After delays, GOP poised to block bipartisan 1/6 riot probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans are poised to block the creation of a special commission to study the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, dashing hopes for a bipartisan panel amid a GOP push to put the violent insurrection by Donald Trump's supporters behind them. 

Broad Republican opposition was expected in what would be the first successful Senate filibuster of the Biden presidency, even as the family of a Capitol Police officer who collapsed and died after the siege and other officers who battled rioters went office to office asking GOP senators to support the commission. The insurrection was the worst attack on the Capitol in 200 years and interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden's win over Trump.

A vote on the procedural motion was bumped to Friday after delays on an unrelated bill to boost scientific research and development pushed back the schedule. 

Though the Jan. 6 commission bill passed the House earlier this month with the support of almost three dozen Republicans, GOP senators said they believe the commission would eventually be used against them politically. And former President Trump, who still has a firm hold on the party, has called it a "Democrat trap." 

The expected vote is emblematic of the profound mistrust between the two parties since the siege, which has sowed deeper divisions on Capitol Hill even though lawmakers in the two parties fled together from the rioters that day. The events of Jan. 6 have become an increasingly fraught topic among Republicans as some in the party have downplayed the violence and defended the rioters who supported Trump and his false insistence that the election was stolen from him. 


Horror, heroism mark deadly shooting at California rail yard

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Taptejdeep Singh died trying to save others from a gunman. Kirk Bertolet saw some of his coworkers take their last breaths.

And friends, family and survivors were left to mourn after nine men died this week when a disgruntled coworker hauling a duffle bag full of guns and ammunition opened fire at a Northern California rail yard complex, apparently choosing his targets and sparing others.

Samuel Cassidy, 57, turned the gun on himself Wednesday morning as sheriff's deputies rushed in at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose. 

Investigators were still trying to determine Friday what might have set off Cassidy, who for years apparently held a grudge against the workplace he detested.

The victims were Alex Ward Fritch, 49; Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; and Lars Kepler Lane, 63. 


South Africa starts jabs for elderly as virus surge looms

ORANGE FARM, South Africa (AP) — Spry and gray-haired, many dressed in their Sunday best or colorful African prints — and all sporting masks — dozens of South Africans aged 60 and over gathered at a government health clinic outside Johannesburg to get their COVID-19 shots.

Some looked at vaccine notifications on their mobile phones, others clutched pieces of paper, as the line moved along at a good pace. Eight at a time, they were ushered into a tent where they took seats distanced from each other. 

"You are about to receive a vaccine to protect against COVID-19. It is the Pfizer vaccine and it requires two doses," said a nurse, speaking the Zulu language to the group at the Orange Farm township clinic, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of Johannesburg. She described what they should do about possible side effects. 

"Amen," she said in closing, and the vaccine recipients murmured the same response, as if in church.

South Africa is in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible amid signs the virus may be surging again with the approach of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, when people spend more time indoors, typically allowing for more spread of disease. It is also a critical front in the fight against the virus in Africa, with South Africa recording 40% of the continent's COVID-19 deaths.


'Our season': Eritrean troops kill, rape, loot in Tigray

MEKELE, Ethiopia (AP) — Women who make it to the clinic for sex abuse survivors in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray usually struggle to describe their injuries. But when they can't take a seat and quietly touch their bottoms, the nurses know it's an unspeakable kind of suffering. 

So it was one afternoon with a dazed, barely conscious 40-year-old woman wrapped in bloodied towels, who had been repeatedly gang-raped anally and vaginally over a week by 15 Eritrean soldiers. Bleeding profusely from her rectum, she collapsed in the street in her village of Azerber, and a group of priests put her on a bus to Mekele. 

The woman recently broke down in tears as she recounted her ordeal in January at the hands of Eritrean troops, who have taken over parts of the war-torn region in neighboring Ethiopia. The Eritreans often sodomize their victims, according to the nursing staff, a practice that is deeply taboo in the Orthodox Christian religion of Tigray. 

"They talked to each other. Some of them: 'We kill her.' Some of them: 'No, no. Rape is enough for her,'" the woman recalled in Mekele, Tigray's capital. She said one of the soldiers told her: "This season is our season, not your season. This is the time for us."

Despite claims by both Ethiopia and Eritrea that they were leaving, Eritrean soldiers are in fact more firmly entrenched than ever in Tigray, where they are brutally gang-raping women, killing civilians, looting hospitals and blocking food and medical aid, The Associated Press has found. A reporter was stopped at five checkpoints manned by sometimes hostile Eritrean soldiers dressed in their beige camouflage uniforms, most armed, as gun shots rang out nearby. And the AP saw dozens of Eritrean troops lining the roads and milling around in at least two villages.


At 26, Belarus journalist has spent a decade in opposition

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Raman Pratasevich has been part of the Belarus political opposition for over a decade and has long feared the authorities would try to abduct him, even though he was living abroad. The 26-year-old dissident journalist couldn't imagine, however, just how far they would go.

Pratasevich, who ran a channel on a messaging app used to organize demonstrations against the iron-fisted rule of President Alexander Lukashenko, left his homeland in 2019 to try to escape the reach of the Belarusian KGB and ended up in Lithuania. He was charged in absentia for inciting riots, which carries a sentence of 15 years in prison.

As he was returning Sunday to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, from Greece with his girlfriend aboard a Ryanair jet, Belarusian flight controllers told the crew to divert to Minsk, citing a bomb threat. Lukashenko scrambled a fighter jet to escort the plane. 

When it became apparent where the plane was going, a clearly shaken Pratasevich told fellow passengers that he feared execution in Belarus, which still carries out capital punishment.

Pratasevich was put on a list of people that Belarus considers terrorists, which could bring the death penalty. He had even joked about it before his arrest, using morbid humor on his Twitter account to describe himself as "the first journalist-terrorist in history."


Social spending, business tax hike drive $6T Biden budget

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden's $6 trillion budget proposal for next year would run a $1.8 trillion federal government deficit despite a raft of new tax increases on corporations and high-income people designed to pay for his ambitious spending plans.

Biden had already announced his major budget initiatives, but during a rollout Friday he will release them as a single proposal to incorporate them into the government's existing budget framework, including Social Security and Medicare. That provides a fuller view of the administration's fiscal posture.

Democratic aides disclosed key elements of the Biden plan, speaking on condition of anonymity because the document is not yet public.

The whopping deficit projections reflect a government whose steadily accumulating pile of debt has topped $28 trillion after well more than $5 trillion in COVID-19 relief. The government's structural deficit remains unchecked, and Biden uses tax hikes on businesses and the wealthy to power huge new social programs like universal prekindergarten and large subsidies for child care. 

The budget incorporates the administration's eight-year, $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal and its $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and adds details on his $1.5 trillion request for annual operating appropriations for the Pentagon and domestic agencies.


3 officers face arraignment in Black man's restraint death

SEATTLE (AP) — Five weeks after ex-Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, three Washington state officers have been charged in the death of Manuel Ellis: another Black man who pleaded for breath under an officer's knee.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins, who are both white, with second-degree murder Thursday after witnesses reported that they attacked Ellis without provocation.

Timothy Rankine, who is Asian, faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter. He is accused of kneeling on Ellis' back and shoulder as he died from a lack of oxygen, according to a probable cause statement filed in Pierce County Superior Court.

All three were in custody by Thursday evening and were scheduled to be arraigned Friday. Their attorneys did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Ellis, 33, died on March 3, 2020 — Tasered, handcuffed and hogtied, with his face covered by a spit hood — just weeks before George Floyd's death triggered a nationwide reckoning on race and policing.


Survivor: California shooter was 'outsider' in workplace

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — First, there were gunshots. Then came the screams. And then — silence.

"Hey, what's going on? Anybody all right? What's happening?" Kirk Bertolet called out to his coworkers at a Northern California rail yard on Wednesday morning. "It was just eerie."

Cautiously, Bertolet left his barricaded office at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, hoping he could offer first aid to anyone who needed help. But all he found were bodies.

"There wasn't helping anybody," the 64-year-old said, choking up. "He made sure they were all dead. I watched some of my coworkers breathe their last breath. And they were all gone."

The massacre was the worst mass shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area in decades. Gunman Samuel James Cassidy, a 57-year-old VTA employee, opened fire Wednesday morning at the San Jose rail yard, killing eight people before shooting himself. A ninth victim died hours later in the hospital.


In Iraq's iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters

CHIBAISH, Iraq (AP) — "Don't move a muscle." His command cut across the reeds rustling in the wind. On a moonlit embankment several kilometers from shore in Iraq's celebrated southern marshes, everyone stood still.

Omar al-Sheikhly shined a flashlight across a muddy patch. "Nothing," he said, shaking his head. His team of five exhaled in unison. 

The environmentalist spearheaded this midnight expedition through the marshes of Chibaish. It is the latest in a quixotic mission that has spanned nearly two decades: to find any sign of Maxwell's smooth-coated otter, a severely endangered species endemic to Iraq whose precarious existence is vital to the iconic wetlands. 

Most of al-Sheikhly's pursuits have been in vain; the quick-witted otter has always been one step ahead. But as climate change looms, finding evidence they still exist assumes new importance. Al-Sheikhly is among the conservationists issuing a stark warning: Without quick action to protect the otters, the delicate underwater ecology of the UNESCO protected site will be disrupted, and could all but wither away, putting at risk the centuries-old Iraqi marsh communities that depend on it.

At stake is everything: "We stand to lose our Iraqi heritage," said al-Sheikhly, who is the technical director at Iraqi Green Climate Organization.


Plague of ravenous, destructive mice tormenting Australians

BOGAN GATE, Australia (AP) — At night, the floors of sheds vanish beneath carpets of scampering mice. Ceilings come alive with the sounds of scratching. One family blamed mice chewing electrical wires for their house burning down.

Vast tracts of land in Australia's New South Wales state are being threatened by a mouse plague that the state government describes as "absolutely unprecedented." Just how many millions of rodents have infested the agricultural plains across the state is guesswork.

"We're at a critical point now where if we don't significantly reduce the number of mice that are in plague proportions by spring, we are facing an absolute economic and social crisis in rural and regional New South Wales," Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said this month.

Bruce Barnes said he is taking a gamble by planting crops on his family farm near the central New South Wales town of Bogan Gate.

"We just sow and hope," he said. 

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