225625
225768

World  

DeSantis vetoes social media ban for kids under 16. Florida lawmakers offer new option

Social media ban vetoed

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed what would have been one of the most far-reaching social media bans for minors on Friday, and lawmakers are proposing new language that seeks to keep children under under 14 off of addictive platforms.

The bill sent to the governor last week would have banned minors under 16 from popular social media platforms regardless of parental consent. DeSantis had concerns about privacy issues and parental rights, but appears to be on board with a new proposal that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds on social media with parental consent and ban access for younger children.

“The Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill,” DeSantis said in his veto message. “Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents' rights and maintaining the ability of adults to engage in anonymous speech.”

He said he anticipates signing the new bill, which will go before the Senate on Monday, just days before the legislative session ends March 8.

Lawmakers were expecting the veto and worked with DeSantis on the compromise. The issue is House Speaker Paul Renner's top priority. He expressed optimism after the veto and said the new proposal is an improvement to the original bill.

Several states have considered similar legislation. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.

Supporters in Florida hope the bill will withstand legal challenges because it would ban social media formats based on addictive features such as notification alerts and autoplay videos, rather than on the content on their sites.



228728


Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

Airdrops of aid into Gaza

The U.S. will begin airdropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden said Friday, a day after more than 100 Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory to ease the suffering of Palestinians.

“In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies” and will "seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said.

The president twice referred to airdrops to help Ukraine, but White House officials clarified that he was referring to Gaza.

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way. The Israeli government has said it is investigating the matter.

Biden made the announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White house.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough," Biden said. "Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”

The White House, State Department and Pentagon had been weighing the merits of U.S. military airdrops of assistance for several months, but had held off due to concerns that the method is inefficient, has no way of ensuring the aid gets to civilians in need and cannot make up for overland aid deliveries.

Administration officials said their preference was to further increase overland aid deliveries through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border points and to try to get Israel to open the Erez Crossing into northern Gaza.

The incident on Thursday appeared to tip the balance and push Biden to approve airdrops. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that airdrops are difficult operations, but the acute need for aid in Gaza informed the president's decision.

He stressed that ground routes will be continued to be used to get aid into Gaza, and that the airdrops are a supplemental effort.

“It’s not the kind of thing you want to do in a heartbeat. you want to think it through carefully," Kirby said. He added, “There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops”

Pressure has been mounting for Biden to move more aggressively to ease Palestinian suffering, including from lawmakers of Biden’s Democratic Party. Even before Thursday’s deaths, Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, wrote Biden this week to urge that the administration deploy a military hospital ship and support units to help treat Gaza’s wounded and open a sea route to Gaza for delivery of humanitarian aid.

Biden in his visit with Meloni at the White House on Friday also sought to assure European leaders that the U.S. remains behind Ukraine even as he's been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.

Ahead of Meloni's visit, White House officials said they don't have good answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that's badly needed as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia's invasion.

Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress “must take care of America’s needs first.”

The leaders also discussed the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Italy's priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from North Africa, and their countries' China policies.

Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a cease-fire deal could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off the aid convoy.

With Meloni by his side, Biden on Friday expressed cautious optimism that a deal can still be struck.

“We’ve been working and hopefully we’ll know shortly," Biden said.

Meloni said solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was Italy's top priority.

“We need to coordinate our actions to avoid an escalation, and this regard we fully support the U.S. mediation efforts,” she said.



Alexei Navalny, who galvanized opposition to Putin, is laid to rest after his death in prison

Navalny laid to rest

Under a heavy police presence, thousands of people bade farewell Friday to Alexei Navalny at his funeral in Moscow after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony.

The service followed a battle with authorities over the release of the body of President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic. His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the funeral for the man who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.

Navalny’s team eventually got permission from the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which was encircled by crowd-control barriers on Friday.

As his coffin was removed from the hearse and taken inside the church, the crowd waiting outside broke into respectful applause and then chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!” Some also shouted, “You weren’t afraid, neither are we!” and later “No to war!”

Western diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador Lynn Tracy, were among those who attended, along with presidential hopefuls Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova. Both wanted to run against Putin in the upcoming presidential elections and opposed his war in Ukraine; neither was allowed on the ballot.

A photo from inside the church showed an open casket with Navalny’s body covered with red and white flowers, and his mother sitting beside it holding a candle.

Navalny's father was also present, but it wasn't clear who else in his family attended. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, just two days ago addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France; his daughter is a student at the Stanford University, and the whereabouts of his son are unknown.

The politician's closest associates have left Russia under pressure and watched the funeral, which was streamed live on his YouTube channel, from abroad.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged those gathering in Moscow and other places not to break the law, saying any “unauthorized (mass) gatherings" are violations.

“Those people who follow what is happening, it is of course obvious to them that this man is a hero of our country, whom we will not forget," said Nadezhda Ivanova, a Kaliningrad resident who was outside the church with other supporters. “What was done to him is incredibly difficult to accept and get through it."

After the short funeral, a crowd of thousands marched from the church to the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where the police were also out in force for the burial.

With the casket open, Navalny’s parents and others stroked and kissed his body. Meanwhile, a large crowd of supporters gathered at the gates of the cemetery, chanting: “Let us in to say say goodbye!”

The coffin was then lowered into the ground, allies said.

Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was being held delayed its release, according to Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny's close ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Authorities originally said they couldn't turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya made a video appeal to Putin to release it so she could bury her son with dignity.

At least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media. They also struggled to find a hearse.

“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.

Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, who was 47.

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin.

His Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government that same year.

His widow accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.

“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In a speech to European lawmakers on Wednesday, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would "arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband.”

Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, according to politician Yekaterina Duntsova said. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.

Yarmysh also urged Navalny's supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honor Friday.

“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when even when things were scary and difficult.”

 



225776


Scandinavian Airlines medevac plane lands in Malaysian island where Norwegian King is hospitalized

King to be airlifted?

A Scandinavian Airlines medical evacuation plane arrived on Friday in Malaysia's northern resort island of Langkawi, where the Norwegian king is in hospital and being treated for an infection.

King Harald V, Europe's oldest monarch at 87, was hospitalized after he fell ill during a vacation, the royal palace in Oslo announced on Tuesday. There were no details of his illness. His son, Crown Prince Haakon, has said his father's condition was improving and that he needed rest before being brought back.

Norwegian TV2 said that a Scandinavian aircraft with the tail number LN-RPJ took off from Oslo Airport on Thursday, The Boeing 737-700 airline, which has previously been used as a flying ambulance, landed in Langkawi on Friday.

The Norwegian Defense Force reportedly declined to confirm if the plane will pick up King Harald. Norwegian TV2 said the same aircraft was used last summer for the medical evacuation of patients from Ukraine.

Malaysian national news agency Bernama has reported that Harald was undergoing treatment at the Sultanah Maliha Hospital in Langkawi. It cited unnamed sources as saying he was staying in the hospital’s Royal Suite. The hospital declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Prince Haakon said Wednesday the king was in good spirits.

“It is clear that his age means that it is good to treat this properly. They are very good at the hospital,” Haakon told Norwegian reporters. “We don’t know when he will come home. We will have to decide on that later.” The palace said that “no decision has been made regarding his return home.”

Two days before his birthday last week, Norwegian news agency NTB said that the king would be undertaking a private trip abroad together with his wife Queen Sonja, without specifying the destination or dates.

The monarch, who has been seen using crutches in recent years, has been repeatedly ill in recent months, raising concern about the head of state’s health. In January, the palace said he was on sick leave until Feb. 2 because of a respiratory infection.

In December, he was admitted to a hospital with an infection and was treated with intravenous antibiotics. He also was hospitalized last August with a fever.



Paramedic convictions in Elijah McClain's death spur changes for patients in police custody

Convictions spur change

Medical responders across the U.S. are rethinking how they treat people in police custody after a jury last December handed down a rare decision: It convicted two Colorado paramedics for their roles in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain following an overdose of a powerful sedative.

As one of the paramedics faces sentencing Friday at a hearing in which McClain’s mother could speak about her son's death, the case has sent shock waves through the ranks of paramedics across the U.S. and thrust their profession into the acrimonious fight over social justice sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

McClain, a 23-year-old Black massage therapist, was forcibly detained by police in the Denver suburb of Aurora while walking home from a convenience store. After officers claimed McClain was resisting, the paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died three days later.

The conviction of the paramedics and one of the police officers brought a small measure of justice to the victim's family. Yet the case has also highlighted gaps in medical procedures that experts said must be addressed so more deaths can be prevented.

“We failed to realize just how dangerous the restraint and chemical sedation of these individuals can be,” said Eric Jaeger, a paramedic and EMS educator in New Hampshire. “For better or worse the criminal convictions are focusing attention on the problem.”

The response includes revisions to patient protocols aimed at elevating how seriously ketamine injections are treated — or avoiding them altogether when alternative drugs are more appropriate.

Some departments now require comprehensive patient assessments before and after ketamine injections. They've also cautioned against using ketamine on people being restrained by police in a prone position — which increases the chances for fatal complications by making it harder for patients to breathe — and stocked medicine kits with alternative sedatives. And they've reminded their paramedics not to defer to police when making medical decisions.

In the McClain case, “a lot of these basics were not done,” said Peter Antevy, medical director for several Florida fire departments.

“Everyone kind of assumed people just do them. But more and more you’re seeing with the advent of body cameras that people aren’t doing these things,” he said. “We need to put the basics in black and white.”

The changes have come relatively swiftly within a profession in which it can take up to a decade for the latest medical research to filter down to paramedics on the front lines, Jaeger said. Nevertheless, since McClain's death, Jaeger has documented five similar cases involving patients dying after receiving ketamine, most recently a 29-year-old man in Baltimore last summer.

In Aurora, the paramedics' indictment is blamed by union officials for prompting some medical responders to scale back their duties.

The day after the verdicts, Aurora’s fire chief temporarily suspended a requirement that firefighters also serve as paramedics, fearing the convictions would lead to a mass exodus of personnel.

So far about 10% of the department’s certified paramedics have taken a pay cut and are no longer working as paramedics, reverting to the role of emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, who cannot provide advanced life-saving measures.

Fire Chief Alec Oughton said enough paramedics remain for every ladder truck and engine to have an assigned paramedic.

But the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union said the convictions put lives at risk in the city because EMTs aren’t qualified to provide life-saving drugs, such as for patients suffering heart attacks.

“The legacy of Attorney General Phil Weiser is there is going to be less paramedics to respond to people who need help,” said union president Edward Kelly, referring to the state attorney general tasked by Colorado's Democratic governor with reinvestigating McClain’s death in 2020 following protests over the killing of George Floyd.

No one was initially charged in McClain’s death, mostly because the first autopsy report could not conclude why he died. The autopsy was updated in 2021 — after Weiser convened a grand jury to examine the case — and it found McClain died because he was given ketamine after being restrained by police.

Kelly said ketamine did not kill McClain, noting the autopsy report’s finding that the amount of the drug found in his system was at the low end of what is normally considered safe.

A 2021 study co-authored by Antevy examined 11,000 instances of patients receiving ketamine over a yearlong period. The drug was a possible contributor to just two deaths outside a hospital setting, the researchers concluded.

“Ketamine when used safely and correctly is a life-saving medication,” Antevy said.

Paramedic Peter Cichuniec — the senior medical responder on the scene during the altercation with McClain — faces a mandatory yearslong prison sentence during Friday's hearing before a state judge.

A jury in December found him guilty of criminally negligent homicide and felony second-degree assault — the most serious verdict handed down against any of the first responders indicted in the case. The assault conviction carries a sentence of between five and 16 years in prison.

Police had stopped McClain following a suspicious person complaint. After an officer said McClain reached for an officer’s gun — a claim disputed by prosecutors — another officer put him in a neck hold that rendered him temporarily unconscious. Officers also pinned down McClain before paramedic Jeremy Cooper injected him with ketamine. Cichuniec said it was his decision to use the drug.

Prosecutors said the paramedics did not conduct basic medical checks, such as taking McClain's pulse and monitoring his breathing before administering the ketamine. The dose was too much for someone of his size — 140 pounds (64 kilograms), experts testified.

Defense attorneys for the paramedics said they followed their training in giving ketamine after diagnosing McClain with “ excited delirium,” a disputed condition some say is unscientific and has been used to justify excessive force.



Russian disinformation is about immigration. The real aim is to undercut Ukraine aid

Immigration Disinformation

For Vladimir Putin, victory in Ukraine may run through Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

In recent weeks, Russian state media and online accounts tied to the Kremlin have spread and amplified misleading and incendiary content about U.S. immigration and border security. The campaign seems crafted to stoke outrage and polarization before the 2024 election for the White House, and experts who study Russian disinformation say Americans can expect more to come as Putin looks to weaken support for Ukraine and cut off a vital supply of aid.

In social media posts, online videos and stories on websites, these accounts misstate the impact of immigration, highlight stories about crimes committed by immigrants, and warn of dire consequences if the U.S. doesn't crack down at its border with Mexico. Many are misleading, filled with cherry-picked data or debunked rumors.

The pivot toward the United States comes after two years in which Russia's vast disinformation apparatus was busy pushing propaganda and disinformation about its invasion of Ukraine. Experts who study how authoritarian states use the internet to spread disinformation say eroding support for Ukraine remains Russia's top priority — and that the Kremlin is just finding new ways to do it.

“Things have shifted, even in the last few days," said Kyle Walter, head of research at Logically, a tech company that tracks disinformation campaigns. While experts and government officials have long warned of Russia's intentions, Walter said the content spotted so far this year "is the first indication that I’ve seen that Russia is actually going to focus on U.S. elections.”

This month Logically identified dozens of pro-Russian accounts posting about immigration in the U.S., with a particular interest in promoting recent anti-immigration rallies in Texas. A recent Logically assessment concluded that after two years spent largely dedicated to the war in Ukraine, Russia’s disinformation apparatus has “started 2024 with a focus on the U.S.”

Many posts highlight crimes allegedly committed by recent immigrants or suggest migrants are a burden on local communities. Some claims were posted by accounts with tiny audiences; others were made by state media sites with millions of followers.

This week the accounts seized on the recent death of a Georgia nursing student and the arrest of a Venezuelan man who had entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case. The killing that quickly became a rallying cry for former President Donald Trump and other Republicans who suggest that migrants commit crimes more often than do U.S. citizens. The evidence does not support those claims.

The content, crafted in English, has quickly found its way to websites and platforms popular with American voters. Footage of a recent anti-immigration protest broadcast by Russian outlet RT, for example, was racking up thousands of views this week on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and prompting angry replies from other users.

The Russian outlet Sputnik ran a story this week about growing calls to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a priority for Trump, who failed to complete the job as president. An analysis of other sites that later linked to the Sputnik piece shows that half were in the U.S., according to data from the online analytics firm Semrush.com. Overall, Americans make up the English-language Sputnik's largest audience.

U.S. officials have warned that Russia could seek to meddle in the elections of dozens of countries in 2024, when more than 50 nations accounting for half of the world's population are scheduled to hold national votes. While Russia has a strategic interest in the outcome of many of them — the European Parliament, for one — few offer the opportunity and the prize that America does.

For Russia's bid to conquer Ukraine, this year's U.S. election stakes couldn't be higher. President Joe Biden has pledged to fully back Ukraine. Republicans have been far less supportive. Trump has openly praised Putin and the former president has suggested he would encourage Russia to attack America's NATO allies if they don't pay their fair share for the military alliance.

More than half of Republicans believe the U.S. is spending too much on Ukraine, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that found Democrats to be much more supportive of additional aid.

Soon after the war started, Russia mounted a disinformation campaign designed to cut into support for Ukraine. Claims included wild stories about secret U.S. germ warfare labs or Nazi conspiracies or that Ukrainian refugees were committing crimes and taking jobs from people who had welcomed them.

That effort continues, but Russia also has shifted its attention to issues with no obvious tie to Moscow that are more likely to create cracks in the unity of its adversaries — for example immigration, or inflation, high-profile topics in the U.S. and Europe.

“They're very savvy and understand the right buttons to push," said Bret Schafer, senior fellow and head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit. "If your ultimate objective is to reduce support for Ukraine, your inroad might be talking about how bad things are on the southern border. Their path to win this thing is to get the U.S. and the E.U. to stop sending weapons and aid to Ukraine.”

A message left with the Russian Embassy in Washington wasn't immediately returned.

America’s election may also be a tempting target for other authoritarian nations such as China and Iran that, like Russia, have shown a willingness to use online propaganda and disinformation to further their objectives.

The online landscape has dramatically shifted since Russia sought to meddle in America's 2016 presidential race won by Trump. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have banned many Russian state accounts and built new safeguards aimed at preventing anyone from exploiting their sites. In one recent example, Meta, the owner of Facebook, announced last fall that it had identified and stopped a network of thousands of fake accounts created in China in an apparent effort to fool American voters.

Other platforms, including X, have taken a different approach, rolling back or even eliminating content moderation and rules designed to stop disinformation. Then there is TikTok, whose ties to China and popularity with young people have set off alarms in several state capitals and Washington.

Artificial intelligence is another concern. The technology now makes it easier than ever to create audio or video that is lifelike enough to fool voters.

Social media is no longer the only battleground either. Increasingly, Russia and other disinformation spreaders use encrypted messaging sites or websites that masquerade as legitimate news outlets.

“A lot of their activity has moved off the major platforms to places were they can operate more freely,” said John Hultquist, chief analyst at Mandiant Intelligence, a cybersecurity firm monitoring Russian disinformation.

Walter, Logically's research director, said he is most concerned about disinformaton on X and TikTok this year, given their lack of controls and their popularity, especially with young voters. TikTok's ties to China have raised national security concerns.

He said that while election years tend to highlight the dangers of disinformation, the most effective information operations are launched years in advance. America's adversaries have spent a long time studying its politics, building online networks and cultivating domestic divisions.

Now comes the payoff.

“They don’t need to put a ton of effort into causing disinformation," Walter said. "They’ve already laid the groundwork leading up to 2024.”



Nevada county election official in charge of controversial 2022 hand-count plan resigns

Election official resigns

The top elections official in a rural Nevada county roiled by false claims of widespread election fraud that led to a controversial hand-count in the 2022 midterms is resigning, according to a resignation letter the county received.

The reason for Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf's resignation was not clear. The letter only said he was resigning effective March 31, and a county spokesperson could not confirm on Thursday the reason for his resignation.

Kampf declined to comment when reached over the phone by The Associated Press.

He stepped into the position in the wake of the county commission unanimously voting in support of ditching voting machines as conspiracies of a stolen 2020 election spread. The commission wanted every vote counted by hand, a request that made the county one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to act tangibly on election conspiracies, causing the old county clerk to resign.

Kampf ended up conducting a hand-count, but it looked vastly different than the original plan to make hand-counting the county’s primary method. The county used machines as the primary vote-counting method with a hand-count happening alongside, essentially acting as a test run for future elections. That plan did not appear to gain momentum leading up to 2024.

Perhaps the largest conflict stemming from the hand-count came between Kampf and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which had spawned lawsuits, complaints to the secretary of state’s office and a series of Nevada Supreme Court rulings that fundamentally altered Nye County’s plan for its parallel hand-count. The ACLU said hand-counting risked election integrity, proved inefficient and was born out of false election conspiracies.

The hand-count started in late October 2022 when they started counting early ballots, but it was stopped after its second day due to a legal challenge by the ACLU and a subsequent order from the secretary of state's office. The count could not resume until after polls closed.

“As my mom said, if I don’t have anything nice to say, probably don’t say it at all,” Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said in an interview after the announcement Thursday. “So I still have nothing nice to say all these years later.”

Kampf was recruited by Jim Marchant, a Republican candidate for secretary of state that year who claimed that every Nevada elected official since 2006 was “installed by the deep state cabal” and led a group of 17 election deniers across the country running mainly for state election offices. Marchant, along with 15 of the remaining 16 Republican coalition members, lost their races as part of a larger rebuke of far-right candidates casting doubt on elections in 2022.

Kampf had repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, though he declined to discuss those beliefs. He told the AP on his first day as clerk that his views on the 2020 election were not relevant to his job.

Hand-counting is mostly used in small townships across New England and rural Wisconsin. As of the 2022 midterms, there were 658 jurisdictions in the continental U.S. that relied exclusively on hand-counting, with the vast majority having fewer than 2,000 registered voters, according to data from Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting equipment across states.

The most populous county in the continental U.S. to use only hand-counting was Owyhee County, Idaho, which had 6,315 registered voters as of 2020. Nye County, between Las Vegas and Reno, had over 33,000 total registered voters at the time.



Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead, health minister says

43 dead in mall fire

A fire at a six-story shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital overnight killed at least 43 people and injured dozens of others, the health minister said Friday.

Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said the fire broke out late Thursday in the building in Dhaka’s downtown area. Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people died and at least 22 others were being treated, he said.

Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital, and that many people were trapped by the fire.

The cause of the fire could not immediately be determined.

Sen said at least 33 people, including women and children, were declared dead at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, while at least 10 others died after being taken to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.

More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed to douse the fire that broke out at the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, said Fire Service and Civil Defense Director General Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin.

At 75 people, including 42 who were unconscious, were rescued from the building, rescuers said.



Judge blocks Texas law that gives police broad powers to arrest migrants who illegally enter US

Judge blocks Texas law

A federal judge on Thursday blocked a new Texas law that would give police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of illegally entering the U.S., dealing a victory to the Biden administration with a broad rejection of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's immigration enforcement effort.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra's preliminary injunction pausing a law that was set to take effect March 5 came as President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger in November, Donald Trump, were visiting Texas' southern border to discuss immigration.

The state attorney general's office immediately appealed the ruling, according to a statement Thursday.

The ruling rebuked Texas' immigration enforcement effort on multiple fronts, brushing off claims by Republicans about an ongoing “invasion” along the southern border due to record-high illegal crossings. Ezra also said the law violates the Constitution's supremacy clause, conflicts with federal immigration law, and could hamper U.S. foreign relations and treaty obligations.

It is the second time in six months that Ezra has stopped one of Abbott’s border escalations, having also ruled against a floating barrier Texas erected in the Rio Grande.

Allowing Texas to “permanently supersede federal directives” due to a so-called invasion would “amount to nullification of federal law and authority — a notion that is antithetical to the Constitution and has been unequivocally rejected by federal courts since the Civil War,” the judge wrote.

Opponents have called the Texas measure the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since a 2010 Arizona law that opponents derided as the “show me your papers” bill. The U.S. Supreme Court partially struck down the Arizona law, but some Texas Republicans want that ruling to get a second look.

In his decision, Ezra wrote that the Texas law was preempted by the decision in the Arizona case, adding that the two laws had “striking similarities." He also struck down state officials' claims that large numbers of illegal border crossings constitute an “invasion," saying calling it such is a novel interpretation of the Constitution's invasion clause and that allowing the law to stand would be permitting the state to engage in war.

Although some may empathize with Texas officials' claims regarding the federal government's handling of immigration policy, it is not an excuse to violate the Constitution, the judge wrote.

In a statement, Abbott blamed the influx of migrants on Biden and said “we will not back down in our fight to protect our state — and our nation.”

“Texas has the right to defend itself because of President Biden’s ongoing failure to fulfill his duty to protect our state from the invasion at our southern border," he wrote, noting that he believes the case will ultimately end up before the Supreme Court.

Civil rights groups who sued the state have argued that if allowed to stand, the law — Senate Bill 4 — could lead to civil rights violations and racial profiling. They released a joint statement celebrating the decision.

“With today’s decision, the court sent a clear message to Texas: S.B. 4 is unconstitutional and criminalizing Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities will not be tolerated,” said Jennifer Babaie, director of advocacy and legal services with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

The Biden administration's lawsuit over the law is one several legal battles between it and Texas over how far the state can go to try to prevent migrants from crossing the border.

Under the rejected law, state law enforcement officers could arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally. Once in custody, they could agree to a Texas judge’s order to leave the country or face a misdemeanor charge for entering the U.S. illegally. Migrants who don’t leave after being ordered to do so could be arrested again and charged with a more serious felony.

Texas has been arresting migrants for years under a more limited program based on arrests for criminal trespassing.

At a Feb. 15 hearing, Ezra expressed skepticism as the state pleaded its case. Ezra, who was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan, said he feared the U.S. could become a confederation of states enforcing their own immigration laws. In his ruling, he doubled down on the thought, adding that “SB4 threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice.”

Republicans who back the law have said it would not target immigrants already living in the U.S. because of the two-year statute of limitations on the illegal entry charge and would be enforced only along the state’s border with Mexico.

Other Republican governors have expressed support for Abbott, who has said the federal government is not doing enough to enforce immigration laws.

Among other things, Texas placed the floating barrier in the Rio Grande, put razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border and stopped Border Patrol agents from accessing a riverfront park in Eagle Pass that they previously used to process migrants.



Snow could slow Texas Panhandle wildfire that has grown to the largest in state history

Snow could slow Texas fire

A wildfire spreading across the Texas Panhandle became the largest in state history Thursday, growing to nearly 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers) of scorched rural ranchlands and destroyed homes.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has merged with another blaze and is 3% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fire's explosive growth slowed as snow fell and winds and temperatures dipped, but it was still untamed and threatening more death and destruction. It is the largest of several major fires burning in the rural Panhandle section of the state. It has also crossed into Oklahoma.

Firefighters have made little progress corralling it, but Thursday’s forecast of snow, rain and temperatures in the 40s offered a window to make progress before temperatures and winds increase this weekend. Authorities have not said what ignited the fires, but strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fed the blazes.

Less than an inch of snow is expected, but moisture is not the only benefit, said National Weather Service meteorologist Samuel Scoleri.

“It will help keep relative humidity down for the day, and that will definitely help firefighters,” Scoleri said.

Snow and rainfall were expected to end Thursday afternoon, with dry, windy conditions returning Friday and critical fire conditions possible again Saturday and Sunday.

An 83-year-old woman is the only confirmed death so far, but with flames still menacing a wide area, authorities have yet to conduct a thorough search for victims or tally the numerous homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the weekend forecast and “sheer size and scope” of the blaze are the biggest challenges for firefighters.

“I don’t want the community there to feel a false sense of security that all these fires will not grow anymore,” Kidd said. “This is still a very dynamic situation.”

The largest fire recorded in state history was the 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire, which burned about 1,400 square miles (3,630 square kilometers) and resulted in 13 deaths.

This week, walls of flames were pushed by powerful winds while huge plumes of smoke billowed hundreds of feet in the air across the sparsely populated region. The smoke delayed aerial surveillance of the damage in some areas.

“There was one point where we couldn’t see anything,” said Greg Downey, 57, describing his escape as flames bore down on his neighborhood. “I didn’t think we’d get out of it.”

The woman who died was identified by family members as Joyce Blankenship, a former substitute teacher. Her grandson, Lee Quesada, said he had posted in a community forum asking if anyone could try and locate her. Quesada said deputies told his uncle on Wednesday that they had found Blankenship’s remains in her burned home.

Quesada said she’d surprise him at times with funny little stories “about her more ornery days.”

“Just talking to her was a joy,” he said, adding that “Joy” was a nickname of hers.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties. The encroaching flames caused the main facility that disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal to pause operations Tuesday night, but it was open for normal work Wednesday.

Hemphill County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Kendall described the charred terrain as being “like a moonscape. ... It's just all gone.”

Kendall said about 40 homes were burned around the perimeter of the town of Canadian, but no buildings were lost inside the community. Kendall also said he saw “hundreds of cattle just dead, laying in the fields.”

Tresea Rankin videotaped her own home in Canadian as it burned.

“Thirty-eight years of memories, that’s what you were thinking,” Rankin said of watching the flames destroy her house. “Two of my kids were married there ... But you know, it’s OK, the memories won’t go away.”

The small town of Fritch, north of Amarillo, lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 fire and appeared to be hit hard again. Mayor Tom Ray said Wednesday that an estimated 40-50 homes were destroyed on the southern edge. Ray said natural gas remained shut off for the town of 2,200.

Residents are probably not "prepared for what they’re going to see if they pull into town,” Hutchinson County Emergency Management spokesperson Deidra Thomas said in a social media livestream. She compared the damage to a tornado.

Near Borger, a community of about 13,000 people, emergency officials at one point late Tuesday answered questions from panicked residents on Facebook and told them to get ready to leave if they had not already.

“It was like a ring of fire around Borger. There was no way out ... all four main roads were closed,” said Adrianna Hill, whose home was within about a mile of the fire. She said wind that blew the fire in the opposite direction “saved our butts.”

The Pantex nuclear weapon plant, northeast of Amarillo, evacuated nonessential staff Tuesday night out of an “abundance of caution,” said Laef Pendergraft, a spokesperson for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s production office at Pantex. Firefighters remained in case of an emergency.

Pantex tweeted early Wednesday that the facility was “open for normal day shift operations.”

The Smokehouse Creek Fire spread from Texas into neighboring Roger Mills County in western Oklahoma, where officials encouraged people in the Durham area to flee. At least 13 homes burned in fires in the state's Panhandle region, officials said Wednesday.

 



Palestinian deaths in Gaza pass 30,000 as witnesses say Israeli forces fire on crowd waiting for aid

Death toll passes 30,000

Israeli troops fired on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said. More than 100 people were killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials.

Hospital officials initially reported an Israeli strike on the crowd, but witnesses later said Israeli troops opened fire as people pulled flour and canned goods off of trucks.

The Israeli military declined to provide an on-the-record statement about the role of troops in the incident.

Gaza City and the surrounding areas in the enclave's north were the first targets of Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. The area has suffered widespread devastation and has been largely isolated during the conflict. Trucks carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, the first major aid delivery to the area in a month, officials said Wednesday.

Aid groups say it has become nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance in most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, with crowds of desperate people overwhelming aid convoys. The U.N. says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food. “We've been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd, causing it to scatter, with some people hiding under cars. After the shooting stopped, they went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

In addition to at least 104 people killed, around 760 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said. The Health Ministry described it as a “massacre.”

Separately, the Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded. It does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

The ministry, which is part of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, maintains detailed records of casualties. Its counts from previous wars have largely matched those of the U.N., independent experts and even Israel’s own tallies.

The Hamas attack into southern Israel that ignited the war killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the militants seized around 250 hostages. Hamas and other militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of about 30 more, after releasing most of the other captives during a November cease-fire.

The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fueled international calls for another cease-fire, and the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are working to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages.

Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials have warned of further mass casualties if Israel follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a Rafah offensive could decimate what remains of aid operations.

Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain in northern Gaza despite Israeli orders to evacuate the area in October, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The U.N. says one in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.

COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs, said around 50 aid trucks entered nothern Gaza this week. It was unclear who delivered the aid. Some countries have meanwhile resorted to airdrops in recent days.

The World Food Program said earlier this month that it was pausing deliveries to the north because of the growing chaos, after desperate Palestinians emptied a convoy while it was en route.

Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks is far less than the 500 that came in daily before the war.

COGAT said Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid entering. Israel has blamed U.N. agencies for the bottleneck, saying hundreds of trucks are waiting on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom for aid workers to collect them.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday countered by saying large trucks entering Gaza have to be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller ones, but there aren’t enough of them and there’s a lack of security to distribute aid in Gaza.

Hamas-run police in Gaza stopped protecting convoys after Israeli strikes on them near the crossing.

 



Putin warns that sending Western troops to Ukraine risks a global nuclear conflict

Putin warns the west

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to fulfill Moscow’s goals in Ukraine and sternly warned the West against deeper involvement in the fighting, saying that such a move is fraught with the risk of a global nuclear conflict.

Putin's warning came in a state-of-the-nation address ahead of next month’s election he’s all but certain to win, underlining his readiness to protect Russian gains in Ukraine.

In an apparent reference to French President Emmanuel Macron's statement earlier this week that the future deployment of Western ground troops to Ukraine should not be “ruled out”, Putin warned that it would lead to “tragic” consequences for the countries who decide to do that.

Putin noted that while accusing Russia of plans to attack NATO allies in Europe, Western allies were “selecting targets for striking our territory and selecting the most efficient as they think striking assets and talking about the possibility of sending a NATO contingent to Ukraine.”

“We remember the fate of those who sent their troop contingents to the territory of our country,” the Russian leader said. “Now the consequences for the potential invaders will be far more tragic.”

Speaking before an audience of lawmakers and top officials, Putin said the West should keep in mind that “we also have the weapons that can strike targets on their territory, and what they are now suggesting and scaring the world with, all that raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilization.”

“Don't they understand it?” he said, alleging that Western leaders are playing with options of deeper involvement in the conflict, as in a simulation. “Those people haven't been through any tough challenges and they have forgotten what war means.”

Putin emphasized that Russia’s nuclear forces are in “full readiness,” saying that the military has deployed potent new weapons, some of them tested on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Kremlin leader said they include the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that has entered service with Russian nuclear forces, along with the Burevestnik atomic-powered cruise missile and the Poseidon atomic-powered, nuclear-armed drone, which are completing their tests.

At the same time, he rejected Western leaders’ statements about the threat of a Russian attack on NATO allies in Europe as “ravings” and again dismissed Washington's claim that Moscow was pondering the deployment of space-based nuclear weapons.

In his speech that focused heavily on economic and social issues ahead of the March 15-17 presidential vote, Putin argued that Russia was “defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots” in Ukraine, charging that the Russian forces have the upper hand in the fighting.

He hailed Russian soldiers and honored those who were killed in fighting with a moment of silence.

Putin has repeatedly said that he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 to protect Russian interests and prevent Ukraine from posing a major security threat to Russia by joining NATO. Kyiv and its allies have denounced it as an unprovoked act of aggression.

The Russian leader has repeatedly signaled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting but warned that Russia will hold onto its gains.

Putin, 71, who is running as an independent candidate in the March 15-17 presidential election, relies on the tight control over Russia’s political system that he has established during 24 years in power.

Prominent critics who could challenge him have either been imprisoned or are living abroad, while most independent media have been banned, meaning that Putin’s reelection is all but assured. He faces token opposition from three other candidates nominated by Kremlin-friendly parties represented in parliament.

Russia’s best-known opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose attempt to run against Putin in 2018 was rejected, died suddenly in an Arctic prison colony earlier this month, while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges. Navalny’s funeral is set for Friday.



More World News