News briefs: Iran lawmaker says 50 dead from new virus in city of Qom

Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, a lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday, even as the Health Ministry insisted only 12 deaths have been recorded to date in the country. 

The new death toll reported by the Qom representative, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, is significantly higher than the latest number of nationwide confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier, which stood at 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV. 

Health Ministry spokesman Iraj Harirchi rejected the Qom lawmaker's claims, insisting the death toll from the virus remains at 12.

However, he raised the number of confirmed cases from the virus to 61. Some 900 other suspected cases are being tested, he said.

"No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all," Haririchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statics and could be mixing figures on deaths related to other diseases like the flu with the new virus, which first emerged in China in December.

South Korean cases jump, China counts 150 more virus deaths

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea reported another large jump in new virus cases Monday a day after the the president called for "unprecedented, powerful" steps to combat the outbreak that is increasingly confounding attempts to stop the spread.

The231 new cases bring South Korea's total to833cases, and two more deaths raise its toll to seven. 

China also reported 409 new cases on Monday, raising the mainland's total to 77,150 after a zigzag pattern of increases in recent days. The 150 new deaths from the COVID-19 illness raised China's total to 2,592 and showed a spike after hovering around 100 for four days. All but one death were in Hubei province, where the outbreak emerged in December.

Significant jumps in cases outside China have raised concern of the outbreak getting out of control. South Korea has the third-highest national total behind China and Japan, and cases have rapidly increased in Italy and Iran in just a few days.

Most of Japan's cases were from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where nearly one-fifth of its 3,711 passengers and crew became infected.

Italy tries to contain virus as neighbors fear its spread

CODOGNO, Italy (AP) — Police manned checkpoints around quarantined towns in Italy's north on Monday as authorities sought to contain cases of COVID-19 virus that have made Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe and fears of its cross-border spread.

At least 190 people in Italy's north have tested positive for the virus and four people have died, including an 84-year-old man who died overnight in Bergamo, the Lombardy regional government reported.

But officials still haven't pinpointed the origin of the contagion, which by Monday had spread to more than a half-dozen regions and prompted Austria to temporarily halt rail traffic across its border with Italy.

"These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change," EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in Brussels. "We need to take this situation of course very seriously, but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation."

Italy's neighbors Slovenia and Croatia, which are popular destinations for Italian tourists and whose own citizens often travel to Italy, were holding crisis meetings Monday, although neither reported any cases. Croatia announced it would monitor any travelers coming from Italy, including Croatian children returning from school trips. 

India pours on the pageantry with colorful welcome for Trump

AHMEDABAD, INDIA (AP) — Basking in adulation from a massive, colorful crowd, President Donald Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lavished each other with praise Monday in a reaffirmation of U.S.-India ties as the subcontinent poured on the pageantry in a joyful welcome for the U.S. president.

More than 100,000 people packed the world's largest cricket stadium in Modi's home state to give Trump the biggest rally crowd of his political career. The event was the pinnacle of the day's enviable trio of presidential photo-ops, and was sandwiched between Trump's visits to a former home of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and a planned tour of the famed Taj Mahal.

Nearly everyone in the newly constructed stadium in Ahmedabad in western India sported a white cap with the name of the event, "Namaste, Trump" or "Welcome, Trump," and roared for the introductions of both leaders. 

But miles away in the capital of New Delhi, Indian police used tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse a crowd of clashing protesters hours before Trump was due to arrive, as violence broke out over a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims. Anti-Trump street demonstrations also erupted in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Gauhati, but not in the city where Trump was welcomed to India.

Embarking on a whirlwind 36-hour visit, Trump opened his speech in Ahmedabad by declaring that he had traveled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that "America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people."

Sanders' 2016 movement now has political machine to push it

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — By the fall of 2018, when Democrats were promoting a slate of centrist candidates to topple Republicans in Congress, Bernie Sanders was seeing a very different picture.

The Vermont senator and avowed democratic socialist was convinced his most fervent supporters were as energized as ever, ready to rally around the political insurgency flag he planted in 2016. He could keep stoking the deep frustration and mistrust of the political system and attract backers who had felt too disillusioned to bother voting in the past — much like President Donald Trump had on the right. 

Sanders, 78, the oldest candidate in the race, also saw his unwavering commitment to universal health care, combating climate change, canceling student debt, and tuition-free college continuing to excite young people, including Latinos who came to call him "Tio" (uncle) Bernie. 

And, most importantly, he was sure he'd have the money, enough consistent financial backing built on mostly small donations made online from around the country, to finish what he started in 2016, rising from an unknown nationally to a credible challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

This time, Sanders' movement has a political machine to propel it. 

Extradition hearing to begin for WikiLeaks founder Assange

LONDON (AP) — Supporters of Julian Assange gathered Monday outside a high-security London courthouse, where a judge opened a hearing into a U.S. extradition case against the WikiLeaks founder.

The courtroom showdown comes a decade after WikiLeaks infuriated American authorities by publishing a trove of classified military documents. 

Assange, 48, entered the dock at Woolwich Crown Court's court number 2, and spoke to confirm his name and date of birth. He nodded towards reporters before taking his seat.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser will begin hearing arguments from lawyers for U.S. authorities, who want to try Assange on espionage charges that carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

The extradition hearing follows years of subterfuge, diplomatic dispute and legal drama that have led the 48-year-old Australian from fame as an international secret-spiller through self-imposed exile inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to incarceration in a maximum-security British prison.

Mahathir offers resignation in Malaysian political upheaval

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation to Malaysia's king on Monday while his political party quit the ruling alliance, in a shocking political upheaval less than two years after his election victory. 

The prime minister's office said in a brief statement that Mahathir, 94, submitted his resignation to the palace at 1 p.m. but gave no further details. Mahathir also quit as chairman of his Bersatu party.

The stunning turn of events come amid plans by Mahathir's supporters in Bersatu to team with opposition parties to form a new government and thwart the transition of power to his named successor, Anwar Ibrahim.

Minutes before his resignation was offered, Bersatu said it would leave the four-party Alliance of Hope and support Mahathir as the prime minister. Eleven other lawmakers, including several Cabinet ministers, also announced they are quitting Anwar's party to form an independent bloc. 

The withdrawal of more than three dozen lawmakers means the ruling alliance has lost its majority in Parliament, throwing the country into an uncertain future and sparking fears of more turmoil over how the political drama will play out.

Netanyahu banks on Trump plan to drive up pro-settler votes

ATERET, West Bank (AP) — With Israel's prime minister eager to court the votes of the country's influential West Bank settlers, President Donald Trump's Mideast plan seemed to be the key to ramping up their support ahead of critical elections next week.

The plan envisions Israel's eventual annexation of its scores of West Bank settlements — a longtime settler dream. But in the weeks since it was unveiled, Benjamin Netanyahu has stumbled over his promises to quickly carry out the annexation, sparking an outcry from settler leaders and threatening any goodwill he hoped to gain from the plan.

"If there is something that undermines the stability of the campaign in Netanyahu's eyes, it is attacks from the right," the columnist Mati Tuchfeld wrote in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom. "It is not only the fate of Judea and Samaria that is on the line. His political fate is as well." Judea and Samaria is the biblical name for the West Bank.

Israel heads to the polls for the third time in less than a year next Monday. The previous two rounds ended in deadlock, with neither Netanyahu nor his challenger Benny Gantz able to secure a 61-seat parliamentary majority. Pre-election polls show a similar impasse emerging from the next vote.

Facing a corruption trial two weeks after the election, Netanyahu is desperate to remain prime minister, a position he can use to rally public support as he fights the charges. 

German Carnival floats take aim at racism in wake of attack

BERLIN (AP) — Biting commentary on racism in Germany featured prominently Monday among Carnival floats in western cities, hastily put together in the aftermath of a deadly far-right attack last week near Frankfurt. 

The floats for parades in Cologne, Duesseldorf, Mainz and elsewhere are notorious for their no-holds-barred satire, and also took aim at Brexit, the potential candidates to take over leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, and U.S. President Donald Trump. One even featured a clown-like figure labeled "Carnival-Virus" thumbing its nose at an evil looking "Corona-Virus" creature. 

Last Wednesday, a 43-year-old German man who had posted a racist screed online advocating genocide gunned down nine people of foreign background in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau, before apparently killing himself and his mother.

It was the latest in a string of far-right attacks in Germany and many have pointed the finger at the Alternative for Germany party, suggesting its nationalist anti-migrant rhetoric has helped create the climate for violence.

One Duesseldorf float depicted a red-faced man yelling in rage, a pistol protruding from his mouth with the word "racism" on the barrel. On the side was the slogan "from words come deeds" and a list of the attacks, including Hanau.

Los Angeles honors Kobe, Gianna Bryant with public memorial

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thousands of mourners will gather in Staples Center on Monday to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.

The Celebration of Life will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant's impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant's on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant's family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant's public life are expected to attend. 

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