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More missiles hit as Ukrainians brace for 'worst winter' since Second World War

Bracing for 'worst winter'

Another barrage of Russian missile strikes hit Ukraine Wednesday, dealing a setback to the country's struggle to restore its power network as winter sets in.

"As we speak now, Russia has launched a new wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian critical civilian infrastructure," Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesman for Ukraine's Foreign Affairs Ministry, said in an interview.

Because of the latest strikes, the interview took place in a ministry bunker several storeys underground, inside a small concrete cell.

For weeks, the Russian military has been systematically targeting Ukraine's transportation and electricity distribution infrastructures.

"Following the last missile attacks, more than 10 million Ukrainians were deprived of electricity," Nikolenko said, which represents a quarter of the population. "We understand that by launching today's attacks, Russia wants to continue destroying the energy system of Ukraine."

Discussions are underway about help from Canada and documents are circulating within the federal bureaucracy, a Canadian official said in a background briefing Wednesday. But Canada doesn't have the industrial capacity to provide its ally the needed heavy equipment, such as transformers, the official said.

Wednesday's bombardment came on the same day the European Parliament labelled Russia a state sponsor of terrorism for its invasion of and actions in Ukraine and called for tougher sanctions against Russia from member states.

"Whenever they can, they try to destroy the capacity of the country to provide the population with electricity, and with electricity comes heating and water," Nikolenko said of the Russian attacks.

Kyiv was again plunged into darkness Wednesday night and supplies of drinking water were limited. At a downtown hotel near Maidan Square, guests were asked to restrict their water use.

A siren warning of missiles sounded at around 12:30 p.m. A two-storey building in Kyiv was hit and there were unconfirmed reports that people had been injured. The Associated Press reported that in Vilniansk in eastern Ukraine, a Russian rocket struck the maternity wing of a hospital on Wednesday, killing a newborn boy and critically injuring a doctor.

In Kyiv, residents went about their business normally Wednesday afternoon. Stores, cafés and restaurants were open and streets were filled with traffic. Despite the cold, grey weather, people stopped in Mykhailivska Square to cast an eye on an array of Ukrainian trophies of war: several destroyed Russian tanks, self-propelled howitzers and troop transport vehicles.

The Ukrainian army confirmed Wednesday that a number of cities had been hit by missiles, including Lviv and Odesa. Authorities specified that energy infrastructure had been targeted as well as residential buildings. Russian attacks have destroyed generating facilities and transmission lines, affecting the entire production and distribution system.

"The wintertime will be very difficult for Ukrainians because of Russia's missile terror," Nikolenko said. He added that the country is getting support from its partners, including the provision of mobile power generators, to help Ukrainians survive the freezing temperatures.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told a German media outlet that this will be "the worst winter" since the Second World War, and residents should prepare themselves accordingly.

The country is asking its allies for financial and logistical support to be able to produce and distribute electricity in the coming months, including spare parts, generators and transformers.

Nikolenko said morale remains high among citizens. "Those attacks will not affect Ukrainians' will for victory," he said.



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Landslide leaves up to a dozen missing on Italian island

12 missing after landslide

Heavy rainfall triggered landslides early Saturday on the southern Italian island of Ischia that left as many as 12 people missing as it cut a muddy swath through a port town, collapsing buildings and sweeping cars into the sea.

The force of the mud sliding down mountainsides was strong enough to send cars and buses into the sea at the port of Casamicciola, on the north end of the island. Streets were impassable and mayors on the island urged people to stay at home. At least 100 people were reported stranded.

There was confusion over the death toll. Italian Vice Premier Matteo Salvini initially said that eight people had been confirmed dead. The interior minister later said that no deaths had yet been confirmed, while 10-12 were missing.

The mayor of Naples was quoted by the news agency ANSA as saying one body had been recovered on the island. Ischia sits in the Bay of Naples.

“The situation is very complicated and very serious because probably some of those people are under the mud,” Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told RAI state TV from an emergency command centre in Rome.

ANSA reported that at least 10 buildings had collapsed. One family with a newborn that was previously reported missing had been located and was receiving medical care, according to the Naples prefect.

Video from the island showed small bulldozers clearing roads, while residents used hoses to try to get mud out of their homes.

Firefighters and the Coast Guard were working on rescue efforts. Reinforcements arrived by ferry, including teams of sniffer dogs to help the search efforts.

The densely populated mountainous island is a popular tourist destination for both its beaches and spas. A 4.0-magnitude quake on the island in 2017 killed two people, causing significant damage to the towns of Casamicciola and neighbouring Lacco Ameno.



NASA's Orion capsule enters far-flung orbit around moon

Orion enters moon orbit

NASA’s Orion capsule entered an orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles around the moon Friday, as it neared the halfway mark of its test flight.

The capsule and its three test dummies entered lunar orbit more than a week after launching on the $4 billion demo that's meant to pave the way for astronauts. It will remain in this broad but stable orbit for nearly a week, completing just half a lap before heading home.

As of Friday's engine firing, the capsule was 238,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) from Earth. It's expected to reach a maximum distance of almost 270,000 miles (432,000 kilometers) in a few days. That will set a new distance record for a capsule designed to carry people one day.

“It is a statistic, but it’s symbolic for what it represents,” Jim Geffre, an Orion manager, said in a NASA interview earlier in the week. “It’s about challenging ourselves to go farther, stay longer and push beyond the limits of what we’ve previously explored.”

NASA considers this a dress rehearsal for the next moon flyby in 2024, with astronauts. A lunar landing by astronauts could follow as soon as 2025. Astronauts last visited the moon 50 years ago during Apollo 17.

Earlier in the week, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with the capsule for nearly an hour. At the time, controllers were adjusting the communication link between Orion and the Deep Space Network. Officials said the spacecraft remained healthy.



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Shootings at Brazil schools leave 3 dead, 13 wounded

3 dead, 13 wounded

A former student armed with a semiautomatic pistol and wearing a bulletproof vest fatally shot three people and wounded 13 on Friday after barging into two schools in southeastern Brazil, authorities said.

The shootings took place at a public school with elementary and middle school students and a private school, both located on the same street in the small town of Aracruz in Espirito Santo state, the state's public security secretariat said in a statement. Two teachers and a student were killed.

Approximately four hours later, the shooter, identified as a 16-year-old boy who used to study at the public school, was arrested by police, Espirito Santo Gov. Renato Casagrande said. Authorities did not release the suspect's name.

Security camera footage showed the assailant wearing a bulletproof vest and using a semiautomatic pistol for the attacks, Espirito Santo public security secretary Márcio Celante said in a video provided by the secretariat's press office. Casagrande said the weapon belongs to the former student’s father, a military police officer.

In addition to the fatalities, 13 people were wounded, including nine instructors, said Celante, who noted that in the public school the shooter gained access to the teachers lounge after breaking a lock. Six of the wounded, including two children, were still hospitalized Friday afternoon.

School shootings are uncommon in Brazil, but have happened with somewhat greater frequency in recent years.



Show's over already for host Qatar's World Cup team

Host Qatar eliminated

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The show is over already for the Qatar team, which was eliminated Friday from the World Cup less than a week after it opened the tournament and launched the first version of soccer's biggest event in the Middle East.

Qatar lost 3-1 to Senegal for its second straight defeat at the World Cup and its exit was confirmed a few hours later, when Netherlands and Ecuador drew 1-1 in the other Group A game.

Becoming the quickest host nation team to depart the tournament in the 92-year history of the World Cup, Qatar can’t qualify for the last 16 no matter what happens in its last game against Netherlands.

South Africa had been the only other home team to fail to make it out the group stage in 2010 — but it at least managed a win and a draw.

“If you expected us to go very far in this tournament, then it will be a disappointment,” Qatar coach Félix Sánchez said before his team was officially out. “Our goal was to be competitive.”

The writing was on the wall from the very start for Qatar. The team may be the 2019 Asian champion, but looked nervous and was overwhelmed in the 2-0 loss to Ecuador last Sunday straight after a glittering opening ceremony put on by the wealthy Gulf emirate and meant to showcase it to the world.

Friday's performance by Qatar was a little, but not much better for a squad that all plays in the local league and is missing the kind of top talent that is present in almost every World Cup team now.

Qatar at least scored this time, a second-half header by substitute Mohammed Muntari, a Ghanaian-born striker who is one of many in the squad born outside Qatar but brought in to boost its chances at the World Cup. At 2-1, Qatar threatened a comeback against the African champion for just six minutes before Bamba Dieng responded to hit home Senegal's third goal and reestablish a two-goal cushion.

Senegal got its campaign back on track after losing its opener to Netherlands. Coach Aliou Cissé was also pleased that three forwards, Boulaye Dia, Famara Diedhiou and Dieng, got on the scoresheet as Senegal has its own challenge at this World Cup: Filling the chasm left by the pre-tournament injury to Sadio Mané.

Cissé had instructed his remaining forwards to step it up before playing the host at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. They responded.

“Yes, we understood the message loud and clear,” Dia said. “Efficiency efficiency, efficiency. You need to get in front of the goal and you need to score.”

Qatar had never qualified for the World Cup before FIFA's highly-contentious decision in 2010 to give it the tournament. That gave its team automatic entry. But although the oil- and gas-rich nation spent around $220 billion of its vast riches on building stadiums, roads and even a new city for the World Cup, it couldn't put together a solid defense for the team.

Qatar fell behind against Senegal after an amateurish mistake by central defender Boualem Khoukhi, who tried to make a clearance under no pressure, didn’t connect properly and landed on his backside. The ball dribbled away from Khoukhi and Dia lashed it in for his first World Cup goal.

Diedhiou made it 2-0 at the start of the second half with a header from a corner while two Qatar defenders failed to stop him.

Qatar did get a stroke of bad luck when it was denied a penalty and the chance of the lead before Dia’s goal. Akram Afif, who was born in Doha, was knocked over by a charging Ismaila Sarr but referee Antonio Mateu of Spain didn’t award a penalty even though replays suggested that contact was made.

“We have to forget about today, move on and play the Netherlands,” Sánchez said.

A WAVE (GOODBYE?) FOR QATAR

As Qatar rallied for a little while in the second half, the white-robed Qatar supporters did try and get behind their team.

Thousands of home fans walked out halfway through Qatar’s first loss to Ecuador, but they stayed against Senegal and even broke out into the wave around the stadium. It turned out to be more of a wave farewell from the World Cup.

WITHOUT MANÉ

Senegal came closer to adjusting to life in Qatar without Mané, with those three forwards on the scoresheet.

“It’s very difficult to replace a player like Sadio Mane but football is a team sport,” Senegal coach Cissé said.

Also important for Senegal, goalkeeper Edouard Mendy made two world-class saves to suggest a return to some form after he was blamed for both goals in the 2-0 loss to the Dutch.

WHAT'S NEXT

Qatar bows out against Netherlands on Tuesday. Senegal isn’t out of trouble yet and will face Ecuador on the same day with both playing for a place in the last 16.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



10 killed in apartment fire in northwest China's Xinjiang

10 dead in apartment fire

A fire in an apartment building in northwestern China's Xinjiang region killed 10 people and injured nine, authorities said Friday, in the second major fire in the country this week, leaving a total of 48 dead.

The fire broke out Thursday night in the regional capital of Urumqi, where temperatures have dropped below freezing after dark.

Flames spread upward from the 15th floor to the 17th floor, with smoke billowing up to the 21st floor, according to multiple state media reports. The blaze took around three hours to extinguish.

The deaths and injuries were caused by inhalation of toxic fumes, with those taken to the hospital all expected to survive, the reports said. An initial investigation appeared to show the fire was sparked from a power strip in a bedroom of one of the 15th-floor apartments, they said.

Aging infrastructure, poor safety awareness and, in some cases, government corruption have led to series of recent fires, explosions and building collapses around China, which continues to grapple with new COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting lockdowns and rigid travel restrictions affecting millions of people.

Videos circulated on social media showed an arc of water from a distant fire truck falling short of the fire, sparking angry comments online. Some said fire engines had been blocked by pandemic control barriers or by cars stranded after their owners were put in quarantine, but the reason why the truck was far away was unclear.

Many Xinjiang residents are frustrated with China’s harsh COVID-19 controls, including frequent testing, travel restrictions and rolling lockdowns. Some have been under lockdown for more than three months.

The Jixiangyuan community, where the Urumqi fire was, is designated a “low COVID-19 risk area" and residents were permitted outside their apartments, according to the reports. It wasn't clear whether they were able to leave their compounds.

Urumqi has not experienced a major recent outbreak, with just 977 cases reported Friday, almost all of them asymptomatic. However, as in many parts of China, local officials fearful of losing their jobs are leaning toward more extreme measures to prevent outbreaks within their jurisdictions.

The tragedy comes days after 38 people died in a fire at an industrial trading company in central China caused by welding sparks that ignited cotton cloth.

Four people have been detained over the fire Monday in the city of Anyang and local authorities ordered sweeping safety inspections to root out potential dangers.



Nearly half a ton of cocaine seized in Albania, 10 arrested

Half ton of cocaine seized

Albanian authorities on Friday said they have seized 430 kilograms of cocaine in a coordinated operation with neighboring Montenegro and other law enforcement international institutions.

Albania’s corruption and organized crime squad said 10 Albanian nationals were arrested after the cocaine was found hidden in a shipment of some 24 tons of fertilizer. During Thursday's operation, police also seized automatic rifles, ammunition and cash.

The shipment was imported from Colombia in September, first stopping in Thessaloniki, Greece, and then unloaded in Bar, Montenegro. From there it was transported overland with trucks to Albania, authorities said.

Police sequestered the cocaine hidden among the fertilizer in Fier, 100 kilometres southwest of the capital Tirana where they found a lab to process the cocaine and make it ready for use.

Albania was once a major European producer of marijuana and a crossroads for its smuggling.

A government crackdown eight years ago led to a significant reduction in the number of cannabis plantations, though regular seizures indicate traffickers are still seeking alternative places to grow or store marijuana and have become part of international rings trafficking other drugs.



Virginia Walmart shooter bought gun hours before killings, left note of grievances

Killer left note of gripes

Authorities investigating the fatal shootings of six people at a Walmart store in Virginia say the shooter bought the gun just hours before and left a note with grievances against co-workers on his phone.

Police in Chesapeake issued a news release Friday that says they conducted a forensic analysis of Walmart supervisor Andre Bing’s phone.

Police say he was the shooter and was found dead at the scene of the shooting late Tuesday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In the note released by police, he said co-workers harassed him and mocked him.

Police said in their release that he used a 9mm handgun legally purchased on Tuesday morning, hours before the shooting.

The release said he had no criminal history.



Russia rains missiles on recaptured Ukrainian city

Russia rains down missiles

Natalia Kristenko’s dead body lay covered in a blanket in the doorway of her apartment building for hours overnight. City workers were at first too overwhelmed to retrieve her as they responded to a deadly barrage of attacks that shook Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson.

The 62-year-old had walked outside her home with her husband Thursday evening after drinking tea when the building was struck. Kristenko was killed instantly from a wound to the head. Her husband died hours later in the hospital from internal bleeding.

“Russians took the two most precious people from me,” their bereft daughter, Lilia Kristenko, 38, said, clutching her cat inside her coat as she watched on in horror Friday as responders finally arrived to transport her mother to the morgue.

“They lived so well, they lived differently," she told The Associated Press. "But they died in one day.”

A barrage of missiles struck the recently liberated city of Kherson for the second day Friday in a marked escalation of attacks since Russia withdrew from the city two weeks ago following an eight-month occupation. It comes as Russia has stepped up bombardment of Ukraine's power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure in a bid to tighten the screw on Kyiv. Officials estimate that around 50% of Ukraine’s energy facilities have been damaged in the recent strikes.

The Ukrainian governor of Kherson, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said Friday that Russian shelling attacks killed 10 civilians and wounded 54 others the previous day, with two neighborhoods in the city of Kherson coming “under massive artillery fire.”

Soldiers in the region had warned that Kherson would face intensified strikes as Russian troops dig in across the Dnieper River.

Scores of people were injured in the strikes that hit residential and commercial buildings, lighting some on fire, blowing ash into the air and littering the streets with shattered glass. The attacks wrought destruction on some residential neighborhoods not previously hit in the war that has just entered its tenth month.

After Kristenko’s parents were hit, she tried to call an ambulance but there was no phone network, she said. Her 66-year-old father was clutching his abdominal wound and screaming “it hurts so much I’m doing to die,” she said.

He eventually was taken by ambulance to the hospital but died during surgery.

On Friday morning people sifted through what little remained of their destroyed houses and shops. Containers of food lined the floor of a shattered meat store, while across the street customers lined up at a coffee shop where residents said four people died the night before.

“I don’t even know what to say, it was unexpected,” said Diana Samsonova, who works at the coffee shop, which remained open throughout Russia’s occupation and has no plans to close despite the attacks.

Later in the day, a woman was killed, likely from a rocket that hit a grassy patch nearby. Her motionless body lay on the side of the road. The violence is compounding what’s become a dire humanitarian crisis. As Russians retreated, they destroyed key infrastructure, leaving people with little water and electricity.

People have become so desperate they’re finding some salvation amid the wreckage. Outside an apartment building that was badly damaged, residents filled buckets with water that pooled on the ground. Workers at the morgue used puddles to clean their bloody hands.

Valerii Parkhomenko had just parked his car and gone into a coffee shop when a rocket destroyed his vehicle.
“We were all crouching on the floor inside,” he said, showing the ash on his hands. “I feel awful, my car is destroyed, I need this car for work to feed my family,” he said.

Outside shelled apartment buildings residents picked up debris and frantically searched for relatives while paramedics helped the injured.

“I think it’s so bad and I think all countries need to do something about this because it’s not normal,” said Ivan Mashkarynets, a man in his early 20s who was at home with his mother when the apartment block next to him was struck.

“There’s no army, there’s no soldiers. There are just people living here and they’re (still) firing,” he said.
Kherson’s population has dwindled to around 80,000 from its prewar level near 300,000. The government has said it will help people evacuate if they want to, but many say they have no place to go.

“There is no work (elsewhere), there is no work here,” said Ihor Novak as he stood on a street examining the aftermath of the shelling. “For now, the Ukrainian army is here and with them we hope it will be safer."



Inflation hovers over shoppers heading into Black Friday

Black Friday inflation woes

Black Friday marks a return to familiar holiday shopping patterns, but inflation is weighing on consumers.

Elevated prices for food, rent, gasoline and other household costs have taken a toll on shoppers. As a result, many are reluctant to spend unless there is a big sale and are being more selective with what they will buy — in many cases, trading down to cheaper stuff and less expensive stores.

Shoppers are also dipping more into their savings, turning increasingly to “buy now, pay later” services like Afterpay that allow users to pay for items in installments, as well as running up their credit cards at a time when the Federal Reserve is hiking rates to cool the U.S. economy.

Such financial hardships could help drive shoppers to look for bargains.

Isela Dalencia, who was shopping for household essentials like detergent at a Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey, earlier this week, said she's delaying buying holiday gifts until Cyber Monday — the Monday after Thanksgiving — when online sales rev up. Then, she will wait again until the week before Christmas to get the best deals, unlike last year when she started buying before Black Friday.

“I am shopping less,” Dalencia said, noting she will spend about $700 for holiday gifts this year, one-third less than last year.

Katie Leach, a social worker in Manhattan, was also browsing the aisles at Walmart but said she will start holiday shopping during the first week of December as usual. This time, however, she'll be relying more on bargains, her credit card and “buy now, pay later” services to get her through the shopping season because of surging prices on food and other household expenses.

“The money is not going as far as last year," Leach said.

This year's trends are a contrast from a year ago when consumers were buying early out of fear of not getting what they needed amid clogs in the supply network. Stores didn't have to discount much because they were struggling to bring in items.

But some pandemic habits are sticking around. Many retailers that closed stores on Thanksgiving Day and instead pushed discounts on their websites to thin out crowds at stores are still holding onto those strategies, despite a return to normalcy.

Major retailers including Walmart and Target are again closing their stores on Thanksgiving. And many moved away from doorbusters, the deeply marked down items offered for a limited time that drew crowds. Instead, the discounted items are available throughout the month, on Black Friday or the holiday weekend.

Against today's economic backdrop, the National Retail Federation — the largest retail trade group — expects holiday sales growth will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, from the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago. However, these figures, which include online spending, aren't adjusted for inflation so real spending could even be down from a year ago.

Adobe Analytics expects online sales to be up 2.5% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a slowdown from last year's 8.6% pace when shoppers were uncertain about returning to physical stores.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes Cyber Monday, a key barometer of shoppers' willingness to spend, particularly this year. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales.



Owner of gay club: Shooting comes amid a new 'type of hate'

New type of hate

The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre said he thinks the shooting that killed five people and injured 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement.

Nic Grzecka’s voice was tinged with exhaustion as he spoke with The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night's attack at Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build into an enclave that sustained the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs.

Authorities haven’t said why the suspect opened fire at the club before being subdued by patrons, but they are facing hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not entered a plea or spoken about the incident.

Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend's hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children," Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today."

Earlier this year, Florida's Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill barring teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” in relation to LGBTQ people rose 400%, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.

“Lying about our community, and making them into something they are not, creates a different type of hate,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka, who started mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003 a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into rebuilding the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community that only Club Q had provided.

City and state officials have offered support and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden reached out to Grzecka and co-owner Matthew Haynes on Thursday to offer condolences and reiterate their support for the community, as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence.

Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs at that time shuttered, Grzecka said, describing that era as an evolution of gay bars.

Decades ago, dingy, hole-in-the-wall venues were meant largely for finding a hookup or date. But once the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, the bars transitioned into well-lit, clean, non-smoking spaces to hang out with friends and Club Q was at the vanguard of that transition, Grzecka said.

Once he became co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped mold Club Q into not merely a nightlife venue but a community center — a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially for those estranged from their birth family. Drag queen bingo nights, “Friendsgiving” and Christmas dinners and birthday celebrations became staples of Club Q which was open 365 days a year.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Grzecka and other community leaders hope to fill the gaping hole left by the desecration of Club Q.

“When that system goes away, you realize how much more the bar was really providing,” said Justin Burns, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride. “Those that may or may not have been a part of the Club Q family, where do they go?”

Burns said the shooting pulled back a curtain on a broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burns, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to do an assessment of the community's needs as they develop a blueprint to offer a robust support network.

Grzecka is looking to rebuild the “loving culture” and necessary support to “make sure that this tragedy is turned into the best thing it can be for the city."

That started on Thursday night, when Club Q’s 10th anniversary Friendsgiving was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated meals under strings of lights near rainbow balloon towers.

Organized by the LGBTQ group United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the dinner's bright atmosphere felt resilient. People smiled, squeezed each other in hugs and told stories from the podium about those who lost their lives.

“Everybody needs community,” Grzecka said.

Earlier that day at the memorial, a trickle of people walked slowly along the wall of flowers and vigil candles that had burnt out.

“I hope you dance,” someone wrote to victim Ashley Paugh on one of five white crosses fixed with wooden hearts inscribed with the names of those who had died and bearing notes scribbled by mourners.

On a concrete barrier a message was scrawled, “Please hear our calls. Protect us, our home.”



Iran arrests outspoken player amid World Cup scrutiny

Outspoken player arrested

Iran has arrested a prominent former member of its national soccer team over his criticism of the government as authorities grapple with nationwide protests that have cast a shadow over the team as it competes in the World Cup before a global audience.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported Thursday that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government."

Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career, objecting to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men's soccer matches as well as Iran's confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran's morality police ignited the latest protests. In recent days he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran's western Kurdish region.

The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. At Iran’s opening match, a 6-2 loss to England, the members of the Iranian national team declined to sing along to their national anthem and some fans protested.

The protests were ignited by the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman arrested by the morality police in the capital, Tehran. They rapidly escalated into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The western Kurdish region of the country, where Amini was from, has seen particularly intense protests and a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Ghafouri, who is also a member of Iran's Kurdish minority, has criticized government policies in the past. Officials have not said whether that was a factor in not choosing him for the national team. He plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.

The protests show no sign of waning, and mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran's ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power. Authorities have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.

The protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women.



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