Lancet medical journal apologizes for referring to women as ‘bodies with vaginas’

Leading medical journal apologizes for referring to women as ‘bodies with vaginas’

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In this photo dated Saturday, July 2, 2016, participants wave flags and dance during the Gay Pride parade in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza) **FILE** more >

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By Sean Salai

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

The editor of The Lancet, a leading medical journal in Britain, has apologized for a pro-transgender cover about menstruation that referred to women as “bodies with vaginas.”

Editor-in-chief Richard Horton issued the apology this week in response to blowback from feminist and medical groups against the journal’s effort to be inclusive of biologically born men who now identify as women.

“In this instance, we have conveyed the impression that we have dehumanized and marginalized women,” Mr. Horton said in a statement. “Those who read The Lancet regularly will understand that this would never have been our intention.”

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“Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected,” the journal’s Sept. 25 issue cover proclaimed in blue ink, centering the text on a blank white background.

The line, touting an article about menstruation stigmas, drew harsh criticism.

Feminists and doctors had pointed out that the London-based journal did not likewise refer to men as “bodies with penises.”

Following the apology, they also pointed out that the journal did not remove an electronic image of the cover from its website.

“Despite the outrage at calling women ‘bodies with vaginas’ and an apology from the Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet, the front page still remains,” Jane Chalmers, a senior lecturer in pain sciences at the University of South Australia, wrote in a Sept. 25 tweet.

In her tweet, Ms. Chalmers also suggested an alternative cover tease for the issue: “Historically, we’ve focused too much on men.”

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters march in Baghdad ahead of vote

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters march in Baghdad ahead of vote

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Protesters hold posters of protesters who have been killed in anti-government demonstrations during anti-Government protest in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban) more >

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By Associated Press –

Friday, October 1, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) – Hundreds of Iraqis marched in the center of Baghdad on Friday to mark two years since mass anti-government protests erupted in the Iraqi capital and southern provinces calling for reforms.

Around 1,000 protesters took part in the event, including a significant number of women, many carrying photos of loved ones who were killed by security forces during the protests. The commemoration comes a week before Iraq plans to hold early elections, which had been a key demand of tens of thousands of protesters who thronged the streets and public squares from October 2019 until early 2020.

Demonstrators, mostly young people, had camped out in the capital’s Tahrir Square for months, decrying endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.

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The movement petered out owing to the government’s heavy-handed response and the coronavirus pandemic. Over 600 people died as security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Now, many among the protest movement are calling for a boycott of the elections scheduled for Oct. 10, convinced that nothing will change. They are protesting, in particular, a string of targeted killings against civil society groups and outspoken activists for which no one has been held accountable. The killings have created a climate of fear and widespread reluctance to take part in the voting, particularly among young Iraqis who constitute the largest group of voters in Iraq.

“I am against participating in these elections because they are meaningless. It’s the same parties in power and nothing will change,” said Walid al-Madani, a 39-year-old civil servant taking part in Friday’s protest.

Hundreds of riot police and federal policemen fanned out in Baghdad ahead of the planned march.

“We don’t want a paradise, we want a nation,” read one of the banners carried by protesters who gathered Friday at Fardous Square and marched toward Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the October 2019 protests.

Another banner read: “You will not silence the voice of Tishreen,” Arabic for October, as Iraqis refer to the protests after the month they broke out.

Military suicide rates increasing, new Pentagon survey finds

Military suicide rates increasing, new Pentagon survey finds

Austin calls 15% jump in 2020 'troubling'

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In this Jan. 1, 2020, photo, U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne board a C-17 aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed to the Middle East. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP) **FILE** more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:23 p.m. on
Thursday, September 30, 2021

Suicide rates in the U.S. military increased from 2015 to 2020 and the trend shows no signs of slowing, Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday while releasing the Department of Defense’s 2020 Annual Suicide Report.

Pentagon officials said 580 active-duty service members died at their own hands in 2020, a 15% jump over the 504 suicides recorded in the previous year. The report shows that the suicide rate for active component military members increased for five years up to that point.

“I feel these losses personally and mourn alongside the families and loved ones of those we have lost,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “Each suicide sends forth wave after wave of pain and grief. One such tragedy is too many.”

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Dr. Karin Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said military members aren’t immune from the same mental health challenges faced by the civilian community.

“Suicide remains a serious public health issue in our nation and military. Our efforts must address the many aspects of life that impact suicide,” Dr. Orvis said in a statement. “We are continuing to collaborate with federal and non-federal partners to change the conversation around mental health and suicide.”

The data in the study doesn’t indicate a COVID-19 link to the rising military suicide rate. Enlisted members and the young are considered most at risk for suicide, Pentagon officials said.

“The findings are troubling. Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high and the trends are not going in the right direction,” Mr. Austin said.

While the report covered a period before the controversial U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Austin said he realized these are “difficult days” for many people in the Pentagon workforce.

“As I have said, ‘Mental health is health — period.’ We must all do more, at every level, to end the stigma against getting help,” Mr. Austin said. “Reaching out is a sign of strength and resilience.”

Confidential support for veterans is available at websites such as militaryonesource.mil or veteranscrisisline.net.

Freshmen who graduated early gain NCAA tourney experience

Freshmen who graduated early gain NCAA tourney experience

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By JANIE McCAULEY

Associated Press

Friday, March 19, 2021

UCLA assistant coach Tasha Brown calls her “Little Intern” – and Dominique Darius doesn’t mind.

Darius realizes how much she still has to learn about college basketball when most young women her age are in their final push toward high school graduation.

Players like Darius who graduated early are not only gaining a head start and valuable experience in their college basketball careers as early enrollees, they have been counted upon to help teams across the country keep their seasons going when players are held out for COVID-19 protocols.

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Now, some will make their March Madness debuts on the big stage in the NCAA Tournament.

When Darius arrived at UCLA in late December eager to quickly rediscover her form after minimal organized basketball for nine months, Bruins coach Cori Close made one thing immediately clear: no pressure on Darius to deliver big shots right away, she just needed to absorb as much as she could.

“I’m getting in the groove of things,” said Darius, who turned 19 last weekend and enjoyed a Bel Air hike with Close. “The first day I walked in I got there early and I was just getting shots up because I hadn’t shot in like a week because I was quarantined and I was like, ‘Dang, I don’t have my shot or a feel for the game,’ but it was OK, they weren’t expecting me to.”

Darius, who attended Blair Academy boarding school in New Jersey and didn’t have a senior season because of COVID, has spent numerous hours playing catch up through film study and extra work in the gym.

At Oregon State, the Hemisfair Region eighth-seeded Beavers are getting a boost from Talia von Oelhoffen. Saylor Poffenbarger is doing the same for Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the River Walk Region and No. 2 seed overall in the tournament.

Poffenbarger is happy to have the best of two worlds: She enrolled at UConn in January but Middletown High School in Maryland will welcome her back for both prom and graduation.

“I haven’t had any regrets,” she said. “I was to the point in my small town where I was ready to move on to the next thing.”

It has helped that one of her best friends, Olivia Miles, enrolled early at Notre Dame. They talk regularly about their shared experiences.

“A lot of what we discuss is knowing our role, finding our role and fitting into a role and not having to do everything,” Poffenbarger said. “But also just talking about being in college in general. Going from literally being in high school a few months ago to, we’re in college and taking college classes.”

Early enrollees aren’t unique to the women’s game. There are a handful of midyear enrollees playing for several teams in the men’s tournament, including top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 2 seed Ohio State.

Ben Gregg, a 6-foot-10 freshman, enrolled at Gonzaga in December and has averaged 1.2 points while playing 47 minutes over 14 games. Ohio State leaned on guard Meechie Johnson Jr. for some significant minutes in January due to an injury, though he has appeared in just 17 games overall and hasn’t played more than 10 minutes in any game since.

While any minutes are valuable for these early enrollees, Darius is making the most of her time.

She gave UCLA an immediate lift as the program’s third top-30 recruit in as many years. In 14 games, she averaged 9.1 points and 1.1 rebounds.

“It just blows me away. Every time I lose my patience, coach Shannon (Perry-LeBeauf) says, ‘She’s a high school senior, Cori,’” Close said. “Really, it’s amazing, because physically she’s ready. She’s high-level athletic, long, strong, great body for the game, great athlete. But all the mental side, all the skills, the pace of the play those are a lot of adjustments there.

“I think Dominque has a great future for us and I told her all along … ‘all you can do is grow from this.’”

From a coach’s perspective, it’s tough to know how a player will do thrown into the pressure-packed conference schedule midseason.

Oregon State’s Von Oelhoffen graduated early from her small high school in Pasco, Washington, and soon afterward arrived on campus in Corvallis.

Beavers coach Scott Rueck noted, “It was kind of a mystery to add a high-schooler to your team at that point.”

But Von Oelhoffen provided immediate perimeter depth and impressed everyone with her ability to quickly learn multiple positions.

“It’s crazy, and it happened so fast, but you know it’s COVID and everything you kind of just roll with the punches,” Von Oelhoffen told the Pac-12 Networks. “So it’s kind of my new normal.”

Though California is not playing in the postseason, coach Charmin Smith is thankful for Mia Mastrov’s timely arrival in Berkeley that allowed the Golden Bears to keep playing games. And Smith knows what NCAA Tournament experience could mean to other such freshmen like Darius.

“For Dominique at UCLA to have tournament experience, that’s crucial,” Smith said.

No. 1 overall seed Stanford didn’t have the chance to bring anyone early, yet Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer is all for it.

“It’s a bonus year,” VanDerveer said. “Really, everyone has an extra year. … I think it’s great that they’ve allowed them to do that and they’ve been able to take advantage. It has helped some teams that were really low in numbers and maybe projected them into the NCAA Tournament.”

In addition to the experience on the court, Darius received another perk: She got out of dormitory living her first year of college.

“Coach Cori said, ‘We can’t put you in a dorm now,’” Darius said with a grin, “‘you’ve seen the good life.’”

___

AP Sports Writers Anne M. Peterson, Pat Eaton-Robb and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.

___

More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

U.S. deploys B-52 bombers to Middle East in warning to Iran

U.S. deploys B-52 bombers to Middle East in warning to Iran

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Pilots from the 69th Bomb Squadron board B-52H Stratofortress bomber "Wham Bam II" in preparation for a flight over the Mideast on March 6, 2021, at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. A pair of B-52 bombers flew over the … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The U.S. military on Sunday flew two B-52H “Stratofortress” bombers across the Middle East “to deter aggression” in the region, delivering a clear warning to Iran after a string of recent rocket attacks that targeted American troops.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees American military operations in the region, said that aircraft from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar joined the B-52 bombers during their flights. It’s the fourth time this year the Pentagon has sent B-52s to the Middle East.

“The U.S. Air Force routinely moves aircraft and personnel into, out of, and around the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to meet mission requirements, and to train with regional partners, underscoring the importance of strategic partnerships,” CENTCOM said Sunday in a statement.

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Sunday’s move comes just days after another rocket attack on an air base in Iraq that houses American troops. A U.S. contractor died of a heart attack during last Wednesday’s assault, which American officials believe was almost certainly carried out by Iran-backed militias.

That attack was especially noteworthy because it came on the heels of U.S. airstrikes along the Syria-Iraq border targeting the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. The U.S. airstrike suggested that the Biden administration was prepared to take a hard line toward Iranian aggression, though other than Sunday’s B-52 flights, Washington has not directly responded to the most recent rocket attack.

The escalating tensions between the two countries come as the White House also pursues a duel diplomatic track. Administration officials have said the U.S. is willing to meet with international partners and Iran to discuss resurrecting a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.

So far, Iran has rejected those overtures, limited the access of international inspectors to its nuclear facilities, and threatened to ramp up its uranium enrichment to near-weapons grade levels.

5 more Householder campaign finance claims referred in Ohio

5 more Householder campaign finance claims referred in Ohio

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By JULIE CARR SMYTH

Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s elections chief said Friday that he has amended his massive list of campaign finance violations against suspects in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme to include five additional allegations against former House Speaker Larry Householder.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said a routine examination of state filings by Householder, a fellow Republican, showed five individuals exceeded legal giving limits between March 11, 2019, and January 15, 2020.

“Make no mistake,” LaRose said in a statement. “My team will remain vigilant in our reviews of all campaign finance records, no matter who you are.”

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A message seeking comment was left Friday with Householder’s attorney.

Householder, who has been ousted as speaker but remains a state representative, and four others were arrested and indicted in July 2020 on federal racketeering charges for what has been called the biggest corruption scandal in state history.

Householder is accused of leading a bribery scheme secretly funded by the utility FirstEnergy to get a $1 billion nuclear bailout bill approved and to conduct a dirty tricks campaign to prevent a referendum on the bill from reaching the ballot.

Householder has pleaded not guilty while two of his alleged co-conspirators – long-time political adviser Jeffrey Longstreth and lobbyist Juan Cespedes – have entered guilty pleas.

LaRose said Cespedes is one of five donors he has referred to the Ohio Elections Commission. Cespedes contributed $1,000 to Householder in June 2019 and $13,292 that November, exceeding an aggregate contribution cap by close to $1,000.

“The hits just keep on coming,” LaRose said. “These alleged repeated violations by Rep. Householder aren’t just a violation of state law, it’s a direct insult against the people of his district and the people of Ohio.”

LaRose said he also withdrew a number of allegations he had forwarded to the commission earlier, which had numbered more than 180.

Upon review, his office found the withdrawn allegations were likely permissible PAC contributions rather than impermissible corporate contributions, LaRose said. The withdrawn allegations included donations to the Ohio House Republican Caucus’ campaign committee and its treasurer, as well as the government’s “Representative 3.” That person has been identified as state Rep. Jamie Callendar, a co-sponsor of the tainted legislation.

Louisiana elections chief slams senator over voting machines

Louisiana elections chief slams senator over voting machines

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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin speaks to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee about his proposed emergency plan for the fall Louisiana elections, on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte) more >

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By MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin lashed out Friday against the head of the Louisiana Senate’s elections oversight committee after she helped to sink Ardoin‘s voting machine replacement work, escalating an intraparty feud that could affect any future search for new voting technology.

Ardoin accused his fellow Republican, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of irresponsibly disparaging his voting machine search efforts and damaging his agency’s reputation for running elections.

“You participated in a politically motivated ruse and launched an unfounded assault on an agency that has the highest requirements for precision during early and election day voting in the state of Louisiana,” Ardoin wrote in a letter to Hewitt.

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The letter comes two days after the secretary of state scrapped his search for a company to replace 10,000 voting machines across Louisiana, under criticism from Hewitt, other Republicans and possible bidders about the bid solicitation process. Hewitt released a letter calling on Ardoin to jettison the search, saying he rushed into the process too quickly and without public input and legislative oversight.

But rather than offering a statement seeking to move past the disagreement, Ardoin appeared to escalate it Friday with his response.

The dispute could have future ripples across the legislative session and Ardoin‘s plans to eventually redo the voting machine replacement work, a contract estimated to be worth up to $100 million. Hewitt is leader of the Senate Republicans and chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees legislation affecting elections and Ardoin‘s office.

The voting machine replacement effort faced intense scrutiny, coming after a previous 2018 search for a new voting system fell apart amid allegations of improper bid handling and amid a national spotlight on the handling of elections after the 2020 presidential competition.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump, including in Louisiana, have continued to repeat baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. They’ve suggested that Louisiana’s current voting machine vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, was to blame for Trump’s loss in key swing states, though not his victory in Louisiana. Dominion has sued several high-profile figures nationally for spreading the allegations.

Ardoin noted that Louisiana now will continue to use decades-old machines from the contractor that some Republicans have heavily criticized – and he blamed Hewitt.

“Please know that your continued quest to place yourself into this discussion has now resulted in Louisiana’s prolonged use of its current inventory of Dominion voting machines for election day and early voting,” Ardoin wrote.

Hewitt chalked up Ardoin‘s letter to embarrassment about having to end a voting system replacement search a second time in three years without new machines.

“I can understand if the Secretary is embarrassed, but I’ve been crystal clear from the beginning. This process must be transparent and thorough. I don’t need an ivy-league study to tell me that the Secretary’s two failed attempts were neither,” Hewitt said in a statement.

She said she “will work with him to improve the process.”

Before Ardoin canceled the bid solicitation, his search for voting machines already had been on hold while Louisiana’s chief procurement officer reviewed complaints from two interested bidders, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software. They accused Ardoin of drawing the search terms too narrowly and trying to manipulate the bid process to benefit Dominion. Ardoin denied the allegations, defending the search as fair.

___

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

Germany: Croatian wanted for war crimes arrested at airport

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Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

BERLIN (AP) – A 65-year-old Croatian man has been arrested in Germany on a European warrant on allegations of war crimes during fighting as the former Yugoslavia broke up, police said Friday.

The man, whose name was not released, was picked up at Frankfurt airport after he arrived from the Serbian capital of Belgrade on Thursday, police said.

They said he was wanted on a warrant issued by Croatia for involvement in four murders during wars in the former Yugoslavia, which raged through the 1990s.

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No further details were available and police did not answer their phones for comment.

Government, rebels formally sign peace agreement in Nepal

Government, rebels formally sign peace agreement in Nepal

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FILE – In this Nov. 18, 2011, file photo, former Maoist communist rebels walk together at the Shaktikhor cantonment in Chitwan, about 220 kilometers (138 miles) southwest of Katmandu, Nepal. Nepal’s government signed a peace agreement Thursday with a small … more >

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Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Nepal’s government and a communist rebel group formally signed a peace agreement Friday that it is hoped will end violent attacks, extortion and bombings by the rebels.

Rebel leader Netra Bikram Chand, who is better known by his guerrilla name Biplav, emerged out of hiding on Friday after the government lifted a ban on his Nepal Communist Party group so it could take part in the public signing of the peace agreement.

“Nepal has entered a peaceful era. There is no more violence in Nepal or any any violent conflicts left in Nepal,” Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli said at the ceremony.

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Under the peace deal, the government will lift its ban on the group, release all of their party members and supporters from jail and drop all legal cases against them. In exchange the rebel group agrees to give up all violence and resolve any issues through peaceful dialogue.

This group had split from the Maoist Communist party, which fought government troops between 1996 and 2006, when it gave up its armed revolt, agreed to U.N.-monitored peace talks and joined mainstream politics.

The Maoist fighting had left 17,000 people killed, hundreds missing and many more maimed.

YouTube removes Myanmar army channels; U.N. to meet on crisis

YouTube removes Myanmar army channels; U.N. to meet on crisis

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Women hold a portrait of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, March 5, 2021. Protests continue in Myanmar against the Feb 1 military coup that ousted the civilian government of Aung … more >

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Friday, March 5, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — YouTube removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its guidelines, it announced Friday, as demonstrators defied growing violence by security forces and staged more anti-coup protests ahead of a special U.N. Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis.

YouTube said it is watching for any further content that might violate its rules. It earlier pulled dozens of channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign.

The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it has removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.

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The escalation of violence by security forces has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Large protests against military rule have occurred daily in many cities and towns. Security forces escalated their crackdown this week with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot dead on Sunday and 38 on Wednesday, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

Protests continued in the country’s biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, and elsewhere on Friday, and were again met by force from police.

Many cases of targeted brutality have been captured in photos and videos that have circulated widely on social media. Videos have showed security forces shooting people at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

The United States called the images appalling, the U.N. human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country, Tom Andrews, urged Security Council members to watch the videos before their closed-door consultations on Friday.

While many abuses are committed by police, there is even greater concern about military forces being deployed in cities across the country that are notorious for decades of brutal counter-insurgency tactics and human rights abuses.

In Yangon, members of the army’s 77th Light Infantry Division have been deployed during anti-coup protests. The 77th was also deployed in Yangon in 2007 to suppress anti-junta protests, firing upon protesters and ramming them with trucks, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

The 99th Light Infantry Division has also been deployed, including in Mandalay. It is infamous for its counter-insurgency campaigns against ethnic minorities across the country, including spearheading the response that led to a brutal crackdown that caused more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee from Rakhine state to Bangladesh. It also has been accused of war crimes in Shan state, another ethnic minority area, in 2016 and early 2017.

Any kind of coordinated action at the U.N. will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.

Even if the council did take action, U.N. special envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener cautioned this week it might not make much difference. She said she warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge strong measures.”

“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she also warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said, “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has urged a halt to violence and the start of talks on a peaceful solution in Myanmar.

The 10-member regional grouping, which includes Myanmar, is constrained from enacting serious measures by a tradition of acting by consensus and reluctance to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

However, one member, Singapore, was outspoken on Friday in criticizing Myanmar’s coup.

“It is the height of national shame for the armed forces of any country to turn its arms against its own people,” its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said in Parliament.

But he also warned that the approach favored by some Western nations, of pressuring Myanmar’s generals with sanctions, would not be effective. The U.S., Britain and several other countries have already started to use that approach.

“Despite all our fervor and earnest hopes of reconciliation … the keys ultimately lie within Myanmar. And there’s a limit to how far external pressure will be brought to bear,” he said.

Pennsylvania extends nursing-home virus response program

Pennsylvania extends nursing-home virus response program

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Wolf administration officials said Thursday that Pennsylvania will extend a key feature of its response to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes, albeit on a scaled-down model after federal funding ran out in December.

The Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams now will run through May, costing $6 million a month to support services such as testing, staffing and rapid response services for outbreaks, administration officials said. Some of that money is state aid that the Wolf administration expects to get reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The program – succeeding last year’s Regional Response Health Collaborative – had been scheduled to lapse at the end of February after the Wolf administration ran it for two months on a smaller scale.

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Federal funding ran out at the end of 2020 for the program, which had distributed $175 million in federal coronavirus aid to 11 regional health systems or health organizations to help contain outbreaks in nursing homes, Wolf administration officials have said.

The Wolf administration had committed another $28 million to support testing this year, officials said.

Since the beginning of January, the Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams have engaged in nearly 3,500 missions covering facility consultations, requests for personal protective equipment, testing, staffing and rapid response, including 53 rapid response deployments, the administration said.

House members urge Russia once more to immediately release Trevor Reed, imprisoned Marine vet

House members urge Russia once more to immediately release Trevor Reed, imprisoned Marine vet

'They took him hostage. They had a kangaroo court trial.'

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A resolution urging Russia to free imprisoned U.S. Marine Corps veteran Trevor R. Reed was reintroduced Wednesday by Republican members of the House of Representatives from his home state of Texas.

Rep. August Pfluger offered the bipartisan resolution with the support of two dozen co-sponsors, mostly fellow Texas Republicans, requesting the “immediate release” of Mr. Reed from Russian custody.

Mr. Reed, a Fort Worth native who attended school in California, is serving a nine-year prison sentence after being convicted of charges he drunkenly assaulted two police officers in Moscow in 2019.

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Mr. Reed has denied attacking the officers and described his conviction as politically motivated. His supporters in the U.S. State Department, House and Senate hold the same assessment.

“These charges were clearly politically motivated, and the entire process has been a sham,” Mr. Pfluger said in a statement. “We cannot tolerate American citizens being used as political pawns.”

“They took him hostage,” added Rep. Michael McCaul, another Texas Republican and the GOP’s ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They had a kangaroo court trial,” he said on CNN.

In addition to Mr. Pfluger and Mr. McCaul, the House resolution is co-sponsored by 15 other Republican members of the Texas delegation, including Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Chip Roy, among others.

Additional co-sponsors of the resolution include seven Democrats — six from Texas and one from Hawaii — as well as House Republican Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.

Mr. McCarthy said in a statement that Mr. Reed honorably served his country, adding that “the unjust way he has been brutalized by the Russian judicial system has been nothing short of cruel.”

The House passed a resolution last year calling on Russia to free Mr. Reed, although a companion resolution proposed in the Senate ultimately died in committee during the 116th Congress. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, reintroduced that resolution last month, however.

Israel still weighing cooperation with ICC investigation

Israel still weighing cooperation with ICC investigation

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel has yet to decide whether it will cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, a senior Justice Ministry official said Thursday.

The decision by the court’s outgoing prosecutor to probe Israeli military actions and settlement construction on lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war was announced Wednesday and condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “the essence of anti-Semitism and hypocrisy.”

Roy Schondorf, deputy attorney general for international law, told Army Radio that the court’s decision was driven by “political agendas” and that opening an investigation was unjustified, but that Israel has not rejected any participation outright.

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“The court’s conduct until now, and the prosecutor’s in particular, doesn’t inspire great trust in the way the procedures will transpire,” Schondorf said, adding that there was “a big question about the value of cooperation.”

Wednesday’s decision turns the court’s focus toward two key Israeli policies of recent years: its repeated military operations against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, highlighted by a devastating 2014 war, and its expansion of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, welcomed Wednesday’s move, while the U.S. State Department said it opposed the decision to open the investigation.

Nepal signs peace agreement with communist rebel group

Nepal signs peace agreement with communist rebel group

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KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Nepal’s government signed a peace agreement Thursday with a small communist rebel group widely feared because they were known for violent attacks, extortion and bombings.

The government agreed to lift a ban on the group, release all their party members and supporters in jail and drop all legal cases against them, while the group agreed to give up all violence and resolve any issues through peaceful dialogue, the government said in a statement after peace talks.

Details of the agreement would be made public at a joint ceremony Friday with Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli and the leader of the rebel group Netra Bikram Chand, who is better known by his guerrilla name, Biplav. The rebels also call themselves the Nepal Communist Party.

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This group is known for violence, threats and enforcing general strikes.

It had split from the Maoist Communist party, which fought government troops between 1996 and 2006 when it gave up its armed revolt, agreed to U.N.-monitored peace talks and joined mainstream politics.

The Maoist fighting had left 17,000 people killed, hundreds missing and many more maimed.

The peace agreement with the rebel group comes at a time when the prime minister and his government are facing a political crisis since a split developed in his own ruling party and the Supreme Court reinstated the Parliament he had dissolved.

Correction: Editorial Rdp story

Correction: Editorial Rdp story

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By The Associated Press

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

In an editorial included in the US Editorial Roundup on March 3, 2021, about harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, The Associated Press erroneously reported that the editorial was written by The Niagara Gazette. The editorial was written by The Daily Star (Oneonta).

Louisiana ends search for new voting machines amid criticism

Louisiana ends search for new voting machines amid criticism

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Voting machines are set up and ready for use at the Louisiana Voting Machine Warehouse at 8870 Chef Menteur Hwy. which will be an early voting location in New Orleans, La. Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Early voting will run from … more >

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By MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana’s secretary of state decided Wednesday to shelve his search for new voting machines after a barrage of complaints about the bid process from election technology companies, the head of a state Senate oversight committee and his fellow Republicans.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin sent a letter to Paula Tregre, Louisiana’s chief procurement officer, announcing his decision, asking her to remove the bid solicitation from a state website and requesting that she dismiss protests filed by two companies that wanted to seek the work.

“I am withdrawing the (request for proposals) to spend the next few months seeking to undo the damage to voter confidence done by those who willfully spread misinformation and disinformation,” Ardoin said in a statement.

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In his pointed letter to Tregre and a follow-up statement, the Republican secretary of state accused Tregre of mishandling complaints from the vendors about the bid process, defended his search effort and suggested critics were using national concerns about election integrity to derail needed replacement voting machines.

“We cannot let election administration become just another political football for politicians or voting machine vendors to kick around, without any understanding or concern for the consequences,” he said.

Ardoin said he’ll redo the search in the future, though he gave no date for that plan.

It’s the second time the secretary of state has jettisoned his effort to replace 10,000 Election Day and early voting machines, many of which are decades old. Ardoin also ran into problems with a previous effort in 2018.

He said his decision to scrap the search for contractors that he began in January came after talks with Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, Republicans who backed Ardoin‘s decision to end the bid solicitation.

“Louisiana elections are some of the most safe and secure elections in the United States and giving more oversight to the process will only strengthen that,” Schexnayder said in a statement released by Ardoin‘s office.

Cortez said the decision “will bring an opportunity for full transparency.”

The lucrative contract was estimated to be worth up to $100 million.

Because of allegations of improper bid handling three years ago, Ardoin already was going to face heightened interest as he sought a new voting system. But the search also came during a national debate over the handling of the presidential election and amid baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

The former president’s backers in Louisiana have suggested new machines could leave the state’s elections more vulnerable to hacking. They’ve complained the open bid process would allow Louisiana’s current voting machine vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, to seek a new contract. Trump supporters suggest that Dominion’s machines were somehow to blame for Trump’s loss in key swing states – but not his victory in Louisiana. Colorado-based Dominion has sued several high-profile figures nationally for spreading the allegations.

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate’s elections oversight committee, Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, said Ardoin rushed into the shopping process too quickly, and she called on him last week to shelve the effort.

“For voters to trust our election system, we must conduct a thorough, transparent and open process similar to what other states have followed. I look forward to restarting this process and providing the government oversight and public input that was so badly missing from the two previous failed attempts,” Hewitt said in a statement Wednesday.

The search for voting machines already had been on hold while Tregre reviewed complaints from two interested bidders, Texas-based Hart InterCivic and Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software, known as ES&S.; They accused Ardoin of drawing the search terms too narrowly and trying to manipulate the bid process to benefit Dominion.

Ardoin defended the search terms as fair. In his letter to Tregre, he said her decision to temporarily stall the replacement work while reviewing the protests has caused scheduling problems for his office and could drag out disputes indefinitely before vendors can even offer proposals.

The secretary of state said canceling the machine replacement effort will give his office time to respond to concerns from lawmakers and the public, while also working on any needed changes to clarify state law regarding the voting systems that are allowed in Louisiana.

___

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

Civil suit in U.S. over British teen’s death can proceed

Civil suit in U.S. over British teen’s death can proceed

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By MATTHEW BARAKAT

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

FALLS CHURCH. Va. (AP) – A federal judge in Virginia has again rejected an American diplomatic couple’s efforts to toss out a lawsuit in the U.S. filed after the woman fatally injured a British teenager in a car crash and then left the country under diplomatic immunity.

Anne Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, were stationed in central England in August 2019 when British authorities say 19-year-old Harry Dunn was struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Anne Sacoolas admitted responsibility for the crash, according to her lawyers.

British authorities pursued criminal charges against Anne Sacoolas but the U.S. invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf and the couple left the country. They now live in northern Virginia.

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Dunn’s family filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last year.

Last month, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected an argument from the Sacoolases’ lawyers that the case should be tossed out in the U.S. because it should be heard in the United Kingdom instead.

At a virtual hearing Wednesday, the judge rejected a motion to dismiss on other grounds, in a hearing that often delved into application of British law in U.S. courts. The case can now proceed to discovery, and both sides can take depositions of relevant witnesses.

The U.S. government’s refusal to waive diplomatic immunity provoked anger in the United Kingdom. According to the lawsuit, Anne Sacoolas was driving her Volvo SUV on the wrong side of the road near the Croughton base when she struck Dunn. The lawsuit said she’d been living in England for several weeks by then and should have been acclimated to driving on the left side of the road.

The lawsuit alleges that she did not call an ambulance and that it was a passerby who arrived several minutes later who called for help.

Sacoolas’ lawyers have objected to how her actions have been portrayed. In court this week they filed a “notice of correction” to an earlier order from the judge seeking to clarify her conduct. For instance, they acknowledge that she didn’t call for an ambulance but say she flagged down another driver who did, and that she notified the nearby Air Force base, which actually provided the first emergency assistance.

Also, the lawyers acknowledged that she left the country swiftly after the U.S. invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf but say that’s standard procedure. They say she fully cooperated with authorities while in England, and took a breathalyzer test that showed no alcohol in her system.

The “notice of correction” prompted a rebuke from Ellis.

“You can make your case to the public if you wish but you can’t change my order by filing a notice of correction,” he said. “I don’t think anything I said is incorrect.”

Joe Biden says U.S. looking for perpetrators of rocket attack in Iraq

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In this Feb. 27, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden speaks on the economy in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

President Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is assessing who’s responsible for a rocket attack on American forces in Iraq, and said “thank God” nobody was killed, before noting that a U.S. contractor died of a heart attack.

“We’re following that through right now,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House. “We’re identifying who is responsible and will make judgments from that point.”

Mr. Biden said “thank God, no one was killed by the rocket — one individual, a contractor, died of a heart attack.”

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The U.S. contractor died after about 10 rockets slammed into the airbase in western Iraq housing American, Iraqi and coalition forces. A Pentagon spokesman said the contractor was sheltering from the rockets when he died.

It was the first attack since the U.S. struck Iran-backed militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week in retaliation for an earlier rocket attack.

Ilhan Omar introduces bill to sanction MBS over Jamal Khashoggi killing

Ilhan Omar introduces bill to sanction MBS over Jamal Khashoggi killing

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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Rep. Ilhan Omar asked Congress to impose sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the U.S. concluded he approved the operation that ended in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ms. Omar, Minnesota Democrat, introduced a bill Tuesday – the Mohammed bin Salman Must be Sanctioned Act, or MBS MBS Act – to directly punish the Saudi leader over the killing of Khashoggi in 2018.

“This is a test of our humanity,” Ms. Omar said in a statement, arguing “there is no reason not to” sanction the Saudi prince since U.S. intelligence officials found he approved Khashoggi‘s killing.

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“Every minute Mohammed bin Salman escapes punishment is a moment where U.S. interests, human rights and the lives of Saudi dissenters are at risk,” Ms. Omar said about her bill.

Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and U.S. resident, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018, and it was ultimately determined that he was killed inside.

U.S. intelligence officials concluded the crown prince had approved of the operation that ended in Khashoggi‘s killing, but that assessment was kept private until after President Biden entered office.

While the Biden administration accordingly imposed sanctions on 17 other Saudis the U.S. has connected to Khashoggi‘s killing, the White House has not directly punished the crown prince himself.

Ms. Omar said her bill includes asset freezes to block the crown prince from conducting transactions involving the U.S. and would also make him inadmissible, barring him from entering the country.

The Saudi Embassy in the U.S. did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

Ethiopia now calls Axum massacre allegations ‘credible’

Ethiopia now calls Axum massacre allegations ‘credible’

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By CARA ANNA

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Ethiopia on Wednesday said it is investigating “credible allegations of atrocities and human rights abuses” in its embattled Tigray region, including in the city of Axum, where The Associated Press and Amnesty International have separately documented a massacre of several hundred people.

The statement by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office comes days after Ethiopia referred to the killings in Axum as an “alleged incident,” and the country’s ambassador to Belgium told a webinar that “we suspect it’s a very, very crazy idea.”

A growing number of media reports are documenting massacres in other Tigray communities, citing witness accounts, as alarm grows over the fate of the region’s 6 million people.

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And international pressure is growing on Africa’s second most populous country to allow independent investigations into atrocities committed during the conflict that began in November between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the now-fugitive Tigray leaders who dominated Ethiopia’s government before Abiy took office in 2018.

Some of those allied forces are from neighboring Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries and long an enemy of the former Tigray leaders. Ethiopia’s government denies their presence, even as some of the government-appointed interim Tigray leaders acknowledge it and several witnesses have described the soldiers’ killing and looting.

The United States has repeatedly called for Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately. In Washington’s strongest statement yet on Tigray, Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend said the U.S. is “gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation.”

Ethiopia replied that no foreign country should try to “dictate a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.”

The massacre in Axum in late November might be the deadliest of the Tigray conflict, with witnesses saying Eritrean forces killed several hundred people. The AP spoke with a church deacon who said he helped count the bodies, gathered victims’ identity cards and assisted with burials. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend around the city.

The government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is investigating allegations from Axum and elsewhere, and it has “signaled its willingness to collaborate with relevant U.N. agencies,” Ethiopia’s new statement said.

The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet last week said the office is ready to support the EHRC if its monitors are granted access to the Tigray region.

Journalists also have pressed for access to Tigray, but in recent days several Ethiopians working with foreign media outlets were detained shortly after the outlets were allowed to enter. They were later released.

Ethiopia‘s new statement said Ethiopian defense forces will “ensure the security” of journalists in areas in Tigray under the forces’ control, and any journalists leaving those areas “will not be hindered from mobility, but will do so at their own risk.”

Report: Egypt’s Aboul Gheit reappointed Arab League chief

Report: Egypt’s Aboul Gheit reappointed Arab League chief

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Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday reappointed veteran Egyptian diplomat as the secretary general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Egypt’s state-run news agency reported.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, a former ambassador to the United Nations and Egypt’s last foreign minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, won the backing of the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, MENA’s report said.

In January, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced that Cairo would nominate Aboul Gheit for a second, five-year term as the chief of the 22-member bloc.

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He was the only nominee for the post, as it is a long-held protocol that Egypt as host of the Arab League traditionally nominates the league chief. He was first appointed in 2016 as the secretary general of the Arab League.

The only time a non-Egyptian was appointed to the post was in 1979, after Egypt’s membership was suspended following its peace treaty with Israel. The membership was restored in 1989, with the headquarters of the Arab League returning to Cairo and a new Egyptian secretary general appointed in 1990.

Aboul Gheit, 78, has been known to be a pragmatic diplomat with strong enmity for political Islam factions like the Muslim Brotherhood.

He has been vocal against Turkey and Iran, two regional powers with major influences in the Arab world. He has also been critical to the 2011 uprising that engulfed the region and led to the overthrow of four longtime autocratic rulers but also sparked three civil wars.

Saudi envoy disputes crown prince role in Khashoggi killing

Saudi envoy disputes crown prince role in Khashoggi killing

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, March 1, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador on Monday disputed the U.S. intelligence report which concluded that the Saudi crown prince approved an operation to kill or capture dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying in a tweet: “Let us all move forward to tackle the serious business of world issues!!”

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the newly declassified Central Intelligence Agency report “is based on could’ve, should’ve and would’ve and does not rise to anywhere close to proving the accusation beyond reasonable doubt.”

Though intelligence officials stopped short of saying Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi‘s murder in October 2018, the four-page document described him as having “absolute control” over the kingdom’s intelligence organizations and said it would have been highly unlikely for an operation like the killing to have been carried out without his approval.

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Al-Mouallimi said in a series of tweets that “the Prince courageously accepted moral responsibility, presented the accused to the justice system, and pledged to reform the intelligence organizations. Case closed!”

The document released last Friday echoed what has long been known about the killing: a 15-member Saudi team, including seven members of the prince’s elite personal protective team, arrived in Istanbul, Turkey and were at the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist, had gone to the Saudi consulate to pick up documents needed for his wedding.

Once inside, it said, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others. Surveillance cameras tracked his route and those of his alleged killers. A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building.

The whereabouts of Khashoggi‘s remains are unknown, and the Saudis have not released the names of those tried and sentenced.

In his tweets, ambassador Al-Mouallimi rebutted the CIA finding that the 35-year-old crown prince “must’ve known because he controls the intelligence system.”

“If this is a valid argument why weren’t the (U.S.) President, Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense held accountable for the Abu Ghraib crimes?,” he asked, referring to the Iraqi prison where photos became public in 2004 showing U.S. soldiers abusing detainees.

The Saudi ambassador also dismissed a claim that the prince “is `obsessed’ with capturing Saudi dissidents and bringing them home,” saying “some dissidents … have been living comfortably abroad and still do, courtesy of foreign intelligence.”

The CIA report ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was pressured on Monday to explain why a senior Saudi intelligence official and the entire Saudi Rapid Reaction Force, which engages in counter-dissident operations including against Khashoggi, had been sanctioned — but not the crown prince, which has sparked anger from some members of Congress and Khashoggi supporters.

She said the national security team “believes that going after the network responsible for these actions is the best way to prevent a crime like this from ever happening again,” which is the administration’s “objective.”

Psaki reiterated that historically the U.S. doesn’t sanction leaders of foreign governments it has diplomatic relations with, but she said when asked whether the administration reserves the right to sanction the crown prince in the future if deemed necessary: “Of course, we reserve the right to take any action at a time and manner of our choosing.”

New WTO chief pushes for vaccine access, fisheries deal

New WTO chief pushes for vaccine access, fisheries deal

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New Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, center, poses between WTO Deputy Directors-General Alan Wolff, left, and Karl Brauner upon her arrival at the WTO headquarters to takes office in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, March 1, 2021. Nigeria’s Ngozi … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN

Associated Press

Monday, March 1, 2021

GENEVA (AP) – The new head of the World Trade Organization called Monday for a “technology transfer” when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines and urged member nations to reach a deal to reduce overfishing after years of fruitless talks as she laid out her top priorities after taking office.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former government minister, donned a mask and doled out welcoming elbow bumps as she took up her job at WTO headquarters on the banks of Lake Geneva. Still, she immediately set about trying to change the organization‘s culture.

“It cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results,” she told ambassadors and other top government envoys that make up the 164-member body’s General Council.

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“The world is leaving the WTO behind. Leaders and decision-makers are impatient for change,” she said, noting several trade ministers had told her that “if things don’t change,” they would not attend the WTO‘s biggest event – a ministerial meeting – “because it is a waste of their time.”

Okonjo-Iweala, 66, is both the first woman and the first African to serve as the WTO‘s director-general. Her brisk comments were a departure from the more cautious approach of her predecessor, Roberto Azevedo, who resigned on Aug. 31 – a year before the end of his term.

She did not take sides on an effort led by South Africa and India to wrest a temporary waiver of WTO rules on intellectual property protections, which could help expand production of COVID-19 vaccines and expedite their rollout around the world. But she gave an early shout-out to the developing world.

While “intensifying” dialogue continues on the vaccine waiver proposal, Okonjo-Iweala said: “I propose that we ‘walk and chew gum’ by also focusing on the immediate needs of dozens of poor countries that have yet to vaccinate a single person. People are dying in poor countries.”

She alluded to “difficult” targets to produce 10 billion doses, “so we must focus on working with companies to open up and license more viable manufacturing sites now in emerging markets and developing countries. We must get them to work with us on know-how and technology transfer now.”

As for fisheries, WTO negotiators have been tasked with striking a deal that could help eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and prohibit fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing and an overcapacity of fishing boats.

Member states of the WTO, which works to craft accords that can ensure smooth international trade, have struggled to reach an agreement on fisheries even after two decades of work. Okonjo-Iweala called for finalizing the negotiations “as soon as possible,” and credited Colombian ambassador Santiago Wills, who chairs those talks, for his “really hard” work.

“My presence is to try and support him proactively to try and unblock the situation so he can complete the fantastic work he has been doing,” she said alongside Wills as they met with advocacy groups outside the WTO gates. “It has been 20 years – and 20 years is enough.”

Wills said it was “music to my ears to see on the first day the (director general) comes here and makes a statement on the fisheries negotiations.”

Okonjo-Iweala‘s first day also consisted of meeting staffers and attending her first meeting of the General Council. The closed-door council meeting was largely held by videoconference because of measures aimed to fight the pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala’s victory in the race last fall was delayed largely because the U.S. administration under Donald Trump supported another candidate. Her appointment came through last month when the Biden administration cleared the way for her selection at the trade body, whose rules require consensus.

The WTO is facing headwinds such as rising protectionism. Its dispute settlement system has been blocked because the U.S. has almost singlehandedly prevented appointments to its Appellate Body – a rough equivalent to an appeals court.

Okonjo-Iweala said last month that “wide-ranging reforms” are needed, vowing that a first priority would be to address the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – such as by working to lift export restrictions on supplies and vaccines to get them distributed to countries in need.