Netanyahu foes push for quick vote to end his 12 year rule

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents on Thursday pushed for a quick vote to end his record-setting rule, racing to head off what's expected to be a frantic push by the premier and his allies to derail the newly announced coalition. 

The new phase of political warfare began just hours after opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett — an ideological odd couple - declared they had reached a deal to link a majority of the Knesset and form a new government. The announcement triggered a complex process likely to stretch over the next week, giving Netanyahu time to try to pressure coalition members ideologically aligned with him to quit the group. 

Now the question was whether the coalition of 61 votes would hold together through a vote of the 120-member Knesset — and who would preside over that vote.

Netanyahu has accused the former allies who joined the incoming coalition of betraying right wing values. His supporters have demonstrated and launched vicious social media campaigns, repeating the message Netanyahu has been sending over the past week as the new coalition coalesced. One factor working in Netanyahu's favor: the parliament speaker is an ally who could use his position to delay the vote and give Netanyahu more time to sabotage the coalition.

The prime minister and his allies called a meeting later in the day to plot their next steps, and it was unclear whether his opponents could name a new parliament speaker to preside over a Knesset vote required to confirm the new government.

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Slow to start, China mobilizes to vaccinate at headlong pace

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — In the span of just five days last month, China gave out 100 million shots of its COVID-19 vaccines.

After a slow start, China is now doing what virtually no other country in the world can: harnessing the power and all-encompassing reach of its one-party system and a maturing domestic vaccine industry to administer shots at a staggering pace. The rollout is far from perfect, including uneven distribution, but Chinese public health leaders now say they're hoping to inoculate 80 percent of the population of 1.4 billion by the end of the year. 

As of Wednesday, China had given out more than 704 million doses — with nearly half of those in May alone. China's total is roughly a third of the 1.9 billion shots distributed globally, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

The call to get vaccinated comes from every corner of society. Companies offer shots to their employees, schools urge their students and staffers, and local government workers check on their residents.

That pressure underscores both the system's strength, which makes it possible to even consider vaccinating more than a billion people this year, but also the risks to civil liberties — a concern the world over but one that is particularly acute in China, where there are few protections.

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Military leaders wary of changes in sexual assault policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military service leaders are privately expressing reservations about removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command, The Associated Press has learned, striking a note of caution as momentum builds toward changing a military justice system that has come under increasing criticism.

In memos to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the service leaders laid out their concerns about the growing push to shift prosecution decisions on sexual assault and possibly other major crimes to independent judge advocates. They said the shift could decrease the number of prosecutions, delay cases and potentially provide less help for victims.

While they indicated they are open to changes and improvements in the justice system, most were worried about how that would be done while ensuring no unintended harm is done to unit leadership or readiness. Several said it would create additional burdensome bureaucracy, according to officials familiar with the memos.

Several officials described the memos to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they have not been made public. The memos submitted to Austin were from the civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force and from the National Guard.

The reservations expressed by service leaders could provide a measure of ammunition for those in Congress who oppose taking the chain of command out of sexual assault prosecutions. Supporters of change, however, argue that the current system has failed to address to a problem that has long plagued the military.

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Guatemalan lives upturned by failed immigration bids

TIZAMARTE, Guatemala (AP) — Alvina Jerónimo Pérez tries to avoid going out. She doesn't want to see neighbors. She's even changed the chip in her cellphone since her failed journey to the United States.

The 42-year-old woman is fearful her unsuccessful migration could cost her more than she can bear — even the single-story concrete block house her husband built on land passed down from her great grandparents in this mountaintop hamlet in south-central Guatemala.

Her husband, Anibal García, had recently added another room onto the back. The family had borrowed money to pay for the addition and was having trouble paying. Jerónimo thought she might be able to find the money if she migrated.

From afar, it seemed a safe bet. Many others in town, even in her own family, had made similar journeys. "Since people were passing (the border), we thought they were going to let us pass," Jerónimo said.

The smuggler told her to bring her daughter to make it a sure thing, banking on the idea U.S. authorities wouldn't deport a minor or her parent. 

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In Syria camp, forgotten children are molded by IS ideology

AL-HOL, Syria (AP) — At the sprawling al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, children pass their days roaming the dirt roads, playing with mock swords and black banners in imitation of Islamic State group militants. Few can read or write. For some, the only education is from mothers giving them IS propaganda.

It has been more than two years since the Islamic State group's self-declared "caliphate" was brought down. And it has been more than two years that some 27,000 children have been left to languish in al-Hol camp, which houses families of IS members.

Most of them not yet teenagers, they are spending their childhood in a limbo of miserable conditions with no schools, no place to play or develop, and seemingly no international interest in resolving their situation.

Only one institution is left to mold them: remnants of the Islamic State group. IS operatives and sympathizers have networks within the camp, and the group has sleeper cells around eastern Syria that continue to wage a low-level insurgency, awaiting an opportunity for a revival.

Kurdish authorities and aid groups fear the camp will create a new generation of militants. They are pleading with home countries to take the women and children back. The problem is that home governments often see the children as posing a danger rather than as needing rescue.

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Talk of Trump 2024 run builds as legal pressure intensifies

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump was calling into yet another friendly radio show when he was asked, as he often is, whether he's planning a comeback bid for the White House. "We need you," conservative commentator Dan Bongino told the former president.

"Well, I'll tell you what," Trump responded. "We are going to make you very happy, and we're going to do what's right."

It was a noncommittal answer typical of a former president who spent decades toying with presidential runs. But multiple people who have spoken with Trump and his team in recent weeks say such remarks shouldn't be viewed as idle chatter. Instead, they sense a shift, with Trump increasingly acting and talking like he plans to mount a run as he embarks on a more public phase of his post-presidency, beginning with a speech on Saturday in North Carolina.

The interest in another run, at least for now, comes as Trump has been consumed by efforts to undo last year's election, advancing baseless falsehoods that it was stolen and obsessing over recounts and audits that he is convinced could overturn the results, even though numerous recounts have validated his loss. He's also facing the most serious legal threat of his career. 

New York prosecutors have convened a special grand jury to consider evidence in their criminal investigation into his business dealings — seen by many as a sign that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is moving toward seeking charges in the two-year, wide-ranging investigation that has included scrutiny of hush money payments, property valuations and employee compensation.

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Belarusian journalist in prison video after flight diversion

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A dissident journalist arrested when Belarus diverted his flight said in a video from prison that he has been set up by an unidentified associate.

The footage of Raman Pratasevich was part of an hour-long TV program aired late Wednesday by the state-controlled ONT channel. In the film, the 26-year-old Pratasevich is also shown saying that protests against Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are now pointless amid a tough crackdown and suggesting that the opposition wait for a more opportune moment.

A top associate of Pratasevich said the journalist was clearly speaking under duress.

The TV program claimed that the Belarusian authorities were unaware that Pratasevich was on board the Ryanair jet en route from Athens to Vilnius when flight controllers diverted it to Minsk on May 23 citing a bomb threat.

No bomb was found after the landing, but Pratasevich was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend. The flight's diversion outraged the European Union, which responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its skies, telling European carriers to skirt Belarus and drafting new bruising sanctions against key sectors of the Belarusian economy. 

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China's silencing of Tiananmen tributes extends to Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — For years, China has quashed any discussion on the mainland of its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, nearly erasing what happened from the collective consciousness. Now it may be Hong Kong's turn, as China's ruling Communist Party pulls the city more directly into its orbit.

The semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao were for years the last places on Chinese soil allowed to publicly mark the events of June 4, 1989, when the People's Liberation Army opened fire on student-led protesters in a crackdown that left hundreds, if not thousands, dead. 

Before last year, tens of thousands gathered annually in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, lighting candles and singing songs to remember the victims. But authorities, citing the coronavirus pandemic, are banning that vigil for the second straight year. And a museum dedicated to the event suddenly closed Wednesday, just two days before Friday's anniversary, after authorities investigated it for lacking the necessary licenses to hold a public exhibition. 

Hong Kong's security minister warned residents last week against taking part in unauthorized assemblies.

In mainland China, younger generations have grown up with little knowledge of or debate about the crackdown, but the efforts to suppress commemorations in Hong Kong reflect another turn of the screw in Beijing's ever-tightening control over Hong Kong following massive anti-government protests in 2019. Those demonstrations evolved into months of sometimes violent clashes between smaller groups of protesters and police. And they have led to a broader crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, which was long an oasis of capitalism and democracy and was promised that it would largely maintain its freedoms for 50 years when it was returned to China in 1997.

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Drought ravages California's reservoirs ahead of hot summer

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Each year Lake Oroville helps water a quarter of the nation's crops, sustain endangered salmon beneath its massive earthen dam and anchor the tourism economy of a Northern California county that must rebuild seemingly every year after unrelenting wildfires.

But now the mighty lake — a linchpin in a system of aqueducts and reservoirs in the arid U.S. West that makes California possible — is shrinking with surprising speed amid a severe drought, with state officials predicting it will reach a record low later this summer. 

While droughts are common in California, this year's is much hotter and drier than others, evaporating water more quickly from the reservoirs and the sparse Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds them. The state's more than 1,500 reservoirs are 50% lower than they should be this time of year, according to Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, dozens of houseboats sat on cinderblocks at Lake Oroville because there wasn't enough water to hold them. Blackened trees lined the reservoir's steep, parched banks.

In nearby Folsom Lake, normally bustling boat docks rested on dry land, their buoys warning phantom boats to slow down. Campers occupied dusty riverbanks farther north at Shasta Lake.

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After pandemic pause, Avengers swing, soar into Disneyland

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Now that it's getting safer to assemble, the Avengers are at last descending on Disneyland. 

A Spider-Man ride that lets visitors blast bots with virtual webs from their bare hands and a show of strength from the royal guard of Wakanda are among the highlights of the new Avengers Campus at Disney's California Adventure Park, whose debut was paused for about a year by the coronavirus pandemic before it opens to the public Friday.

The Avengers Campus seeks to be an immersive experience that allows guests to become super-heroic across a series of rides, shows and eateries from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"We're excited to finally open up the gates and let everybody in," Scot Drake, a portfolio creative executive with Walt Disney Imagineering, said at the park Wednesday. "We had 70-plus years of stories and amazing characters to pull from, 23 epic films, and for us it was, 'What is the best way to get our guests right in the middle of those stories, right in the middle of the action?'" 

Central to that aim is "WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure," which combines classic ride structure with an array of cameras that capture guests' body motion and allows them to play Peter Parker. 

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