.S. or NATO in some form over the past two decades.

“There is a wide range of Afghans who would not be tolerated under the Taliban’s conception of what society should look like,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Those fears have been heightened by recent targeted killings of journalists and other civilians as well as government workers. The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for several, while the Taliban and government blame each other.

Biden raised the nation’s overall cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this month, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in replacing the record low ceiling set by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The U.S. is not planning to move civilians out en masse, for now at least. “We are processing SIVs in Kabul and have no plans for evacuations at this time,” a senior administration official said.

The White House is in the beginning stages of discussing its review with Congress and will work with lawmakers if changes in the SIV program are needed “in order to process applications as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also ensuring the integrity of the program and safeguarding national security,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Former interpreters have support in Congress, in part because many also have former American troops vouching for them.

Walizada, for example, submitted a letter of support from an Army sergeant who supervised him in dozens of patrols, including one where the interpreter was wounded by Taliban gunfire. “I cannot recall a linguist who had a greater dedication to his country or the coalition cause,” the sergeant wrote.

Walizada was initially approved for a visa, but it was later revoked, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services telling him that it had “adverse information you may be unaware of,” in a letter he provided to The Associated Press. Walizada said he has appealed the decision and hasn’t received a response.

Hilal, who translated from Dari and Pashto to English for the Army from June 2009 to December 2012, was rejected by the U.S. Embassy, which said he did not meet the requirement for “faithful and valuable service,” because he was fired by the contracting firm that hired him after 3 1/2 years of service.

It was a stinging response, considering the dangers he faced. “If I haven’t done faithful and good service for the U.S. Army, why have they given me this medal?” he says, holding the commendation, in an AP interview at an office in Kabul used by the former interpreters to meet with journalists.

Why he was fired by the U.S.-based contractor, Mission Essential, is unclear. Hilal said he had a conflict with supervisors that started with a dispute over a work assignment. The company says it does not discuss current or former employees and declined to comment.

But whatever happened eventually, a November 2019 letter of support from his platoon commander was highly complimentary of “stellar” service that “rivals that of most deployed service members.”

Hilal was by his side on hundreds of patrols and dozens of firefights, monitoring enemy radio traffic and interpreting during encounters with locals, Army Maj. Thomas Goodman said in the letter.

“He was dependable and performed admirably,” Goodman wrote. “Even in firefights that lasted hours on end, he never lost his nerve, and I could always count him to be by my side.”

As it happens, an AP journalist was embedded with the unit for a time, amid intense fighting in eastern Afghanistan, and captured images of Hilal and Goodman, surrounded by villagers as American forces competed with the Taliban for the support of the people.

Goodman said he stands by his recommendation but declined to comment further.

Coburn, who interviewed more than 150 special immigrant visa recipients and applicants for a recently released study of the program, said Hilal‘s denial reflects a rigid evaluation process. “There is no nuance to the definition of service,” he said. “You either served or you didn’t serve.”

The special immigration visa program allows applicants to make one appeal, and many are successful. Nearly 80% of 243 Afghans who appealed in the first quarter of 2021 were subsequently approved after providing additional information, according to the State Department. Hilal says his appeal was rejected.

Bates, of the International Refugee Assistance Project, says the fact that there is a U.S. Army officer willing to support should count for something. “Even if he doesn’t qualify for the SIV program, this plainly seems like someone who is in need of protection,” he said.

___

Fox reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Watson in San Diego and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Next Digital trading halted after Jimmy Lai’s assets frozen

Next Digital trading halted after Jimmy Lai’s assets frozen

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In this Feb. 1, 2021, file photo, democracy advocate Jimmy Lai leaves Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal where the government is arguing against allowing him bail in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong stock exchange on Monday, May 17, 2021, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Sunday, May 16, 2021

HONG KONG (AP) — The Hong Kong stock exchange halted trading of Next Digital shares Monday at the media company’s request after authorities froze assets belonging to its founder Jimmy Lai, who has been a high-profile voice in the territory’s pro-democracy movement.

Later in the day, the media tycoon and nine other pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly in 2019. Lai is already serving a 14-month sentence for his role in two other unauthorized assemblies during a period when Hong Kong residents were involved in mass anti-government protests.

Next Digital said in a filing that it requested the trading halt after authorities announced the freeze on Lai’s assets Friday under a national security law that critics say is meant to snuff out dissent in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. Next Digital publishes pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, and the company was founded by Lai, who owns a 71% stake and is its controlling shareholder.

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The freezing of Lai’s assets raises questions about Next Digital‘s survival as a company. Advertisers have become wary of Apple Daily’s staunch, pro-democratic stance in Hong Kong, adversely impacting its revenue as authorities crack down on dissenting voices in the city at the urging of leaders in Beijing.

Last week, the Taiwan Apple Daily newspaper said it would stop publishing a print edition. The paper said it had been losing money, and Next Digital could no longer support it because “pro-China forces” had blocked access to advertising for its flagship Apple Daily newspaper and other publications in Hong Kong.

Lai and the nine others who pleaded guilty over an October 2019 demonstration, can make mitigation pleas on May 24 and the sentences will be handed down on May 28. They face up to five years imprisonment.

The mass protests started over a proposed extradition bill that many saw as an infringement on the freedoms Hong Kong was promised when it was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997 and then evolved to include broader demands for democracy. After months of protests and sometimes violent clashes between security forces and protesters, Beijing began tightening its control over the territory.

Last year, it imposed a new national security law on the city that is widely seen as giving authorities a way to crack down on dissent that was previous legal. The law broadly criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, and police have arrested more than a hundred people under the legislation. 

Lai is under investigation by the national security department for allegedly colluding with foreign powers and endangering national security. 

His assets were frozen under the national security law, which states that if there are reasonable grounds to believe that property is related to a national security offense, then “relevant persons and organizations must not, directly or indirectly, deal with certain property which is reasonably suspected to be related to offences endangering national security,” the government said in a statement Friday.

In recent months, Hong Kong police have arrested most of the city’s pro-democracy activists, and have put prominent activists such as Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow behind bars. Most of the pro-democracy activists arrested are still in police custody.

Babyland – 01 Lyrics

The engine speaks and I'm wide awake
Somewhere past the signal of an ending I still remain
Dropped down, let go, right next to an emptiness
Held back, repressed, because of a bitterness
Crossed out, remote, despite what the public says
That's not what they meant

Give me something to do
Besides sitting all alone and wishing I was someone else
I can't dream for myself
I'm wide awake in a constant

Install self neglect

From a signal and a weakened reception
The engine continues to sputter along
Ignoring all content
Extending the wreckage that still remains

Spilled out, undone, all over the passage way
Profane, excess, grabbing for another frame
The one piece I got I can't seem to give away
Don't we get one more take?

Why do we always want so deeply
The things we can't achieve?
I had a vacancy I hoped this would fill…

Blue October – Drop Lyrics

I touch the tongue to see
A devil’s face in front of me
You blow your nose and cry
The clown demands a sad good-bye
A sad good-bye.

Black below the tree
White horses dead in front of me
A scar below the cheek
There’s a sweaty man in a bloody sink.
[Chorus]
It’s just a trip not a way to ease your pain
Self help…Tell another shrink the same thing
Stay cool, everything is going to be okay

Until you decide to drop again
Until you decide to drop again

A blue jean girl to be
Sweaty man is behind the trees

The flip side of sanity is the game
Fourteen million miles away from sane
A dark man in the restroom window pane
Whose words just pour out human pain.
[Repeat Chorus]

Now I’m so high, so high.

Ringo Starr – Not Enough Love in the World

Every day
The news always sounds the same
You seem so far away
We’re breaking in two
Every night
I pray for some kind of sign
‘Til we figured it out in time
The time’s coming soon

[Chorus:]
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough lovе in the world
There’s not еnough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope in the world

Stuck in time
I still can’t see how and why
Is everyone telling lies?
I hope that ain’t true
Don’t give up
Don’t let it close your heart
There’s always a chance to start
With something new

[Chorus:]
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope in the world

I’ve lived that pretty crazy life
And now I have to stay inside, oh my

[Chorus:]
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope in the world

There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough love in the world
There’s not enough peace, there’s not enough hope in the world

Eredaze – Life Game

It feels like a flocking game
Life game
We get stuck in my maze
In my maze
Wear my insecurities lay much in stake
Ready to fight
Oh, happiness away
We say ain’t nobody getting past these gates

But I’m a [?] stuck in this maze for life, no way
I wanna get back to life
Live life for real
This isn’t a game
This isn’t a drill
You’re not meant to count every mistake
No, count every mistake

Cause if you never met there that you’re ever trying
I don’t think you’re dead
Cause you won’t win
Not without ever it take

It feels like a flocking game
Life game
We get stuck in my maze
In my maze
Wear my insecurities lay much in stake
Ready to fight
Oh, happiness away
We say ain’t nobody getting past these gates

Babyland – Youth Choker Lyrics

Here’s something for the youth to choke on

So why don’t you fight against what you hate
And create something new you can call your own
Why don’t you turn to yourself?
Reject the marketing scheme
Give a voice to your raw honesty. Scream your beliefs

Because if you don’t your choices are bought and sold
Didn’t you know your demographic is powerful?
They reap financial reward by ripping you off
And feeding you shit. They thrive on asset

It’s something for the youth to spit on

So take your stupid ideas. Take what you actually feel
Don’t package it up. Let your instinct expand and ignite you
Plot out a counter attack
On the offense you can steal it all back
Don’t fund the deceit
It’s something for the youth to spit on

So why don’t you fight against what you hate
And create something new you can respect
Before you choke…

Babyland – Safe Equals No Sound Lyrics

Are you frightened by the sight of change?
You do the same things again and again
Repetition has swallowed your drive
How can you take something you hate and justify
Living it everyday over and over?
Selling out your life as some kind of martyr
Have you given all your hope a fair chance?
A life by default. A shift to the silent

The safest side's been calling your name
It wants to kill all resistance to same
Downsize your dreams and keep you back in yesterday
The biggest lies we say to ourselves like
"Why go through all of the trouble and try

When the easiest way is to hide and keep quiet."

Why are you afraid of the noises you make?
Did all your progress run away with your needs?
You couldn't wait when results were delayed
You had to act now. You had to betray it
The one thing inside that kept you alive
The one thing inside you could not deny
Is lying in the filth on the ground
Is this your success? Safe equals no sound

I want to hear you make your noise
I won't settle down
Safe equals no sound

Babyland – Wrong Nominee Lyrics

Opinion stumbles along
I look up from a role I can't seem to handle
The angle of being wrong
Straight out of the gate I'm stuck with conviction

The latest returns
The rating reduction
Interest is waning
Removed from the job
I was given by chance
Completely unwilling

A blanket statement for all
Am I really so close to say I'm involved?
The dirty search for a pawn
Caught me by chance completely unwilling

If you're so impressed
Then why hasn't anything
Actually happened yet?
We live what you're lying about
So take what you chose
And leave us alone

I never thought that I should be
Anything you had in store for me
Tell the committee, please
They got the wrong nominee
I never thought that I should be
Anything but what's inside of me
Tell the committee, please
They got the wrong nominee

Babyland – Hillhurst Lyrics

I don't need anyone cause I've got my stupid stuff
But maybe I think too much about street signs and parking lots
I never read the words. I just look for the shape
I got no attention span. Thrown off by shiny things

Same routes and restaurants, I got a place of my own
I try to hide away but the traffic runs by day and night

I found myself wondering
Do I really want the part?

I'm ashamed to admit it
I've lost my bearings. Won't you help me?

I couldn't see it, or I didn't notice a changing line-up comes

The big productions. Elaborate costumes. Somehow they sink in
But I found myself wondering. Do I really want the part?
Do I really need to show them all?
Do I relaly want it, what they got?
Do I really need to prove I can?
Do I really want to carry on?

I don't need anyone cause I'm sure I got enough
And maybe I think too much about street signs and parking lots
I won't even read the words, 'cause I've seen the ugly shapes
How close is Hollywood to some place I want to die for?
I found myself wondering…

Babyland – The Issuing Line Lyrics

A schedule lies underneath
I thought we agreed not to hide
Not to deny ourselves
What stopped and came between us?
Waiting far too long for a cause
Too long for a reason
Don't make any contact
Don't display your weak and dumb insides
Decline all involvement
Your ransom, it seems, was paid at the office

Our anchors entangled
The calming detractions carry on
This fabric has funded all the ruins we live in
The ruins we've built up

Nobody cares the way you want them to
Cast off in the selfish truth

Disappointment's the basic rule
Nobody cares when you need them to

Lookout. Recognize
I've got the forecast burnt in my eyes
Don't ask. Don't even try
Just save yourself for something you can keep
No one will come through for you
I wish I still could be fooled
But with the treatment done
I think I've finally caught on
The need is never full

Nobody cares the way you want them to
Cast off in the selfish truth
Disappointment's the basic rule
Nobody cares…

Babyland – Mini Mall Lyrics

Tear down all the gas stations
Don’t you need your nails done?
Banners scream ninety nine cents
Now under new management

Visit the grand opening
Do you live in Culver City?
Watch new business fade away
We’re only building temporary

Ice cream dollar Chinese food
Dry clean liquor taxes done
Missy fashion laundromats
Checks cashed video rent Jenny Craig
All shoved in a stucko sponge

A po-mo disaster call
Building up a new eyesore
Multi-national

Mini Mall!

Tearing down the gas stations
Don’t you need to get your nails done?
Banners screaming ninety nine cents
Now under new management

Visit the grand opening
Do you live in Culver City?
Watch new business fade away
We’re only building temporary

If nothing can be permanent
Let’s tear the shit down

Moneybagg Yo – Memphganistan Lyrics (feat. Kaash Paige)

[Verse: Kaash Paige]
Action News coming to you live from Memphis
As we witnessed another double homicide
This marks a new record high compared to two years ago
Ah-ooh, ah-ooh, woah, woah
Ooh, ooh, woah, woah
Another crime-filled weekend leaves countless dead (Woah)
Many injured, and several suspects arrested
All my niggas gangstas, all my niggas gangstas, man
Can you feel the gangstas? Can you feel the gangstas, man?

A suspect fled the scene
And police found a victim on the scene in critical condition
He was transported to the hospital
Wherе he’s not expectеd to survive
Ah-ooh, ah-ooh, woah, woah
Ooh, ooh, woah, woah
All my niggas gangstas, all my niggas gangstas, man
Can you feel the gangstas? Can you feel the gangstas, man?

Babyland – Sophomore Lyrics

I wish I could spin
I wish I could turn around and see the fall
You’ve always been
You’ll always be this real to me
And I can’t understand
Why I go back and try to revive
The lonely descent
My ties to the cold. The hum of dejection
Watching the days decay

The further away I wander from fifteen
The more that I know I still need an answer
A resolution may never come
But with Dare, Movement, Hollow, Pleasures

Candy, Treasure…

I wish I could spin
I wish I could turn around and see the fall
You’ve always been
You’ll always be this real to me
And I can’t understand
Why I go back and try to revive the same
Questions again
My ties to the cold get stronger each summer
Waiting for days to grey

The further away I wander from fifteen
The more that I know I still need an answer
A resolution may never come

Summrs – Heat Of The Moment Lyrics (feat. Tyfontaine)

[Intro]
(You never forget me)
When you-when you start you know what I’m saying I don’t gotta-
Yeah, no
So don’t sit here and be like oh (You never showed up me)
“He supposed to be my baby” and this, this and that and then told you were gonna come back to me ’cause c’mon bruh, you could-you could say all the shit in the world but if you not living no life-

[Chorus: Summrs]
I just did pills with two model bitches and they thick as f*ck
You could be living yo’ best live with me, bae, let’s get rich as f*ck
Don’t try to play me like no lame, bitch, I’m up as f*ck
Had to cut off my ex bitch and I told that bitch, “Go live it up”
Pеrcocets, Xanax, molly boy we litty, litty
Told that bitch, she ain’t got anothеr nigga when I’m in the city
If we on the same page, it’s litty
I done touched a hunnid bands, I’m not kidding
What we do is not they business
Don’t stop girl, please just finish

[Verse 1: Summrs]
Yeah, don’t stop it girl keep, keep goin’
I was down bad, I kept goin’
Skin care, your face be glowin’
Got some ass on you then throw it
Got a sealed up pint then pour it
Wanna see the list out of you, bitch show it
Her and her friends be sippin’ Cîroc until they drunk as f*ck and they go both ways
I feel like I been showing you too much love and now I’m goin’ back to my old ways

[Verse 2: TyFontaine]
I’ve been showin’ too much love, you gotta go
I’ve been hiding things that you wanna know
Take it to the grave, you’ll never know
Where we keep the bodies, it will never show
Where we keep the racks, all up in the fold
Where we keep the pot of motherf*cking gold

Ooh, stay on my leprechaun
Baby I waited and waited [?]
Got a drop of the Wock’, was a drop of the Wock’
She want a nigga that stay at the top
She want a nigga that give her the drugs
It’s classified information, you don’t need to know this
We been moving A-list, you don’t even notice
I’m changing my bitch’s scene ’til she don’t even know this
I wanna cop a new Patek Philippe like I don’t even note it

[Chorus: Summrs]
I just did pills with two model bitches and they thick as f*ck (And they thick as f*ck)
You could be living yo’ best live with me, bae, let’s get rich as f*ck
Don’t try to play me like no lame, bitch, I’m up as f*ck (Up as f*ck)
Had to cut off my ex bitch and I told that bitch, “Go live it up” (Live it up)
Percs, Xans, molly, litty (Lit)
Had to tell that lil’ bitch, she a slut when I’m in the city (I’m in the city)
If we on the same page, it’s litty
Seen over a hunnid bands, I’m not kidding (No kidding)
What we do is not they business
Don’t stop girl, please just finish

[Verse 3: Summrs]
Slide on you in a GLE with the tinted windows and the red seats
You gon’ f*ck on that lil’ lame nigga then come right back to me
I went iced out my neck, my wrist, put carats in my teeth
He ain’t splurged over twenty racks at Saks, don’t compare that boy to me
Took a vibe and I got a flight and I flew the bitch overseas
In the high rise, livin’ the high life, I got too much money on me
I was sipping last night, saw the bitch in my dreams
(Saw the bitch in my dreams)

Babyland – Creeping Up Lyrics

I’m creeping up from behind
I’m closing in on mine
I’m holding out for my first
I’m living up to my word
I’m staring down at the pride
I never could seem to find
No matter how long it takes
I swear I won’t go away
I say that because
I don’t want to sit back
And leave the day to rot
Leave the days to fester
I need to keep up the pace
No matter how slow
No matter what’s at stake

There’s no reason
I can live with
To stop progression
And end my illness
I am sick inside
At least I admit this

A race continues
And I can’t ignore it
I hear the sound of
Each and every step
Breath, tick, and rest
Another hash mark
On a shrinking timeline
The computations
Spit surrender

Put one foot in front of the other…

The fading sidelines
I’m crawling straight ahead
Beyond the standstill
I know I can’t compare
But if the scale is sliding
Then the smallest grade could count
And the long shot we embrace
Just might be carried out
So I won’t stop
I’m creeping up on my time

Inspection 12 – St. Elmo’s Fire Lyrics

Growin’ up you don’t see the writing on the wall
Passin’ by, movin’ straight ahead you’d knew it all
But one day sometime when you feel the pain
You’ll find you’re all alone, everything has changed.
Play the game, you know you can’t quit until it’s won
Soldier on, only you can do what must be done
You know in some ways you’re a lot like me
You’re just a prisoner, and you’re tryin to break free
I can see the new horizon underneath the blazing sky
I’ll be where the eagles flyin higher and higher
Gonna be a man in motion, all i need’s a pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin, St. Elmo’s fire.
Burnin up, dont know just how far that I can go

Soon be home, only just a few miles down the road.
I can make it, I know I can
You broke the boy in me, but you won’t break the man.
Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is Now, I’m coming
alive –
I can hear the music playin, i can see the banners fly
Feels like you’re back again and hope riding high
Gonna be your man in motion, all i need’s a pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin St. Elmo’s fire
I can climb the highest mountain, cross the wildest sea
I can feel St. Elmo’s fire burnin in me
burnin, I can feel it burnin in me.

Babyland – The Door Northern Lyrics

It would have never been said
I was told by my head to slow down
Clean up this mess
It would still remain to be seen
If my conscience could have stopped once from bothering me
I made a clearing
Don’t make me go back
Hating what’s done I’m waiting for this new fall season
I always wished it this way
But I never thought much about it

I always wished it this way
It’s only the process that pays me
Who cares where we end up
I made the past out to be a prize
I made the past out to be what I need
What we have now is nothing
If we wait long enough
If we wait long and hard
If we wait, they say
This could be something