News briefs: US cruise ship in limbo as anti-virus controls spread

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Officials in California were deciding Saturday where to dock a cruise ship with 21 coronavirus cases aboard and four U.S. universities canceled in-person classes as Western countries imitate China by imposing travel controls and shutting down public events to contain the outbreak.

The Grand Princess cruise ship was waiting off San Francisco with 3,500 people aboard. Authorities want it to go to a non-commercial port for everyone aboard to be tested amid evidence the ship was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of 10 cases during an earlier voyage.

"Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it," said Vice President Mike Pence.

President Donald Trump, speaking at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said he would have preferred not to let the passengers disembark onto American soil but would defer to the recommendations of medical experts.

In Egypt, a cruise ship on the Nile with more than 150 passengers and crew was under quarantine in the southern city of Luxor after 12 people tested positive for the virus. The passengers include American, French and Indian travelers.

Coronavirus concerns stalls cruise ship off California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thousands of people were confined to a cruise ship circling in international waters off the San Francisco Bay Area Saturday after 21 passengers and crew members tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Grand Princess was forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of more than 10 cases during its previous voyage.

Meantime, Florida reported two coronavirus deaths — the first outside of the West Coast. Health officials said two people in their 70s who had traveled overseas died in Santa Rosa County in Florida's Panhandle and in the Fort Myers area. Florida also raised the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the new virus strain, from four to seven.

The U.S. death toll from the virus climbed to 16, with all but three victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to over 200, scattered across about half the states. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska reported their first cases.

In California, state authorities were working with federal officials around-the-clock to bring the Grand Princess cruise ship to a non-commercial port over the weekend and test everyone for the virus. There was no immediate word on where the vessel will dock.

Trump names Rep. Mark Meadows his new chief of staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the midst of one of the most daunting crises of his administration, President Donald Trump announced he had made a major staff overhaul, replacing his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows.

While much of the country was focused on the spreading coronavirus, Trump announced the surprise reshuffle by Friday night tweet, saying Mulvaney would become the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland. 

"I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one," he wrote, thanking Mulvaney — who never shook his "acting" title — "for having served the Administration so well."

The long-rumored move comes as Trump has been pulling together a team of loyalists and allies ahead of what is expected to be a bitter reelection fight. But the timing — as his administration was already facing criticism over its handling of the outbreak — threatened to exacerbate concerns about the government's ability to protect the nation from a virus that has now infected more than 100,000 people worldwide. Meadows will be Trump's fourth chief of staff in as many years.

Mulvaney had been leading the administration's interagency response to the virus until Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence to lead the whole-of-government effort more than a week ago. 

Trump's challenge: keeping his act fresh in reelection year

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump show has a consistent script. Same villains. Same nicknames. Same grievances. Same hero: himself.

At raucous friendly rallies — mostly in states friendly to him — the president tell his audiences he could be presidential if he chose to be, even Lincolnesque. But that, he says, would be boring.

"It's easy to be presidential but only have about three people in front of me," President Donald Trump said at one recent rally, before breaking into a monotone imitation of a droning politician. "Doing this takes far more talent than doing that. Doing that is very easy. This is not easy."

As he seeks re-election with little variance from the themes that brought him to power four years ago, a central challenge for Donald Trump will be to keep those audiences satisfied, to make sure, like a great entertainer, that the act isn't getting old. 

The president retains robust approval ratings among Republicans but even that fealty will be tested as he asks voters for another four years essentially offering them not new promises but more of the same.

Clyburn's kingmaker moment changes landscape of 2020 race

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — At a funeral service last month, Jannie Jones locked eyes with Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn across the church sanctuary and crooked a finger, beckoning him to come over to the pew where she sat. She had a question, but she didn't want to ask it out loud.

The House majority whip bent down so the 76-year-old Jones could whisper in his ear: "I need to know who you're going to vote for," she asked.

Clyburn whispered back, "Joe Biden."

Giving Clyburn a thumbs up, Jones wondered if he'd endorse the former vice president publicly.

"I had no idea he was going to do it," Jones recalled in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in Hopkins, South Carolina, outside the capital city of Columbia.

Heavy police raids leave east Jerusalem neighborhood on edge

JERUSALEM (AP) — Murad Mahmoud's 14-year-old son has been detained by Israeli police in his east Jerusalem neighborhood three times in the last two years. His 10-year-old has been interrogated by police in combat gear. These days, he keeps all six of his children inside most of the time, fearing even worse. 

"I won't even let them go to the corner store," he says. "I'm not just afraid they'll be arrested, I'm afraid they'll lose an eye or get shot in the head."

Nearly every day for the last nine months Israeli police have stormed into the Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiya in east Jerusalem in a campaign they say is needed to maintain law and order. Rights groups say that in addition to searching houses and issuing fines, they have detained hundreds of people — some as young as 10 — on suspicion of stone-throwing.

The operations frequently ignite clashes, with local youths throwing rocks and firebombs, which police say justifies their heightened presence. 

But residents and human rights groups say the raids themselves seem intended to provoke confrontations and have created an atmosphere of terror, with parents afraid to let their children play outside. Last month, a 9-year-old boy was shot in the face by police, losing an eye in an incident authorities say they are still investigating.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard seeks absolution in virus fight

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Wearing gas masks and waterproof fatigues, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard now spray down streets and hospitals with disinfectants as the Islamic Republic faces one of the world's worst outbreaks of the new coronavirus.

Its commanders likely hope it also will wash away something else — the anger the public feels toward the powerful paramilitary force stained by its shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet in January. All 176 people on board — most of them Iranian citizens — were killed. 

The push by the Guard comes as the new virus has infected and killed members of Iranian officialdom. Ensuring the survival of the government — as well as its own place in power — remains paramount amid one of the world's deadliest virus outbreaks outside of China. Fear over the virus and the government's waning credibility has become a major challenge to Iran's leaders, who already are reeling under the weight of American sanctions.

"We have prepared all our health care facilities and specialized cadres that will expand this sacred jihad," said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands the Guard's volunteer Basij force. 

That the Guard is involved in the relief effort of a major catastrophe is not surprising in Iran. The Guard, whose forces include an estimated 125,000-plus troops and 600,000 mission-ready volunteers, routinely respond to the earthquakes that shake the country. Recent floods saw its troops mobilize as well.

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One more victory: Biden wins most Super Tuesday delegates

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden has put an exclamation point on his Super Tuesday victories by winning the most delegates on the presidential primary calendar's biggest night.

The Associated Press has allocated more than 92% of the 1,344 delegates that were up for grabs on Tuesday, and Biden has such a commanding lead that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders cannot catch up as the remaining votes from that day's 14 state primaries are counted.

Biden built his delegate lead on Tuesday by racking up huge victories in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, while scoring a narrow win in Texas. In all, Biden won 10 states and Sanders won four.

"Look, not long ago the press and the pundits declared this campaign dead, but this week we saw tremendous support across the nation," Biden told supporters by phone Friday evening. "We changed the whole narrative."

Sanders won California and three other states — Colorado, Utah and his home state of Vermont. Although Sanders won the biggest state, California, he didn't rack up the commanding lead required to surpass Biden's haul.

Gadgets for tech giants made with coerced Uighur labor

NANCHANG, China (AP) — In a lively Muslim quarter of Nanchang city, a sprawling Chinese factory turns out computer screens, cameras and fingerprint scanners for a supplier to international tech giants such as Apple and Lenovo. Throughout the neighborhood, women in headscarves stroll through the streets, and Arabic signs advertise halal supermarkets and noodle shops.

Yet the mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs who labor in the factory are isolated within a walled compound that is fortified with security cameras and guards at the entrance. Their forays out are limited to rare chaperoned trips, they are not allowed to worship or cover their heads, and they must attend special classes in the evenings, according to former and current workers and shopkeepers in the area.

The connection between OFILM, the supplier that owns the Nanchang factory, and the tech giants is the latest sign that companies outside China are benefiting from coercive labor practices imposed on the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, and other minorities. 

Over the past four years, the Chinese government has detained more than a million people from the far west Xinjiang region, most of them Uighurs, in internment camps and prisons where they go through forced ideological and behavioral re-education. China has long suspected the Uighurs of harboring separatist tendencies because of their distinct culture, language and religion.

When detainees "graduate" from the camps, documents show, many are sent to work in factories. A dozen Uighurs and Kazakhs told the AP they knew people who were sent by the state to work in factories in China's east, known as inner China — some from the camps, some plucked from their families, some from vocational schools. Most were sent by force, although in a few cases it wasn't clear if they consented. 

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