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Briefs: Smoke so thick in the Amazon

Democrats nominate Joe Biden for epic challenge to oust Donald Trump

The Associated Press

NOVO PROGRESSO, Brazil  — A year ago this month, the forest around the town of Novo Progresso erupted into flames — the first major blazes in the Brazilian Amazon's dry season that ultimately saw more than 100,000 fires and spurred global outrage against the government's inability or unwillingness to protect the rainforest.

This year, President Jair Bolsonaro pledged to control the burning — typically started by local farmers to clear land for cattle or to grow soybeans, one of Brazil's top exports. He imposed a four-month ban on most fires and sent in the army to prevent and battle blazes.

But this week the smoke is again so thick around Novo Progresso that police have reported motorists have crashed because they can't see.

As smoke wreaths Novo Progresso, this year's burning season could determine whether Bolsonaro, an avid supporter of bringing more farming and ranching to the Amazon, is willing and able to halt the fires. Experts say the blazes are pushing the world's largest rainforest toward a tipping point, after which it will cease to generate enough rainfall to sustain itself, and approximately two-thirds of the forest will begin an irreversible, decades-long decline into tropical savanna.

But residents of Novo Progresso like businessman Claudio Herculano believe the city has only grown in the last few years because of increased ranching in the area. 

Formal nomination for Joe Biden

WILMINGTON, Del. — Democrats formally nominated Joe Biden as their presidential candidate, with party elders, a new generation of politicians and voters in every state joining in an extraordinary, pandemic-cramped virtual convention to send him into the general election campaign to oust President Donald Trump.

For someone who has spent more than three decades eyeing the presidency, the moment Tuesday night was the realization of a long-sought goal. But it occurred in a way that the 77-year-old Biden couldn't have imagined just months ago as the coronavirus pandemic prompted profound change across the country and in his presidential campaign.

Instead of a Milwaukee convention hall as initially planned, the roll call of convention delegates played out in a combination of live and recorded video feeds from American landmarks packed with meaning: Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a Puerto Rican community still recovering from a hurricane and Washington's Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Biden celebrated his new status as the Democratic nominee alongside his wife and grandchildren in a Delaware school library. His wife of more than 40 years, Jill Biden, later spoke of her husband in deeply personal terms, reintroducing the lifelong politician as a man of deep empathy, faith and resilience to American voters less than three months before votes are counted. 

"There are times when I couldn't imagine how he did it — how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going," she said. "But I've always understood why he did it. He does it for you."

From farm to beach, Democrats across America nominate Biden

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Montana cattle range, a California beach, a historic bridge in Alabama. A masked man on a Rhode Island beach holding a heaping platter of fried calamari. 

These were the sometimes kitschy, sometimes poignant scenes from the first-ever virtual roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention. 

The state-by-state tally of the delegates that leads up to the formal nomination of the party's candidate, in this case Joe Biden, is typically shouted from corners of a noisy convention hall floor. But that process, like many convention traditions, had to be reimagined for a socially distanced, pandemic-era convention. Democrats' solution was a video montage of delegates calling out their vote tallies, and flashing hometown pride, from scenic locations across the country. 

"We must elect a president who will respect our voices, protect our waters and address climate change," said Chuck Degnan, a veteran, fisherman and Democratic activist from Alaska, speaking from the Native Unalakleet Village.

The videos brought a light tone to the evening, and a departure from slickly-produced segments and speeches. They mixed TikTok-style homemade goofiness with classic Americana — and, of course, politics. 

Millions of women lose contraceptives, abortions in COVID-19

NEW DELHI — Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the first widespread measure of the toll says India with its abrupt, months-long lockdown has been hit especially hard.

Several months into the pandemic, many women now have second-trimester pregnancies because they could not find care in time.

Across 37 countries, nearly 2 million fewer women received services between January and June than in the same period last year, Marie Stopes International says in a new report — 1.3 million in India alone. The organization expects 900,000 unintended pregnancies worldwide as a result, along with 1.5 million unsafe abortions and more than 3,000 maternal deaths.

Those numbers "will likely be greatly amplified" if services falter elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Marie Stopes' director of global evidence, Kathryn Church, has said. 

The World Health Organization this month said two-thirds of 103 countries surveyed between mid-May and early July reported disruptions to family planning and contraception services. The U.N. Population Fund warns of up to 7 million unintended pregnancies worldwide.

UAE-Israel agreement followed many years of discreet talks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates  — Secret talks and quiet ties — that's what paved the way for last week's deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations.

Touted by President Donald Trump as a major Mideast breakthrough, the agreement was in fact the culmination of more than a decade of quiet links rooted in frenzied opposition to Iran that predated Trump and even Barack Obama, as well as Trump's avowed goal to undo his predecessor's Mideast legacy. 

And the deal leaves behind what had been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region: resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The effort to achieve that goal picked up speed 17 months ago at a U.S.-led conference in Warsaw, according to officials involved.

That February 2019 meeting, originally conceived as an anti-Iran gathering, morphed into a broader Mideast security endeavor after European objections to its agenda. Many countries opted not to send their top diplomats, and Russia, China and the Palestinians skipped it entirely. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended, however, as did the foreign ministers of key Arab states.

Mali's president announces resignation after armed mutiny

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's president announced his resignation late Tuesday, just hours after armed soldiers seized him from his home in a dramatic power grab following months of protests demanding his ouster. 

The news of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators and alarm by former colonial ruler France, and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission.

Speaking on national broadcaster ORTM just before midnight, a distressed Keita, wearing a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said his resignation — three years before his final term was due to end — was effective immediately. A banner across the bottom of the television screen referred to him as the "outgoing president."

"I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power," Keita said. "I have decided to step down from office."

A US WeChat ban could hurt many in America, not just China

For millions of people in the U.S. who use the Chinese app WeChat, it's a lifeline to friends, family, customers and business contacts in China.

That lifeline is now under attack by an executive order from President Donald Trump that could ban the app in the U.S. as early as mid-September, potentially severing vital relationships.

"It's the first thing I check in the morning," Sha Zhu, a Chinese-American in Washington, says of WeChat. It's how she talks to her mother and old friends from China, which she left in 2008, and how she communicates with her colleagues as a public relations manager for a Chinese-owned consulting company. It's where she stores Chinese currency in her virtual wallet. 

Most important, it's where she keeps videos and audio clips of her father, who died four years ago. 

In China, WeChat, or Weixin as it's known, is critical infrastructure — texting, social media, cab-hailing, payments and more, all wrapped into one app. Many Chinese businesses don't even take credit cards anymore, just WeChat. It has over a billion users, owner Tencent says, mostly in China. Mobile app firms have varying estimates for U.S. downloads — in the range of 19 to 26 million.

Alcohol rules again loosen as Dubai seeks economic recovery

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai again has loosened laws governing alcohol sales and possession of liquor as the sheikhdom tries to claw its way out of an economic depression worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The outbreak of the virus exacerbated the already-gathering economic storm engulfing the emirate, which has seen mass layoffs thin the ranks of its foreign workforce and empty homes even amid slight signs of recovery. Even now, experts warn the sheikhdom's crucial real-estate market is on track to hit record lows seen in the 2009 Great Recession. 

"It's been a challenging year and there's no hiding from that for any business — particularly those in the hospitality industry," Mike Glen, managing director for the United Arab Emirates and Oman for alcohol distributor Maritime and Mercantile International, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement. 

Alcohol sales have long served as a major barometer of the economy of Dubai, a top travel destination in the UAE, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates. Ice-cold bottles of beer tempt tourists on hotel beaches, while decadent Champagne-soaked brunches draw well-to-do crowds of expatriate residents.

The sales also serve as a major tax revenue source for Dubai's Al Maktoum ruling family.