Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church elects new patriarch with pro-Russian views

Sofia, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church elected Daniil, a 52-year-old metropolitan considered to be pro-Russian, as its new leader Sunday in a vote that reflected the divisions in the church and wider society since Russia invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

Growing divisions between pro-Russian and anti-Russian factions within the senior clergy began after some of them attempted to warm relations with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople in 2019. Russian and most other Orthodox patriarchs refused to accept the designation that formalized a split with the Russian church.

Unlike his late predecessor, who in his last prayers criticized Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Daniil has taken the side of the Moscow Patriarchy in its dispute with the Ecumenical Patriarch over the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church.

Daniil also criticized the expulsion last fall of a Russian and two Belarusian clerics accused of spying for Moscow, and in his prayers, he blamed people who called Russia an “aggressor.”

The 52-year-old bishop, born Atanas Nikolov, studied theology in Sofia and eventually went to serve as a monk in a monastery. He belongs to the first generation of young Bulgarians who joined the church after the fall of communism.

The bells of the golden-domed Alexander Nevski cathedral in downtown Sofia announced the election of a new patriarch by the 138 delegates at the church council.

Shortly after, council speaker Cyprian said that “Vidin metropolitan Daniil was elected by the clergy and the people as Holy Bulgarian Patriarch and Sofia metropolitan.”

Daniil was clad in the green-and-gold patriarchal attire and put upon his head the white veil, symbol of his office.

In a tight second-round ballot, Daniil won support of 69 delegates against Grigory, the metropolitan of Vratsa, who was backed by 66 delegates. The patriarch is elected for life unless he steps down.

Daniil succeeded the soft-speaking and charismatic Patriarch Neophyte, who passed away in March aged 78 after leading the church for 11 years.

A church procession accompanied the newly elected patriarch to the cathedral, where he was enthroned in a sumptuous ceremony, attended by other Orthodox church representatives as well as Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

Bartholomew is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope. Large portions of the Eastern Orthodox world are self-governing under their own patriarchs.

Though the church in Bulgaria is fully separate from the state, its constitution names Eastern Orthodoxy as the “traditional religion,” followed by some 85% of its 6.5 million people.

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Greece fights dozens of wildfires in ‘most difficult day of year’

Athens, Greece — Firefighters were battling a series of wildfires near the Greek capital, Athens, on Sunday evening, as the country braces for another scorching summer.

Greece faces a tough wildfire season after its warmest winter and earliest heat wave on record, with temperatures hitting 44°C (111°F).  

“Today in Attica two extremely dangerous fires that broke out in residential areas and spread rapidly due to strong winds in Keratea and Stamata were tackled,” Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vasilis Kikilias said late on Sunday.  

He said there was no longer an active front in Stamata, north of Athens, though there were some minor reignitions in the eastern area of Keratea.  

He said, “Ground forces will remain in the field throughout the night.”

Since Sunday midday, the authorities have called for the evacuation of at least eight areas near the capital, with flames destroying cars and houses.  

Ert channel reported that a 45-year-old-man died from cardiac arrest while trying to flee fires in suburban Athens.  

According to the police, the man was found unconscious in the yard of a house in Rodopoli and taken to the hospital, where he died.  

“Today is the hardest that the fire brigade has faced in this year’s firefighting season,” fire department spokesperson Vasilis Vathrakogiannis said on Sunday afternoon, during an emergency press briefing.

“The situation is very difficult, as strong winds continue to blow; they have not subsided and the outbreaks are many,” the mayor of Lavreotiki, Dimitris Loukas, told Athens News Agency Sunday afternoon.

He said a nearby military air base was not currently in danger from the flames.

A fire brigade spokesman noted that wind speeds had exceeded 60 km per hour in Keratea, while in Stamata, the blaze was fanned by strong northerly winds exceeding 70 km an hour.

Island fires

A fire also broke out Sunday in an industrial zone in Ritsona, near the island of Evia.  

Black smoke filled the sky above Ritsona after the fire started in a recycling factory, burning various flammable materials that were in the grounds around it, including tires and mattresses.  

Firefighters are fighting to prevent the flames from spreading beyond the recycling plant to other factories in the area.

The fire also approached a refugee center, but the Athens News Agency reported that this was not believed to be in danger.

Separately, a large wildfire broke out on Serifos island on Saturday afternoon but was also brought under control by firefighters early Sunday.

“All of southwestern Serifos has burned. We are talking about an area where the fire stopped at the sea,” Serifos Mayor Konstantinos Revintis told MEGA TV.  

The fire caused damage to houses, cottages, warehouses and chapels, according to the mayor.

The Fire Danger Forecast Map issued for Sunday by the Civil Protection Ministry predicted a very high category 4 risk of fire for Attica, the Peloponnese, Crete, the North and South Aegean Regions, and central Greece.  

A wildfire ignited Saturday afternoon in the area of Mount Parnitha — known as “the lungs of Athens” — was controlled Saturday evening with the help of reinforcements from other regions as well as volunteer firefighters.

More than 40 wildfires erupted across Saturday in Greece with wind speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per hour, according to fire brigade sources.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Greeks to brace for a difficult wildfire season in his weekly Facebook post on Sunday.

“The difficult times are still ahead of us. Our effort is continuous. In this effort, our allies are new tools that build a new culture of prevention and responsibility,” he said.

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North Korea launches ballistic missile off its east coast, South Korea says

Seoul, South Korea — North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward the North’s eastern waters on Monday, South Korea’s military said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch was made on Monday morning, but gave no further details, including how far the weapon traveled.

The launch came two days after South Korea, the U.S. and Japan ended their new multidomain trilateral drills that North Korea calls a provocation.

The launch is the North’s first weapons firing in five days. Last Wednesday, North Korea launched what it called a multiwarhead missile in the first known launch of a developmental, advanced weapon meant to defeat U.S. and South Korean missile defenses. North Korea said the launch was successful, but South Korea dismissed the North’s claim as deception to cover up a failed launch.

The South Korea-U.S.-Japanese “Freedom Edge” drill drew a U.S. aircraft carrier and destroyers, fighter jets and helicopters from the three countries. The training involved missile defense, anti-submarine and maritime interdiction drills.

In recent weeks, North Korea has floated numerous trash-carrying balloons toward South Korea in what it has described as a tit-for-tat response to South Korean activists sending political leaflets via their own balloons.

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Space Pioneer says part of rocket crashed in central China

Beijing — Beijing Tianbing Technology Company said Sunday that the first stage of its Tianlong-3 rocket under development had detached from its launch pad during a test due to structural failure and landed in a hilly area of the city of Gongyi in central China.

There were no reports of casualties after an initial investigation, Beijing Tianbing, also known as Space Pioneer, said in a statement on its official WeChat account.

Parts of the rocket stage were scattered within a “safe area” but caused a local fire, according to a separate statement by the Gongyi emergency management bureau.

The fire has since been extinguished and no one has been hurt, the bureau said.

The two-stage Tianlong-3 (“Sky Dragon 3”) is a partly reusable rocket under development by Space Pioneer, one of a small group of private-sector rocket makers that have grown rapidly over the past five years.

Falling rocket debris in China after launches is not unheard of, but it is very rare for part of a rocket under development to make an unplanned flight out of its test site and crash.

According to Space Pioneer, the first stage of the Tianlong-3 ignited normally during a hot test but later detached from the test bench due to structural failure and landed in hilly areas 1.5 km (0.9 mile) away.

A rocket can consist of several stages, with the first, or lowest, stage igniting and propelling the rocket upward upon its launch.

When the fuel is exhausted, the first stage falls off, and the second stage ignites, keeping the rocket in propulsion. Some rockets have third stages.

Space Pioneer says the performance of Tianlong-3 is comparable to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is also a two-stage rocket.

In April 2023, Space Pioneer launched a kerosene-oxygen rocket, the Tianlong-2, becoming the first private Chinese firm to send a liquid-propellant rocket into space.

Chinese commercial space companies have rushed into the sector since 2014 when private investment in the industry was allowed by the state.

Many started making satellites while others including Space Pioneer, focused on developing reusable rockets that can significantly cut mission costs.

The test sites of such companies can be found along China’s coastal areas, located by the sea due to safety reasons.

But some are also sited deep in the country’s interior such as Space Pioneer’s test center in Gongyi, a city of 800,000 people in the central province of Henan.

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LGBTQ+ Pride Month culminates with parades in New York, San Francisco and beyond

New York — The monthlong celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride reached its exuberant grand finale on Sunday, bringing rainbow-laden revelers to the streets for marquee parades in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere across the globe.

The wide-ranging festivities functioned as both jubilant parties and political protests, as participants recognize the community’s gains while also calling attention to recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws, such as bans on transgender health care, passed by Republican-led states.

“We’re at a time where there’s a ton of legislation, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” Zach Overton, 47, said at the New York parade. “It feels like we’re taking a step backwards in the fight for equality and so it’s a great moment to come out and be with our community and see all the different colors of the spectrum of our community and remind ourselves what we’re all fighting for.”

Thousands of people gathered along New York’s Fifth Avenue to celebrate Pride. Floats cruised the street as Diane Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” played from loudspeakers. Pride flags filled the horizon, and signs in support of Puerto Rico, Ukraine and Gaza were visible in the crowd.

This year, tensions over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza are also seeped into the celebrations, exposing divisions within a community that is often aligned on political issues.

Protesters temporarily blocked the New York parade on Sunday, chanting: “Free, free, free Palestine!” Police eventually took some of them away.

Pro-Palestinian activists disrupted pride parades earlier in June in Boston, Denver, and Philadelphia. Several groups participating in marches Sunday said they would seek to center the victims of the war in Gaza, spurring pushback from supporters of Israel.

“It is certainly a more active presence this year in terms of protest at Pride events,” said Sandra Perez, the executive director of NYC Pride. “But we were born out of a protest.”

The first pride march was held in New York City in 1970 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising, a riot that began with a police raid on a Manhattan gay bar.

Nick Taricco, 47, who was at the New York parade with Overton, said he attended Friday’s opening of the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, where President Joe Biden spoke. Taricco said he has concerns about politics in the U.S., including the presidential election.

“Even given how old he is, I still think that’s the direction we need to go in,” Taricco said of Biden. “But it’s a very uncertain time in general in this country.”

Ireland Fernandez-Cosgrove, 23, celebrated at the New York parade.

“New York City is a great place to live, but this is one of the only days where you can come out and be openly queer and you know you’re going to be OK and safe about it,” she said. “I came out here today with my partner to be able to be ourselves in public and know that other people are going to be supporting us.”

In addition to the NYC Pride March, the nation’s largest, the city also played host Sunday to the Queer Liberation March, an activism-centered event launched five years ago amid concerns that the more mainstream parade had become too corporate.

Another one of the world’s largest Pride celebrations also took place Sunday in San Francisco.

Tens of thousands of revelers packed sidewalks along Chicago’s parade, a scaled-back event from previous years. City officials shortened the North Side route and the number of floats this year from 199 to about 150 over safety and logistical concerns, including to better deploy police into evening hours as post-parade parties have become more disruptive in recent years. Chicago’s parade, one of the largest in the U.S., routinely draws about 1 million people, according to the city. Sunday’s crowd estimates were not immediately available.

Additional parades were scheduled in Minneapolis and Seattle.

On top of concerns about protests, federal agencies have warned that foreign terrorist organizations and their supporters could target the parades and adjacent venues. A heavy security presence was expected at all of the events.

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Dutch PM Rutte urges support for Ukraine, EU, NATO in farewell speech

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Long-serving Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged his country to support Ukraine and international cooperation in his final address to his compatriots Sunday, as an inward-looking new government is set to take over the Netherlands in two days.

“It is crucial that our country is embedded in the European Union and NATO. Together we are stronger than alone. Especially now,” the 57-year-old Rutte said from his office in The Hague.

After leading the country for 14 years, he will take his experience with consensus-building to Brussels, where he will take over as NATO’s new secretary-general later this year.

He stressed the need to continue support for Ukraine, “for peace there and security here.” The new government, expected to take office on Tuesday, has pledged to maintain assistance. But far-right populist Geert Wilders, whose party won the largest block of seats in last year’s election, has expressed pro-Russia views and Kremlin backers cheered his victory at the polls.

Rutte described the MH17 tragedy in 2014 as “perhaps the most drastic and emotional event” during his tenure. The passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine as it traveled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 passengers and crew, including 196 Dutch citizens.

A Dutch court convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian in 2022 of involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777.

Known for cycling to meetings and his dedication to politics, Rutte highlighted his country’s positive attributes.

“There is no war here, you can be who you are, we are prosperous,” he said in the 12-minute speech.

He acknowledged that there had been low points during his tenure, including a child benefits scandal that wrongly labeled thousands of parents as fraudsters.

Wearing a white shirt with several of the top buttons undone, Rutte said that his time in office had added some “gray hairs and wrinkles” to his appearance. 

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Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani on track for reelection, provisional results show 

NOUAKCHOTT — Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is on track to secure a second mandate after positioning the country as a strategic ally of the West in a region swept by coups and violence, provisional results showed on Sunday.   

Ghazouani, who is seeking reelection on a pledge of providing security and economic growth, obtained 55% of votes, according to provisional results from over 80% polling stations, the country’s independent electoral commission said on Sunday afternoon. His main rival, anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid, received 22.4% of votes, the commission said, with a turnout of almost 55%.   

The full results are expected on Sunday evening but Ghazouani, a former army chief and the current president of the African Union, has a comfortable lead.   

Although his opponents accused him of corruption and mismanagement, he remains popular among Mauritanians who see him as a beacon of stability. The vote is taking place in a particularly tense regional climate, with Mauritania’s neighbors shaken by military coups and jihadi violence.   

Mauritania is rich in natural resources including iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold, oil and natural gas. It is poised to become a gas producer by the end of the year, with the planned launch of the BP-operated Greater Tortue Ahmeyin offshore gas project at the border with Senegal.   

Yet almost 60% of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, working as farmers or employed in the informal sector. With few economic opportunities for young people at home, many are attempting to reach Europe, and some are even trying to get to the United States through Mexico.   

“The last word belongs to the Mauritanian voters,” Ghazouni said after voting in Ksar, a suburb of the capital. “I commit myself to respecting their choice.”   

Saturday’s vote unfolded peacefully, according to observers.   

“Nothing has been detected so far and the CENI has not received any complaints,” said Taghioullah Ledhem, the spokesman for CENI, the country’s independent electoral commission. But some opposition candidates held a different view.   

Biram Dah, who came second in the vote according to the provisional results, warned on Sunday against “an electoral coup d’état for the benefit of Ghazouani, who was defeated by voters.”   

During a press conference on Sunday morning, Biram accused the electoral commission of fraud by giving Ghazouni thousands of votes “added out of nowhere.”   

“We are going to oppose this electoral hold-up,” he said. “I ask Ghazouani to respect his solemn commitment to comply with the will of the people.” 


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Greek firefighters battle new wildfire near Athens amid strong winds 

ATHENS — Greek firefighters were battling a wildfire south of Athens on Sunday amid strong winds, just hours after managing to contain blazes in a mountainous area also near the capital as well as on an island in the Aegean Sea.

Dozens of firefighters, backed up by 17 water-carrying aircraft, fought to tame the new fire in a sparsely-populated area near the town of Keratea, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Athens.

Greek television showed at least one house in flames as smoke from burning pine and olive trees billowed into the sky.

With hot, windy conditions across much of Greece, dozens of wildfires broke out over the weekend and authorities advised people to stay away from forested areas.

Firefighters were still engaged on the island of Serifos where a fire had broken out amid low vegetation on Saturday and spread quickly, fanned by strong winds, damaging houses and prompting the evacuation of several hamlets.

The wildfire, which at one point had raged across 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), damaged holiday homes and storehouses, the island’s mayor, Kostas Revinthis, told Greek television.

Another fire in the mountainous forest of Parnitha near a nature reserve just outside Athens had eased by Sunday morning, officials said.

The strong winds are not expected to abate until later on Sunday, meteorologists said.

Wildfires are common in the Mediterranean country but have become more devastating in recent years as summers have become hotter, drier and windier, which scientists link to the effects of climate change.

After last summer’s deadly forest fires and following its warmest winter on record, Greece developed a new doctrine, which includes deploying an extra fire engine to each new blaze, speeding up air support and clearing forests.

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M23 continues to gain ground in volatile east DR Congo 

Kanyabayonga, DR Congo — The M23 militia group continued to gain ground in the war-torn east of DR Congo, with more towns falling into the hands of the rebels, sources told AFP Sunday.   

Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group which has seized swathes of eastern DR Congo in an ongoing offensive launched in 2021 — something Kigali denies.   

On Sunday the M23 (March 23 Movement) moved into the town of Kirumba, in North Kivu province, which has been rocked by violence since 2021 when the group resumed its armed campaign in the region.    

Kirumba is the biggest town in the south of the Lubero territory, where the group has been advancing, and a big commercial center with more than 120,000 residents.    

“We regret that the large entity [the town] has since yesterday evening been in the hands of the M23,” a local official, who did not wish to be named, told AFP on Sunday.   

He said the group is now heading north from the town.   

‘They are numerous’ 

“They are numerous, some arrived on foot and others in vehicles,” a civil society leader who asked to remain unnamed told AFP.   

Another local official, who also said the rebels had arrived in the town, said they are “waiting for the government’s reaction.”  

President Felix Tshisekedi held a meeting of DR Congo’s defense council on Saturday.   

During a speech to mark the country’s independence day, Tshisekedi said “clear and firm instructions have been given for the safeguarding of the territorial integrity of our country”, without giving more details.   

On Saturday M23 seized the strategic town of Kanyabayonga, as other surrounding areas also fell into the hands of the rebels.   

Kanyabayonga is home to more than 60,000 people and tens of thousands of people have fled there in recent months, driven from their homes by the advance of the rebels.    

The town is considered a pathway to Butembo and Beni in the north, strongholds of the Nande tribe and major commercial centers.    

It is in the Lubero territory, the fourth territory in the North Kivu province that the group has entered after Rutshuru, Nyiragongo and Masisi.   

Other towns near Kanyabayonga have also been seized by M23, according to officials and security sources.   

Five people including three civilians and two soldiers have been killed in the town of Kayna where the rebels took control on Saturday, Console Sindani vice president of Kayna civil society, told AFP on Sunday.   

The mayor of the commune of Kayna, Clovis Kanyauru told AFP on Sunday there had been three deaths.   

DR Congo’s mineral-rich east has been the scene of violence for 30 years by armed groups, both local and foreign-based, going back to regional wars of the 1990s. 


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Austrian far-right, Hungary’s Orban form new EU alliance 

Vienna — Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO), Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz and the populist Czech ANO party led by Andrej Babis are forming a new alliance in the European Parliament, they announced on Sunday.   

The move would reorder but possibly also split nationalist forces in the assembly, provided four more parties join. Parties from at least a quarter of the European Union’s 27 member states are needed to officially form a new political group.   

While Fidesz has remained outside larger groupings since it parted ways with the mainstream center-right European People’s Party (EPP) in 2021, the FPO is part of the Identity and Democracy political group along with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party in France. ANO is not part of a political group.   

“Today is a historic day because today we are entering a new era of European politics,” FPO leader Herbert Kickl said in an address to the media attended by Babis and Orban convened at short notice in a Vienna hotel.   

“This alliance is meant as a rocket that will bring other parties on board at the European level to join forces and give Europe a better future,” Kickl said of the “new patriotic Alliance.”   

Former Czech prime minister Babis said the new group would be called Patriots for Europe.   

All three men cited the fight against illegal immigration, which has long been a pressing concern for them, as well as transferring more powers from Brussels back to member states.   

In this month’s European Parliament election, nationalist parties capitalized on voter disquiet over spiraling prices, migration and the cost of the green transition, and are looking to translate their seat gains into more influence on EU policy.   

While the FPO has a clear lead in Austrian opinion polls ahead of a Sept. 29 parliamentary election, Orban faces a growing threat in Hungary from the new opposition party Tisza, which said this month it would join the EPP in the European Parliament.   

“Today we are creating a political formation that in my view will be off to a flying start and will very quickly become the largest group of the European right,” Orban said.   

“This will happen within days and then the sky is the limit,” he said.   

The three men took no questions but the FPO said a press conference would be held in Brussels or Strasbourg soon with other parties joining the alliance. 

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2 dead, 1 missing after Swiss landslide, police say

GENEVA — Two people have died and a third is missing after torrential rains triggered a landslide in southeastern Switzerland, police said Sunday.

Violent storms lashed the Alpine country with rain this weekend, with hundreds of people evacuated in the west after the Rhone River and its tributaries broke their banks.

“The bodies of two people were found by rescuers in connection with the landslide in the Fontana region,” police in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino said in a statement.

According to local daily La Regione, the dead were two women who were on holiday in the region.

Emergency services were assessing the best way to evacuate 300 people who had arrived for a football tournament in Peccia, while almost 70 more were being evacuated from a holiday camp in the village of Mogno.

The poor weather was making rescue work particularly difficult, police had said earlier, with several valleys inaccessible and cut off from the electricity network.

The federal alert system also said part of the canton was without drinking water.

In the western canton of Valais, the civil security services said “several hundred” people were evacuated and roads closed after the Rhone overflowed in different locations.

Extreme rainfall also struck southeastern Switzerland last weekend, leaving one dead and causing major damage. 

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Expanding extremist groups in Africa fuel worries that they could attack the US, allies

GABORONE, Botswana — Violent extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are growing in size and influence across Africa, fueling worries that as they improve their tactics they could attack the U.S. or Western allies.

U.S. defense and military officials described the threats and their concerns about growing instability in Africa, where a number of coups have put ruling juntas in control, leading to the ouster of American troops and a decline in U.S. intelligence gathering.

“Threats like Wagner, terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations continue to sow instability in multiple regions,” Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in opening remarks Tuesday at a conference of African chiefs of defense in Botswana. “I think we can all agree, what happens in one part of the world, does not stay in one part of the world.”

Wagner is the Russian mercenary group that has gone into African nations to provide security as Western forces, including from the U.S. and France, have been pushed out. The group is known for its brutality, and human rights organizations have accused its members of raping and killing civilians.

While Brown only touched briefly on the terror threat in the region, it was a key topic among others at the conference and spurred questions from military chiefs in the audience after his speech. They wanted to know what the U.S. could do to help stem the spread of insurgents in West Africa, the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel.

This is the first time that the chiefs of defense conference has been held on African soil. And it is the first time the U.S. joint chiefs chairman has visited a sub-Saharan country since 1994, when Gen. John Shalikashvili visited Rwanda and Zaire.

A senior U.S. defense official said al-Qaida linked groups — such as al-Shabab in Somalia and Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, known as JNIM, in the Sahel region — are the largest and most financially viable insurgencies. JNIM is active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and is looking to expand into Benin and Togo, which it uses as hubs to rest, recuperate, get financing and gather weapons but also has increased attacks there.

At the same time, the Islamic State group has key cells in West Africa and in the Sahel. The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a threat assessment, said the Islamic State cells were getting increasing direction from the group’s leadership that relocated to northern Somalia. That has included how to kidnap Westerners for ransom, how to learn better military tactics, how to hide from drones and how to building their own small quadcopters.

A U.S. military airstrike in Somalia on May 31 targeted Islamic State militants and killed three, according to U.S. Africa Command. U.S. officials have said the strike targeted the group’s leader, but the defense official said Monday that it’s still unclear if he was killed.

Roughly 200 Islamic State insurgents are in Somalia, so they are vastly outnumbered by al-Shabab, which has grown in size to between 10,000 and 12,000.

The growth of the insurgent groups within Africa signals the belief by both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that the continent is a ripe location for jihadism, where extremist ideology can take root and expand, the official said.

And it comes as the U.S. was ordered to pull out its 1,000 troops from Niger in the wake of last July’s coup and also about 75 from Chad. Those troop cuts, which shut down a critical U.S. counterterrorism and drone base at Agadez, hamper intelligence gathering in Niger, said Gen. Michael Langley, head of U.S. Africa Command.

Surveillance operations before the coup gave the U.S. a greater ability to get intelligence on insurgent movements. Now, he said, the key goal is a safe and secure withdrawal of personnel and equipment from both Agadez and a smaller U.S. facility near the airport.

Langley met with Niger’s top military chief, Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, during the conference, and said military-to-military communications continue but that it’s yet to be determined how much the new transitional government will deal with the U.S.

Currently, he said, there are about 400 troops still at Agadez and 200 near the airport.

But, he added that “as we’re in transition and resetting, we need to maintain capabilities to get enough intelligence to identify warnings of a threat out there.”

Langley said the U.S. is still trying to assess the militant groups’ capabilities as they grow.

“Yes, they’ve been growing in number. Have they been growing in capability where they can do what we call external ops attacks on the homeland and attacks on allies, whether we’re talking about Europe or anyone? That’s what we closely watch,” he said. “I’d say it has the potential as they grow in numbers.”

Both Langley and Brown spoke more extensively about the need for the U.S. and African nations to communicate more effectively and work together to solve security and other problems.

And Brown acknowledged that the U.S. needs to “do better at understanding the perspectives of others, ensuring their voices and expertise don’t get drowned out.”

The U.S has struggled to maintain relations with African nations as many foster growing ties to Russia and China.

Some African countries have expressed frustration with the U.S. for forcing issues, such as democracy and human rights, that many see as hypocrisy, given Washington’s close ties to some autocratic leaders elsewhere. Meanwhile, Russia offers security assistance without interfering in politics, making it an appealing partner for military juntas that seized power in places like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in recent years.

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Want to follow swimming in Paris? Then get up to speed on WADA, doping and China

TOKYO — The Paris Olympics open next month and the agency that oversees doping enforcement is under scrutiny following allegations it failed to pursue positive tests of Chinese swimmers who subsequently won medals — including three gold — at the Tokyo Games in 2021.

The focus on the World Anti-Doping Agency and China’s swimmers raises questions for athletes about the fairness of the competitions and the effectiveness of doping control at the Olympics.

“It’s hard going into Paris knowing that we’re going to be racing some of these athletes,” American swimmer Katie Ledecky, a seven-time Olympic champion, said in a television interview. “I think our faith in the system is at an all-time low.”

Rob Koehler, who worked as a deputy director of WADA until 2018, offered a similar tone.

“Athletes have zero confidence in the global regulator and World Aquatics,” Koehler, the director general of athletes’ advocacy body Global Athlete, told The Associated Press. “Transparency is needed more than ever. Without it, the anti-doping movement will crumble and athletes will never feel they have a level playing field.”

The background

From January 1-3, 2021, 23 elite Chinese swimmers tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine — a heart medication known as TMZ — while competing in the Chinese city of Shijiazhuang and staying in a local hotel.

Chinese authorities investigated but did not sanction the swimmers and said they had unwittingly ingested the banned substance. They blamed food/environmental contamination and said the drug had gotten into spice containers in the hotel kitchen.

The investigation was carried out by the Chinese Minister of Public Security, China’s national police force.

WADA accepted the explanation and argued, in part, it was not possible to send its own investigators to China during what officials said was a “local COVID outbreak.”

Several of those athletes later won medals at the Tokyo Olympics, including gold medals in three events.

Eleven of the 23 Chinese swimmers were named this month on the country’s national team to compete in Paris, including Zhang Yufei, who won gold in the 200-meter butterfly and the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay. She also won two silver medals in Tokyo.

Also on the list for Paris is 200 individual medley Olympic gold-medalist Wang Shun, and 200 breaststroke world-record holder Qin Haiyang.

The criticism of WADA

WADA has been criticized for seeming to look the other way at aspects of the Chinese anti-doping agency’s investigation and reporting. It has also not published any of the science behind its decision.

The Chinese agency, known as CHINADA, did not report the positive tests to WADA until mid-March. And in early April 2021 it told WADA it had begun an investigation. On June 15 of that year, it told WADA that environmental contamination was the cause and said it was not pursing an ADRV — an anti-doping rules violation.

Had an anti-doping rules violation been found, CHINADA should have filed a mandatory provisional suspension with a public disclosure forthcoming.

Many questions have been asked since the case became public this year, including by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. Why did it take 2 1/2 months to report the findings, and why was the investigation begun even later? WADA attributes the “certain delays” to COVID restrictions.

Why was there an apparent delay in inspecting the hotel kitchen? Why was the residue still around, particularly in light of China’s tough sanitation rules during the pandemic? And where did the TMZ come from and how did it land in a spice container? Why were the national police involved in a sports doping case?

The New York Times and German broadcaster ARD broke the story in April of this year.

WADA’s defense

Basically, WADA says it had no grounds to challenge the findings of CHINADA. WADA did say, however, it did not agree with all of CHINADA’s investigation “for largely technical reasons.”

WADA says it accepted the contamination theory because: the levels of TMZ were very low; the swimmers were from different regions of China; and the swimmers were in the same place when the positive tests occurred. Also, competing swimmers stayed in another hotel. Three were tested and none tested positive.

Legally, WADA argued that it could have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but was advised not to by external lawyers. It would have been a narrow appeal that would not have kept the athletes from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

WADA has appointed retired Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier to review the handling of the case. Fairly or not, his impartiality has been questioned.

The banned medication

Trimetazidine is listed as a “metabolic modulator” and is banned by WADA — in competition and out of competition. It is believed to help endurance and recovery time after training. One of the best-known TMZ cases involved Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who was suspended for three months in 2014 after testing positive for the substance. He also served a four-year suspension for a separate doping violation.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for TMZ weeks before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. She said the substance had belonged to her grandfather and had accidentally contaminated her food. She was allowed to skate in Beijing, but was was eventually handed a four-year suspension.

WADA said Valieva’s contamination scenario “was not compatible with the analytical results.” In the case of the Chinese swimmers, WADA said “the contamination scenario was plausible and that there was no concrete scientific element to challenge it.”

Strict Liability

The principle of “Strict Liability” — athletes are responsible for what they ingest — is at the heart of the WADA code, and is there to ensure all athletes are treated equally. Some question if the principle was followed in this case.

WADA’s rules specify that a “mandatory provisional suspension” should have taken place after the positive tests, which were carried out at a WADA-approved laboratory in Beijing. The local anti-doping agency — in this case, CHINADA — should have issued the suspension.

“CHINADA’s handling of the case, and WADA’s subsequent response, did not adhere to the most essential rule in the code — the principle of Strict Liability,” Steven Teitler, the legal director of the Netherlands doping agency, wrote in a white paper examining the case.

WADA further muddied the water in a fact sheet it published. It said “even for mandatory provisional suspensions there are exceptions.” It said there were multiple precedents for the decision to exonerate the Chinese athletes, precedents that did not seem to have been widely known.

This has raised more questions about how the agency follows its own rules.

The anti-doping system relies on national agencies like CHINADA to enforce the rules, which can clash with the wishes of high-profile athletes and the prestige they might bring to a country and its government.

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Kenya’s urban population grows, along with need for affordable housing

NAIROBI, Kenya — In the heart of the crowded Kibera neighborhood in Kenya’s capital, Jacinter Awino shares a small tin house with her husband and four children. She envies those who have escaped such makeshift homes to more permanent dwellings under the government’s affordable housing plan.

The 33-year-old housewife and her mason husband are unable to raise the $3,800 purchase price for a one-room government house. Their tin one was constructed for $380 and lacks a toilet and running water.

“Those government houses are like a dream for us, but our incomes simply don’t allow it,” Awino said.

The government plans to build 250,000 houses each year, aimed at eventually closing a housing deficit that World Bank data puts at 2 million units. The plan was launched in 2022, but no data is available on the number of houses already completed.

Kenya’s urban areas are home to a third of the country’s total population of more than 50 million. Of those in urban areas, 70% live in informal settlements marked by a lack of basic infrastructure, according to UN-Habitat.

Some urban Kenyans have moved into a government housing project on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi, where one-bedroom units sold for $7,600 last year.

Felister Muema, a 55-year-old former caterer, paid a deposit of about 10% through a savings plan and is expected to pay off the balance in 25 years.

“This is where I have started living my life,” she said. “If I do something here, it is permanent. If I plant a flower, no one is going to tell me: ‘Uproot it, I don’t want it there.’ This gives me life.”

But experts say construction and financing need to change and speed up for Kenya’s housing deficit to be met.

“We cannot rely on the traditional mortgage route,” said UN-Habitat’s head of East Africa, Ishaku Maitumbi, who recommended a cooperative savings system that is popular with Kenyan businesses.

For home construction, some are exploring the emerging technology of 3-D printing. A machine layers special mortar to form concrete walls and cuts the building time by several days compared to traditional brick and mortar work.

A company, 14Trees, has used the technology to build a showcase house in Nairobi and 10 houses in coastal Kilifi County.

Company CEO Francois Perrot said the technology can help address the huge housing need on the African continent, but it will take time.

“If we want to clear that backlog, we need to build differently, we need to build at scale, with speed, and with low-carbon materials, and this is what construction 3-D printing makes possible,” Perrot said.

The company’s homes, like many traditionally built ones, remain beyond the reach of most Kenyans. A two-bedroom house costs $22,000 and a three-bedroom one costs $29,000. But Perrot asserted that acquiring a printer locally and making mortar locally would help bring down costs.

“People don’t really worry or care about technology. What they care about is the design, the price, the way it is set up, the layout of the building,” he said.

Nickson Otieno, an architect and founder of Niko Green, a sustainability consulting firm, said such new technology has great potential but remains limited.

“It will still take a long time for it to compete with brick and mortar,” he said. “Brick and mortar, everybody can build their house anywhere they are. They are able to access the materials, they are able to access the tradesmen who build the house and they can plan the cost.”

Financing remains a challenge. In June 2023, Kenya’s parliament passed a finance law with a new housing tax of 1.5% on gross income, to be used to build affordable housing. The law is being challenged in court. Critics argue the tax is discriminatory as it applies only to those with formal employment.

If the tax is rejected, Kenya’s government would need to look elsewhere for funding to build affordable housing.

The housing tax is one of the issues causing discontent among young people who have organized a series of protests that included the extraordinary storming of parliament Tuesday. More than 20 people were killed as police opened fire.

President William Ruto has defended the need for the tax.

“We have said that affordable housing, social housing is a right,” he said earlier this year in response to the legal challenge.

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Political, racial tensions are the backdrop as France honors slain teen

NANTERRE, France — One year after a French teenager with North African origins was killed by police — a shooting that sparked shock and days of rioting across France — his mother led a silent march Saturday to pay homage to her son.

It comes at a politically fraught time. Hate speech is blighting the campaign for snap parliamentary elections taking place this weekend, and an anti-immigration party that wants to boost police powers to use their weapons and has historic ties to racism and antisemitism is leading in the polls.

Several hundred family members, friends and supporters gathered in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to remember 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk, who was shot dead at point-blank range by a police officer at a traffic check on June 27, 2023.

Within hours of his death, Merzouk, a delivery driver from a working-class neighborhood, became a symbol. For many across France, he was the embodiment of young French Black and North African men who, studies show, face police checks and discrimination more frequently than their white counterparts.

”My son was executed,” his mother, Mounia, told the crowd. “When I go back home, no one is there. I don’t have my baby anymore. When I go to his room, it’s empty.” She expressed fear that she might run into the police officer who killed her son and has been released pending further investigation.

Friends wore white T-shirts with Merzouk’s photo, and fellow residents of his housing project held a banner reading “Justice for Nahel.” The march ended at the spot where he was killed, and an imam sang and read a prayer.

There was no visible police presence, though organizers of the march recruited guards to ensure security for the event. Merzouk’s mother asked politicians to stay away, to avoid politicking or tensions the day before France’s parliamentary elections.

On Sunday, French voters will cast ballots in the first round of snap elections for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, that could lead to the country’s first far-right government since the World War II Nazi occupation.

French opinion polls suggest the National Rally party could dominate the next parliament after the July 7 second round and get the prime minister’s job. In that scenario, centrist President Emmanuel Macron would retain the presidency until 2027 but in a sharply weakened role.

“This march, happening now, it is a powerful symbol,” said Assa Traore, who has been fighting for justice since her brother Adama died in the custody of French police in 2016.

“It means that history can’t write itself without us. We, from the working-class neighborhoods, are the first-hand victims of these elections,” said the 39-year-old with Malian roots who marched alongside Merzouk’s family. “We … are afraid every day that our sons, brothers, or husbands will be killed. Racism and racial profiling are our daily life.”

Merzouk’s death, which was captured on video, stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and disadvantaged suburbs, many of whom are French-born youth with immigrant family backgrounds. Fueled by TikTok, riots spread with unprecedented speed before a mass police crackdown. The unrest caused, according to French authorities, more than $1 billion in damage.

The officer who fired the shot cited self-defense, and an extreme-right figure started a crowdfunding campaign for the policeman that drew $1.6 million before being shut down.

Citing security concerns, notably in impoverished areas in French suburbs or “banlieues,” the far-right National Rally wants to give a specific new legal status to police. If police officers use their arms during an intervention, they would be presumed to have acted in self-defense. Currently police officers have the same legal status as all French citizens and have to prove they acted in self-defense.

The left-wing coalition New Popular Front, meanwhile, wants to ban the use of some police weapons and dismantle a notoriously tough police unit.

Among those marching Sunday was Lina Marsouk, a 15-year-old student from Nanterre who described watching relatives undergo brutal police checks. “I have been traumatized by these scenes,” she said.

Born and raised in France and with Algerian roots, she also described being told ”go back to your country” while visiting nearby Paris.

”I have always lived here,” she said. “These comments are hurtful. I feel sad and disappointed that France turned this way.”

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San Francisco store is shipping LGBTQ+ books to places where they are banned

SAN FRANCISCO — In an increasingly divisive political sphere, Becka Robbins focuses on what she knows best — books.

Operating out of a tiny room in Fabulosa Books in San Francisco’s Castro District, one of the oldest gay neighborhoods in the United States, Robbins uses donations from customers to ship boxes of books across the country to groups that want them.

In an effort she calls “Books Not Bans,” she sends titles about queer history, sexuality, romance and more — many of which are increasingly hard to come by in the face of a rapidly growing movement by conservative advocacy groups and lawmakers to ban them from public schools and libraries.

“The book bans are awful, the attempt at erasure,” Robbins said. She asked herself how she could get these books into the hands of the people who need them the most.

Beginning last May, she started raising money and looking for recipients. Her books have gone to places like a pride center in west Texas and an LGBTQ-friendly high school in Alabama.

Customers are especially enthusiastic about helping Robbins send books to places in states like Florida, Texas and Oklahoma, often writing notes of support to include in the packages. Over 40% of all book bans from July 2022 to June 2023 were in Florida, more than any other state. Behind Florida are Texas and Missouri, according to a report by PEN America, a nonprofit literature advocacy group.

Book bans and attempted bans have been hitting record highs, according to the American Library Association. And the efforts now extend as much to public libraries as school libraries. Because the totals are based on media accounts and reports submitted by librarians, the association regards its numbers as snapshots, with many bans left unrecorded.

PEN America’s report said 30% of the bans include characters of color or discuss race and racism, and 30% have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

The most sweeping challenges often originate with conservative organizations, such as Moms for Liberty, which has organized banning efforts nationwide and called for more parental control over books available to children.

Moms for Liberty is not anti-LGBTQ+, co-founder Tiffany Justice has told The Associated Press. But about 38% of book challenges that “directly originated” from the group have LGBTQ+ themes, according to the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Justice said Moms for Liberty challenges books that are sexually explicit, not because they cover LGBTQ+ topics.

Among those topping banned lists have been Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Robbins said it’s more important than ever to makes these kinds of books available to everyone.

“Fiction teaches us how to dream,” Robbins said. “It teaches us how to connect with people who are not like ourselves, it teaches us how to listen and emphasize.”

She’s sent 740 books so far, with each box worth $300 to $400, depending on the titles.

At the new Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland, Florida, the books donated by Fabulosa are already on the shelves, said Jason DeShazo, a drag queen known as Momma Ashley Rose who runs the LGBTQ+ community center.

DeShazo is a family-friendly drag performer and has long hosted drag story times to promote literacy. He uses puppets to address themes of being kind, dealing with bullies and giving back to the community.

DeShazo hopes to provide a safe space for events, support groups and health clinics, and to build a library of banned books.

“I don’t think a person of color should have to search so hard for an amazing book about history of what our Black community has gone through,” DeShazo said. “Or for someone who is queer to find a book that represents them.”

Robbins’ favorite books to send are youth adult queer romances, a rapidly growing genre as conversations about LGBTQ+ issues have become much more mainstream than a decade ago.

“The characters are just like regular kids — regular people who are also queer, but they also get to fall in love and be happy,” Robbins said.

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School’s out and NYC migrant families face a summer of uncertainty

NEW YORK — When Damien Carchipulla started his first school year in New York City in September, the first grader’s family was living in a Manhattan hotel for migrant families.

In the 10 months since, the family of four from Ecuador has moved shelters three times under a policy Mayor Eric Adams imposed in the fall that limits the number of days migrants can stay in a single place. Every 60 days they must give up their shelter beds and reapply for housing or leave the system.

With a fourth move expected in a matter of weeks, Damien’s mother Kimberly Carchipulla hopes the family isn’t pulled too far from the 6-year-old’s school in Harlem this summer. Her son is set to attend a summer program starting in July.

“A lot has changed because new laws were put in place,” Carchipulla said in Spanish while picking up Damien after school one day. “They get stressed. They get upset. Every 60 days, it’s a new home.”

The New York City school year ended Wednesday, but for thousands of migrant families the shuffle from shelter to shelter continues. With it come the concerns about how they’ll navigate their children’s education needs, both this summer and into the next school year.

“These families were already coming in with a great deal of trauma, which was impacting their children’s attendance at school and their ability to engage once they’re there,” said Sarah Jonas, a vice president at Children’s Aid, a nonprofit that provides mentoring, health services and after-school programs at city schools. “With that added burden of the 60-day rule, we’ve seen even more disruption for our families getting these eviction notices and all of the anxiety that comes with that.”

Like the Carchipullas, most families chose to stick with the same school through the year, even if they were reassigned to shelters in a different part of the city. The tradeoff for many was longer and more complex commutes, leading to children who were exhausted before the school day even started. Absenteeism spiked too, as parents struggled to get their children to school on time.

Carchipulla, who is 23, counts her family among the lucky ones: the three moves they made during the school year were all to other midtown Manhattan hotels, so her son’s daily commute remained relatively the same.

For the grandchildren of Rosie Arias, the moves were more disruptive.

The 55-year-old from Ecuador said her daughter arrived in January with her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. They were immediately placed in a shelter and enrolled in a local school where Spanish was widely spoken.

But when their 60 days ran out, they had to move to another shelter and transfer to another school, Arias said. Then when the family secured their own apartment in Brooklyn, the children had to switch schools again, this time to a smaller one where few people spoke Spanish.

“As a grandmother, I’m worried. The children don’t want to go to school. They’re not adjusting because of the language and because they don’t have friends.,” Arias said in Spanish. “They cry.”

School officials didn’t have a final tally for how many migrant students were affected by the shelter time limits.

As of the first week of May, 44% of migrant students had remained in the same shelter and same school since February 14, according to Tamara Mair, a senior director with Project Open Arms, the district’s program supporting asylum seekers and other new students in temporary housing.

Another 40% of migrant students moved shelters but remained enrolled at the same school, while 4% moved both schools and shelters, she said. Roughly 10% left the school system entirely, with the “vast majority” of those dropping out because they left the city.

District officials will be keeping tabs on migrant families in the shelters through the summer, Mair said.

“The one thing we want to remain constant for our kids is school,” she said. “But we also want to support our families with their choices, because the families have the right to remain in their school, or they may choose to go to a new school closer to their new residence.”

Adams, a Democrat, instituted shelter limits to encourage migrant families to leave the city’s emergency shelter system, which includes huge tent shelters and converted hotels that have swollen with thousands of newcomers to the U.S.

Over the summer, more needs to be done to prepare newly arriving families for the next school year, immigrant advocates say.

That includes better outreach to migrant parents and more investment in translation services, said Liza Schwartzwald, a director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Schools also need more specialists to assess and help get migrant students up to grade level in their studies, said Natasha Quiroga, director of education policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Damien Carchipulla’s mother remains optimistic about her son’s future.

Eventually, she said, the family hopes to save up enough money for their own place, perhaps in Queens, where her husband recently found steady work.

“He is learning more and more every day,” Kim Carchipulla said of her son. “Even if he misses school, his teacher tells me, he catches up quickly.”

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Prosecutors meet with Boeing, victims’ families as charging decision looms, say sources

NEW YORK — U.S. prosecutors are meeting with Boeing and the families of crash victims as a July 7 deadline looms for the Justice Department to decide whether to criminally charge the plane maker, according to two people familiar with the matter and correspondence reviewed by Reuters.  

Justice Department officials met with Boeing lawyers on Thursday to discuss the government’s finding that the company violated a 2021 agreement with the department, one of the sources said. That deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), had shielded it from criminal prosecution over two 737 MAX crashes in 2018 in Indonesia and a crash in 2019 in Ethiopia that together killed 346 people.  

Separately, federal prosecutors are slated to meet with victims’ family members on Sunday to update them on the progress of their investigation, according to the second person. U.S. officials are working on a “tight timeline,” according to an email sent by the DOJ and reviewed by Reuters.  

Boeing lawyers present case

Boeing’s lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis on Thursday presented their case to officials from the Deputy Attorney General’s office that a prosecution would be unwarranted and that there is no need to tear up the 2021 deal, one of the people said. 

Such appeals from companies in the DOJ’s crosshairs are typical when negotiating to resolve a government investigation.  

Officials want input from family members as they consider how to proceed, the email said. Prosecutors from the Justice Department’s criminal fraud division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas will attend the Sunday meeting, it said. 

Spokespeople for the DOJ and Boeing declined to comment. 

Boeing has previously said it has “honored the terms” of the settlement and formally told prosecutors it disagrees with the finding that it violated the agreement.  

Prosecutors recommend criminal charges

U.S. prosecutors have recommended to senior Justice Department officials that criminal charges be brought against Boeing after finding the plane maker violated the 2021 settlement, two people familiar with the matter previously told Reuters. 

The two sides are in discussions over a potential resolution to the Justice Department’s investigation, and there is no guarantee officials will move forward with charges, they said last week.  

The deliberations follow a January 5 flight during which a panel blew out on a Boeing plane just two days before the company’s DPA expired. The incident exposed ongoing safety and quality issues at Boeing. 

Boeing had been poised to escape prosecution over a criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration arising from the 2018-2019 fatal crashes.  

Prosecutors had agreed to drop a criminal charge so long as Boeing overhauled its compliance practices and submitted regular reports over a three-year period. Boeing also agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the investigation. 

In May, officials determined the company breached the agreement, exposing Boeing to prosecution. The DOJ said in a court filing in Texas that the plane maker had failed to “design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of the U.S. fraud laws throughout its operations.” 

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Sudan’s RSF says it has taken key town

Port Sudan, Sudan — Paramilitary forces battling Sudan’s regular army for more than a year said Saturday they had taken a key state capital in the southeast, prompting thousands to flee, witnesses said.

“We have liberated the 17th Infantry Division from Singa,” the capital of Sennar state, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) announced on the social media platform X.

Residents confirmed to AFP: “The RSF have deployed in the streets of Singa,” and witnesses reported aircraft from the regular army flying overhead and anti-aircraft fire.

Earlier Saturday, other witnesses said there was fighting in the streets and “rising panic among residents seeking to flee.”

Sudan has been gripped by war since April 2023, when fighting erupted between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The conflict in the country of 48 million has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The latest RSF breakthrough means the paramilitaries are tightening the noose around Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where the army, government and U.N. agencies are now based.

The RSF controls most of the capital Khartoum, Al-Jazira state in the center of the country, the vast western region of Darfur and much of Kordofan to the south.

Sennar state is already home to more than 1 million displaced Sudanese. It connects central Sudan to the army-controlled southeast.

Posts on social media showed thousands of people fleeing in vehicles and on foot, and witnesses told AFP, “Thousands of people have taken refuge on the east bank of the Blue Nile” river east of Singa.

RSF forces are also besieging the town of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state.

On Thursday, a report cited by the United Nations said nearly 26 million people in war-torn Sudan are facing high levels of “acute food insecurity.”  

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Thousands attend EuroPride parade in Greek city amid heavy police presence

THESSALONIKI, Greece — About 15,000 people attended the annual EuroPride parade Saturday, police said, in support of the LGBTQ+ community in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki amid a heavy police presence.

The parade, whose motto is “Persevere, Progress, Prosper,” was staged on the ninth and last day of a series of events across the city. It was to be followed later Saturday by a concert and a series of parties.

“This participation from across Europe sends a message,” parade participant Michalis Filippidis told the Associated Press. “It is very, very good. We are all united like a fist and, despite many things happening, we are all here to fight for our rights.”

Participants marched through the city center, ending up at the city’s waterfront, at the statue of Alexander the Great, the most famous ruler of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia. The nearby White Tower, once part of the city’s fortifications but now a standalone monument, emblematic of the city, was dressed in the colors of the rainbow.

There was a heavy police presence to prevent counterdemonstrations. In the end, police said, 15 people were detained for shouting obscenities at parade participants and, in one case, trying to throw eggs at them. Police prevented them from getting too close to parade participants.

Some Greek participants in the parade chanted at the counterdemonstrators: “For every racist and homophobe, there is a place in Thermaikos,” the gulf on whose shores the city is built.

A 34-year-old man who had called for an anti-gay demonstration, despite the police’s ban on such an action, was arrested and will appear in court Monday on charges of inciting disobedience and disturbing the peace. He was visited in prison by the head of Niki, an ultra-religious political party, one of three far-right parties that elected representatives to the European Parliament in elections earlier in June.

Nationalism and religious fervor are more pronounced in Thessaloniki and other northern Greek areas than the rest of the country. The far right’s strong showing in elections was in part due to passage earlier in the year of a law legalizing same-sex marriage. The law, strongly backed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was opposed by nearly a third of the lawmakers from his conservative New Democracy party, and was backed by much of the left opposition, except for the Communists, who voted against it.

The EuroPride parade had strong official backing. The city was a co-sponsor and several foreign ambassadors attended.

“I am proud to be here … for EuroPride 2024,” said U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis. “This is about human dignity, this is about acceptance, this is about love, this is about equality. And, frankly, we need more love, more acceptance, more kindness in this world.”

“I am here to show our support for diversity and equality for all. You are who you are, and you can love who you love,” said Dutch Ambassador to Greece Susanna Terstal.

“I welcome the ambassadors … and all the participants to Thessaloniki, a multicolored, friendly city that considers human rights non-negotiable,” said Mayor Stelios Angeloudis.

Next year’s EuroPride will take place in Lisbon. 

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