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World  

Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell arrested

Epstein associate arrested

Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who was accused by many women of helping procure underage sex partners for Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in New Hampshire, the FBI said Thursday.

Maxwell, who lived for years with Epstein, was taken into custody around 8:30 a.m., said FBI spokesman Marty Feely.

Epstein killed himself in a federal detention centre in New York last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell was accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. Those accusations, until now, never resulted in criminal charges. The exact nature of the charges against her weren't immediately revealed.

Maxwell has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called some of the claims against her “absolute rubbish."





Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills at least 123 people

Landslide at mine kills 123

At least 123 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years.

The Ministry of Information said 123 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the centre of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. The Myanmar Fire Service Department, which co-ordinates rescues and other emergency services, put the total at 126.

“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” a statement from the fire service said.

A crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue-and-red plastic sheets laid in a row on the ground.

Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve the bodies, which were wrapped in the plastic sheets that served as makeshift body bags and then were hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.

Khin Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant, earlier said that in addition to the dead, 54 other people were injured and sent to hospitals.

Thursday's death toll surpasses that of a November 2015 accident that left 113 dead and was previously considered the country's worst. In that case, the victims died when a 60-meter (200-foot) -high mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines tumbled in the middle of the night, covering more than 70 huts where miners slept.

Those killed in such accidents are usually freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been excavated by heavy machinery. The freelancers who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.

Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.

Local activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcement of already very weak regulations in the industry.

According to Global Witness, a London-based group that investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, Myanmar's jade industry generated about $31 billion in 2014, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to the country's former military rulers.

Global Witness made its estimate in a detailed report, and more recent reliable figures are not readily available.

“Large companies, many of them owned by families of former generals, army companies, cronies and drug lords, are making tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year through their plunder of Hpakant,” Mike Davis of Global Witness said when the group released its report in 2015.

“Their legacy to local people is a dystopian wasteland in which scores of people at a time are buried alive in landslides,” Davis said.

The Hpakant area in Kachin state is 950 kilometres (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.

Jade mining also plays a role in the decades-old struggle of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar's borderlands to take more control of their own destiny.

The area where members of the Kachin minority are dominant is poverty stricken despite hosting lucrative deposits of rubies as well as jade.

The Kachin believe they are not getting a fair share of the profits from deals which the central government makes with mining companies that critics charge are cronies of the military — a major player in the country's administration.

Kachin guerrillas have engaged in intermittent but occasionally heavy combat with government troops.



Prince Harry addresses institutional racism at Diana Awards

Prince Harry on racism

Prince Harry stressed the need to tackle institutional racism during a speech he recorded for Wednesday's ceremony for the Diana Awards, a charity for young people set up to honour his late mother.

In a video message shown in the virtual ceremony, the Duke of Sussex said that “institutional racism has no place in our societies, yet it is still endemic.”

“My wife said recently that our generation and the ones before us haven’t done enough to right the wrongs of the past,” he said. “I, too, am sorry — sorry that we haven’t got the world to the place that you deserve it to be.”

The speech came on what would have been the 59th birthday of Princess Diana, the prince's mother. She died in a Paris car crash in 1997, when Harry was 12.

Harry paid tribute to young people being recognized at the ceremony for their work on race and injustice, saying he saw the “greatest hope” in them amid the division and anger in the world.

In 2016. Harry accused the media of harassing Meghan, his then-girlfriend, and criticized “racial undertones” in some coverage of her. Meghan's mother is Black and her father is white.

She gave a speech last month to students at her old high school in Los Angeles following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The couple now live in Los Angeles with their son, Archie, after they quit as senior working royals earlier this year.



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NYC delays resumption of indoor dining at restaurants

NYC delays indoor dining

Indoor dining at New York City restaurants will be delayed out of fear it would cause a spike in coronavirus infections, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said he was concerned that if the city welcomed diners back into the enclosed spaces of its restaurants, it might experience the same surge in illness now being seen in other states.

“Honestly, even a week ago, honestly, I was hopeful we could. But the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time.”

Cuomo said the ban on indoor dining would be confined to New York City, where he complained that compliance with social-distancing guidelines is dropping. “Everything else is going to continue, everything else is continuing all across the state," the governor, also a Democrat, said. "This is a New York City-only modification because frankly it is a problem that is most pronounced in New York City.”

De Blasio said that outdoor dining at restaurants, which started about two weeks ago, can continue. He said 6,600 restaurants in the city have applied for permits to serve patrons outdoors and he expects more to follow suit.

“Outdoor dining unquestionably has been a great hit,” de Blasio said. “And I think the bottom line is that outdoors is working, period. This is one of the things we’ve learned. Outdoors is where we need to be to the maximum extent possible this summer as we fight back this disease.”

New York City is in the second phase of its reopening plan and is expected to to go to a third phase on July 6. Indoor restaurant dining has been part of Phase 3 elsewhere in New York state but will now be delayed indefinitely in the city.

Under the current rules, large gatherings of people are still banned in New York City, but retail stores have been allowed to welcome customers back inside and offices have reopened to workers with some social distancing rules in place.

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement that he respects the decision to postpone indoor dining, but “the longer neighbourhood restaurants and bars are forced to be closed, the harder it will be for them to ever successfully reopen.” He urged officials to forgive rent, expand outdoor dining and “enact other responsive policies to save our city’s beloved small businesses and jobs.

Melissa Fleischut, the president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said she understands the need to prioritize safety, but “the chances of restoring New York City as the restaurant capital of the world withers away" the longer indoor dining is delayed.

She said the association "will continue to work in partnership with the community and law enforcement to restore indoor dining in New York City as soon as possible.”

Rates of infection and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been declining in New York for several weeks, even as other states have seen increases in new cases. Both de Blasio and Cuomo have faulted states in the South and West for relaxing coronavirus restrictions too quickly.

“We know a lot of other parts of the country very sadly made decisions based on something other than the data,” de Blasio said.

Cuomo said there were 11 deaths attributed to the virus statewide Tuesday, down from nearly 800 deaths a day statewide during the height of New York's outbreak in April.



Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law

First arrests under new law

Hong Kong police made the first arrests Wednesday under a new national security law imposed by China’s central government, as thousands of people defied tear gas and pepper pellets to protest against the contentious move on the anniversary of the former British colony's handover to Chinese rule.

Police said 10 people were arrested under the law, including a man with a Hong Kong independence flag and a woman holding a sign displaying the British flag and calling for Hong Kong's independence — all violations of the law that took effect Tuesday night. Others were detained for possessing items advocating independence.

Hong Kong police said on Facebook that they arrested some 370 people on various charges, including unlawful assembly, possession of weapons and violating the new law, which was imposed in a move seen as Beijing’s boldest step yet to erase the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

The law, imposed following anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. Any person taking part in activities such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags calling for the city’s independence is violating the law regardless of whether violence is used.

The most serious offenders, such as those deemed to be masterminds behind these activities, could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Lesser offenders could receive jail terms of up to three years, short-term detention or restriction.

Wednesday's arrests came as thousands took to the streets on the 23rd anniversary of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. For the first time, police banned this year's annual march. Protesters shouted slogans, lambasted police and held up signs condemning the Chinese government and the new security law.

Some protesters set fires in Hong Kong's trendy shopping district, Causeway Bay, while others pulled bricks from sidewalks and scattered obstacles across roads in an attempt to obstruct traffic. To disperse protesters, police shot pepper spray and pepper balls, as well as deployed water cannons and tear gas throughout the day.

Hong Kong’s leader strongly endorsed the new law in a speech marking the anniversary of the handover of the territory — officially called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

“The enactment of the national law is regarded as the most significant development in the relationship between the central authorities and the HKSAR since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland,” chief executive Carrie Lam said in a speech, following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China’s national anthem.

“It is also an essential and timely decision for restoring stability in Hong Kong,” she said.

A pro-democracy political party, The League of Social Democrats, organized a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony. About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusations of police abuse.

The law’s passage Tuesday further blurs the distinction between the legal systems of Hong Kong, which maintained aspects of British law after the 1997 handover, and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system. Critics say the law effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told reporters Wednesday the law “is a clear and serious violation” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule.

The law directly targets some of the actions of anti-government protesters last year, which included attacks on government offices and police stations, damage to subway stations and the shutdown of the city’s international airport. Acts of vandalism against government facilities or public transit can be prosecuted as subversion or terrorism.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said in a news conference that the security legislation does not follow the rule of law and is a dire warning to the free press.

“This would tell you that they want not just to get us, but to intimidate us into inaction, into a catatonic state,” Mo said.

Hong Kong's police force said they would consider any flag or banner raised by protesters calling for Hong Kong's separation from China to be illegal as well as an expressions of support for independence for Tibet, Xinjiang or the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan that China claims as its own.

Police will use a new purple flag to warn protesters if they display banners or shout slogans that may constitute a crime under the law.

Concerns have also been raised over the fate of key opposition figures, some of whom have already been charged for taking part in protests, as well as the disqualification of candidates for Legislative Council elections scheduled for September.

In Beijing, the executive deputy director of the Cabinet’s Hong Kong affairs office, Zhang Xiaoming, said Hong Kong people are allowed to criticize the ruling Communist Party but cannot turn those complaints “into actions.”

“What happened recently in Hong Kong has shown a deviation from the right track of the ‘one country, two systems’ (framework),” Zhang told reporters Wednesday. “To some extent, we made this law in order to correct the deviation ... to pull it closer to ‘one-country.’”

Schools, social groups, media outlets, websites and others will be monitored and their national security awareness will be raised, according to the law, while the central government will have authority over the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations and media outlets in Hong Kong.

The law says central government bodies in Hong Kong will take over in “complicated cases” and when there is a serious threat to national security. Local authorities are barred from interfering with central government bodies operating in Hong Kong while they are carrying out their duties.

Security legislation was mandated under Hong Kong’s local constitution, but an earlier attempt to pass it in the city’s legislative body in 2003 was shelved because of massive public opposition. Beijing finally decided to circumvent the Hong Kong legislature and have the law passed Tuesday by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order putting the law into effect, and it has been added to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.

The law’s passage comes after Hong Kong’s legislature in early June approved a contentious bill making it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.

On Wednesday, Raab, the British foreign secretary, announced the UK would extend residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kong residents eligible for British National Overseas passports to five years from the current six-month limit. After five years, they could apply for settled status and then apply for citizenship 12 months later.

The U.S. is moving to end special trade terms given to the territory. The Trump administration has also said it will bar defence exports to Hong Kong and will soon require licenses for the sale of items that have both civilian and military uses.

The U.S. Congress has also moved to impose sanctions on people deemed connected to political repression in Hong Kong, including police officials.

China has said it will impose visa restrictions on Americans it sees as interfering over Hong Kong.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the threat of a visa ban as a sign of “how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices" and said the law's adoption “destroys the territory’s autonomy and one of China’s greatest achievements."

Beijing’s “paranoia and fear of its own people’s aspirations have led it to eviscerate the very foundation of the territory’s success," Pompeo said in a statement.

Taiwan on Wednesday opened an office to facilitate migration from Hong Kong.



Russian voters agree to let Putin seek 2 more terms

Putin can seek 2 more terms

Russian voters approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that concluded Wednesday was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

With the nation's polls closed and 30% of all precincts counted, 74% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.

For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.

A massive propaganda campaign and the opposition’s failure to mount a co-ordinated challenge helped Putin get the result he wanted, but the plebiscite could end up eroding his position because of the unconventional methods used to boost participation and the dubious legal basis for the balloting.

By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of Western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65%, according to election officials. In some regions, about 90% of eligible voters cast ballots.

On Russia's easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, officials quickly announced full preliminary results showing 80% of voters supported the amendments, and in other parts of the Far East, they said over 70% of voters backed the changes.

Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.

“We look at neighbouring regions, and anomalies are obvious — there are regions where the turnout is artificially (boosted), there are regions where it is more or less real,” Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, told The Associated Press.

Putin voted at a Moscow polling station, dutifully showing his passport to the election worker. His face was uncovered, unlike most of the other voters who were offered free masks at the entrance.

The vote completes a convoluted saga that began in January, when Putin first proposed the constitutional changes. He offered to broaden the powers of parliament and redistribute authority among the branches of government, stoking speculation he might seek to become parliamentary speaker or chairman of the State Council when his presidential term ends in 2024.

His intentions became clear only hours before a vote in parliament, when legislator Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet-era cosmonaut who was the first woman in space in 1963, proposed letting him run two more times. The amendments, which also emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlaw same-sex marriages and mention “a belief in God” as a core value, were quickly passed by the Kremlin-controlled legislature.

Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades — longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024. He argued that resetting the term count was necessary to keep his lieutenants focused on their work instead of “darting their eyes in search for possible successors.”

Analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant, said Putin’s push to hold the vote despite the fact that Russia has thousands of new coronavirus infections each day reflected his potential vulnerabilities.

“Putin lacks confidence in his inner circle and he’s worried about the future,” Pavlovsky said. “He wants an irrefutable proof of public support.”

Even though the parliament's approval was enough to make it law, the 67-year-old Russian president put his constitutional plan to voters to showcase his broad support and add a democratic veneer to the changes. But then the coronavirus pandemic engulfed Russia, forcing him to postpone the April 22 plebiscite.

The delay made Putin’s campaign blitz lose momentum and left his constitutional reform plan hanging as the damage from the virus mounted and public discontent grew. Plummeting incomes and rising unemployment during the outbreak have dented his approval ratings, which sank to 59%, the lowest level since he came to power, according to the Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster.

Moscow-based political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann said the Kremlin had faced a difficult dilemma: Holding the vote sooner would have brought accusations of jeopardizing public health for political ends, while delaying it raised the risks of defeat. “Holding it in the autumn would have been too risky,” she said.

In Moscow, several activists briefly lay on Red Square, forming the number “2036” with their bodies in protest before police stopped them. Some others in Moscow and St. Petersburg staged one-person pickets and police didn’t intervene.

Several hundred opposition supporters rallied in central Moscow to protest the changes, defying a ban on public gatherings imposed for the coronavirus outbreak. Police didn’t intervene and even handed masks to the participants.

Authorities mounted a sweeping effort to persuade teachers, doctors, workers at public sector enterprises and others who are paid by the state to cast ballots. Reports surfaced from across the vast country of managers coercing people to vote.

The Kremlin has used other tactics to boost turnout and support for the amendments. Prizes ranging from gift certificates to cars and apartments were offered as an encouragement, voters with Russian passports from eastern Ukraine were bused across the border to vote, and two regions with large number of voters — Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod — allowed electronic balloting.

In Moscow, some journalists and activists said they were able to cast their ballots both online and in person in a bid to show the lack of safeguards against manipulations.

Kremlin critics and independent monitors pointed out that the relentless pressure on voters coupled with new opportunities for manipulations from a week of early voting when ballot boxes stood unattended at night eroded the standards of voting to a striking new low.

In addition to that, the early voting sanctioned by election officials but not reflected in law further eroded the ballot’s validity.

Many criticized the Kremlin for lumping more than 200 proposed amendments together in one package without giving voters a chance to differentiate among them.

“I voted against the new amendments to the constitution because it all looks like a circus,” said Yelena Zorkina, 45, after voting in St. Petersburg. “How can people vote for the whole thing if they agree with some amendments but disagree with the others?"

Putin supporters were not discouraged by being unable to vote separately on the proposed changes. Taisia Fyodorova, a 69-year-old retiree in St. Petersburg, said she voted yes “because I trust our government and the president.”

In a frantic effort to get the vote, polling station workers set up ballot boxes in courtyards and playgrounds, on tree stumps and even in car trunks — unlikely settings derided on social media that made it impossible to ensure a clean vote.

In Moscow, there were reports of unusually high numbers of at-home voters, with hundreds visited by election workers in a matter of hours, along with multiple complaints from monitors that paperwork documenting the turnout was being concealed from them.

At the same time, monitoring the vote became more challenging due to hygiene requirements and more arcane rules for election observers.

The Golos monitoring group pointed out at unusual differences between neighbouring regions: in the Siberian republic of Tyva over 73% voted in the first five days, while in the neighbouring Irkutsk region, turnout was about 22% and in the neighbouring republic of Altai, it was under 33%.

“These differences can be explained only by forcing people to vote in certain areas or by rigging,” Golos said.

Observers warned that the methods used to boost turnout, combined with bureaucratic hurdles that hindered independent monitoring, would undermine the vote's legitimacy.

“There is a big question about the results of this vote,” Melkonyants said, adding that its outcome "can’t really bear any legal standing.”



Turkey: Up to 60 migrants feared dead in lake after sinking

Dozens of migrants drown

Up to 60 migrants may have been trapped in a boat that sank in an eastern lake last week, Turkey’s interior minister said Wednesday.

Turkey launched a search-and-rescue mission involving helicopters and boats after the boat carrying migrants across Lake Van was reported missing on June 27. So far, search teams have recovered six bodies.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who travelled to Van to oversee the rescue operation, told reporters Wednesday that authorities estimated the boat was carrying between 55 and 60 migrants when it went down in stormy weather.

Eleven other people were detained in connection with the tragedy, he said. A village administrator has been removed from office for delaying reporting the incident, he added.

Soylu said experts think the sunken boat is under 110-120 metres (360-394 feet) of water. An underwater imaging system was dispatched from Ankara to locate the wreck, he added.

HaberTurk television said the migrants are believed to be from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Last year, seven migrants drowned while 64 others were rescued when their boat capsized in the lake, which is close to the border with Iran but lies within Turkey’s borders.

The lake is situated along a major transit route for migrants coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. They are typically smuggled across mountains on the Iran-Turkey border and then continue travelling on through Turkey.

However, Turkish authorities have intensified immigration controls near the Iranian border, and some smugglers transport migrants across Lake Van s to avoid several police and military checkpoints between the provinces of Van and Bitlis.

Turkey, which hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, is a main crossing point for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Soylu said Turkey had detained 454,000 migrants last year. This year, Turkish authorities prevented some 16,000 migrants from reaching Turkey through the Turkey-Iran border and detained 4,500 others who managed to cross into Van province.

Earlier this year, thousands of migrants arrived at Turkey’s border with Greece trying to cross illegally after Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders for those seeking to cross into Europe. The move triggered days of violent clashes between the migrants and Greek border authorities.



PM Modi says virus status 'critical,' warns of carelessness

Virus status 'critical'

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a live address Tuesday that the country's coronavirus death rate is under control, but that the country is at a “critical juncture.”

Modi's sixth address since the pandemic began came as India reported nearly 570,000 infections and over 16,000 deaths.

“It is true that if you look at the death rate of corona, then in comparison to many countries of this world, India seems to be in (good) condition,” Modi said, crediting his decision to close down the country to all but essential activity from late March to early June.

But since the lockdown was lifted, the caseload has shot up, making India the world's fourth-worst affected country. While some restrictions remain, many industries and businesses have reopened, and Indians have cautiously returned to the streets.

Modi blamed people for failing to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines.

“People are becoming careless,” he said, adding, “we need to call out the violators.”

He also urged local administrations to be more stringent about enforcing distancing norms.

Modi said free food rations for 800 million of the country's 1.3 billion people would continue until November. He said the government would offer a single ration card that would apply across state boundaries.

“The biggest beneficiaries will be those poor people who leave their village and go elsewhere for work,” he said, indirectly referring to the tens of thousands of migrants who left India's cities when the lockdown began, and are now beginning to return as industry comes back online.



Gas explosion at clinic in Iranian capital kills 19

Gas explosion kills 19

An explosion from a gas leak in a medical clinic in northern Tehran killed 19 people, Iranian state TV reported Tuesday.

Authorities initially said 13 people were dead, but Jalal Maleki, spokesman for the Tehran Fire Department, later told state TV that the toll had risen to 19.

State-run IRNA news agency also quoted Maleki as saying the dead included 15 women and four men. Maleki added that firefighters had rescued 20 people.

Video posted online appeared to show more than one explosion and thick black smoke rising from the flames.

Hamidreza Goudarzi, deputy Tehran governor, told state TV that a leak from medical gas tanks in the building was the cause of the explosion and fire.

People in nearby Tajrish Bazaar rushed to the scene, impeding a rescue operation, authorities said. Videos on social media showed people gathered outside of the building.

State TV said there could be more explosions because there were a number of oxygen tanks remaining in the medical centre.

Witness Marjan Haghighi told The Associated Press that police blocked roads to the neighbourhood.



Wisconsin family saves bear swimming with head stuck in bin

Bear saved from snack bin

A Wisconsin family helped save a young bear that was struggling to breathe while swimming in a lake with its head caught in a plastic food container.

Tricia and Brian Hurt and their son, Brady, were fishing Saturday on Marsh Miller Lake in western Wisconsin's Chippewa County when they came across what they first thought was a swimming dog. They soon realized, though, that it was a young bear with a clear plastic cheese ball container stuck on its head.

Their first attempt to pull the tub off the bear's head failed, but another try was successful. They captured the rescue on video.

“That was the thing I remember most, is that bear panting heavily, trying to get air. Can you imagine having that down in the water, it sealed it off so it couldn’t get fresh air into that jug?” said Brian Hurt.

Tricia Hurt said if they had been two minutes sooner or later, they likely wouldn't have come across the bear.

“I should have bought a lottery ticket,” Brian Hurt said. “I probably would have better chances at winning the lottery ticket than stumbling across that poor bear.”

The Hurts then went to a nearby resort, where some people had watched the rescue and told them the bear had been that way for at least a few days. Locals had been trying to figure out how to get the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to help it.

Brian Hurt estimated the bear was a year old and likely still with it's mother. They watched it all the way until it got to shore.

“We heard it fall and collapse on shore so I knew it was safe at that point,” he said, speculating that the bear would have drowned if they hadn't been there to help.



'White power' flare-up in retirement haven reveals tensions

'White power' flare-up

There has always been a low-boil tension in The Villages retirement community between the Republican majority and the much smaller cohort of Democrats, but a veneer of good manners in “Florida's Friendliest Hometown" mostly prevailed on golf courses and at bridge tables.

Those tensions, though, flared two weeks ago during a golf-cart parade for President Donald Trump's birthday in which a man shouted, “White Power,” when confronted by anti-Trump protesters. A video clip of that confrontation in America’s largest retirement community was tweeted approvingly by Trump last weekend and then taken down.

Some residents say they've never seen anything like the politically inspired hostilities that have surfaced over the past several months.

“It's like a powder keg here," said resident Alan Stone. “And Trump is just stirring the pot."

In the past, when conflicting political views came up in The Villages, residents said it was best to say, “I disagree,” and quickly change the topic. But the emphasis on good manners has been tested like never before in recent months with the spread of the new coronavirus, the resulting stock market gyrations for a population that largely lives off retirement investments, the presidential race and the calls for racial justice following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“This has been brewing. Most people kind of agree not to discuss politics ... and it had been accepted that with things being so divisive, you don’t get into it,” said Catherine Hardy, chair of the Sumter County Democratic Party.

The Villages' population of more than 120,000 residents — among the fastest growing areas in the U.S. in the past decade — is about 98% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There are more than twice as many registered Republicans as registered Democrats in Sumter County, where most of The Villages is located.

The Trump parade occurred June 14 in the planned community immediately after a vigil was held by an African American philanthropic group to honour Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the attendees at the vigil had left by the start of the Trump parade, although a white woman wearing “Black Lives Matter" on her shirt shouted profanities at the Trump supporters as they drove by in golf carts. A man driving by in a golf car responded by shouting, “White Power," a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.

“Most people, up until now, even if people felt that way, it was socially unacceptable to voice it," Hardy said of the man's remark. "The difference is under Trump, you can spew that hatred. What has changed is now it’s more acceptable."

The political partisanship can now be seen in the most mundane places, said Ira Friedman, who with his wife, Ellen, have volunteered for Democratic presidential candidates during their 18 years in The Villages.

“Go to the postal station and see people picking up their mail. If they're wearing a mask, they're Democrats. If they're not wearing a mask, talking to each other, bumping into each other, they're Republicans," Friedman said.

The flare-up at the Trump parade doesn’t represent the vast majority of residents of The Villages, although with the election year, there are some people, “who are exercised" and are becoming more vocal in expressing their views, said John Calandro, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party.

Because of the coronavirus, more residents than usual are staying at home and watching the news, rather than going to the retirement haven’s famous happy hours and dances in its town squares, he said.

Some residents worry that the tensions of the past few months may make retirees think twice about moving to The Villages, whose founders have been longtime donors to Republicans and GOP presidential candidates. The Villages is often a popular campaign stop for GOP national and statewide candidates.

“I don't think The Villages wants this kind of publicity," Stone said. “People are saying, ‘What the hell is going on in The Villages?'"



Supreme Court refuses to block upcoming federal executions

Executions will go ahead

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block the execution of four federal prison inmates who are scheduled to be put to death in July and August.

The executions would mark the first use of the death penalty on the federal level since 2003.

The justices rejected an appeal from four inmates who were convicted of killing children. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor noted that they would have blocked the executions from going forward.

The court's action leaves no obstacles standing in the way of the executions, the first of which is scheduled for July 13.

The inmates are separately asking a federal judge in Washington to impose a new delay on their executions over other legal issues that have yet to be resolved.

The activity at the high court came after Attorney General William Barr directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions. Three of the men had been scheduled to be put to death when Barr first announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain.

“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” Barr said in a statement last month. “The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws. We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

The federal government’s initial effort was put on hold by a trial judge after the inmates challenged the new execution procedures, and the federal appeals court in Washington and the Supreme Court both declined to step in late last year. But in April, the appeals court threw out the judge’s order.

The federal prison in Indiana where the executions would take place, USP Terre Haute, has struggled to combat the coronavirus pandemic behind bars. One inmate there has died from COVID-19.

The inmates scheduled for execution are: Danny Lee, who was convicted in Arkansas of killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old; Wesley Ira Purkey, of Kansas, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman; Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people in Iowa, including two children; and Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped a 10-year-old girl who was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and raped her in a forest behind a church before strangling the young girl with a wire.

Three of the executions — for Lee, Purkley and Honken — are scheduled days apart beginning July 13. Nelson’s execution is scheduled for Aug. 28. The Justice Department said additional executions will be set at a later date.

Ruth Friedman, an attorney for Lee, decried the federal death penalty as “arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science.”

“Despite these problems, and even as people across the country are demanding that leaders rethink crime, punishment, and justice, the government is barrelling ahead with its plans to carry out the first federal executions in 17 years,” Friedman said in a statement. “Given the unfairness built into the federal death penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government’s new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution.”

Purkey’s lawyers separately filed court papers last week asking a federal judge to halt his execution, arguing that he isn’t mentally fit to be executed because he suffers from “advancing Alzheimer’s disease and deteriorating cognitive functioning.” The lawyers argue that Purkey doesn’t understand why the government plans to execute him and that he believes it is retaliation for many complaints about conditions in the federal prison system.

Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 — most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the decision means the families of the victims and those in their communities will “finally receive some long-overdue justice.”

“The Supreme Court today rightly rejected yet another attempt by four death row inmates to escape justice,” McEnany said in a statement. “These four men each stand convicted of horrendous acts of violence — including the brutal rape and murder of children.”



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