Olympic opening ceremony director fired for Holocaust joke

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee fired the director of the opening ceremony on Thursday because of a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said a day ahead of the opening ceremony that director Kentaro Kobayashi has been dismissed. He was accused of using a joke about the Holocaust in his comedy act, including the phrase "Let's play Holocaust."

"We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy," Hashimoto said. "We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country."

Tokyo has been plagued with scandals since being awarded the Games in 2013. French investigators are looking into alleged bribes paid to International Olympic Committee members to influence the vote for Tokyo. The fallout forced the resignation two years ago of Tsunekazu Takeda, who headed the Japanese Olympic Committee and was an IOC member.

The opening ceremony of the pandemic-delayed Games is scheduled for Friday. The ceremony will be held without spectators as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, although some officials, guests and media will attend.

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Death rates soar in Southeast Asia as virus wave spreads

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Indonesia has converted nearly its entire oxygen production to medical use just to meet the demand from COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe. Overflowing hospitals in Malaysia had to resort to treating patients on the floor. And in Myanmar's largest city, graveyard workers have been laboring day and night to keep up with the grim demand for new cremations and burials. 

Images of bodies burning in open-air pyres during the peak of the pandemic in India horrified the world in May, but in the last two weeks the three Southeast Asian nations have now all surpassed India's peak per capita death rate as a new coronavirus wave, fueled by the virulent delta variant, tightens its grip on the region.

The deaths have followed record numbers of new cases being reported in countries across the region which have left health care systems struggling to cope and governments scrambling to implement new restrictions to try to slow the spread.

When Eric Lam tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized on June 17 in the Malaysian state of Selangor, the center of the country's outbreak, the corridors of the government facility were already crowded with patients on beds with no room left in the wards.

The situation was still better than in some other hospitals in Selangor, Malaysia's richest and most populous state, where there were no free beds at all and patients were reportedly treated on floors or on stretchers. The government has since added more hospital beds and converted more wards for COVID-19 patients. 

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China rebuffs WHO's terms for further COVID-19 origins study

BEIJING (AP) — China cannot accept the World Health Organization's plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday. 

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was "rather taken aback" that the plan includes further investigation of the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab. 

He dismissed the lab leak idea as a rumor that runs counter to common sense and science.

"It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan," he said at a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.

The search for where the virus came from has become a diplomatic issue that has fueled China's deteriorating relations with the U.S. and many American allies. The U.S. and others say that China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the pandemic and politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.

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EXPLAINER: What's the history of the Olympics protest rule?

TOKYO (AP) — The simple act of taking a knee felt like something more monumental when it happened on Olympic soccer pitches in Japan on the opening night of action.

Players from the United States, Sweden, Chile, Britain and New Zealand women's teams went to a knee before their games Wednesday night, anti-racism gestures the likes of which had not been seen before on the Olympic stage. They figured to be the first of many of these sort of demonstrations over the three-week stay in Tokyo. 

The Olympic rule banning such demonstrations at the Games has been hotly debated and contested for decades, and those issues reached a flashpoint over the past two years. What resulted were changes in the rules, and the willingness of some sports organizations to enforce them. 

How have protests and demonstrations at the Games evolved over the years? Here's a brief rundown. 

WHAT: The Olympics have always billed themselves as a nonpolitical entity designed to bring countries together to celebrate sports and international unity. One of the best-recognized symbols of that nonpolitical ideal is a prohibition of "propaganda" at the Games. Rule 50 of the IOC charter states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

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Room for 10,000: Inside China's largest detention center

DABANCHENG, China (AP) — The Uyghur inmates sat in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight, numbered and tagged, gazing at a television playing grainy black-and-white images of Chinese Communist Party history.

This is one of an estimated 240 cells in just one section of Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng, seen by Associated Press journalists granted extraordinary access during a state-led tour to China's far west Xinjiang region. The detention center is the largest in the country and possibly the world, with a complex that sprawls over 220 acres — making it twice as large as Vatican City. A sign at the front identified it as a "kanshousuo," a pre-trial detention facility. 

Chinese officials declined to say how many inmates were there, saying the number varied. But the AP estimated the center could hold roughly 10,000 people and many more if crowded, based on satellite imagery and the cells and benches seen during the tour. While the BBC and Reuters have in the past reported from the outside, the AP was the first Western media organization allowed in.

This site suggests that China still holds and plans to hold vast numbers of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in detention. Satellite imagery shows that new buildings stretching almost a mile long were added to the Dabancheng detention facility in 2019.

China has described its sweeping lockup of a million or more minorities over the past four years as a "war against terror," after a series of knifings and bombings by a small number of extremist Uyghurs native to Xinjiang. Among its most controversial aspects were the so-called vocational "training centers" – described by former detainees as brutal internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

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Biden says getting vaccinated 'gigantically important'

CINCINNATI (AP) — President Joe Biden expressed pointed frustration over the slowing COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S. and pleaded that it's "gigantically important" for Americans to step up and get inoculated against the virus as it surges once again.

Biden, speaking Wednesday night at a televised town hall in Cincinnati, said the public health crisis has turned largely into a plight of the unvaccinated as the spread of the delta variant has led to a surge in infections around the country. 

"We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten the vaccination — it's that basic, that simple," he said on the CNN town hall.

The president also expressed optimism that children under 12 will be approved for vaccination in the coming months. But he displayed exasperation that so many eligible Americans are still reluctant to get a shot.

"If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized, you're not going to be in the IC unit, and you're not going to die," Biden said at the forum at Mount St. Joseph University. "So it's gigantically important that ... we all act like Americans who care about our fellow Americans."

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EXPLAINER: As wildlife smoke spreads, who's at risk?

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Smoke from wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada is blanketing much of the continent, including thousands of miles away on the East Coast. And experts say the phenomenon is becoming more common as human-caused global warming stokes bigger and more intense blazes. 

Pollution from smoke reached unhealthy levels this week in communities from Washington state to Washington D.C.

Get used to it, researchers say.

"These fires are going to be burning all summer," said University of Washington wildfire smoke expert Dan Jaffe. "In terms of bad air quality, everywhere in the country is to going to be worse than average this year."

Growing scientific research points to potential long-term health damage from breathing in microscopic particles of smoke. Authorities have scrambled to better protect people from the harmful effects but face challenges in communicating risk to vulnerable communities and people who live very far away from burning forests.

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For South Sudan mothers, COVID-19 shook a fragile foundation

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Paska Itwari Beda knows hunger all too well. The young mother of five children — all of them under age 10 — sometimes survives on one bowl of porridge a day, and her entire family is lucky to scrape together a single daily meal, even with much of the money Beda makes cleaning offices going toward food. She goes to bed hungry in hopes her children won't have to work or beg like many others in South Sudan, a country only a decade old and already ripped apart by civil war. 

But the pandemic scares Beda in ways that even hunger doesn't. 

In South Sudan, lives are built and teeter on the edge of uncertainty. A peace deal to end the civil war lags far behind schedule. Violence erupts between ethnic groups. Corruption is widespread. Hunger haunts more than half the population of 12 million people. And even the land itself doesn't guarantee solid footing, as climate change sparks flooding in swaths of the country. 

Yet many women say it's the pain of the pandemic they feel most — a slow-moving disaster, in contrast to the sudden trauma of war and its fallout of famine — as they try to hold families together in what is already one of the world's most difficult places to raise children. 

With COVID-19 came the shrinking of humanitarian aid, a lifeline for many in South Sudan, as faraway donors turned attention and funding toward their own citizens instead. Closed borders cut off imports, and the oil sector on which the economy largely relies was hit hard by a crash in global prices. A lockdown wiped out the informal, untaxed labor and other work that many South Sudanese relied on for their daily meal. 

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Norway mourns 77 dead a decade after extremist attack

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Commemorations have begun Thursday to mark 10 years since Norway's worst ever peacetime slaughter.

On July 22, 2011, right wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people, before heading to tiny Utoya island where he stalked and shot dead 69 mostly teen members of the Labor Party's youth wing.

Events will take place around the country Thursday, including a service in Oslo Cathedral that will end with bells ringing in churches throughout Norway.

Around the country, people listened as emotional survivors read aloud the names of the 77 victims at a memorial event that was broadcast on television.

Some parents of the victims reflected on the way the country coped with the slaughter, and said that "time does not heal all wounds." 

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The Latest: 2nd Dutch athlete tests positive at Olympics

The Latest on the Tokyo Olympics, which are taking place under heavy restrictions after a year's delay because of the coronavirus pandemic:

A second Dutch athlete and a staff member have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Tokyo Games.

Team NL says taekwondo athlete Reshmie Oogink and a rowing team staff member have tested positive and will quarantine for 10 days.

"I am speechless" Oogink said. "I have done everything I could and have worked so hard to get so close to the Games. I even overcome major knee injuries and now it has come to a sudden end. This is the end of my career."

Chef de Mission of TeamNL Pieter van den Hoogenband says the team is doing everything to keep infection to a minimum, but the situation is having an impact.

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