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Briefs: Myanmar protesters, undaunted by killings, march again

The news from around the world for March 4, 2021

Demonstrators in Myanmar protesting last month's military coup returned to the streets Thursday, undaunted by the killing of at least 38 people the previous day by security forces.

New protests were held in at least three areas of Yangon, the country's largest city, that have been scenes of violence for the past few days. Police again used force to try to disperse the crowds, according to social media accounts. 

Protests also continued In Mandalay, the second-biggest city. A formation of five fighter planes flew over the city on Thursday morning in what appeared to be a threatening show of force.

The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said 38 people were killed Wednesday, a figure consistent with other reports. 

The death toll was the highest since the Feb. 1 takeover, when the military ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. More than 50 civilians, mostly peaceful protesters, are confirmed to have been killed by police and soldiers since then.


House passes sweeping voting rights bill over GOP opposition

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation. 

House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process, was approved Wednesday night on a near party-line 220-210 vote. It would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a murky campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

The bill is a powerful counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of Donald Trump's repeated false claims of a stolen 2020 election. Yet it faces an uncertain fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has little chance of passing without changes to procedural rules that currently allow Republicans to block it.

The stakes in the outcome are monumental, cutting to the foundational idea that one person equals one vote, and carrying with it the potential to shape election outcomes for years to come. It also offers a test of how hard President Joe Biden and his party are willing to fight for their priorities, as well as those of their voters. 

This bill "will put a stop at the voter suppression that we're seeing debated right now," said Rep. Nikema Williams, a new congresswoman who represents the Georgia district that deceased voting rights champion John Lewis held for years. "This bill is the 'Good Trouble' he fought for his entire life."


Eager to act, Biden and Democrats leave Republicans behind

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress are jamming their agenda forward with a sense of urgency, an unapologetically partisan approach based on the calculation that it's better to advance the giant COVID-19 rescue package and other priorities than waste time courting Republicans who may never compromise.

The coronavirus pandemic is driving the crush of legislative action, but so are the still-raw emotions from the U.S. Capitol siege and the hard lessons of the last time Democrats had the sweep of party control of Washington. Republicans are mounting blockades of Biden's agenda just as they did during the devastating 2009 financial crisis with Barack Obama. 

Democrats, in turn, are showing little patience for the GOP objections and entertaining few overtures toward compromise, claiming the majority of the country supports their agenda. With fragile majorities in the House and the Senate, and a liberal base of voters demanding action, Democrats are operating as if they are on borrowed time.

For many lawmakers, it's personal.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., led the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to House passage Wednesday on the 30th anniversary of the Rodney King beating by police in Los Angeles that she thought at the time would spur policing reforms. Instead, more Black Americans and others have died in police violence, even after Floyd's death at the hands of law enforcement last summer.


UK, 4 nations fast-track review of modified COVID vaccines

LONDON (AP) — Regulators in the U.K. and four other countries have announced new rules to fast-track the development of modified COVID-19 vaccines to ensure drugmakers can move swiftly to target emerging variants of the disease.

Previously authorized vaccines that are modified to combat new variants "will not need a brand new approval or 'lengthy' clinical studies," Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said Thursday.

"The clear goal is that future vaccine modifications that respond to the new variants of coronavirus can be made available in the shortest possible time to U.K. recipients without compromising at any stage on safety, quality or effectiveness," Dr. June Raine, the head of the agency, said in a briefing for reporters.

The new guidance is based on the model already used to modify the seasonal flu vaccine to keep up with annual changes in the virus and was issued jointly by regulators in the U.K., Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency have issued similar guidance. 

Under the new rules, developers will be required to provide "robust evidence" that modified COVID-19 vaccines produce a strong immune response to the variant, as well as data showing they are safe and meet quality standards.


Takeaways: What hearings have revealed about Jan. 6 failures

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many questions remain unanswered about the failure to prevent the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But after six congressional hearings, it's clear that the Capitol Police were unprepared and overwhelmed as hundreds of Donald Trump's supporters laid siege to the building. It's also clear that no one wants to take responsibility for it.

Officials who were in charge of protecting the Capitol, and the people inside it, have pointed fingers at each other in testimony to the House and Senate. Their deflections are indicative of the chaos of that day, the lack of intelligence leading up to the attack and the fact that none of the law enforcement agencies involved imagined that so many of Trump's supporters would violently lay siege to the Capitol with the mission of overturning his defeat. 

So far, lawmakers have focused on the lack of clear intelligence about the plans of the rioters, given that Trump's supporters openly discussed the insurrection online. They have also questioned military and law enforcement leaders about why it took more than three hours for the National Guard to get to the Capitol when the rioters were already inside. 

Five people died as a result of the violence, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break into the House chamber through a broken window. 

What we have learned so far about the failures that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection: 


Double standard? Gillibrand in spotlight after Cuomo scandal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kirsten Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call for her colleague Al Franken's resignation in 2017 as he faced allegations of sexual misconduct, building a profile as a leading advocate for women that became the centerpiece of her 2020 presidential bid.

But the New York senator is taking a different tact when it comes to sexual harassment allegations hitting closer to home, those against her state's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. 

In a series of statements, Gillibrand has said accusations of offensive behavior by Cuomo are "serious and deeply concerning" and that the three women "who have come forward have shown tremendous courage." She has said that the claims against Cuomo are "completely unacceptable" and called for a full investigation — but stopped short of demanding his resignation.

Top Democrats in New York and nationally have similarly refrained from suggesting that Cuomo step down. That includes New York's senior senator and the chamber's majority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer. It's a far more cautious approach than the parade of Democratic senators who followed Gillibrand's lead in calling for Franken's resignation. 

That's fueling questions about whether, more than three years into the #MeToo movement, the push to hold powerful men accountable for sexual harassment and abuse is losing steam. Gillibrand paid a political price for her role in the Franken resignation and her tone toward Cuomo may reflect that. 


Ahead of Pope visit, survivor recalls Iraq church massacre

BAGHDAD (AP) — It began like any other Sunday in the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad for worshipper Louis Climis. That day nearly 11 years ago would end with blood-stained pews, anguish and lives lost. 

Six al-Qaeda-linked militants stormed and seized the church, killing dozens inside. At the time, the Oct. 31, 2010 attack was the bloodiest in a drumbeat of violence that Iraq's Christians suffered during the brutal sectarian warfare following the 2003 U.S. invasion. More than a decade later, it still stands as perhaps the deadliest single attack against the community.

The carnage prompted many Christians to flee Iraq and deepened the mistrust between the community and its Muslim neighbors, a chasm that endures to this day.

Some are now counting on a much anticipated visit to the church by Pope Francis on Friday to help mend the wounds. Our Lady of Salvation, which belongs to the Syriac Catholic Church, is one of the pontiff's first stops in a historic visit to Iraq that Christians hope will secure their tenuous place in the country.

"The pope's visit is hope for us, that he will talk with Iraqi officials to tell them to stop the violence, stop the armed groups and protect minorities," Climis said. 


EXPLAINER: Why Ethiopia's deadly Tigray crisis is growing

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Civilians massacred. Journalists arrested. People starving to death. Ethiopia's government is under growing pressure to allow the world to see firsthand what has occurred in its embattled Tigray region as its Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister rejects "partisan interventions."

That pressure is expected to spike this month as the United States chairs the United Nations Security Council and addresses the first major African crisis of the Biden administration. Millions of dollars in aid to Ethiopia, a key security ally in the region, are at stake. 

Here's a look at the turmoil in Tigray as the Security Council meets behind closed doors on Thursday to discuss it:


Last month The Associated Press exposed the killing of an estimated 800 people in the city of Axum, citing several witnesses, and a week later Amnesty International reported "many hundreds" killed there, citing more than 40 witnesses. Soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, long an enemy of Tigray's now-fugitive leaders, were blamed. 


Palace: Prince Philip had a successful heart procedure

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip has had a successful heart procedure at a London hospital, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

The palace says the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, "underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew's Hospital."

"His royal highness will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days,'' the palace said in a statement.

Philip, 99, has been hospitalized since being admitted to King Edward VII's Hospital in London on Feb. 16, where he was treated for an infection. On Monday he was transferred to a specialized cardiac care hospital, St. Bartholomew's.

His illness is not believed to be related to the coronavirus. Both Philip and the monarch received COVID-19 vaccinations in January and chose to publicize the matter to encourage others to also take the vaccine. 


Animated 'Demon Slayer' strikes chord with pandemic Japan

TOKYO (AP) — The demons are everywhere, sometimes spreading like purple slime, lurking, killing. The terrifying plight depicted in the swashbuckling animated film, "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train," has struck a chord with pandemic-era Japan, and possibly with the world. 

"Demon Slayer" has become the biggest grossing film for Japan, surpassing live-action films and even Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away." 

The 2020 film, directed by Haruo Sotozaki, got a limited run in Miami, starting last month. A U.S. run is required to be eligible for the 2021 Academy Awards. Nominations are announced March 15, for the April 25 awards ceremony. 

Akina Nasu, a Tokyo hairstylist, says the story of a spiritually pure hero trying to save lives despite adversity struck home, especially amid a pandemic. 

"There are many characters, but each one, even the demons, have their own unique stories. People can really empathize with their experience," she said. 

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