193239

World  

Australian Labor topples conservatives, PM faces early tests

Australian Labor elected

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he quickly conceded defeat despite millions of votes yet to be counted because an Australian leader must attend a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Albanese, who has described himself as the only candidate with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” to run for prime minister in the 121 years that the office has existed, referred to his own humble upbringing in the Sydney suburb of Camperdown.

“It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mom who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” Albanese said.

“Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had. My mother dreamt of a better life for me. And I hope that my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he added.

Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister after his Labor party clinched its first electoral win since 2007.

Labor has promised more financial assistance and a robust social safety net as Australia grapples with the highest inflation since 2001 and soaring housing prices.

The party also plans to increase minimum wages, and on the foreign policy front, it proposed to establish a Pacific defence school to train neighbouring armies in response to China’s potential military presence on the Solomon Islands on Australia’s doorstep.

It also wants to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

Morrison's Liberal party-led coalition was seeking a fourth three-year term. It held the narrowest of majorities — 76 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government. In early counting on Saturday, the coalition was on track to win 51 seats, Labor 72, 10 were unaligned lawmakers and 18 were too close to call.

The major parties bled votes to fringe parties and independents, which increases the likelihood of a hung parliament and a minority government.

Australia most recent hung parliaments were from 2010-13, and during World War II.

The minor Australian Greens party appeared to have increased its representation from a single seat to three.

The Greens supported a Labor minority government in 2010, and will likely support a Labor administration again if the party falls short of a 76-seat majority.

As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberals fought off a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.

At least four Liberal lawmakers appeared to have lost their seats to teal independents including Liberal Party deputy leader Josh Frydenberg, who had been considered Morrison’s most likely successor.

“What we have achieved here is extraordinary,” teal candidate and former foreign correspondent Zoe Daniels said in her victory speech. “Safe Liberal seat. Two-term incumbent. Independent,” she added.

The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor are proposing.

The government’s Senate leader Simon Birmingham was concerned by big swings toward several teal candidates.

“It is a clear problem that we are losing seats that are heartland seats, that have defined the Liberal Party for generations,” Birmingham said.

“If we lose those seats — it is not certain that we will — but there is clearly a big movement against us and there is clearly a big message in it,” Birmingham added.

Due to the pandemic, around half of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.

Early polling for reasons of travel or work began two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue collecting postal votes for another two weeks.



191931


Police report second death from tornado in northern Michigan

Two dead from tornado

A second person died in a rare tornado that hit a small community in northern Michigan, state police said Saturday.

The person was in their 70s and lived in a mobile home park, Lt. Derrick Carroll said.

The tornado struck Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 people roughly 370 kilometres northwest of Detroit, at around 3:45 p.m. Friday.

More than 40 people were injured.

The Nottingham mobile home park was among the first sites hit by the tornado, Carroll said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Otsego County, making further state resources available to the county.

Extreme spring winds are uncommon in the area because the Great Lakes suck energy out of storms, especially early in the season when the lakes are very cold, said Jim Keysor, a Gaylord-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“Many kids and young adults would have never experienced any direct severe weather if they had lived in Gaylord their entire lives,” he said.



Russia's claim of Mariupol's capture fuels concern for POWs

Mariupol taken by Russia?

Russia’s claimed seizure of a Mariupol steel plant that became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a sorely needed victory in the war he began, capping a nearly three-month siege that left a city in ruins and more than 20,000 residents feared dead.

After the Russian Defence Ministry announced late Friday that its forces had removed the last Ukrainian fighters from the plant's miles of underground tunnels, concern mounted for the Ukrainian defenders who now are prisoners in Russian hands.

Denis Pushilin, the head of an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, said Saturday that the Ukrainians considered heroes by their fellow citizens were sure to face a tribunal for their wartime actions.

“I believe that a tribunal is inevitable here. I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community,” Russian state news agency Tass quoted Pushilin as saying.

Russian officials and state media repeatedly have tried to characterize the fighters who holed up in the Azovstal steel plant as neo-Nazis. Among the plant's more than 2,400 defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, a national guard unit with roots in the far right.

The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia's claim of capturing Azovstal, which for weeks remained Mariupol's last holdout of Ukrainian resistance, and with it completing Moscow's long-sought goal of controlling the city, home to a strategic seaport.

Ukraine's military this week told the fighters holed up in the plant, hundreds of them wounded, that their mission was complete and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.

The end of the battle for Mariupol would help Putin offset some stinging setbacks, including the failure of Russian troops to take over Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, the sinking of the Russian Navy’s flagship in the Black Sea and the continued resistance that has stalled an offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The impact of Russia's declared victory on the broader war in Ukraine remained unclear. Many Russian troops already had been redeployed from Mariupol to elsewhere in the conflict, which began with the Russian invasion of its neighbour on Feb. 24.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov reported Saturday that Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian special-operations base in Black Sea region of Odesa as well as significant cache of Western-supplied weapons in northern Ukraine's Zhytomyr region. There was no confirmation from the Ukrainian side.

In its morning operational report, the Ukrainian military general staff reported heavy fighting in much of eastern Ukraine, including the areas of Sievierodonetsk, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

Since failing to capture Kyiv, Russia focused its offensive in the country's eastern industrial heartland. The Russia-backed separatists have controlled parts of the Donbas region since 2014, and Moscow wants to expand the territory under its control.

Taking Mariupol furthers Russia’s quest to essentially create a land bridge from Russia via much of the Donbas area bordering Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed gratitude to his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, who signed off Saturday on a fresh, $40 billion infusion of aid for the war-ravaged nation. Half of the funding provides military assistance.

Zelenskyy, in remarks to the traumatized nation late Friday, demanded anew that Russia pay “in one way or another for everything it has destroyed in Ukraine. Every burned house. Every ruined school, ruined hospital. Each blown up house of culture and infrastructure facility. Every destroyed enterprise."

“Of course, the Russian state will not even recognize that it is an aggressor,” he continued. “But its recognition is not required.”

Mariupol, which is part of the Donbas, was blockaded early in the war and became a frightening example to people elsewhere in the country of the hunger, terror and death they might face if the Russians surrounded their communities.

As the end drew near at the steel plant, wives of fighters who had held out told of what they feared would be their last contact with their husbands.

Olga Boiko, the wife of a marine, wiped away tears as she shared the words her husband wrote her on Thursday: “Hello. We surrender, I don’t know when I will get in touch with you and if I will at all. Love you. Kiss you. Bye.”

The seaside steelworks, occupying some 11 square kilometres, had been a battleground for weeks. Drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire, the dwindling group of outgunned fighters held out with the help of air drops before their government ordered them to abandon the plant.

Zelenskyy revealed in an interview published Friday that Ukrainian helicopter pilots braved Russian anti-aircraft fire to ferry in medicine, food and water to the steel mill as well as to retrieve bodies and rescue wounded fighters.

A “very large” number of the pilots died on their daring missions, he said. “They are absolutely heroic people, who knew that it would be difficult, knew that to fly would be almost impossible,” Zelenskyy said.

Russia claimed that the Azov Regiment's commander was taken away from the plant in an armoured vehicle because of local residents' alleged hatred for him, but no evidence of Ukrainian antipathy toward the nationalist regiment has emerged.

The Kremlin has seized on the regiment's far-right origins in its drive to to cast the invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russian authorities have threatened to put some of the steel mill’s defenders on trial for alleged war crimes and put them on trial.

With Russia controlling the city, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the bombings of a maternity hospital and a theatre where hundreds of civilians had taken cover.

Satellite images in April showed what appeared to be mass graves just outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of concealing the slaughter by burying up to 9,000 civilians.

Earlier this month, hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the plant during humanitarian cease-fires and spoke of the terror of ceaseless bombardment, the dank conditions underground and the fear that they wouldn’t make it out alive.

At one point in the siege, Pope Francis lamented that Mariupol had become a “city of martyrs.”

An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people who resided there before the war remain. Many, trapped by Russia’s siege, were left without food, water and electricity.

The chief executive of Metinvest, a multinational company which owns the Azovstal plant and another steel mill, Ilyich, in Mariupol, spoke of the city's devastation in an interview published Saturday in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“The Russians are trying to clean it (the city) up to hide their crimes,'' the newspaper quoted Metinvest CEO Yuriy Ryzhenkov as saying. ”The inhabitants are trying to make the city function, to make water supplies work again."

“But the sewer system is damaged, there has been flooding, and infections are feared” from drinking the water, he said.

The Ilyich steelworks still has some intact infrastructure, but if the Russians try to get it running, Ukrainians will refuse to return to their jobs there, Ryzhenkov said.

"We will never work under Russian occupation,'' Ryzhenkov said.



193877


Judge: COVID asylum restrictions must continue on border

Judge blocks Biden plan

Pandemic-related restrictions on migrants seeking asylum on the southern border must continue, a judge ruled Friday in an order blocking the Biden administration’s plan to lift them early next week.

The ruling is just the latest instance of a court derailing the president’s proposed immigration policies along the U.S. border with Mexico.

While the administration can appeal, the ruling sharply increases the odds that restrictions will not end as planned on Monday. A delay would be a blow to advocates who say rights to seek asylum are being trampled, and a relief to some Democrats who fear that a widely anticipated increase in illegal crossings would put them on the defensive in an already difficult midterm election year.

Migrants have been expelled more than 1.9 million times since March 2020 under Title 42, a public health provision that denies them a chance to request asylum under U.S. law and international treaty on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette, Louisiana, ordered that the restrictions stay in place while a lawsuit led by Arizona and Louisiana — and now joined by 22 other states — plays out in court.

The states argued that the administration failed to adequately consider the effects that lifting the restrictions would have on public health and law enforcement. Drew Ensign, an attorney for the state of Arizona, argued at a hearing that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to follow administrative procedures requiring public notice and time to gather public comment.

Jean Lin, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that the CDC was empowered to lift an emergency health restriction it felt was no longer needed. She said the order was a matter of health policy, not immigration.

Summerhays, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, had already ruled in favor of the states by halting efforts to wind down use of the pandemic-era rule. He said last month that a phaseout would saddle states with “unrecoverable costs on healthcare, law enforcement, detention, education, and other services.”

Title 42 is the second major Trump-era policy to deter asylum at the Mexican border that was jettisoned by President Joe Biden, only to be revived by a Trump-appointed judge.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow the administration to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. That case, challenging a policy known as “Remain in Mexico,” originated in Amarillo, Texas. It was reinstated in December on the judge’s order and remains in effect while the litigation plays out.



Florida appeals court reinstates DeSantis congressional map

DeSantis map reinstated

A new congressional map drawn by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' staff that could diminish the state's Black representation in Washington was reinstated by an appeals court Friday, a week after a lower court judge said the map was unconstitutional.

The 1st District Court of appeals ruled Judge Layne Smith erred when he ordered a replacement map be used for the 2022 election. The latest order means the governor's map is reinstated pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the map.

While the appeals court didn't address the constitutionality of the map, it did cite “the need for certainty and continuity as election season approaches.” The ruling comes as the state gets closer to the June 13 to 17 qualifying period for federal office.

"To avoid uncertainty and confusion in the upcoming 2022 primary and general elections, it’s important to move forward expeditiously to implement the congressional map passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in an email.

The DeSantis map would likely boost the number of Florida seats held by Republicans, while also making it difficult for Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson to maintain his seat in a north Florida district where nearly half the voters are Black. Another district that currently favors Black candidates is also redrawn in a way that would make it more difficult for them to win.

The groups suing over the maps issued a joint statement. They include Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Equal Ground Education Fund, and Florida Rising Together.

“Today’s ruling does nothing to change the fact that the Governor’s proposed map is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on Black representation in Florida," the statement said. "On Emancipation Day in Florida, we are once again reminded that the fight for equal rights for all continues and we look forward to prevailing on behalf of the people of our state.”

The order is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“While I’m disappointed in today’s decision by the appellate court to reinstate DeSantis’ unconstitutional map, I am confident that the Florida Supreme Court will soon take over this issue and protect the rights of Black voters in North Florida," Lawson said in a statement emailed to media outlets.

Lawson may be overly optimistic. Six of the seven justices are conservative, including three appointed by DeSantis.

The lawsuit challenging the map was brought by several voting rights groups.

In an unprecedented move, DeSantis, who is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, interjected himself into the process by submitting his own map just before the Senate was set to approve its map.

During the 60-day legislative session that ended in March, the Senate did not take the governor’s map into consideration, and the House approved two maps, a primary map to try to appease DeSantis and a second in case the first map was found to be unconstitutional.

While the House was debating its proposal, DeSantis used Twitter to say it would be dead on arrival. The Senate later approved the House maps and DeSantis kept his promise and vetoed the bill.

DeSantis has said Lawson’s district is gerrymandered based on race and claimed that violates the U.S. Constitution. He has said his map is neutral on race. Lawson’s district extends 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Jacksonville to Gadsden in an effort to link Black communities.



Tornado wreaks havoc in northern Michigan community

Tornado wreaks havoc

A tornado tore through a small community in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula on Friday, flipping vehicles, tearing the roofs off buildings and causing other damage.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths caused by the tornado that hit Gaylord, a community of roughly 4,200 people about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the twister seemed to appear above him.

“There are roofs ripped off businesses, a row of industrial-type warehouses,” Thrasher said. “RVs were flipped upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles heading from the east side of town.”

He said he ran into the store to ride it out.

"My adrenaline was going like crazy," Thrasher said. “In less than five minutes it was over.”

Multiple homes were damaged and trees and powerlines were downed an blocking roads, the State Police said on Twitter. Images shared on social media showed multiple RVs shredded to pieces in a parking lot.

Mike Klepadlo, owner of Alter-Start North, a car repair shop, said he and his workers took cover in a bathroom.

“I’m lucky I’m alive. It blew the back off the building,” he said. “Twenty feet (6 meters) of the back wall is gone. The whole roof is missing. At least half the building is still here. It’s bad.”

Video posted on social media showed extensive damage along Gaylord's Main Street. One building appeared to be largely collapsed and part of a Goodwill store was damaged. A collapsed utility pole lay on the side of the road, and debris, including what appeared to be electrical wires and parts of a Marathon gas station, was scattered all along the street.

Otsego Memorial Hospital said it had no comment about any people seeking treatment for injuries.

Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teen daughter sought safety in a restroom at a Culver's. Windows of the fast food restaurant were blown out when they emerged, and her pickup truck had been flipped on its roof in the parking lot.

“We shook our heads in disbelief but are thankful to be safe. At that point, who cares about the truck,” Slough said.

Gaylord, known as the “Alpine Village,” is set to celebrate its 100th birthday this year, with a centennial celebration that will include a parade and open house at City Hall later this summer.

The community also holds the annual Alpenfest in July, an Alpine-inspired celebration honoring the city’s heritage and a partnership with a sister city in Switzerland.



Finland says Russia suspending natural gas supplies

Energy supply suspended?

Russia will cut off natural gas to Finland after the Nordic country that applied for NATO membership this week refused President Vladimir Putin's demand to pay in rubles, the Finnish state-owned energy company said Friday, the latest escalation over European energy amid the war in Ukraine.

Finland is the latest country to be cut off from an energy supply that is used to generate electricity and power industry after refusing Russia's decree. Poland and Bulgaria were cut off late last month but had prepared for the loss of gas or are getting supplies from other countries.

Putin has declared that “unfriendly foreign buyers” open two accounts in state-owned Gazprombank, one to pay in euros and dollars as specified in contracts and another in rubles. Italian energy company Eni said this week that it was “starting procedures” to open a euro and a ruble account.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, has said countries making a payment in the currency listed in their contracts and formally signaling that the payment process is concluded is acceptable under EU sanctions. But it says opening a second account in rubles would breach them.

That's left countries scrambling to decide what to do next. Finland refused the new payment system, with energy company Gasum saying its supply would be halted Saturday.

CEO Mika Wiljanen called the cutoff “highly regrettable.”

But “provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months,” Wiljanen said.

Natural gas accounted for just 6% of Finland's total energy consumption in 2020, Finnish broadcaster YLE said. Almost all is imported from Russia. That pales in comparison to big customers like Italy and Germany, who get 40% and 35% of their gas from Russia, respectively.

According to Gasum, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom said in April that future payments in the supply contract be made in rubles instead of euros.

It comes after Finland, along with Sweden, applied to join the NATO military organization, marking one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war on Ukraine that could rewrite Europe’s security map.

Meanwhile, Italian company Eni said Tuesday that it was moving to follow Putin's decree “in view of the imminent payment due in the coming days" but did not agree with the changes.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi has said he believes it is a violation of the contract, and has called on the European Commission to make a ruling so companies know if compliance violates sanctions.



Police: Chicago shooting leaves 2 people dead, 8 wounded

2 dead, 8 wounded

Two people are dead and another eight wounded following a shooting in Chicago, authorities said.

The shooting happened about 10:40 p.m. Thursday near a McDonald's restaurant on the city's Near North Side. One person was taken into custody and a weapon was recovered, police said in statement.

Police didn't immediately release the names or ages of the dead.

Additional details about the circumstances of the shooting weren't immediately released. An investigation is ongoing.



Biden's approval dips to lowest of presidency

Biden's approval dips

President Joe Biden’s approval rating dipped to the lowest point of his presidency in May, a new poll shows, with deepening pessimism emerging among members of his own Democratic Party.

Only 39% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research, dipping from already negative ratings a month earlier.

Overall, only about 2 in 10 adults say the U.S. is heading in the right direction or the economy is good, both down from about 3 in 10 a month earlier. Those drops were concentrated among Democrats, with just 33% within the president’s party saying the country is headed in the right direction, down from 49% in April.

Of particular concern for Biden ahead of the midterm elections, his approval among Democrats stands at 73%, a substantial drop since earlier in his presidency. In AP-NORC polls conducted in 2021, Biden’s approval rating among Democrats never dropped below 82%.

The findings reflect a widespread sense of exasperation in a country facing a cascade of challenges ranging from inflation, gun violence, and a sudden shortage of baby formula to a persistent pandemic.

“I don’t know how much worse it can get,” said Milan Ramsey, a 29-year-old high school counselor and Democrat in Santa Monica, California, who with her husband had to move into her parents’ house to raise their infant son.

Ramsey thinks the economic dysfunction that's led to her being unable to afford the place where she grew up isn't Biden's fault. But she's alarmed he hasn't implemented ambitious plans for fighting climate change or fixing health care.

“He hasn't delivered on any of the promises. I feel like the stimulus checks came out and that was the last win of his administration,” Ramsey said of Biden. “I think he's tired — and I don't blame him, I'd be tired too at his age with the career he's had.”

Republicans have not been warm to Biden for a while. Less than 1 in 10 approve of the president or his handling of the economy, but that's no different from last month.

Gerry Toranzo, a nurse and a Republican in Chicago, blames Biden for being forced to pinch pennies by taking steps like driving slower to conserve gas after prices have skyrocketed during his administration.

“His policies are destroying the economy,” Toranzo, 46, said of Biden, blaming him for stopping the Keystone XL fuel pipeline to Canada and hamstringing domestic energy production. “It's a vicious cycle of price increases.”

Overall, two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy. That rating is largely unchanged over the last few months, though elevated slightly since the first two months of the year.

But there are signs that the dissatisfaction with Biden on the economy has deepened. Just 18% of Americans say Biden’s policies have done more to help than hurt the economy, down slightly from 24% in March. Fifty-one percent say they’ve done more to hurt than help, while 30% say they haven’t made much difference either way.

The percentage of Democrats who say Biden’s policies have done more to help dipped from 45% to 37%, though just 18% say they’ve done more to hurt; 44% say they’ve made no difference.

Some Democrats blame other forces for inflation.

Manuel Morales, an internet service technician in Moline, Illinois, thinks the pandemic and war in Ukraine have had a far bigger impact than Biden's decisions. But the 58-year-old Democrat is now questioning the benefits of Biden's biggest legislative achievement, the American Rescue Plan, and its stimulus checks.

“It helped a lot of people, but," Morales said, "people did not want to go back to work.”

Morales faults Biden on another area of persistent vulnerability to the president — immigration.

Only 38% back Biden on immigration, and Morales is disappointed at the scenes of migrants continuing to cross the southern border. Though he himself is a Mexican immigrant, Morales thinks the U.S. needs to more stringently control its border to have a hope of legalizing deserving migrants who are in the country illegally.

Also, Morales said, there have to be limits. “It's impossible to bring the whole of Central America and Mexico into this country,” he said.

Another area where Morales faults Biden, albeit mildly, is the war with Ukraine. “We are spending a lot of money going to the Ukraine and all that is going to the deficit,” Morales said.

Overall, 45% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia, while 54% disapprove. That’s held steady each month since the war in Ukraine began. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 15% of Republicans approve.

The new poll shows just 21% of Americans say they have “a great deal of confidence” in Biden’s ability to handle the situation in Ukraine; 39% say they have some confidence and 39% say they have hardly any.

Charles Penn, a retired factory worker in Huntington, Indiana, is satisfied with Biden's performance on Ukraine.

“I think he's done alright,” Penn, 68, said of the president.

But overall Penn, an independent who leans Republican, is disappointed with Biden, and blames him for rising prices that have squeezed him in his retirement.

“The Democrats in the long run have screwed up things by pushing for higher wages, like going from $7 an hour to $15 an hour," Penn said, citing the push for a sharp increase in the federal minimum wage that Biden has embraced. “The other side of it is that if you had Republicans, they'd cut my Social Security.”

Still, Penn thinks Biden should pay the political price.

“He's captain of the ship, so he's responsible,” Penn said of the president.



Ukraine says it repels Russian attack as war grinds in east

War grinds on in the east

Ukrainian authorities said Friday that their troops repelled a Russian attack in the east, as Moscow struggled to gain ground in the region that is now the focus of the war even while intensifying its campaign there.

Battered by their monthslong siege of the vital port city of Mariupol, Russian troops need time to regroup, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment — but they may not get it. The city and the steelworks where Ukrainian fighters have held off the Russian assault for weeks have become a symbol of Ukraine’s stoic resistance and surprising ability to stymie a much larger force.

On Friday, a number of soldiers — just how many was unclear — were still holed up in the Azovstal plant, following the surrender of more than 1,700 soldiers in recent days. The dead from the battle are also being removed, according to Denis Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov Regiment, which is among those defending the plant.

Speaking of the “fallen heroes,” Prokopenko said: "I hope soon relatives and the whole of Ukraine will be able to bury the fighters with honors.”

With the battle for the steel plant winding down, Russia has already started pulling troops back from the site. But the British assessment indicated Russian commanders are under pressure to quickly send them elsewhere in the Donbas.

“That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition,” the ministry said.

The Donbas is now President Vladimir Putin’s focus after his troops failed to take the capital in the early days of the war. Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the region and held a considerable swath of it before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

But the effort to take more territory there has been slow-going. In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, the British Defense Ministry said.

Russian forces attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, both in the Luhansk region of the Donbas, the region’s governor said Friday. Twelve people were killed, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region, Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post.

But the attack on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful. Both Haidai and Ukraine's General Staff of the military said Russia took losses and retreated. Their reports could not be independently verified.

Still, Russia's struggles in the east only seemed to translate into an intensifying offensive that is inflicting increasing suffering.

“It is hell there, and that’s not an exaggeration,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the campaign.

“The brutal and completely senseless bombardment of Severodonetsk. Twelve dead and dozens wounded there in just one day,” he said in his nightly video address Thursday night to the nation.

Meanwhile, a young Russian soldier, accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian, awaits his fate in Ukraine's first war crimes trial. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old soldier in a Russian tank unit, has pleaded guilty, but the prosecution still presented its evidence, in line with Ukrainian law.

Shishimarin told the court Thursday that he shot 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov after he was ordered to — and apologized to the widow.

Ukraine's surprisingly stiff resistance has been bolstered by Western arms and funding — and more help was on the way this week.

The Group of Seven leading economies and global financial institutions agreed this week to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s public finances, bringing the total aid to $19.8 billion, Germany’s finance minister said Friday. The goal is to ensure that Ukraine’s financial situation does not affect its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.

On Thursday, U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly approved its own aid package of $40 billion of military and economic assistance for Ukraine as well as it allies.

While Mariupol was a target from the start of the invasion and has been under effective Russian control for some time, a group of Ukrainian fighters have held out in the sprawling steel plant — symbolic of the way Ukrainian forces have managed to grind down the Russian troops.

While hundreds of fighters have left, in a brief video message, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment said he and other fighters were still inside.

“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not announce,” Svyatoslav Palamar said.

While Ukraine has expressed hope for a prisoner exchange for those who have surrendered, Russian authorities have threatened to possibly try for war crimes some of the Azovstal fighters.

The far-right origins of the Azov Regiment have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast Russia's invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.



Key witness testifies in trial tied to Trump-Russia probe

Key witness testifies

The star prosecution witness in the trial of a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer testified Thursday that he was “100 percent confident” that the attorney told him he was not acting on behalf of a particular client when he presented information meant to cast suspicions on Donald Trump and possible links to Russia.

The lawyer, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the FBI about the fact that he was representing Clinton’s 2016 campaign interests and that of another client — although the campaign says it never authorized Sussmann to meet with the bureau. The case is part of an ongoing special counsel investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

Sussmann's lawyers deny he lied and sought Thursday to undermine the testimony of the government's key witness, James Baker, by suggesting his memory of the September 2016 meeting with Sussmann was foggy and that his accounts of it had shifted over time.

Baker was the FBI's general counsel in September 2016 when Sussmann, a friend who did legal work for the Clinton campaign, scheduled a meeting to give him computer data that Sussmann said showed a potential secret communications channel between a Russia-based bank and the Trump Organization, the company of the then-candidate.

Sussmann is accused of lying to Baker during that meeting by saying he was not presenting the computer data on behalf of a particular client. In fact, prosecutors allege, he was representing the interests during that meeting of the Clinton campaign and another client, a technology executive who had provided him with the data.

Prosecutors allege Sussmann was not forthcoming about his Clinton ties because he figured the FBI would consider the information less credible if it thought it was being presented with a partisan intent.

The Sussmann prosecution was brought by John Durham, the prosecutor appointed as special counsel during the Trump administration to investigate wrongdoing by government officials during the early days of the investigation into Russian election interference and potential ties with the Trump campaign.

An acquittal could fuel criticism about the Durham probe's purpose while a guilty verdict would likely energize Trump supporters who have long looked to Durham to expose what they see as biased treatment of the former president.

Defense lawyers deny Sussmann lied and have suggested to jurors that it's impossible to be sure exactly what he said because only Baker and Sussmann were in the meeting and neither of them took notes.

During cross-examination, Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz presented Baker with his own prior statements about the meeting in which he appeared less certain about what was said, or gave different descriptions than what he said Thursday.

“Memories are a difficult thing, are they not sir? Berkowitz asked at one point.

During an October 2018 interview with lawmakers, for instance, Baker was asked whether he was aware during the meeting that Sussmann was representing the Clinton campaign at the time. He responded: “I don’t recall, I don’t recall him specifically saying that at that time.”

But testifying Thursday, Baker said he was “100 percent confident” that Sussmann told him during the Sept. 19, 2016 meeting at FBI headquarters that he was not there on behalf of any particular client.

“Michael's a friend of mine and a colleague, and I believed (it) and I trusted that the statement was truthful,” he said.

Baker said under questioning from a prosecutor that had Sussmann told him he was seeking the meeting in his capacity as a Clinton campaign lawyer, he probably would not have agreed to it — in part because Clinton herself had been under investigation that year related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Though he said the FBI always wants to receive reports about criminal wrongdoing or national security threats, the bureau also takes into account the identity of the person or entity providing the information as it assesses a tip's reliability of credibility.

“It would have raised very serious questions, certainly in my mind, about the credibility of the source, the veracity of the information, and heightened in my mind a substantial question about whether we were going to be played or pulled into the politics of it," Baker said of the idea that the data was presented on the Clinton campaign's behalf.

Under cross-examination later in the day, he conceded he did know Sussmann and his law firm were representing the Clinton campaign in the hacking by Russia of their emails.

The data Sussmann presented purported to show furtive communications between a server of Russia-based Alfa Bank and a Trump Organization server. At the time, the FBI was investigating whether the Kremlin and the Trump campaign were coordinating to sway the outcome of that November's presidential election.

Given the existence of that investigation, Baker said, he considered the data a potential national security threat and moved quickly to deal with it, in part because Sussmann told him the news media was intent on reporting it. He alerted the FBI's top counterintelligence official, thinking it could be another piece of evidence in the Trump-Russia probe and concerned that news media coverage could lead Russia to change its behavior.

“I already knew that we had an investigation going on of that nature, and here was another set of allegations relating to a different aspect of alleged interactions or connections between the Russian government” and the Trump campaign, Baker said.

He later added: “It seemed to me of great urgency and great seriousness that I would want to make my bosses aware of this information.”

Baker said he understood from his conversation with Sussmann that the material suggestive of a digital backchannel had been compiled by serious and respected cybersecurity specialists. But the FBI assessed it and quickly determined there was no actual suspicious or secret contact between Russia and the Trump campaign.

There was, Baker said, “nothing there.”



Oklahoma abortion providers say services expected to stop

Strictest abortion ban yet

Oklahoma lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill prohibiting all abortions with few exceptions, and providers said they would stop performing the procedure as soon as the governor signs the bill.

Two of the state's four abortion clinics already stopped providing abortions after the governor signed a six-week ban earlier this month, and an attorney for the two other independent clinics said they will no longer offer services once the bill is signed.

“This bill could go into effect at any time, and once it does, any person can sue the clinic, the doctors, anyone else who is involved in providing an abortion in Oklahoma," said Rabia Muqaddam, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Oklahoma clinics in legal challenges against several proposed new anti-abortion laws.

The bills are part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states across the country to scale back abortion rights. It comes on the heels of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that suggests justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.

The bill by Collinsville Republican Rep. Wendi Stearman would prohibit all abortions, except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

“Is our goal to defend the right to life or isn't it?" Stearman asked her colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote mostly along party lines.

The bill specifically authorizes doctors to remove a “dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion" or to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

The bill is one of at least three anti-abortion bills sent this year to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has indicated he'll sign it. Another Texas-style abortion bill that prohibits the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, which experts say is about six weeks, already has taken effect and has already dramatically curtailed the practice in Oklahoma. Another bill set to take effect this summer would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest.

“At this point, we are preparing for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a complete ban on abortion with likely no exceptions," said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which stopped providing abortions at two of its Oklahoma clinics after the six-week ban took effect earlier this month. “It’s the worst-case scenario for abortion care in the state of Oklahoma."

Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain abortion. After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that mechanism to remain in place, other Republican-led states sought to copy Texas’ ban. Idaho’s governor signed the first copycat measure in March, although it has been temporarily blocked by the state’s Supreme Court.

After Texas passed its bill last year, there was a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions performed in that state, with many women going to Oklahoma and other surrounding states for the procedure.

There are legal challenges pending in Oklahoma to both the bill to criminalize abortion and the six-week Texas ban, but the courts have so far failed to stop either measure.



More World News