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Omicron and delta spell return of unpopular restrictions

PARIS (AP) — Greeks who are over age 60 and refuse coronavirus vaccinations could be hit with monthly fines of more than one-quarter of their pensions — a get-tough policy that the country's politicians say will cost votes but save lives.

In Israel, potential carriers of the new omicron variant could be tracked by the nation's formidable spy agency in seeming defiance of a Supreme Court ruling from the last go-round. 

Weekly protests in the Netherlands over the country's 5 p.m. lockdown and other new restrictions have descended into violence, despite what appears to be overwhelming acceptance of the rules.

With the delta variant of COVID-19 pushing up cases in Europe and growing fears over the omicron variant, governments around the world are weighing new measures for populations tired of hearing about restrictions and vaccines. 

It's a thorny calculus made more difficult by the prospect of backlash, increased social divisions and, for many politicians, the fear of being voted out of office.

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AP: US military explosives vanish, emerge in civilian world

The Marine Corps demolition specialist was worried — about America, and about the civil war he feared would follow the presidential election.

And so, block by block, he stole 13 pounds (6 kilograms) of C4 plastic explosives from the training ranges of Camp Lejeune.

"The riots, talk about seizing guns, I saw this country moving towards a scary unknown future," the sergeant would later write, in a seven-page statement to military investigators. "I had one thing on my mind and one thing only, I am protecting my family and my constitutional rights."

His crime might have gone undetected, but authorities caught a lucky break in 2018 as they investigated yet another theft from Lejeune, the massive base on coastal North Carolina. In that other case, explosives ended up in the hands of some high school kids.

These are not isolated cases. Hundreds — and possibly thousands — of armor-piercing grenades, hundreds of pounds of plastic explosives, as well as land mines and rockets have been stolen from or lost by the U.S. armed forces over the past decade, according to an ongoing Associated Press investigation into the military's failure to secure all its weapons of war. Still more explosives were reported missing and later recovered.

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Justices signal they'll OK new abortion limits, may toss Roe

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the biggest challenge to abortion rights in decades, the Supreme Court's conservative majority on Wednesday signaled they would allow states to ban abortion much earlier in pregnancy and may even overturn the nationwide right that has existed for nearly 50 years.

With hundreds of demonstrators outside chanting for and against, the justices led arguments that could decide the fate of the court's historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion throughout the United States and its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. 

The outcome probably won't be known until next June. But after nearly two hours of arguments, all six conservative justices, including three appointed by former President Donald Trump, indicated they would uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

At the very least, such a decision would undermine Roe and Casey, which allow states to regulate but not ban abortion up until the point of fetal viability, at roughly 24 weeks.

And there was also substantial support among the conservative justices for getting rid of Roe and Casey altogether. Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member of the court who has openly called for overruling the two cases.

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MLB owners lock out players, 1st work stoppage since 1995

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter-century when the sport's collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately locked out players in a move that threatens spring training and opening day.

The strategy, management's equivalent of a strike under federal labor law, ended the sport's labor peace after 9,740 days over 26 1/2 years. 

Teams decided to force the long-anticipated confrontation during an offseason rather than risk players walking out during the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners had successfully reached four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage, but they have been accelerating toward a clash for more than two years. 

"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players' association's vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."

Talks that started last spring ended Wednesday after a brief session of mere minutes with the sides far apart on the dozens of key economic issues. Management's negotiators left the union's hotel about nine hours before the deal lapsed at 11:59 p.m. EST.

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A world ablaze, captured by AP photographers in 2021

"Some say the world will end in fire," wrote the poet Robert Frost -- and for much of 2021, Associated Press photographers captured scenes of a world ablaze, amid rumblings of ruin.

In New Delhi, a man sprints amid the funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims -- too many fires, too much heat, too many victims. On a beach near the village of Limni, Greece, the horizon is lit by the flames of wildfires raging across the eastern Mediterranean.

And at La Palma in the Canary Islands, the inferno is in the Cumbre Vieja volcano. But more than 10,000 million cubic meters of ash turn the world into a negative, with black ash taking the place of white snow.

Not all of the combustion is so literal. 

There is fury: the astonishing moment when police aimed their guns at rioters trying to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol; Mexican demonstrators against gender violence, hurling themselves at barricades; an Ethiopian woman's wrath as she fights for every split pea in starving, war-torn Tigray.

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UK court backs Meghan in dispute over privacy with publisher

LONDON (AP) — A British court on Thursday dismissed an appeal by a newspaper publisher seeking to overturn an earlier ruling that it breached the privacy of the Duchess of Sussex by publishing portions of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling in February that publication of the letter that the former Meghan Markle wrote to her father Thomas Markle after she married Prince Harry in 2018 was "manifestly excessive and hence unlawful.

The publisher of the Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline website challenged that decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month.

In a statement, Meghan said the ruling was "a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right."

"While this win is precedent-setting, what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create."

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past '22

The suspension of all WTA tournaments in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault, could result in cancellations of those events beyond 2022, the head of the women's professional tennis tour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"We're hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn't been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region," WTA President and CEO Steve Simon said in a video call from California. "This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that's about what's right and wrong."

He said the move to put a halt to the tour's play in China, including Hong Kong, came with the backing of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors. It is the strongest public stand against China taken by a sports body — and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars.

Peng dropped out of public view after raising the allegations about former vice premier Zhang Gaoli in a Nov. 2 social media posting that was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities.

In the month since, Simon has made repeated calls for China to carry out an inquiry into the 35-year-old Peng's accusations and to allow the WTA to communicate directly with the former No. 1-ranked doubles player and owner of titles at Wimbledon and the French Open.

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Michigan teen, 15, charged in Oxford High School shooting

OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — The parents of a teenager accused of killing four students at a Michigan school were summoned to discuss his behavior just a few hours before the violence, a sheriff said.

The disclosure was made Wednesday as Ethan Crumbley, 15, was charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism for a shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School in Oakland County.

"He deliberately brought the handgun that day with the intent to murder as many students as he could," assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said while successfully arguing for no bail for Crumbley and a transfer to jail from a juvenile facility.

No motive was offered. But prosecutor Karen McDonald said the shooting was premeditated, based on a "mountain of digital evidence" against Crumbley. 

Investigators found that he had recorded a video the night before the bloodshed in which he discussed killing students, Lt. Tim Willis of the sheriff's office said.

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Lebanese businesses pay steep price for standoff with Saudis

BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese DJ was days away from moving to Riyadh to play for a month in one of the newest entertainment centers in Saudi Arabia's capital when a brief, polite Whatsapp message informed her that the contract won't go through. 

The head of a Beirut-based communications agency had been negotiating to revive a two-year-old contract derailed by the pandemic for hundreds of thousands of dollars. After two days of silence her Saudi client, in an apologetic call, said now is not the time.

A business owner who for years exported stationary to the kingdom had to return 20 containers of notebooks and paper ready for shipping to his warehouse outside of Beirut. "Please freeze everything," Ziad Bekdache recalled the handlers telling him. 

These are some of the victims of Saudi Arabia's furious backlash against Lebanon in October after a Lebanese minister criticized its war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. 

At the root of the crisis is a years-old regional rivalry with Iran, and Saudi unease about the increasing clout of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Lebanon is caught in the middle. 

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Analysis: Iran ups nuclear ante as Vienna deal talks resume

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After a monthslong hiatus, Iran has returned to negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving its cratered nuclear deal with world powers. But Tehran isn't slowing down the advances in its atomic program, further raising the stakes in talks crucial to cooling years of tensions boiling in the wider Mideast. 

The case in point? Iran's underground nuclear facility in Fordo. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body charged with monitoring the Islamic Republic's program, acknowledged Wednesday that Iran began feeding a cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges with uranium there. The agency said Iran plans to enrich uranium there up to 20% purity — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. 

Tehran's diplomatic mission to Vienna sought to downplay the acknowledgement on Twitter as "an ordinary update in line with regular verification in Iran." However, even in clinical language the announcement offers a stark contrast to what existed under the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The deal halted all enrichment at Fordo, which sits under a mountain near the holy Shiite city of Qom, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tehran. The accord also called for Fordo to become a research-and-development facility.

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