Biden abroad: Pitching America to welcoming if wary allies

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spent his first trip overseas highlighting a sharp break from his disruptive predecessor, selling that the United States was once more a reliable ally with a steady hand at the wheel. European allies welcomed the pitch — and even a longtime foe acknowledged it.

But while Biden returned Wednesday night to Washington after a week across the Atlantic that was a mix of messaging and deliverables, questions remained as to whether those allies would trust that Biden truly represents a long-lasting reset or whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would curb his nation's misbehaviors. 

Biden's mantra, which he uttered in Geneva and Brussels and on the craggy coast of Cornwall, England, was that "America was back." It was Putin, of all people, on the trip's final moments, who may have best defined Biden's initial voyage overseas. 

"President Biden is an experienced statesman," Putin told reporters. "He is very different from President Trump."

But the summit with Putin in Geneva, which shadowed the entire trip and brought it to its close, also underscored the fragility of Biden's declarations that the global order had returned.

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In poorest countries, surge combines with vaccine shortage

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Hati Maronjei once swore he would never get a COVID-19 shot, after a pastor warned that vaccines aren't safe.

Now, four months after the first batch of vaccines arrived in Zimbabwe, the 44-year-old street hawker of electronic items is desperate for the shot he can't get. Whenever he visits a clinic in the capital, Harare, he is told to try again the next day.

"I am getting frustrated and afraid," he said. "I am always in crowded places, talking, selling to different people. I can't lock myself in the house."

A sense of dread is growing in some of the very poorest countries in the world as virus cases surge and more contagious variants take hold amid a crippling shortage of vaccine.

The crisis has alarmed public health officials along with the millions of unvaccinated, especially those who toil in the informal, off-the-books economy, live hand-to-mouth and pay cash in health emergencies. With intensive care units filling up in cities overwhelmed by the pandemic, severe disease can be a death sentence. 

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Congress approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery.

The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 12th federal holiday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

It's the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. 

"Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States."

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EXPLAINER: Iran vote to determine next president, direction

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran's presidential election Friday will determine who will lead the country's civilian government as tensions remain high between the Islamic Republic and the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. 

WHO IS RUNNING?

Among the four candidates, hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi appears to be the front-runner based on state-linked polling. Abdolnasser Hemmati, the former head of Iran's Central Bank, appears to be representing moderates in the race. Also running are Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander; and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh, a current lawmaker. At the country's three debates, it appeared to instead be a two-man race as candidates largely targeted Hemmati for criticism over being part of the administration of current President Hassan Rouhani until recently. 

WHO IS NOT RUNNING?

Rouhani, whose government reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, is term limited from seeking another four years in office. The Guardian Council, Iran's constitutional watchdog that approves candidates, also barred a number of prominent candidates from running this year. They included Ali Larijani, a conservative former parliament speaker who in recent years found himself allied with Rouhani. Also barred was former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He still remains popular for his populist policies while in office despite his antagonism of the West. While Larijani accepted being blocked, Ahmadinejad has urged his supporters not to take part in the vote. Meanwhile, women remain barred from running, as do those calling for wholesale change in the country's government. 

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Apple Daily editors arrested under Hong Kong security law

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police used a sweeping national security law against a pro-democracy newspaper for the first time Thursday, arresting five editors and executives on charges of collusion with foreign powers.

Police said they had strong evidence that more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily played a "crucial part" in a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong, in response to a crackdown on civil liberties in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. 

Apple Daily has often criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for tightening control over the city and walking back on promises by Beijing that the territory could retain its freedoms when it was handed over from Britain in 1997. 

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for his role in unauthorized assemblies in 2019, during a period when Hong Kong saw massive anti-government protest calling for universal suffrage and democratic freedoms. 

Police also froze $18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.3 million) worth of assets belonging to three companies linked to Apple Daily, said Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent at Hong Kong's National Security Department. 

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AP PHOTOS: Mumbai doctor recounts harrowing COVID-19 surge

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Dr. Kedar Toraskar hasn't been able to sleep much over the last few months. His mind would constantly turn to the young COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives in the ICU ward he oversees at Wockhardt Hospital in the western Indian city of Mumbai.

The recent coronavirus surge in India affected young people on a scale his team of critical care doctors hadn't previously seen, Toraskar said. "We saw a lot of deaths, a lot of young people who succumbed to the disease," he said. "It was really, truly very depressing."

India is slowly emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic. After declining last year, cases began surging in March, surpassing 400,000 new infections per day in May. The impact was immediate -- hospitals were overwhelmed with patients struggling to breathe. 

Demand for oxygen outran supply. Television news ran stories of patients dying on stretchers waiting outside hospital gates and dying at home before test results could even confirm they had caught the virus. The country's health infrastructure collapsed.

New cases are now declining, but the toll wrought by the pandemic on doctors, nurses and other front-line workers is still emerging.

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Black community has new option for health care: the church

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Every Sunday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. praises the Lord before his congregation. But since last fall he's been praising something else his Black community needs: the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We want to continue to encourage our people to get out, get your shots. I got both of mine," Jackson said to applause at the church in Milwaukee on a recent Sunday. 

Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit, phoning people to encourage vaccinations, and hosting testing clinics and vaccination events in church buildings.

Some want to extend their efforts beyond the fight against COVID-19 and give their flocks a place to seek health care for other ailments at a place they trust — the church.

"We can't go back to normal because we died in our normal," Debra Fraser-Howze, the founder of Choose Healthy Life, told The Associated Press. "We have health disparities that were so serious that one pandemic virtually wiped us out more than anybody else. We can't allow for that to happen again."

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Internet outages briefly disrupt access to websites, apps

A wave of brief internet outages hit the websites and apps of dozens of financial institutions, airlines and other companies across the globe Thursday. 

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange said in a post on Twitter Thursday afternoon Hong Kong time that its site was facing technical issues and that it was investigating. It said in another post 17 minutes later that its websites were back to normal.

Internet monitoring websites including ThousandEyes, Downdetector.com and fing.com showed dozens of disruptions, including to U.S.-based airlines.

Many of the outages were reported by people in Australia trying to do banking, book flights and access postal services. 

Australia Post, the country's postal service, said on Twitter that an "external outage" had impacted a number of its services, and that while most services had come back online, they are continuing to monitor and investigate.

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Chinese crewed spaceship docks with new space station

JIUQUAN, China (AP) — A Chinese spaceship carrying a three-person crew docked with China's new space station at the start of 3-month mission Thursday, marking a milestone in the country's ambitious space program.. 

The Shenzhou-12 craft connected with the Tianhe space station module about six hours after takeoff from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert. 

The three astronauts are the first to take up residency in the main living module and will carry out experiments, test equipment, conduct maintenance and prepare the station for receiving two laboratory modules next year. 

The mission brings to 14 the number of astronauts China has launched into space since 2003, becoming only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own. 

The astronauts were seen off by space officials, other uniformed military personnel and a crowd of children waving flowers and flags and singing patriotic songs. 

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US Open tennis tournament to allow 100 percent fan capacity in 2021

The U.S. Open tennis tournament will allow 100 percent spectator capacity throughout its entire two weeks in 2021, a year after spectators were banned from the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Thursday that all tickets for courts and grounds passes will go on sale in July.

The year's last Grand Slam tournament is scheduled to be held at Flushing Meadows in New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12. 

The USTA's decision to return to its usual number of people on-site is the latest step in a return to normal for New York — and for fans of various sports — as the world emerges from more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said many of the state's remaining social distancing rules would be eased because 70 percent of its adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. 

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