News briefs: The doctor who reported the virus dies in China

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Japan on Friday reported 41 new cases of a virus on a quarantined cruise ship and turned away another luxury liner while the death toll in mainland China rose to 636, including a doctor who got in trouble with authorities in the communist country for sounding an early warning about the disease threat. 

Following an online uproar over the government's treatment of Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, the ruling Communist Party said it was sending an investigation team to "fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public" regarding the case. 

Two docked cruise ships with thousands of passengers and crew members remained under 14-day quarantines in Hong Kong and Japan. 

Before Friday's 41 confirmed cases, 20 infected passengers were escorted off the Diamond Princess at Yokohama near Tokyo. About 3,700 people have been confined aboard the ship.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that Japan will deny entry of foreign passengers on another cruise ship — Holland America's cruise ship Westerdam, on its way to Okinawa from Hong Kong — because of suspected virus patients found on board. The Seattle-based operator denied anyone had virus. 

Democrats prepare for New Hampshire debate as urgency rises

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — The Democratic Party's seven strongest presidential contenders are preparing for what could be the fiercest debate stage clash of the 2020 primary season as candidates look to survive the gauntlet of contests that lie ahead.

The field has been shaken and reshaped by chaotic Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and Friday's debate in New Hampshire — coming four days before the state's primary — offers new opportunity and risk for the shrinking pool of White House hopefuls.

Two candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Midwestern mayor Pete Buttigieg, enter the night as the top targets, having emerged from Iowa essentially tied for the lead. Those trailing after the first contest — including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — have an urgent need to demonstrate strength. 

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, are fighting to prove they belong in the conversation. 

The rapidly evolving dynamic means that the candidates have a very real incentive to mix it up with their Democratic rivals in the 8 p.m. debate hosted by ABC. They may not get another chance.

Trump's acquittal confronts Dems with election year choices

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump's impeachment ended with a reminder of why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted the idea for so long — an acquittal everyone saw coming, followed by a bombastic presidential victory lap and a bump in his poll numbers just as the 2020 campaign officially began.

Now Democrats have to decide how to navigate the legislative and political landscape that they've helped reshape. 

Pelosi's nationally televised ripping of her copy of Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night underscored the acrid atmosphere that will make partisan cooperation on any issue difficult. Major legislative compromises were always going to be hard this election year, but the impeachment fight only deepened partisan bitterness and made progress less likely. 

"Because we have to," No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said when asked how Congress and Trump could cooperate on health care and other issues. He added, "I'd be foolish to be optimistic because we have not done that so far."

Democrats must also decide how vigorously to continue investigations, including into impeachment's focus: Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine's leaders to bolster his reelection by seeking dirt on rival Joe Biden. The GOP-controlled Senate acquitted Trump on Wednesday of both articles of impeachment, with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney the sole lawmaker defying party lines. 

Anger at Trump plan could mobilize Arab voters in Israel

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (AP) — It might have seemed to be one of the more innocuous elements in President Donald Trump's deeply divisive Middle East peace initiative: the suggestion that a densely populated Arab region of Israel be added to a future Palestinian state, if both sides agree.

Instead, the proposal has infuriated many of Israel's Arab citizens, who view it as a form of forced transfer. They want no part in the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump administration, with many comparing it to the areas set aside for black South Africans as part of the apartheid government's policy of racial segregation.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also has adamantly rejected the plan, which would allow Israel to annex all of its settlements and large parts of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with limited autonomy in an archipelago of enclaves surrounded by Israel.

Inside Israel, outrage over the plan could once again mobilize Arab voters ahead of elections next month, potentially denying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another term and throwing the implementation of the Trump plan — already a long shot — into greater doubt.

Arab citizens make up about 20% of Israel's population. They can vote but face discrimination and higher levels of poverty. They have close family ties to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and many identify as Palestinians. But they are also deeply rooted in lands that are now part of Israel, and most are immersed in Israeli society. Their political parties advocate reform, not partition.

Bad weather moves into Eastern states; 4 dead in South

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Nearly 150,000 homes and businesses in the southeastern United States were without power early Friday after a powerful storm raked the region. At least four people were killed. 

Florida bore the brunt of the power outages, with nearly 75,000, according to poweroutages.us. The Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia also reported outages, and tornado watches and warnings were in effect Thursday night from northern Florida up through North Carolina.

The National Weather Service advised early Friday that the storm system was strengthening in the mid-Atlantic region, bringing snow, ice and rain northward.

The weather destroyed mobile homes in Mississippi and Alabama, caused mudslides in Tennessee and Kentucky and flooded communities that shoulder waterways across the Appalachian region. Rain kept falling over a path of splintered trees and sagging power lines that stretched from Louisiana into Virginia. School districts canceled classes in state after state as bad weather rolled through.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday evening because of heavy rains and extreme flooding. More than 500 people in southwestern Virginia were displaced by flooding and needed rescue from their homes, he said in a statement. 

Heavy rain, floods lash eastern Australia, help with fires

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Heavy rains lashed parts of the wildfire and drought-stricken Australian east coast on Friday, bringing some flooding in Sydney and relief to firefighters still dealing with dozens of blazes in New South Wales.

New South Wales is the state hardest hit by wildfires that have killed at least 33 and destroyed more than 3,000 homes in an unprecedented fire season that began late in a record-dry 2019.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he was optimistic the rain will help extinguish some blazes over the coming days. He said there were still 42 fires burning in the state, with 17 of those not contained.

"The rain is good for business and farms as well as being really good for quenching some of these fires we've been dealing with for many, many months," he said.

"We don't want to see lots of widespread damage and disruption from flooding, but it is certainly a welcome change to the relentless campaign of hot, dry weather," he added.

High water wreaks havoc on Great Lakes, swamping communities

MANISTEE, Mich. (AP) — Rita Alton has an unusual morning routine these days: Wake up. Get dressed. Go outside to see if her house is closer to tumbling down an 80-foot (24.4-meter) cliff into Lake Michigan.

When her father built the 1,000-square-foot (93-square-meter), brick bungalow in the early 1950s near Manistee, Michigan, more than acre of land lay between it and the drop-off overlooking the giant freshwater sea. But erosion has accelerated dramatically as the lake approaches its highest levels in recorded history, hurling powerful waves into the mostly clay bluff.

Now, the jagged clifftop is about eight feet from Alton's back deck.

"It's never been like this, never," she said on a recent morning, peering down the snow-dusted hillside as bitter gusts churned surf along the shoreline below. "The destruction is just incredible."

On New Year's Eve, an unoccupied cottage near Muskegon, Michigan, plunged from an embankment to the water's edge. Another down the coast was dismantled a month earlier to prevent the same fate.

January US jobs report may provide clarity amid disruptions

WASHINGTON (AP) — With China's viral outbreak disrupting trade and Boeing's troubles weighing on American factories, the January U.S. jobs report on Friday may provide timely evidence of the U.S. economy's enduring health. 

Economists estimate that employers added 161,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate remained at a 50-year low of 3.5%, according to data provider FactSet. That pace of hiring would be weaker than the monthly average of the past two years yet still more than enough to reduce unemployment over time.

The closely watched jobs report comes in the same week that President Donald Trump boasted of his economic record in his State of the Union address, previewing a central campaign theme in his re-election bid. 

Friday's hiring figures may call into question some of the president's triumphalism about the job market under his watch. Along with January's hiring data, the Labor Department is expected to report that the United States had 500,000 fewer jobs in March 2019 than previously estimated. That would be a relatively small change in an economy with 150 million jobs. But it would still indicate that there was less hiring in the 12 months that ended in March, at a time of robust economic growth, than had been assumed.

"It takes a little bloom off the rose," said Joe Brusuelas, an economist at RSM, a tax advisory and consulting firm. 

Shrinking country: Serbia struggles with population decline

BLAGOJEV KAMEN, Serbia (AP) — Uros Trainovic remembers when his small mining village in eastern Serbia was a vibrant home to 200 families, had a school of its own, a doctor and a shop. 

How times have changed. Now, 60-odd years later, it's a ghost village with just eight residents. 

The transformation of Blagojev Kamen is not unique in a country that experienced years of war and sanctions in the 1990s following the break-up of Yugoslavia. In a twist of historical irony, one of the causes behind those years of war was the idea of creating a Greater Serbia out of the ashes of the former Yugoslavia.

Near-empty villages with abandoned, crumbling houses can be seen all over Serbia — a clear symptom of a shrinking population that is raising acute questions over the economic well-being of the country. The decline is happening so fast it's considered a national emergency and the United Nations has stepped in to help. 

"This village used to be full of people, I used to go to school here," the 71-year-old Trainovic recalls. 

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