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Astroworld deaths spur calls for independent review

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston police and fire departments were deeply involved in safety measures for the music festival where a surging crowd killed eight people, playing key roles in crowd control measures, on-site security staffing and the emergency response. The police chief even says he met with the headlining performer before the show.

Now the city's police department is leading the criminal investigation into how the deadly chaos erupted during Friday night's performance by rapper Travis Scott.

While a prominent local official is calling for a separate, independent review of the tragedy, experts in crowd safety say an investigation by neutral outsiders could help the city avoid potential conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Houston Police Department spokeswoman Jodi Silva declined to comment on questions about whether its close involvement in the event created a conflict or if it considered handing the probe off to an outside agency. Such decisions are often made in investigations like police shootings.

"All of the information we have available to put out at this time has been placed out on Twitter," Silva said.

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The AP Interview: Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse

BRUSSELS (AP) — Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said she fears the impact of the metaverse that the social media giant has rebranded to focus on delivering, saying the futuristic virtual reality world would force people to give up more of their personal information, be addicting and give the embattled company another monopoly in the online world.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday as she makes a series of appearances before European lawmakers drawing up rules for social media companies, Haugen said her former employer has rushed to prioritize the metaverse because "if you don't like the conversation, you try to change the conversation."

"Facebook should have a transparency plan for the metaverse before they start building all this stuff, because they can hide behind a wall, they keep making unforced errors, they keep making things that prioritize their own profits before safety," she said.

The metaverse is sort of the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described it as a "virtual environment" you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen — and refocused the company's business model on the futuristic virtual reality world, including renaming the company Meta. People can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices. 

Haugen is a former product manager at Facebook turned whistleblower whose revelations about the company's practices have drawn global attention. Documents she has turned over to authorities and her testimony to lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have revealed deep-seated problems at the company and energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on big tech companies. 

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Obama appeals to young activists to stay in climate fight

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — At 19, Glasgow college student Ross Hamilton doesn't think highly of world leaders — "they chat a lot of" nonsense — or expect them to accomplish anything on a problem he cares deeply about, climate change.

But there is one former world leader Hamilton trusts, at least enough to join several hundred Glasgow college students crowding outside their college in the dark Monday in hopes of a glimpse of him: Barack Obama. "I've always liked him. I feel as if he's pretty honest."

The former U.S. president, one of the leaders responsible for the 2015 Paris climate accord, came to the U.N. global climate talks in Glasgow, wielding his cross-generational appeal to urge frustrated climate activists to stay in the fight. Even five years out of office, and now 60, Obama still claims a rapport with liberal and moderate young people in a way that President Joe Biden, 78, might not be able to pull off.

Inside the glass-fronted building where Hamilton and other students of Glasgow's Strathclyde University were waiting for him to emerge, Obama was sitting around a table with a dozen climate advocates from around the world, hearing them out and encouraging them. 

Obama was in shirtsleeves and tieless, his hair whiter than during his presidency.

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Russia comes in from cold on climate, launches forest plan

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian island north of Japan has become a testing ground for Moscow's efforts to reconcile its prized fossil fuel industry with the need to do something about climate change.

More than two-thirds of Sakhalin Island is forested. With the Kremlin's blessing, authorities there have set an ambitious goal of making the island — Russia's largest — carbon neutral by 2025.

Tree growth will absorb as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as the island's half-million residents and its businesses produce, an idea the Russian government 4,000 miles to the west in Moscow hopes to apply to the whole country, which has more forested area than any other nation.

"The economic structure of Sakhalin and the large share of forestland in the territory and carbon balance distribution reflect the general situation in Russia," said Dinara Gershinkova, an adviser to Sakhalin's governor on climate and sustainable development. "So the results of the experiment in Sakhalin will be representative and applicable to the whole Russian Federation."

The plan reflects a marked change of mood in Russia on climate change.

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Migrants camp overnight at Polish border after tense day

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish police posted video early Tuesday showing a group of migrants who had camped overnight just on the far side of Poland's eastern border in Belarus. Polish riot police and coils of razor wire faced the migrants and police said the situation overnight was calm.

That followed a day of heavy tensions on the border, where a large group of migrants — hundreds if not thousands of people mostly from the Middle East and encouraged by Belarus — sought to illegally push their way into Poland.

In videos posted on Twitter, tents and campfires can be seen, in near-freezing temperatures, as the Polish police play an announcement warning the migrants that crossing the Polish border is only allowed at official border crossings. Visas are required. 

But as of early Tuesday, the nearest crossing point, in Kuznica, in the northeast of the country, was closed.

The situation marks an escalation in months of migration pressure against Lithuania and Poland, and to a lesser extent Latvia, the three EU states on the bloc's eastern border with Belarus. The EU says Belarus is building the pressure, intending to destabilize the bloc in retaliation for Western sanctions. 

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APEC leaders meeting to chart path forward from pandemic

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will have a rare virtual encounter this week as they gather online with other Pacific Rim leaders to chart a path to recovery out of the crisis brought on by the pandemic. 

New Zealand is hosting this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which culminates in a leader's meeting on Saturday. Continued outbreaks of the coronavirus and related travel restrictions have confined the meeting to the virtual realm for a second straight year. 

As usual, the 21 APEC members will be seeking areas where members can cooperate on easing barriers to trade and economic growth instead of trying to settle longstanding feuds. 

The focus will be on "charting a path to recovery out of this once-in-a-century crisis," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, host of the leader's meeting, said in a statement.

In all, APEC members account for nearly 3 billion people and about 60% of the world's GDP. They span the Pacific rim, from Chile to Russia to Thailand to Australia. 

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Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 6 more Trump associates in probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Further expanding its probe, the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has issued subpoenas to six additional associates of former President Donald Trump who were closely involved in his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The committee's chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said in a statement Monday that the panel is demanding testimony and documents from former Trump campaign officials and others who participated in a "war room" ahead of the siege and strategized about how to halt the certification of Joe Biden's victory. 

Thompson said the committee had issued new subpoenas to Bill Stepien, manager of Trump's 2020 reelection campaign; Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the campaign; Angela McCallum, national executive assistant to the campaign; John Eastman, a lawyer who advised the former president; Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump who talked with Trump ahead of the insurrection; and Bernard Kerik, who the committee says paid for hotel rooms that served as command centers ahead of Jan. 6. 

"In the days before the January 6th attack, the former president's closest allies and advisers drove a campaign of misinformation about the election and planned ways to stop the count of Electoral College votes," Thompson said. "The Select Committee needs to know every detail about their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to in the White House and in Congress, what connections they had with rallies that escalated into a riot, and who paid for it all." 

The subpoenas come after the panel has already demanded documents and testimony from several other Trump advisers — some who have cooperated and some who have not. The House voted last month to hold longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt after he refused to comply with his subpoena. Trump himself is fighting the probe in court.

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Man Rittenhouse shot says he didn't mean to point own gun

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — The protester and volunteer medic who survived after Kyle Rittenhouse shot him on the streets of Kenosha testified that he pointed his own gun at Rittenhouse but didn't mean to and had no intention of firing it.

Gaige Grosskreutz, the third and final man gunned down by Rittenhouse during a night of turbulent racial-justice protests in the summer of 2020, took the stand Monday at Rittenhouse's murder trial and recounted how he drew his own pistol after the bloodshed started.

"I thought the defendant was an active shooter," said Grosskreutz, 27. Asked what was going through his mind as he got closer to the 17-year-old Rittenhouse, he said, "That I was going to die."

Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in the arm, tearing away much of his bicep — or "vaporized" it, as the witness put it.

Rittenhouse, now 18, is on trial on charges of killing the two other men and wounding Grosskreutz. The one-time police youth cadet from Antioch, Illinois, had gone to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and a medical kit in what he said was an effort to safeguard property from the violent demonstrations that broke out over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer.

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SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth, ending 200-day flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Four astronauts returned to Earth on Monday, riding home with SpaceX to end a 200-day space station mission that began last spring.

Their capsule streaked through the late night sky like a dazzling meteor before parachuting into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Recovery boats quickly moved in with spotlights.

"On behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to Planet Earth," SpaceX Mission Control radioed from Southern California. Within an hour, all four astronauts were out of the capsule, exchanging fist bumps with the team on the recovery ship.

Their homecoming — coming just eight hours after leaving the International Space Station — paved the way for SpaceX's launch of their four replacements as early as Wednesday night. 

The newcomers were scheduled to launch first, but NASA switched the order because of bad weather and an astronaut's undisclosed medical condition. The welcoming duties will now fall to the lone American and two Russians left behind at the space station.

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In fast-changing Dubai, once-isolated village to be razed

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — From the front porch of their cinderblock home, Garry and Amanda James gaze over Dubai's soaring skyscrapers and massive malls.

It's a skyline that in their young days had seemed impossibly far off. Outside Amanda's childhood home in the same spot three decades ago were just miles of empty desert. 

Throughout Dubai's meteoric rise from tiny pearling town to booming financial hub, Jebel Ali Village, a collection of cottages built in the late 1970s for European port workers, largely stayed the same. 

It's a relic of another time. Expat residents still amble along quiet, windswept roads and play Christmas bingo at the clubhouse.

But now, the bulldozers are coming.

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