For Biden, a deeply personal Memorial Day weekend observance

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — President Joe Biden marked his first Memorial Day weekend as commander in chief by honoring the nation's sacrifices in a deeply personal manner as he paid tribute Sunday to those lost while remembering his late son Beau, a veteran who died six years ago to the day. 

As a cold rain fell, Biden made his annual appearance at the commemoration in New Castle, not far from his Wilmington home, a day before he planned to do the same at Arlington National Cemetery on the official observance. 

The death of his son from brain cancer at age 46 is ever-present for the elder Biden, with the loss defining so much of his worldview, dotting his speeches and stirring his empathy for others in pain.

The Memorial Day weekend, long an important moment for Biden, took on added poignancy this year as the president spoke frequently and emotionally of his own loss while expressing the gratitude of a nation for the sacrifices of others.

"I can't thank you enough for the continued service for the country," said Biden, addressing a crowd of Gold Star military families and other veterans in a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in the shadow of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. "I know how much the loss hurts."

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China easing birth limits further to cope with aging society

BEIJING (AP) — China's ruling Communist Party said Monday it will ease birth limits to allow all couples to have three children instead of two in hopes of slowing the rapid aging of its population, which is adding to strains on the economy and society. 

The ruling party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worries the number of working-age people is falling too fast while the share over age 65 is rising. That threatens to disrupt its ambitions to transform China into a prosperous consumer society and global technology leader. 

A ruling party meeting led by President Xi Jinping decided to introduce "measures to actively deal with the aging population," the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said they agreed that "implementing the policy of one couple can have three children and supporting measures are conducive to improving China's population structure."

Leaders also agreed China needs to raise its retirement age to keep more people in the workforce and improve pension and health services, Xinhua said.

Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were eased in 2015 to allow two, but the total number of births fell further, suggesting rule changes on their own have had little impact on the trend. 

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In post-pandemic Europe, migrants will face digital fortress

PEPLO, Greece (AP) — As the world begins to travel again, Europe is sending migrants a loud message: Stay away! 

Greek border police are firing bursts of deafening noise from an armored truck over the frontier into Turkey. Mounted on the vehicle, the long-range acoustic device, or "sound cannon," is the size of a small TV set but can match the volume of a jet engine. 

It's part of a vast array of physical and experimental new digital barriers being installed and tested during the quiet months of the coronavirus pandemic at the 200-kilometer (125-mile) Greek border with Turkey to stop people entering the European Union illegally.

A new steel wall, similar to recent construction on the U.S.-Mexico border, blocks commonly-used crossing points along the Evros River that separates the two countries.

Nearby observation towers are being fitted with long-range cameras, night vision, and multiple sensors. The data will be sent to control centers to flag suspicious movement using artificial intelligence analysis.

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Dems walk, stop Texas GOP's sweeping voting restrictions

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Democrats pulled off a dramatic, last-ditch walkout in the state House of Representatives on Sunday night to block passage of one of the most restrictive voting bills in the U.S., leaving Republicans with no choice but to abandon a midnight deadline and declare the legislative session essentially over.

The revolt is one of Democrats' biggest protests to date against GOP efforts nationwide to impose stricter election laws, and they used the spotlight to urge President Joe Biden to act on voting rights.

But the victory may be fleeting: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who had declared new voting laws a priority in Texas, quickly announced that he would order a special session to finish the job. He called the failure of the bill "deeply disappointing" but did not say when he would drag lawmakers back to work.

"We've said for so many years that we want more people to participate in our democracy. And it just seems that's not the case," Democratic state Rep. Carl Sherman said.

One by one, Democrats left the House chamber until there was no longer the 100-member quorum needed to pass Senate Bill 7, which would have reduced polling hours, empowered poll watchers and scaled back ways to vote in Texas, which already has some of the nation's strictest voting laws.

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Johnson & Johnson asks high court to void $2B talc verdict

WASHINGTON (AP) — Johnson & Johnson is asking for Supreme Court review of a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who claim they developed ovarian cancer from using the company's talc products.

The case features an array of high-profile attorneys, some in unusual alliances, including former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who is representing the women who sued Johnson & Johnson. The nation's largest business groups are backing the company, and a justice's father also makes an appearance because of his long association with the trade group for cosmetics and personal care products.

The court could say as soon as Tuesday whether it will get involved.

At the root, Johnson & Johnson argues that the company didn't get a fair shake in a trial in state court in Missouri that resulted in an initial $4.7 billion verdict in favor of 22 women who used talc products and developed ovarian cancer.

A state appeals court cut more than half the money out of the verdict and eliminated two of the plaintiffs but otherwise upheld the outcome in a trial in which lawyers for both sides presented dueling expert testimony about whether the company's talc products contain asbestos and asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer.

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North accuses US of hostility for S. Korean missile decision

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Monday the U.S. allowing South Korea to build more powerful missiles was an example of the U.S.'s hostile policy against the North, warning that it could lead to an "acute and instable situation" on the Korean Peninsula.

It's North Korea's first response to the May 21 summit between the leaders of the United States and South Korea, during which the U.S. ended decades-long restrictions that capped South Korea's missile development and allowed its ally to develop weapons with unlimited ranges.

The accusation of U.S. policy being hostile to North Korea matters because it said it won't return to talks and would enlarge its nuclear arsenal as long as U.S. hostility persists. But the latest statement was still attributed to an individual commentator, not a government body, suggesting North Korea may still want to leave room for potential diplomacy with the Biden administration.

"The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward (North Korea) and its shameful double-dealing," Kim Myong Chol, an international affairs critic, said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. "It is engrossed in confrontation despite its lip-service to dialogue."

"The U.S. is mistaken, however. It is a serious blunder for it to pressurize (North Korea) by creating asymmetric imbalance in and around the Korean Peninsula as this may lead to the acute and instable situation on the Korean Peninsula now technically at war," he said.

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Hundreds evacuated, some by chopper, from New Zealand floods

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Several hundred people in New Zealand were evacuated from their homes Monday with some recounting dramatic helicopter rescues as heavy rain caused widespread flooding in the Canterbury region.

Authorities declared a state of emergency after some places received as much as 40 centimeters (16 inches) of rain over the weekend and into Monday. Forecasters warned of possible heavy rain through Monday evening before conditions improved.

The military helped evacuate more than 50 people including several overnight in an NH-90 military helicopter.

One man was clinging to a tree near the town of Darfield when he jumped into floodwaters and tried to swim to safety but was swept away, the military said. 

Helicopter crews scoured the water for 30 minutes before finding the man and plucking him to safety. The military helicopter also rescued an elderly couple from the roof of their car.

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Politics still pack a punch(line) for Iranian-American comic

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — For Iranian-American Maz Jobrani, a stand-up show in Dubai marked the first time he's been in front of a major live audience overseas since the start of the coronavirus pandemic — and he feels it.

"Doing stand-up comedy is kind of like going to the gym — you have to get up on stage five, 10 times a week," said Jobrani, sitting in a Dubai hotel overlooking Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. "You have to keep going or the muscles are going to be rusty."

Jobrani had a calm demeanor during a recent interview with The Associated Press. It was a far cry from the exaggerated expressions and dancing he's known for in his performance. 

Taking to the stage at the recent Dubai Comedy Festival, Jobrani broke into an Iranian dance routine to one of Dua Lipa's hit pop songs, drawing laughter from an audience eager to be out as the coronavirus pandemic still rages across much of the world. The United Arab Emirates has one of the world's highest per-capita vaccination rates and its economy largely has reopened.

Being on stage has become a luxury for comedians, Jobrani said, with some not being able to perform for over a year. After venues shut down last year, extra creativity was required. First, Jobrani started doing shows on Instagram, updating his fans on what he did daily during the lockdown, or doing workouts using random objects.

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Australian softball squad flies to Japan for Olympic camp

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's Olympic softball squad left Sydney bound for Japan on Monday and will be among the earliest arrivals for the Tokyo Games.

The so-called Aussie Spirit will be in camp in Ota City, north of Tokyo, and will narrow the squad down from 23 to 15 ahead of their opening Olympic game against host Japan on July 21 — two days before the official opening ceremony.

The softball squad will be arriving at a time of mounting pressure on Japanese organizers, with polls in Japan showing a majority of people want the Olympics delayed again or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fans from abroad have already been barred from attending the Olympics, and there's increasing speculation that games will be held in empty stadiums. 

A state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and other prefectures was last week extended until June 20 as COVID-19 cases continue to put the medical system under strain.

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AP PHOTOS: Tiananmen crackdown exhibit opens in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — The organizer of Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil has opened its yearly exhibit of photographs and paraphernalia from the bloody 1989 crackdown in Beijing on those calling for democracy in China. 

The opening comes even as Hong Kong authorities have for the second year in a row banned the annual June 4 vigil, which normally draws tens of thousands of people into the streets. Authorities have cited the risk of the coronavirus, though the cancelation coincides with a broader crackdown on political activism and dissent in the city.

Organized by the The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the museum each year shows photographs from the 1989 democracy movement as well as pictures from past candlelight commemorations in Hong Kong.

This year, visitors to the museum will also be able to lay flowers in remembrance of the victims who lost their lives in the massacre that took place on June 4, 1989. 

For decades, the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macao were the only places in China where public commemoration of the crackdown was allowed. Authorities in Macao have also canceled their vigil for a second year.

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