Cardinal performs rite to restore Vatican altar desecrated by man's naked protest

Vatican altar desecrated

The head of St. Peter’s Basilica performed a special rite Saturday after a man stripped naked and hopped on the main altar with the words “Save children of Ukraina” written on his back.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti performed the penitential rite following the desecration of the altar with other priests and members of the faithful.

According to Vatican News, a Polish man approached the basilica's high altar on Thursday at closing time, undressed and jumped up on the marble altar. Photos of the incident showed the bald man in just black socks and sneakers with his back to the pews.

The man didn’t resist when gendarmes approached and took him to the Vatican police station. He was handed over to Italian police, who issued an expulsion order requiring him to leave Italy, Vatican News reported.

It was the latest incident of disturbances at the Vatican in recent months. Last summer, climate activists glued their hands to a statue in the Vatican Museums to draw attention to climate change; they are now on trial for aggravated damage in the Vatican City State tribunal.

Last month, a man in a car rushed the gates of Vatican City at night, speeding past gendarmes who fired on the vehicle. He made it into an internal courtyard of the Apostolic Palace before being stopped. He was sent to a nearby hospital for psychiatric care.


Biden signs debt ceiling bill that pulls US back from brink of unprecedented default

Biden signs debt ceiling bill

With just two days to spare, President Joe Biden signed legislation on Saturday that lifts the nation’s debt ceiling, averting an unprecedented default on the federal government’s debt.

The White House announced the signing, done in private at the White House, in an emailed statement in which Biden thanked congressional leaders for their partnership.

The Treasury Department had warned that the country would start running short of cash to pay all of its bills on Monday, which would have sent shockwaves through the U.S. and global economies.

Republicans refused to raise the country’s borrowing limit unless Democrats agreed to cut spending, leading to a standoff that was not resolved until weeks of intense negotiations between the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The final agreement, passed by the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, suspends the debt limit until 2025 — after the next presidential election — and restricts government spending. It gives lawmakers budget targets for the next two years in hopes of assuring fiscal stability as the political season heats up.

Raising the nation’s debt limit, now at $31.4 trillion, will ensure that the government can borrow to pay debts already incurred.

“Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher," Biden said from the Oval Office on Friday evening. “Nothing would have been more catastrophic,” he said, than defaulting on the country's debt.

“No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed,” Biden said, highlighting the “compromise and consensus” in the deal. “We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse.”

Biden used the opportunity to itemize the achievements of his first term as he runs for reelection, including support for high-tech manufacturing, infrastructure investments and financial incentives for fighting climate change. He also highlighted ways he blunted Republican efforts to roll back his agenda and achieve deeper cuts.

“We’re cutting spending and bringing deficits down at the same time,” Biden said. “We're protecting important priorities from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid to veterans to our transformational investments in infrastructure and clean energy.”

Even as he pledged to continue working with Republicans, Biden also drew contrasts with the opposing party, particularly when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy, something the Democratic president has sought.

It’s something he suggested may need to wait until a second term.

“I’m going to be coming back,” he said. “With your help, I’m going to win.”

Biden's remarks were the most detailed comments from the Democratic president on the compromise he and his staff negotiated. He largely remained quiet publicly during the high-stakes talks, a decision that frustrated some members of his party but was intended to give space for both sides to reach a deal and for lawmakers to vote it to his desk.

Biden praised McCarthy and his negotiators for operating in good faith, and all congressional leaders for ensuring swift passage of the legislation. “They acted responsibly, and put the good of the country ahead of politics,” he said.

Overall, the 99-page bill restricts spending for the next two years and changes some policies, including imposing new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting an Appalachian natural gas pipeline that many Democrats oppose. Some environmental rules were modified to help streamline approvals for infrastructure and energy projects — a move long sought by moderates in Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could actually expand total eligibility for federal food assistance, with the elimination of work requirements for veterans, homeless people and young people leaving foster care.

The legislation also bolsters funds for defense and veterans, cuts back some new money for the Internal Revenue Service and rejects Biden’s call to roll back Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to help cover the nation’s deficits. But the White House said the IRS' plans to step up enforcement of tax laws for high-income earners and corporations would continue.

The agreement imposes an automatic overall 1% cut to spending programs if Congress fails to approve its annual spending bills — a measure designed to pressure lawmakers of both parties to reach consensus before the end of the fiscal year in September.

In both chambers, more Democrats backed the legislation than Republicans, but both parties were critical to its passage. In the Senate the tally was 63-36 including 46 Democrats and independents and 17 Republicans in favor, 31 Republicans along with four Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats opposed.

The vote in the House was 314-117.

Three Israeli soldiers, Egyptian officer killed in gunbattle at the border

Deaths in border shootout

A gunbattle involving an Egyptian border guard in southern Israel along the border left three Israeli soldiers and the Egyptian officer dead Saturday, officials said. It was a rare instance of deadly violence along the frontier.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesperson, said the fighting began overnight when soldiers thwarted a drug-smuggling attempt across the border.

He said several hours later, two soldiers in a guard post were shot and killed. Their bodies were found after the shooting, when they did not respond to radio communications.

Hecht said the killings appeared to be connected to the thwarted drug smuggling attempt. The army said the Egyptian border guard was killed in a second exchange of fire in which a third Israeli soldier was killed.

The Egyptian military said an Egyptian border guard crossed the border security barrier and exchanged fire with Israeli forces while he was chasing drug traffickers. It said in a statement that the Egyptian border guard was killed along with three Israeli troops.

Hecht said an investigation was being conducted in full cooperation with the Egyptian army. He said troops were searching for other possible assailants.

It was the first deadly exchange of fire along the Israel-Egypt border in over a decade.

The Israeli army said one of the killed soldiers was a woman.

Criminals sometimes smuggle drugs across the border, while Islamic militant groups are also active in Egypt’s restive north Sinai. Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979 and maintain close security ties. Fighting along their shared border is rare.

The exchange of fire reportedly took place around the Nitzana border crossing between Israel and Egypt. The crossing is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the point where Israel’s border with Egypt and the Gaza Strip converge. It's used to import goods from Egypt destined for Israel or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel built a fence along the porous border a decade ago to halt the entry of African migrants and Islamic militants who are active in Egypt’s Sinai desert.

India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country's deadliest rail accident in decades

Train crash kills 280

Rescuers waded through piles of debris and wreckage to pull out bodies and free people on Saturday after two passenger trains derailed in India, killing more than 280 people and injuring hundreds as rail cars were flipped over and mangled in one of the country's deadliest train crashes in decades.

The accident, which happened about 220 kilometres southwest of Kolkata on Friday night, led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to free survivors.

About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, said P.K. Jena, the state's top administrative official. The cause was under investigation.

At least 280 bodies were recovered overnight and into Saturday morning, Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha's fire and emergency department, told The Associated Press. He said more than 800 injured passengers were taken to various hospitals with many in critical condition.

Army soldiers and air force helicopters joined the relief effort along with local authorities.

About 200 severely injured people were transferred to specialty hospitals in other cities in the state, Jena said. Another 200 people were discharged after receiving medical care and the rest were being treated in local hospitals, he added.

"The challenge now is identifying the bodies. Wherever the relatives are able to provide evidence, the bodies are handed over after autopsies. If not identified, maybe we have to go for a DNA test and other protocols," he said.

Rescuers were cutting through the destroyed rail cars to find people who may still be trapped. Sarangi said it was possible that people were stuck underneath but that it was unlikely they would still be alive. Late Friday, hundreds were trapped inside more than a dozen wrecked carriages as rescuers worked to pull them out.

“By 10 p.m. (on Friday) we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” he said. “This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this in my career."

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, he added.

A third train carrying freight was also involved, the Press Trust of India reported, but there was no immediate confirmation of that from railroad authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train.

The death toll rose steadily throughout the night as footage showed shattered carriages that had overturned completely. Scores of dead bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the ground near the train tracks as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors.

Teams of rescuers and police continued sifting through the ruins on Saturday morning as the search operation carried on, amid fears that the death toll is likely to rise further. Scores of people also showed up at a local hospital to donate blood.

The rescue operation was slowed because two train cars were pressed together by the impact of the accident, Jena said.

"We are cutting some portions of the (rail cars) and carefully searching for survivors,” he said, adding the search operation would likely conclude later Saturday.

Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night at the accident site. Saturday was declared as a day of mourning in Odisha as the state's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, reached the district to meet injured passengers.

Villagers said they rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing a loud sound created by the train coaches going off the tracks.

“The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” PTI cited Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, as saying.

Passenger Vandana Kaleda said that inside the train during the derailment people were “falling on each other” as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks.

“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. ... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working," she said, adding she felt lucky to survive.

Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces.

The collision involved two trains, the Coromandel Express traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai in Tamil Nadu state and the Howrah Superfast Express traveling from Bengaluru in Karnataka to Howrah, officials said. It was not immediately clear which derailed first.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families.

"May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, India's railway minister, said a high-level probe would be carried out, as the political opposition criticized the government and called for Vaishnaw to resign.

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst train accidents in India.

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signalling equipment.

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometres of track.

Turkey's Erdogan takes oath of office, ushering in his third presidential term

Erdogan's 3rd term begins

Turkey’s longtime leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took the oath of office on Saturday, ushering in his third presidential term that followed three stints as prime minister.

Erdogan, 69, won a new five-year term in a runoff presidential race last week that could stretch his 20-year rule in the key NATO country that straddles Europe and Asia into a quarter-century. The country of 85 million controls NATO’s second-largest army, hosts millions of refugees and played a crucial role in brokering a deal that allowed the shipment of Ukraine grain, averting a global food crisis.

Erdogan was sworn in during a session in parliament before an inauguration ceremony at his sprawling palace complex. Supporters waited outside parliament despite the heavy rain, covering his car with red carnations as he arrived.

All eyes are on the announcement of his new Cabinet later on Saturday. Its lineup should indicate whether there will be a continuation of unorthodox economic policies or a return to more conventional ones amid a cost-of-living crisis.

Dozens of foreign dignitaries are traveling to attend the ceremony, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Carl Bildt, a high-profile former Swedish prime minister. They are expected to press Erdogan to lift his country’s objections to Sweden’s membership in the military alliance — which requires unanimous approval by all allies.

Turkey accuses Sweden of being too soft on Kurdish militants and other groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists. NATO wants to bring Sweden into the alliance by the time allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the bid. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will also be attending the ceremony.

According to state-run Anadolu Agency, other leaders in attendance include Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan, Pakistan’s Shahbaz Sharif, and Libya’s Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Erdogan was sworn in amid a host of domestic challenges ahead, including a battered economy, pressure for the repatriation of millions of Syrian refugees and the need to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in February that killed 50,000 and leveled entire cities in the south of the country.

Turkey is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis fueled by inflation that peaked at a staggering 85% in October before easing to 44% last month. The Turkish currency has lost more than 10% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

Critics blame the turmoil on Erdogan’s policy of lowering interest rates to promote growth, which runs contrary to conventional economic thinking that calls for raising rates to combat inflation.

Unconfirmed media reports say Erdogan plans to reappoint Mehmet Simsek, a respected former finance minister and deputy prime minister, to the helm of the economy. The move would signify a return by the country — which is the world’s 19th largest economy according to the World Bank — to more orthodox economic policies.

In power as prime minister and then as president since 2003, Erdogan is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader. He has solidified his rule through constitutional changes that transformed Turkey’s presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office. Critics say his second decade in office was marred by sharp democratic backsliding including the erosion of institutions such as the media and judiciary and the jailing of opponents and critics.

Erdogan defeated opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a runoff vote held on May 28, after he narrowly failed to secure an outright victory in a first round of voting on May 14. Kilicdaroglu had promised to put Turkey on a more democratic path and improve relations with the West. International observers deemed the elections to be free but not fair.

More than 200 killed and 800 hurt after 2 trains derail in India

Over 200 dead, 800 hurt

UPDATE 5:40 p.m.

Two passenger trains derailed Friday in India, killing more than 200 people and trapping hundreds of others inside more than a dozen damaged rail cars, officials said.

The accident that happened about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata created a chaotic scene of twisted wreckage and desperate rescuers as teams tried to free passengers and recover bodies. The cause was under investigation.

Fire Services Chief Sudhanshu Sarangi told the Press Trust of India that more than 800 people were hurt.

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson.

The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, and up to three coaches of the second train also derailed, Sharma said.

The Press Trust reported that a third train carrying freight was also involved, but there was no immediate confirmation from railroad authorities. The Press Trust report said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train.

The death toll rose steadily throughout the night. As dawn approached, the top bureaucrat in the eastern state of Odisha announced that at least 207 were dead.

In the aftermath, television images showed rescuers climbing atop the wreckage to break open doors and windows and using cutting torches to free survivors.

ORIGINAL 12:20 p.m.

Two passenger trains derailed Friday in India, killing at least 50 people and trapping hundreds of others inside more than a dozen damaged rail cars, officials said.

About 400 people were taken to hospitals after the accident, which happened in eastern India, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata, officials said. The cause was under investigation.

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson.

Up to three coaches of the second train also derailed.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a third train carrying freight was also involved, but there was no immediate confirmation from railroad authorities.

Dattatraya Bhausaheb Shinde, the top administrator in the Balasore district, said at least 50 people were dead. The Press Trust reported a death toll of at least 70.

Nearly 500 police officers and rescue workers with 75 ambulances and buses responded to the scene, said Pradeep Jena, the top bureaucrat of the Odisha state.

Rescuers were attempting to free 200 people feared trapped in the wreckage, said D.B. Shinde, administrator of the state's Balasore district.

The Press Trust said the derailed Coromandel Express was traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families.

"May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in the worst train accident in India’s history.

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.

Clashes in Senegal kill at least 9; government bans social media platforms and closes university

Clashes kill at least 9

Clashes between police and supporters of Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko left nine people dead, the government said Friday, with authorities issuing a blanket ban on the use of several social media platforms in the aftermath of the violence.

The deaths occurred mainly in the capital, Dakar, and the city of Ziguinchor in the south, where Sonko is mayor, Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said in a statement.

Some social media sites used by demonstrators to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been suspended, he said.

“The state of Senegal has taken every measure to guarantee the safety of people and property. We are going to reinforce security everywhere in the country,” Diome said. On Friday, the government deployed the military to parts of the city as clashes continued between police and Sonko supporters.

Sonko was convicted Thursday of corrupting youth but acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her. Sonko, who didn't attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said a warrant hadn't been issued yet for his arrest.

Sonko came in third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and is popular with the country’s youth. His supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.

Sonko is considered President Macky Sall’s main competition and has urged Sall to state publicly that he won't seek a third term in office.

Since the verdict was announced, clashes have erupted throughout the country, with protesters throwing rocks, burning vehicles and in some places erecting barricades while police fired tear gas. Associated Press reporters saw plumes of black smoke and tear gas being fired throughout the city.

The clashes forced the closure of the main university in Dakar. On Friday, AP reporters watched students streaming out carrying luggage on their heads, walking past the shells of burnt-out cars in the university compound.

“I blame the students for the vandalism. As for the situation in the country, I blame the government,” said Saliou Bewe, a 25-year-old master's student.

Bewe said it was the second time the university had closed because of protests related to Sonko. In 2021, at least 14 people were killed during clashes when authorities arrested Sonko for disturbing public order on the way to his court hearing. This time, the student said, it was much worse.

“Buses have been damaged, the administration, too. The classrooms have been damaged. There was a lot of vandalism and that’s deplorable,” he said. He doubts he'll be able to sit his exams scheduled to take place in 10 days' time.

Security forces patrolled the streets Friday and stood guard outside some supermarkets and shops, anticipating more unrest. Tight security remained around Sonko's house with police preventing anyone from getting close to the premises. Sonko has not been heard from since the verdict. However, his PASTEF-Patriots party has called for people to take to the streets in protest.

Rights groups have condemned the government crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media.

“These restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and information constitute arbitrary measures contrary to international law, and cannot be justified by security reasons,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

France's ministry for Europe and foreign affairs said it was “extremely concerned by the violence” and called for a resolution to this crisis, in keeping with Senegal’s long democratic tradition.

Corrupting young people, which includes using one’s position of power to have sex with people under the age of 21, is a criminal offense in Senegal, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.

Under Senegalese law, Sonko's conviction would bar him from running in next year’s election, said Bamba Cisse, another defense lawyer.

“The conviction for corruption of youth hinders his eligibility, because he was sentenced in absentia, so we can’t appeal,” Cisse said.

However, the government said that Sonko could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned. It was unclear when he would be taken into custody.

“The verdict cements the criticism that Sall’s government is weaponizing the judiciary to eliminate prominent rivals that could shake his rule,” said Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst at global risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

Senegal was presented as a beacon of democracy but was still grappling with structural issues, he said. “The court decision and the prospect of Sall’s bid for a third term in the election next year will fuel fierce criticism around erosion of judicial independence and democratic backsliding.”

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said that the damage caused by months of demonstrations had cost the country millions of dollars.

“These calls (to protest), it’s a bit like the anti-republican nature of all these movements that hide behind social networks and don’t believe in the foundations of democracy, which are elections, freedom of expression, but also the resources that our (legal) system offers,” Fofana said.

Woman walking on California beach finds ancient mastodon tooth

Mastodon tooth on beach

A woman taking a Memorial Day weekend stroll on a California beach found something unusual sticking out of the sand: a tooth from an ancient mastodon.

But then the fossil vanished, and it took a media blitz and a kind-hearted jogger to find it again.

Jennifer Schuh found the foot-long tooth sticking out of the sand on Friday at the mouth of Aptos Creek on Rio Del Mar State Beach, located off Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz County on California's central coast.

“I was on one side of the creek and this lady was talking to me on the other side and she said what’s that at your feet,” Schuh recounted. “It looked kind of weird, like burnt almost.”

Schuh wasn't sure what she had found. So she snapped some photos and posted them on Facebook, asking for help.

The answer came from Wayne Thompson, paleontology collections advisor for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Thompson determined that the object was a worn molar from an adult Pacific mastodon, an extinct elephant-like species.

“This is an extremely important find," Thompson wrote, and he urged Schuh to call him.

But when they went back to the beach, the tooth was gone.

A weekend search failed to find it. Thompson then sent out a social media request for help in finding the artifact. The plea made international headlines.

On Tuesday, Jim Smith of nearby Aptos called the museum.

“I was so excited to get that call,” said Liz Broughton, the museum's visitor experience manager. “Jim told us that he had stumbled upon it during one of his regular jogs along the beach, but wasn’t sure of what he had found until he saw a picture of the tooth on the news."

Smith donated the tooth to the museum, where it will be on display Friday through Sunday.

The age of the tooth isn't clear. A museum blog says mastodons generally roamed California from about 5 million to 10,000 years ago.

“We can safely say this specimen would be less than 1 million years old, which is relatively ‘new’ by fossil standards," Broughton said in an email.

Broughton said it is common for winter storms to uncover fossils in the region and it may have washed down to the ocean from higher up.

Schuh said she is thrilled that her find could help unlock ancient secrets about the peaceful beach area. She didn't keep the tooth, but she did hop on Amazon and order herself a replica mastodon tooth necklace.

"You don’t often get to touch something from history," she said.

It's only the third find of a locally recorded mastodon fossil. The museum also has another tooth along with a skull that was found by a teenager in 1980. It was found in the same Aptos Creek that empties into the ocean.

“We are thrilled about this exciting discovery and the implications it holds for our understanding of ancient life in our region,” museum Executive Director Felicia B. Van Stolk said in a statement.

Residents of collapsed Iowa building were allowed to stay as reports noted crumbling wall

Crumbling before collapse

A structural engineer’s report issued last week indicated a wall of a century-old apartment building in Iowa was at imminent risk of crumbling, yet neither the owner nor city officials warned residents of the danger days before the building partially collapsed, leaving three people missing and dozens displaced.

The revelation is the latest flashpoint after Sunday's partial collapse of the building in Davenport, where residents have lashed out at city leaders over what they see as an inept response.

“Do I have regrets about this tragedy and about people potentially losing their lives? Hell yeah. Do I think about this every moment? Hell yeah." Mayor Mike Matson said Thursday. “I have regrets about a lot of things. Believe me, we’re going to look at that."

City officials said Thursday that they did not order an evacuation because they relied on the engineer’s assurances that the building remained safe. Crews were using drones to scan the building and were consulting with experts about how to safely bring down the structure, which remains extremely unstable, while being respectful of bodies that could be buried in a debris pile, Matson said.

The six-story building partially collapsed shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. Rescue crews pulled seven people from the building in their initial response and escorted out 12 others who could walk on their own. Later, two more people were rescued, including one woman who was removed from the fourth floor hours after authorities said they were going to begin setting up for demolition.

Earlier this week, authorities said five people were missing, but Davenport Police Chief Jeff Bladel said during a media briefing Thursday morning that two of them have since been accounted for and are safe. One moved out of the building a month ago and was found in Texas, and the other was found locally.

City officials on Thursday named those unaccounted for as Brandon Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien. The city said all three “have high probability of being home at the time of the collapse and their apartments were located in the collapse zone.”

Bladel said transient people also often enter the building but there is no indication anyone else was inside and missing.

The city on Wednesday night released documents, including structural engineering reports, that show city officials and the building's owner were warned that the parts of the building were unstable.

A report dated May 24, just four days before the collapse, suggested patches in the west side of the building’s brick façade “appear ready to fall imminently” and could be a safety hazard to cars or passersby.

The report also detailed that window openings, some filled and some unfilled, were insecure. In one case, the openings were “bulging outward” and looked “poised to fall.” Inside the first floor, unsupported window openings help “explain why the façade is currently about to topple outward.”

“The brick façade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe, controlled manner,” the report stated.

Despite the warnings, city officials did not order that about 50 tenants leave the building.

Rich Oswald, the city's director of development and neighborhood services, said officials relied on assurances from the structural engineer hired by the building owner. The engineer said the building wasn't in imminent danger of collapsing on residents.

Andrew Wold, the building's owner, released a statement dated Tuesday saying “our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants” and that his company, Davenport Hotel, L.L.C., is working with agencies to help them.

County records show Davenport Hotel, L.L.C. acquired the building in 2021 in a deal worth $4.2 million.

Records show that several bricks had fallen from the building's facade in 2020 after a severe wind storm.

As their building deteriorated, tenants repeatedly complained in recent years to the city about a host of other problems they say were ignored by property managers. Some said they did not have heat or hot water for weeks or even months at a time. They complained of water leaking through their ceilings and toilets, damaged windows, and mold. City officials gave orders to vacate some individual apartments and tried to address other complaints, but a broader building evacuation was never ordered even as safety concerns mounted, records show.

City officials ordered repairs after they found seven fire code violations on Feb. 6, including trash and other items stored in stairwells, a lack of lighting in hallways and a failure to test fire alarms as required. They were told three weeks later by building maintenance officials that “none of the work was completed,” records show.

Assistant City Attorney Brian Heyer said he’s unaware whether the city had considered earlier civil enforcement action to protect residents in the crumbling structure. Only after the collapse did the city file a civil infraction seeking a $300 fine against Wold for failing to maintain the structure in a safe manner. He will be required to pay for the cost of demolition, Heyer said.

Heyer said an enforcement action the city filed that resulted in a $4,500 fine in March for repeated trash overflows came in response to complaints from downtown residents and businesses about the debris.

Emails sent to an attorney believed to be representing Wold have not been returned.

MidAmerican Energy, an electric and gas utility, complained to the city in early February about an unsafe and deteriorating brick wall at the west corner of the building. The utility told city officials that its employees would not work in the area until improvements were made, including the installation of scaffolding.

A city notice dated Feb. 2 said the wall was gradually failing and cited “visible crumbling of this exterior load bearing wall under the support beam.” The notice also said the exterior brick veneer had separated and allowed rain and ice to cause damage, and that the electrical and gas equipment on the outer wall had to be protected from the failure.

The notice ordered Davenport Hotel to provide an engineer’s letter “stating this is not an imminent danger” and to take immediate steps to repair the problems, including installing scaffolding for protection so utility workers would be protected.

A Feb. 8 letter to the city from Select Structural, an engineering firm in Bettendorf, said an engineer conducted an emergency site visit Feb. 2 and determined the crumbling wall “is not an imminent threat to the building or its residents, but structural repairs will be necessary.” It called for replacing a wall and other repairs, but cautioned of risk.

City inspectors monitored progress at the site and learned Feb. 28 that “the west wall has collapsed into the scaffolding” and were informed by workers that “it’s going to be a bigger job that (cq.) what they believed it to be,” a city spreadsheet shows.

By March 3, the contractor, Bi-State Masonry, Inc., walked off the job after the building owner balked at approving a change order with a higher price tag due to “unforeseen work needing performed,” the document states. It’s unclear what happened next, and a person who answered a call to Bi-State declined comment.

China Ukraine envoy urges governments to 'stop sending weapons to the battlefield,' negotiate peace

China urges push for peace

China’s Ukraine envoy appealed Friday to other governments to “stop sending weapons to the battlefield” and hold peace talks, but gave no indication that his trip to the region made any progress toward a settlement.

Li Hui’s appeal came as Washington and its European allies are ramping up supplies of missiles, tanks and other weapons to Ukrainian forces that are trying to take back Russian-occupied territory.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government says it is neutral and wants to serve as a mediator but has supported Moscow politically.

“China believes that if we really want to put an end to war, to save lives and realize peace, it is important for us to stop sending weapons to the battlefield, or else the tensions will only spiral up,” Li told reporters.

Li visited Ukraine, Russia, Poland, France, Germany and the European Union headquarters during a May 15-28 trip.

Political analysts saw little chance that the Chinese initiative would make progress, but it gives Beijing an opportunity to expand its global diplomatic role.

Beijing released a proposed peace plan in February, but Ukraine’s allies insisted President Vladimir Putin must first withdraw Russian forces.

China sees Moscow as a diplomatic and military partner in opposing United States domination of global affairs. Beijing has refused to criticize the invasion and used its status as one of five permanent United Nations Security Council members to deflect diplomatic attacks on Russia.

Fort Bragg drops Confederate namesake for Fort Liberty, part of US Army base rebranding

Confederate name dropped

North Carolina's Fort Bragg shed its Confederate namesake Friday to become Fort Liberty in a ceremony some veterans said was a small but important step in making the U.S. Army more welcoming to current and prospective Black service members.

The change was part of a broad Department of Defense initiative, motivated by the 2020 George Floyd protests, to rename military installations that had been named after confederate soldiers.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations that erupted nationwide after Floyd’s killing by a white police officer, coupled with ongoing efforts to remove Confederate monuments, turned the spotlight on the Army installations. A naming commission created by Congress visited the bases and met with members of the surrounding communities for input.

While other bases are being renamed for Black soldiers, U.S. presidents and trailblazing women, the North Carolina military installation is the only one not renamed after a person. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule said at a commission meeting last year that the new name was chosen because “liberty remains the greatest American value.”

The cost to rename Fort Bragg — one of the largest military installations in the world by population — will total about $6.37 million, according to a commission report.

“The name changes, the mission does not change,” base spokesperson Cheryle Rivas said Friday morning before the ceremony.

Fort Polk in Louisiana will be the next installation to change its name June 13 to Fort Johnson, in honor of Sgt. William Henry Johnson.

The North Carolina base was originally named in 1918 for Gen. Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general from Warrenton, North Carolina, who was known for owning slaves and losing key Civil War battles that contributed to the Confederacy’s downfall.

Several military bases were named after Confederate soldiers during World War I and World War II as part of a “demonstration of reconciliation” with white southerners amid a broader effort to rally the nation to fight as one, said Nina Silber, a historian at Boston University.

“It was kind of a gesture of, ‘Yes, we acknowledge your patriotism,’ which is kind of absurd to acknowledge the patriotism of people who rebelled against a country,” she said.

The original naming process involved members of local communities, although Black residents were left out of the conversations. Bases were named after soldiers born or raised nearby, no matter how effectively they performed their duties. Bragg is widely regarded among historians as a poor leader who did not have the respect of his troops, Silber said.

For Isiah James, senior policy officer at the Black Veterans Project, the base renamings are a “long overdue” change he hopes will lead to more substantial improvements for Black service members.

“America should not have vestiges of slavery and secessionism and celebrate them,” he said. “We should not laud them and hold them up and venerate them to where every time a Black soldier goes onto the base, they get the message that this base Bragg is named after someone who wanted to keep you as human property.”

The secretary of defense is required by law to implement the naming commission’s proposed changes by Jan. 1, 2024.

Despite flags, Border Patrol staff didn't review fragile 8-year-old girl's file before she died

Child dies in border custody

Border Patrol medical staff declined to review the file of an 8-year-old girl with a chronic heart condition and rare blood disorder before she appeared to have a seizure and died on her ninth day in custody, an internal investigation found.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said the child's parents shared the medical history with authorities on May 10, a day after the family was taken into custody.

But a nurse practitioner declined to review documents about the girl the day she died, CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility said in its initial statement Thursday on the May 17 death. The nurse practitioner reported denying three or four requests from the girl’s mother for an ambulance.

Anadith Tanay Reyes Alvarez, whose parents are Honduran, was born in Panama with congenital heart disease. She received surgery three years ago that her mother, Mabel Alvarez Benedicks, characterized as successful during a May 19 interview with The Associated Press.

A day before she died, Anadith showed a fever of 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius), the CBP report said.

A surveillance video system at the Harlingen, Texas, station was out of service since April 13, a violation of federal law that prevented evidence collection, according to the Office of Professional Responsibility, akin to a police department’s office of internal affairs. The system was flagged for repair but wasn't fixed until May 23, six days after the girl died.

Still, the report relied on interviews with Border Patrol agents and contracted medical personnel to raise a host of new and troubling questions about what went wrong during the girl's nine days in custody, which far exceeded the agency's own limit of 72 hours.

Investigators gave no explanation for decisions that medical staff made and appeared to be at a loss for words.

“Despite the girl’s condition, her mother’s concerns, and the series of treatments required to manage her condition, contracted medical personnel did not transfer her to a hospital for higher-level care,” the Office of Professional Responsibility said.

Troy Miller, CBP's acting commissioner, said the initial investigation “provides important new information on this tragic death" and he reaffirmed recent measures including a review of all “medically fragile” cases in custody to ensure they are out of custody as soon as possible. Average time in custody has dropped by more than half for families in two weeks, he said.

“(This death) was a deeply upsetting and unacceptable tragedy. We can — and we will — do better to ensure this never happens again,” Miller said.

Anadith entered Brownsville, Texas, with her parents and two older siblings May 9 when daily illegal crossings topped 10,000 as migrants rushed to beat the end of pandemic-related restrictions on seeking asylum.

She was diagnosed with the flu May 14 at a temporary holding facility in Donna, Texas, and was moved with her family to Harlingen. Staff had about nine encounters with Anadith and her mother over the next four days at the Harlingen station until her death over concerns including high fever, flu symptoms, nausea and breathing difficulties. She was given medications, a cold pack and a cold shower, according to the Office of Professional Responsibility.

A court-appointed monitor expressed concern in January about chronic conditions of medically fragile children not getting through to Border Patrol staff.

Dr. Paul H. Wise, a Stanford University pediatrics professor who was in South Texas last week to look into the circumstances around what he said was a “preventable” death, said there should be little hesitation about sending ill children to the hospital, especially those with chronic conditions.

Anadith’s mother told the AP that she informed staff of her child’s conditions, which included sickle-cell anemia, and repeatedly asked for medical assistance and an ambulance to take her daughter to a hospital but the requests were denied until her child fell unconscious.

Karla Marisol Vargas, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project who is representing the family, said Border Patrol agents rejected her pleas for medicine until the day she died.

“They refused to review documents showing the illnesses that her daughter had,” Vargas said.

The family is living with relatives in New York City while funeral arrangements are made.

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