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New Zealand hits virus high, pushes vaccination as way out

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland's two-month lockdown.

Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.

"I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau," Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. "I just wanted to reinforce again that we're not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can."

New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland's lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.

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Jan. 6 panel plans contempt vote as Trump sues over probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is moving swiftly Tuesday to hold at least one of Donald Trump's allies in contempt as the former president is pushing back on the probe in a new lawsuit.

Trump is aggressively trying to block the committee's work by directing former White House aide Steve Bannon not to answer questions in the probe while also suing the panel to try to prevent Congress from obtaining former White House documents. But lawmakers on the House committee say they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump's supporters that left dozens of police officers injured, sent lawmakers running for their lives and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

"The former president's clear objective is to stop the Select Committee from getting to the facts about January 6th and his lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our probe," said Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel's vice chairwoman, in a joint statement late Monday. 

They added: "It's hard to imagine a more compelling public interest than trying to get answers about an attack on our democracy and an attempt to overturn the results of an election."

Trump's lawsuit, filed after Biden decided to waive his right to block the document release over executive privilege concerns, claims that the panel's August request was overly broad and a "vexatious, illegal fishing expedition," according to papers filed in federal court in the District of Columbia.

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Colin Powell: A trailblazing legacy, blotted by Iraq war

WASHINGTON (AP) — A child of working-class Jamaican immigrants in the Bronx, Colin Powell rose from neighborhood store clerk to warehouse floor-mopper to the highest echelons of the U.S. government. It was a trailblazing American dream journey that won him international acclaim and trust.

It was that credibility he put on the line in 2003 when, appearing before the United Nations as secretary of state, he made the case for war against Iraq. When it turned out that the intelligence he cited was faulty and the Iraq War became a bloody, chaotic nightmare, Powell's stellar reputation was damaged.

Still, it wasn't destroyed. After leaving government, he became an elder statesman on the global stage and the founder of an organization aimed at helping young disadvantaged Americans. Republicans wanted him to run for president. After becoming disillusioned with his party, he ended up endorsing the last three Democratic presidential candidates, who welcomed his support.

For many Iraqis and others, Powell will forever be associated with that 2003 speech and the bloodshed that followed. But with Powell's death Monday at age 84 of COVID-19 complications, Republicans and Democrats remembered him as a historic figure, a groundbreaking soldier-turned-statesman, the first Black secretary of state and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell rejected comparisons between himself and previous icons like George Marshall, the World War II general who became America's top diplomat. But he embraced a local-kid-does-good narrative that reflected his humble roots.

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Energy crunch hits global recovery as winter approaches

Power shortages are turning out streetlights and shutting down factories in China. The poor in Brazil are choosing between paying for food or electricity. German corn and wheat farmers can't find fertilizer, made using natural gas. And fears are rising that Europe will have to ration electricity if it's a cold winter. 

The world is gripped by an energy crunch — a fierce squeeze on some of the key markets for natural gas, oil and other fuels that keep the global economy running and the lights and heat on in homes. Heading into winter, that has meant higher utility bills, more expensive products and growing concern about how energy-consuming Europe and China will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest squeeze is on natural gas in Europe, which imports 90% of its supply — largely from Russia — and where prices have risen to five times what they were at the start of the year, to 95 euros from about 19 euros per megawatt hour. 

It's hitting the Italian food chain hard, with methane prices expected to increase sixfold and push up the cost of drying grains. That could eventually raise the price of bread and pasta at supermarkets, but meat and dairy aisles are more vulnerable as beef and dairy farmers are forced to pay more for grain to feed their animals and pass the cost along to customers.

"From October we are starting to suffer a lot,'' said Valentino Miotto of the AIRES association that represents the grain sector.

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The economy on the brink, Taliban rely on former technocrats

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When the Taliban swept into power, they found Afghanistan's economy fast approaching the brink and were faced with harrowing predictions of growing poverty and hunger. So they ordered the financial managers of the collapsed former government back to work, with an urgent directive: Do your jobs, because we can't.

In the 20 years since the Taliban last ruled, Afghanistan evolved from an economy dealing mostly in illicit enterprise to a sophisticated, multi-billion-dollar system fueled by donor aid and international trade. The Taliban, a movement borne out of the rural clergy, struggled to grasp the extent of the transformation. 

Four employees from financial institutions told The Associated Press how the Taliban commanded bureaucrats from the previous government's Finance Ministry, central bank and other state-owned banks to return to work. Their accounts were confirmed by three Taliban officials. 

"They told us, 'We are not experts, you know what is better for the country, how we can survive under these challenges'," recalled one state bank official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on record. 

They told him, "Do what you must," but warned, "God is watching you, and you will be accountable for what you do on Judgment Day'."

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EXPLAINER: How lawmakers are investigating the Jan. 6 riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee tasked with investigating the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol has been ramping up its efforts in recent weeks, issuing subpoenas to nearly 20 individuals, including four of former President Donald Trump's advisers and associates.

Lawmakers on the committee have made clear that they want to move quickly to obtain testimony and documents related to the attack. One witness summoned to testify, former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, is facing a criminal contempt referral after defying the panel's subpoena. 

Here's a deeper look at the committee, its mission and how it operates:

WHY IS CONGRESS INVESTIGATING?

Unlike some previous investigations in the Trump era — including the Russia probes and the impeachment inquiry into Trump's interactions with Ukraine — the central facts of the Jan. 6 insurrection are known. A group of Trump supporters, fueled by his false claims of a stolen election, brutally assaulted police and smashed their way into the Capitol to interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

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North Korea tests possible submarine missile, amid tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea in what South Korea's military described as a weapon likely designed for submarine-based launches, marking possibly the most significant demonstration of the North's military might since President Joe Biden took office.

The launch came hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. It underscored how the North continues to expand its military capabilities amid a pause in diplomacy.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected the North firing one short-range missile it believed was a submarine-launched ballistic missile from waters near the eastern port of Sinpo, and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the launch.

The South Korean military said the launch was made at sea, but it didn't elaborate whether it was fired from a vessel submerged underwater or another launch platform above the sea's surface.

Japan's military said its initial analysis suggested the North fired two ballistic missiles and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were examining whether they were SLBMs.

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Texas lawmakers pass new congressional maps bolstering GOP

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republicans approved redrawn U.S. House maps that favor incumbents and decrease political representation for growing minority communities, even as Latinos drive much of the growth in the nation's largest red state.

The maps were approved late Monday night following outcry from Democrats over what they claimed was a rushed redistricting process crammed into a 30-day session, and one which gave little time for public input. They also denounced the reduction of minority opportunity districts -- Texas will now have seven House districts where Latino residents hold a majority, down from eight -- despite the state's changing demographics. 

"What we are doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas," Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said to the chamber just before the final vote. 

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign off on the changes. 

Civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sued before Republican lawmakers were even done Monday. The lawsuit alleges that Republican mapmakers diluted the political strength of minority voters by not drawing any new districts where Latino residents hold a majority, despite Latinos making up half of Texas' 4 million new residents over the last decade.

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Jumping onto trucks to get to Britain: A migrant's day

CALAIS, France (AP) — Mohammad and Jaber spend every day looking for the right truck, and this afternoon it feels like it could happen.

This truck seems right. They scream to their friend to jump. He runs, latches on to the moving rig between the cab and the cargo compartment, and squeezes in. The truck doesn't stop, meaning the driver hasn't noticed.

The truck and its stowaway then disappear down a French highway toward the English Channel tunnel, the man's friends hoping he makes it to his destination: Britain.

Mohammad and Jaber are young Sudanese refugees who escaped war in their country, endured kidnappings or beatings in Libya, and crossed the deadly Mediterranean to Italy. They are now in the northern French town of Calais, and like hundreds of other people mostly from East Africa and the Middle East, they are trying to get to Britain by hiding in trucks in what has proved to be a dangerous and potentially lethal method.

Politicians on both sides of the English Channel are arguing about how to make them stop, after thousands of people crossed into Britain by various means in recent months in a flow that has been met with heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

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Climate report: Africa's rare glaciers soon to disappear

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Africa's rare glaciers will disappear in the next two decades because of climate change, a new report warned Tuesday amid sweeping forecasts of pain for the continent that contributes least to global warming but will suffer from it most.

The report from the World Meteorological Organization and other agencies, released ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Scotland that starts Oct. 31, is a grim reminder that Africa's 1.3 billion people remain "extremely vulnerable" as the continent warms more, and at a faster rate, than the global average. And yet Africa's 54 countries are responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The new report seizes on the shrinking glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda as symbols of the rapid and widespread changes to come. "Their current retreat rates are higher than the global average. If this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s," it says.

Massive displacement, hunger and increasing climate shocks such droughts and flooding are in the future, and yet the lack of climate data in parts of Africa "is having a major impact" on disaster warnings for millions of people, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at Tuesday's launch.

Estimates of the economic effects of climate change vary across the African continent, but "in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3 percent by 2050," Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko with the African Union Commission writes in the report. "Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing."

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