News briefs: China may postpone annual congress because of virus

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China said Monday it may postpone its annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year, as the military dispatched hundreds more medical workers and extra supplies to the city hit hardest by a 2-month-old virus outbreak. 

Japanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed 99 more people were infected by the new virus aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454. 

The standing committee for the National People's Congress said it believes it is necessary to postpone the gathering to give top priority to people's lives, safety and health, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

It noted that one-third of the 3,000 delegates are provincial and municipal-level cadres with important leadership roles working on the front line of the battle against the epidemic.

The standing committee said it would meet on Feb. 24 to further deliberate on a postponement. The meeting is due to start on March 5.

Trading quarantines, Americans from cruise land in US

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — Two charter flights carrying cruise ship passengers from Japan landed at military bases in California and Texas overnight, starting the clock on a quarantine period to ensure passengers don't have the new virus that's been spreading in Asia.

A plane carrying American passengers touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11:30 p.m. Sunday, local time. A second flight arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas around 2 1/2 hours later, early Monday.

Japan's Defense Minister Taro Kono had tweeted earlier that Japanese troops helped transport 340 U.S. passengers on 14 buses from Yokohama port to Tokyo's Haneda airport. About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship. 

The U.S. said it arranged the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus. For the departing Americans, the evacuation cuts short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship Feb. 5.

The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmed they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they did not have symptoms. They were being isolated separately from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

Disgraced religious order tried to get abuse victim to lie

MILAN (AP) — The cardinal's response was not what Yolanda Martinez expected -- or could abide.

Her son had been sexually abused by one of the priests of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis -- the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion, and to clean it up -- to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martinez's family would receive 15,000 euros from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order's youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.

Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn't sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: "Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement." 

AP FACT CHECK: Trump's exaggerations on Roger Stone sentence

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is misrepresenting the Justice Department's handling of the legal case of his confidant, Roger Stone.

He's suggesting rampant bias in the department's initial recommendation to a federal court that Stone be sentenced between seven and nine years in prison, claiming that all four prosecutors are former members of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia team. That's not true.

Trump also says the proposed sentence was put forth in secret. He's wrong on that, too.

The president's exaggerations came in an extraordinary week in which Justice Department leaders overruled Stone's prosecutors following a tweet complaint by Trump and lowered the amount of recommended prison time. Attorney General William Barr nevertheless publicly scolded Trump, saying the president's tweets were making it "impossible" for him to do his job.

Meanwhile, Trump spread a variety of distortions at a New Hampshire rally, including about the border wall and voter fraud, and still more in other venues. The release of his proposed budget prompted Democrats to wrongly accuse him of undermining Medicare.

Diocese of Gallup to sell historic school property in uproar

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — The Diocese of Gallup has announced it will sell the property of the historic Sacred Heart School to a secular charter school. 

The Gallup Independent reports word of the pending sale recently stunned school officials and parents amid concerns about a conflict of interest.

Sacred Heart School interim principal Amy Jo Mulvaney says she was caught off guard when Aequitas Education and Hozho Academy representatives toured the school late January.

Mulvaney said the Aequitas and Hozho group arrived as classes were ending and parents were coming to pick up their children. Mulvaney said the Rev. Isaac Ogba, the Diocese of Gallup's school superintendent, also showed up to escort the group on their tour.

"It shook some people up because we didn't know about it at the time," Mulvaney said, explaining she and other members of the Sacred Heart School hadn't been informed about the visit or the diocese's intent to sell the school property.

The representatives said they were purchasing the campus. Gallup attorney Patrick T. Mason led the Aequitas and Hozho group. He is also the attorney for the Diocese of Gallup.

In a statement, the Diocese of Gallup said it will use the sale of the old school property to build a brand-new school building on the Sacred Heart Cathedral grounds.

Floods put Mississippi capital in 'precarious situation'

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With the waters in the Pearl River continuing to rise in and around Mississippi's capital city and more rain on the way this week, the governor warned residents that it would be days before flood waters start to recede.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Sunday morning that the Pearl would continue to rise throughout the day, and he warned that the state faces a "precarious situation that can turn at any moment."

In one Jackson neighborhood, residents paddled canoes, kayaks and small fishing boats to check on their houses, giving lifts to other neighbors. Some were able to get inside while others peeked into the windows to see what, if any damage, had been done inside. Outside floodwaters lapped at mailboxes, street signs and cars that had been left in driveways. 

In a bit of good news, officials at a reservoir upriver of the capitol said Sunday that water levels in the reservoir had stabilized, allowing them to send less water downriver. The National Weather Service, which had been anticipating the river would crest Sunday at 38 feet, on Sunday slightly reduced that to 37.5 feet. The river is now anticipated to crest Monday.

But even with that development, officials urged residents to pay attention to evacuation orders, check on road closures before traveling and stay out of floodwaters, warning that even seemingly placid waters could mask fast-moving currents and pollution. Law enforcement officials went door to door in affected areas, telling people to evacuate, Reeves said.

Syria military hails advance against rebels in 'record time'

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's military announced on Monday that its troops have regained control of territories in northwestern Syria "in record time," vowing to continue to chase armed groups "wherever they are." 

The announcement came hours after troops consolidated the government's hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in one day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire. 

Troops were removing barriers and roadblocks on Monday in villages and districts that were earlier controlled by Syrian rebels, state TV reported. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported clashes in Jabal Sheik Akeel, northwest of the city of Aleppo, the provincial capital.

The armed opposition was driven out of the city's eastern quarters in late 2016, which they had controlled for years while battling government forces in charge in the western section. However, rebel groups continued to target government forces from outside the city with mortar rounds. They also controlled large parts of western rural Aleppo, territories that linked them to Idlib province, the opposition's last major stronghold. 

The new advances, along with securing a key highway that ran through rebel territory, are set to facilitate movement between northern and southern Syria, including the city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial center before the war.

Afghan refugees tell UN: 'We need peace, land to go home'

KABOBAYAN CAMP, Pakistan (AP) — Hukam Khan isn't sure how old he is, but his beard is long and white, and when he came to Pakistan 40 years ago fleeing an earlier war in Afghanistan, his children were small, stuffed onto the backs of donkeys and dragged across rugged mountains to the safety of northwestern Pakistan. 

Back then the war was against the former Soviet Union and Khan was among more than 5 million Afghans forced to become refugees in Pakistan, driven from their homes by a bombing campaign so brutal it was referred to as a "scorched earth" policy.

After four decades of war and conflict, more than 1.5 million Afghans still live as refugees in Pakistan, feeling abandoned by their own government, increasingly unwelcome in their reluctant host country and ignored by the United Nations. 

Now, for the first time in years, there's a faint possibility they might eventually return home. The United States and the Taliban appear to have inched closer to a peace deal, agreeing as a first step to a temporary "reduction in violence."

If that truce should hold, the next step could be a long-sought-after agreement between Washington and the Taliban to end Afghanistan's current war, now in its 19th year. The agreement would return American troops home and start negotiations between the warring Afghans to bring peace to their shattered country.

GM plans to pull out of Australia, New Zealand and Thailand

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors decision to pull out of Australia, New Zealand and Thailand as part of a strategy to exit markets that don't produce adequate returns on investments raised dismay Monday from officials concerned over job losses.

The company said in a statement Sunday that plans to wind down sales, engineering and design operations for its historic Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand in 2021. It also plans to sell its Rayong factory in Thailand to China's Great Wall Motors and withdraw the Chevrolet brand from Thailand by the end of this year.

"This is a very disappointing outcome," said Karen Andrews, Australia's minister for Industry, Science and Technology. She said it was unfortunate both because about 500 workers would loose their jobs, but also because "they only advised the government of this decision just before the announcement."

Dave Smith of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union also expressed chagrin. 

Workers at Holden had thought they'd "been through the worst of it, and that's not the case," Smith said. "For many of them their long-term workers have been very loyal to the company ... they've loved being part of the car industry, and now, it was such an iconic brand coming to an end; it'll mean an end to their jobs."

Rains postpones Daytona 500, dampening event, Trump's visit

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain for the first time since 2012, dampening NASCAR's season opener that started with a ballyhooed visit from President Donald Trump.

The race was postponed after two lengthy delays totaling more than three hours. The race will now begin at 4 p.m. Monday and be broadcast live on Fox.

It's the second time in 62 years that "The Great American Race" will finish on a Monday. 

The first delay of the day came moments after the presidential motorcade completed a ceremonial parade lap around the 2 1/2-mile track. Trump's armored limousine nicknamed "The Beast" exited Daytona International Speedway, and the sky opened for a brief shower that forced drivers back to pit road.

The start already had been pushed back 13 minutes to accommodate Trump's trip. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. eventually led the field to the green flag and was out front for the first 20 laps before heavier rain soaked a racing surface that takes hours to dry.

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