Blinken: US will aid Gaza without helping Hamas

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Tuesday to "rally international support" to aid Gaza following a devastating war, as he began a regional tour to shore up last week's cease-fire. 

Blinken, who spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the U.S. would work to address the "grave humanitarian situation" in the coastal territory but would also ensure that Gaza's militant Hamas rulers do not benefit from reconstruction assistance. 

The 11-day Gaza war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused widespread destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. 

The truce that came into effect Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the underlying issues. 

On his tour of the region, Blinken will face the same obstacles that have stifled a wider peace process for more than a decade, including a hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites. 

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European planes skirt Belarus amid fury at dissident arrest

MOSCOW (AP) — European airlines began skirting Belarus on Tuesday at the urging of the European Union, which also imposed new sanctions to punish the ex-Soviet nation's forced diversion of a passenger jet to arrest an opposition journalist.

In unusually swift action at a summit in Brussels, EU leaders agreed Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc, imposed sanctions on officials linked to Sunday's flight diversion, and urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to start an investigation into the episode some described as state terrorism or piracy. 

On Sunday, Belarusian flight controllers told the crew of a Ryanair jetliner flying from Greece to Lithuania that there was a bomb threat against the plane as it was crossing through Belarus airspace and ordered it to land. A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane in a brazen show of force by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter-century.

Belarus authorities then arrested 26-year-old journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. Pratasevich was later seen in a brief video clip shown on Belarusian state television, speaking quickly and saying that he was giving testimony about organizing mass disturbances.

Pratasevich, who left Belarus in 2019 and ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organize huge protests against Lukashenko, has been charged in absentia with staging mass riots and fanning social hatred. Those charges carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years. 

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'Turning mourning into dancing': Festival to remember Floyd

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The intersection where George Floyd took his final breaths was to be transformed Tuesday into an outdoor festival on the one-year anniversary of his death, with food, children's activities and a long list of musical performers.

"We're going to be turning mourning into dancing," rapper Nur-D tweeted. "We're going to be celebrating 365 days of strength in the face of injustice."

Floyd, 46, who was Black, died on Memorial Day 2020 after then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, pinning him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last month of murder and faces sentencing June 25. Three other fired officers still face trial.

The site of Floyd's death, 38th and Chicago, was taken over by activists soon after and remains barricaded to traffic. The "Rise and Remember George Floyd" celebration, including a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m., caps several days of marches, rallies and panel discussions about his death and where America is in confronting racial discrimination.

Many members of the Floyd family were scheduled to be in Washington on Tuesday, in a private meeting with President Joe Biden, who called family members after the Chauvin verdict and pledged to continue fighting for racial justice. 

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Families separated at Mexico border build new American life

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a cramped house with mice in the kitchen and music booming from cars outside, Keldy Mabel Gonzales Brebe lays bare her three-year journey from Honduras to the United States and all that lies ahead to adapt to life as an immigrant.

She fled the Central American nation with her family and a price on her head to seek asylum at the U.S. border. Instead, U.S. officials separated her from her children, jailed and deported her under President Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute adults entering the country illegally. While the boys were allowed to live with relatives in Philadelphia, their mother made her way back to Mexico, where she fought to join them.

Keldy missed celebrating birthdays and holidays together. She watched from afar as her teenagers filled out and grew facial hair.

"There were times I thought I would never see them again," she said.

Three years later, America has jettisoned many of Trump's hardline immigration policies.

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It's not just Arizona: Push to review 2020 ballots spreads

ATLANTA (AP) — Six months after Donald Trump's loss, conspiracy theorists and Trump backers are continuing their push for repeated examinations of ballots and finding limited successes.

A Georgia judge last week awarded a group the chance to review mail ballots in a large Georgia county that includes Atlanta. Officials in a rural Michigan county have expressed interest in a review of their voting machines. A similar debate has caused sharp divisions in a New Hampshire town. In some cases, the efforts have been inspired by an audit of the votes in Arizona's Maricopa County, an elaborate exercise engineered by the GOP-led state Senate.

The efforts are unlikely to yield any new revelations about President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election. The votes have been counted — and often recounted — and certified by local officials. Still, the lingering debate and legal wrangling have propelled suspicions and advanced debunked theories. And their sometimes misleading conclusions have been amplified by Trump, whose false allegations of election fraud sparked the push.

The profusion of audits alarms election experts, who note that the Arizona audit has set a troubling new precedent of third-party, partisan review of the ballots, long after elections are over. 

"This is bad enough to see it happen once," said Eddie Perez, an expert on voting systems at the OSET Institute, said of Arizona, but seeing it elsewhere in the country is "dangerous for democracy.'"

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Factory boss defiant as sanctions bite in China's Xinjiang

AKSU, China (AP) — A backlash against reports of forced labor and other abuses of the largely Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in Xinjiang is taking a toll on China's cotton industry, but it's unclear if the pressure will compel the government or companies to change their ways. 

Li Qiang, general manager of the Huafu Fashion yarn factory in Xinjiang, told reporters that even though the company lost money in 2020 for the first time in its 27-year history, it bounced back by shifting to domestic orders. 

"This is now in the past," Li said. "We've turned things around in the first quarter of this year." 

Li blamed a sharp fall in foreign orders, as customers including Adidas and H&M cut ties, on "fake news" in a 2019 Wall Street Journal story that said brand name apparel makers and food companies were entangled in China's campaign to forcibly assimilate its Muslim population. Huafu also cited U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

In a crackdown since 2017 after a series of militant attacks, the Chinese government has detained a million or more people in Xinjiang, a major cotton-producing region in China's northwest that is home to the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups. Critics also accuse it of torture, forced sterilization and cultural and religious suppression.

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Iran state TV: 7 approved for June 18 presidential election

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran named seven candidates Tuesday for its June 18 presidential election, approving the candidacy of the hard-line cleric running the country's judiciary while barring a former parliament speaker allied to the country's current president. 

The decision by Iran's Guardian Council puts judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, who ran against President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, in a dominant position for the upcoming vote. He's the most-known candidate of the seven hopefuls, with opinion polling previously showing his anti-corruption campaign drew Iranian support.

The announcement on state television didn't discuss the fact that former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a conservative who allied with Rouhani in recent years, had been barred. Larijani had been positioning himself as a pragmatic candidate who would back Rouhani's signature 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. That accord is now in tatters as diplomats in Vienna try to negotiate a return of both Iran and the U.S. to the agreement.

Also barred was former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani's senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist. Ahmadinejad ignored a warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2017 and registered, only to be rejected then as well by the Guardian Council.

During an earlier session of parliament Tuesday, lawmaker Ahmad Alirezabeigi described Ahmadinejad's home as being "under siege" by security forces since the day before. He also warned that the decision would suppress turnout. Iran's theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections. 

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In NYC's furthest flung neighborhood, vaccine a tough sell

NEW YORK (AP) — If there's one place where people could fear the coronavirus more than a vaccination needle, it's the Far Rockaway section of Queens: Nearly 460 residents of the seaside neighborhood have died of COVID-19.

That's one out of every 146 people who live there, making for one of New York City's highest death rates. And yet, no other place in the city has a lower percentage of vaccinated people.

As of Monday, only 29% of people living Far Rockaway's ZIP code, 11691, had received even one vaccine dose, according to data from the New York City Health Department. That compares to a rate of 49% citywide and nationally.

The situation in the community of around 67,000 people illustrates the challenges facing health officials in many places as they try to overcome hesitancy fueled by mistrust, misinformation and fear.

"We have a good amount of people that still don't want to get vaccinated, for whatever reason," said Diana Catalan, a health clinic manager involved in the Far Rockaway inoculation effort whose father, a neighborhood resident, died of the virus in February.

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Japan says US travel warning for virus won't hurt Olympians

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese government Tuesday was quick to deny a U.S. warning for Americans to avoid traveling to Japan would have an impact on Olympians wanting to compete in the postponed Tokyo Games.

U.S. officials cited a surge in coronavirus cases in Japan caused by virus variants that may even be risks to vaccinated people. They didn't ban Americans from visiting Japan, but the warnings could affect insurance rates and whether Olympic athletes and other participants decide to join the games that begin July 23.

Most metro areas in Japan are under a state of emergency and expected to remain so through mid-June because of rising serious COVID-19 cases that are putting pressure on the country's medical care systems. That raises concern about how the country could cope with the arrival of tens of thousands of Olympic participants if its hospitals remain stressed and little of its population is vaccinated.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular news conference Tuesday that the U.S. warning does not prohibit essential travel and Japan believes the U.S. support for Tokyo's effort to hold the Olympics is unchanged.

"We believe there is no change to the U.S. position supporting the Japanese government's determination to achieve the games," Kato said, adding that Washington has told Tokyo the travel warning is not related to participation of the U.S. Olympic team.

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Who's an astronaut as private spaceflight picks up speed?

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — As more companies start selling tickets to space, a question looms: Who gets to call themselves an astronaut?

It's already a complicated issue and about to get more so as the wealthy snap up spacecraft seats and even entire flights for themselves and their entourages.

Astronauts? Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Space sightseers? Rocket riders? Or as the Russians have said for decades, spaceflight participants?

NASA's new boss Bill Nelson doesn't consider himself an astronaut even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia — as a congressman.

"I reserve that term for my professional colleagues," Nelson recently told The Associated Press. 

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