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Despite setback, Democrats try to save Biden $3.5T plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite a long night of frantic negotiations, Democrats were unable to reach an immediate deal to salvage President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion government overhaul, forcing leaders to call off promised votes on a related public works bill. Action is to resume Friday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had pushed the House into an evening session and top White House advisers huddled for talks at the Capitol as the Democratic leaders worked late Thursday to negotiate a scaled-back plan that centrist holdouts would accept. Biden had cleared his schedule for calls with lawmakers, but it appeared no deal was within reach, particularly with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Manchin refused to budge, the West Virginia centrist holding fast to his earlier declaration that he was willing to meet the president less than halfway — $1.5 trillion. 

"I don't see a deal tonight. I really don't," Manchin told reporters as he left the Capitol.

Deeply at odds, the president and his party are facing a potentially embarrassing setback — if not politically devastating collapse of the whole enterprise — if they cannot resolve the standoff over Biden's big vision. 


Biden signs bill to avert partial government shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — With only hours to spare, President Joe Biden signed legislation to avoid a partial federal shutdown and keep the government funded through Dec. 3. Congress had passed the bill earlier Thursday. 

The back-to-back votes by the Senate and then the House averted one crisis, but delays on another continue as the political parties dig in on a dispute over how to raise the government's borrowing cap before the United States risks a potentially catastrophic default. 

The House approved the short-term funding measure by a 254-175 vote not long after Senate passage in a 65-35 vote. A large majority of Republicans in both chambers voted against it. The legislation was needed to keep the government running once the current budget year ended at midnight Thursday. Passage will buy lawmakers more time to craft the spending measures that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.

"There's so much more to do," Biden said in a statement after the signing. "But the passage of this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people."

The work to keep the government open and running served as the backdrop during a chaotic day for Democrats as they struggled to get Biden's top domestic priorities over the finish line, including a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill at risk of stalling in the House. 


Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

TOKYO (AP) — Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.

At Tokyo's busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.

The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and cooperation, and asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

"Once again, I seek your cooperation so that we can return to our daily lives feeling safe," he said.


Nation's most restrictive abortion law back in Texas court

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge on Friday will consider whether Texas can leave in place the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., which since September has banned most abortions and sent women racing to get care beyond the borders of the nation's second-largest state.

A lawsuit filed by the Biden administration seeks to land the first legal blow against the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, which thus far has withstood an early wave of challenges — including the U.S. Supreme Court allowing it to remain in force. 

"Abortion care has almost completely stopped in our state," Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, a Texas abortion provider, told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee during a hearing over abortion access Thursday. 

The law prohibits abortions in Texas once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks, which is before some women know they are pregnant. In the short time since the law took effect Sept. 1, abortion providers say "exactly what we feared" has become reality, describing Texas clinics that are now in danger of closing while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a surge of patients now driving hundreds of miles from Texas. Other women, they say, are being forced to carry pregnancies to term. 

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin will hear arguments Friday over whether to temporarily halt the Texas law, which stands as the nation's biggest curb to the constitutional right to an abortion in a half-century. 


AP FACT CHECK: GOP claim of broken Biden pledge not so clear

WASHINGTON (AP) — Blasting a $3.5 trillion social spending bill that Democrats hope to salvage, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy asserted the legislation would break President Joe Biden's campaign promise not to tax Americans who earn less than $400,000 a year. That's technically accurate yet also misleading.

McCarthy also falsely suggested Thursday that a Biden administration proposal to help pay for the legislation by boosting IRS tax enforcement would amount to spying targeted at everyday Americans.

A look at the claims and reality:

MCCARTHY: "Joe Biden said: 'No one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up.' That's a lie: In fact, under his plan, an average family who earns over $50,000 will see a tax increase." — news conference Thursday.

BIDEN: "I give you my word as a Biden: If you make under $400,000 a year, I'll never raise your taxes one cent. But, I'm going to make those at the top start to pay their share in taxes." — tweet Sunday.


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Migrants on new route to Europe get trapped between borders

BIALYSTOK, Poland (AP) — After enduring a decade of war in Syria, Boshra al-Moallem and her two sisters seized their chance to flee. Her brother, who escaped years earlier to Belgium, had saved enough money for their trip, and word was spreading online that a new migration route into Europe had opened through Belarus.

But the journey proved terrifying and nearly deadly. Al-Moallem became trapped at the border of Belarus and Poland for 20 days and was pushed back and forth between armed guards from each side in an area of swamps. She endured cold nights, mosquitoes, hunger and terrible thirst. Only after she collapsed from exhaustion and dehydration did Polish guards finally take her to a hospital.

"I didn't expect this to happen to us. They told us it's really easy to go to Europe, to find your life, to run (from) war," the 48-year-old said as she recovered this week in a refugee center in eastern Poland. "I didn't imagine I would live another war between the borders."

Al-Moallem is one of thousands of people who traveled to Belarus in recent weeks and were then pushed across the border by Belarusian guards. The European Union has condemned the Belarusian actions as a form of "hybrid war" against the bloc.

Originally from Homs, Al-Moallem was displaced to Damascus by the war. She said Belarusian officials tricked her into believing the journey into the EU would be easy and then used her as a "weapon" in a political fight against Poland. But she also says the Polish border guards were excessively harsh, denying her water and using dogs to frighten her and other migrants as the guards pushed them back across to Belarus, over and over again.


Africa internet riches plundered, contested by China broker

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Outsiders have long profited from Africa's riches of gold, diamonds, and even people. Digital resources have proven no different. 

Millions of internet addresses assigned to Africa have been waylaid, some fraudulently, including through insider machinations linked to a former top employee of the nonprofit that assigns the continent's addresses. Instead of serving Africa's internet development, many have benefited spammers and scammers, while others satiate Chinese appetites for pornography and gambling. 

New leadership at the nonprofit, AFRINIC, is working to reclaim the lost addresses. But a legal challenge by a deep-pocketed Chinese businessman is threatening the body's very existence.

The businessman is Lu Heng, a Hong Kong-based arbitrage specialist. Under contested circumstances, he obtained 6.2 million African addresses from 2013 to 2016. That's about 5% of the continent's total — more than Kenya has. 

The internet service providers and others to whom AFRINIC assigns IP address blocks aren't purchasing them. They pay membership fees to cover administrative costs that are intentionally kept low. That left lots of room, though, for graft.


AP PHOTOS: Life in a madrasa as Afghanistan enters new era

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — In a school in a remote corner of the Afghan capital, a cacophony of children's voices recite Islam's holiest book. 

Sunshine streams through the windows of the Khatamul Anbiya madrasa, where a dozen young boys sit in a circle under the tutelage of their teacher, Ismatullah Mudaqiq.

The students are awake by 4:30 a.m. and start the day with prayers. They spend class time memorizing the Quran, chanting verses until the words are ingrained. At any moment, Mudaqiq might test them by asking that a verse be recited from memory. 

Attention is turning to the future of education in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, with calls among urban educated Afghans and the international community for equal access to education for girls and women. The madrasas -- Islamic religious schools for elementary and higher learning, attended only by boys -- represent another segment of Afghan society, poorer and more conservative.

And they too are uncertain what the future will hold under the Taliban. 


'Anti-feminist' vandals in Israel deface images of women

JERUSALEM (AP) — The joyful glint in Peggy Parnass' eyes is so sharp it can be seen from the walls of Jerusalem's bustling Old City. Posted across the street at the gateway to City Hall, twin images of the Holocaust survivor and activist gaze out at the ancient warren of holy monuments of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

But just outside this center of spirituality, someone saw her image as a problem. Five times since the photos of Parnass were posted as part of an exhibition that began in April, vandals — widely believed to be ultra-Orthodox extremists — spray-painted over her eyes and mouth. 

The graffiti was cleaned each time, leaving Parnass smiling again. For many Israelis, however, the short-term fix highlighted a familiar pattern that's all the more painful because the destruction is coming not from enemies across Israel's borders but from within. 

"It's not anti-Semitic," said Jim Hollander, the curator of The Lonka Project art installation at Safra Square. "This is anti-feminist."

For all of its modernity, military firepower and high-tech know-how, Israel has for decades been unable to keep images of women from being defaced in some public spaces. Billboards showing women -- including soccer players, musicians and young girls -- have been repeatedly defaced and torn down by religious extremists in Jerusalem and other cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations over the past 20 years.


Dubai's Expo opens, bringing first World Fair to the Mideast

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After eight years of planning and billions of dollars in spending, the Middle East's first ever World Fair opened on Friday in Dubai, with hopes the months-long extravaganza draws both visitors and global attention to this desert-turned-dreamscape.

Named Expo 2020, the event was postponed by a year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus last year. While that could have an impact on how many people flock to the United Arab Emirates, the six-month-long exhibition offers Dubai a momentous opportunity to showcase its unique East-meets-West appeal as a place where all are welcome for business.

Not long ago, the site of the 1,080 acre (438 hectare) expo was barren desert. Less than a decade later, it is a buzzing futuristic landscape with robots, a new metro station, multi-million dollar pavilions and so-called districts with names like "sustainability" and "opportunity" — all built, like much of the Gulf, by low-paid migrant workers.

Organizers say 192 nations are represented at the expo. The U.S. pavilion will showcase a replica of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket. Italy's pavilion houses a 3-D replica of Michelangelo's biblical hero, David, that is 17 feet high (5.2 meters). Other attractions include an African food hall, a royal Egyptian mummy, concerts and performances from around the world, and the option to dine on a $500 three-course meal with glow-in-the-dark cuisine.

Since first making a splash in London in 1851, world fairs have long been an opportunity for nations to meet, exchange ideas, showcase inventions, promote culture and build business ties.

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