News briefs: Virus fears grip South Korean city ... 'still alive?'

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A woman wearing vinyl gloves on a subway train. Guests donning masks at a sparsely attended wedding ceremony. People feverishly stocking up on instant noodles and rice. Friends calling each other and asking if they're still alive.

Fears of a soaring viral outbreak are gripping the South Korean city of Daegu and the surrounding area, with residents struggling as they try to stay away from a virus that has already sickened hundreds of people in the region, killing at least 10 of them.

"We call each other here and half-jokingly ask whether they are alive and tell each other not to wander around," Choe Hee-suk, a 37-year-old office worker, said by phone. 

The region hadn't reported a single case until Feb. 18, when a Daegu woman in her early 60s tested positive for the virus that first emerged in China.

But a week later, more than 790 cases have been reported around the city of 2.5 million people in the country's southeast, a sudden jump that has prompted concerns that the outbreak is getting out of control.

UAE bans Iran flights over virus; at least 15 dead in Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday banned all flights to and from Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus, just a day after its spread from the Islamic Republic was announced across multiple Mideast nations. Iran meanwhile raised the official death toll from the virus to 15 killed amid 95 confirmed infections.

The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran's 80 million people. The flight ban, which will last at least a week, shows the growing concern over the spread of the virus in Iran amid worries the outbreak may be larger than what authorities there now acknowledge.

The Emirates' General Civil Aviation Authority made the announcement via the country's state-run WAM news agency, just hours after Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, said there would be restrictions on flights there.

"All passenger and cargo aircraft traveling to and from Iran will be suspended for a period of one week, and could be up for extension," the authority said. "The decision is a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus."

Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.

Democrats unload on Sanders in likely debate preview

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Bernie Sanders is facing the greatest test of his presidential campaign as his Democratic rivals prepare to launch a series of attacks on the Vermont senator during what could be a pivotal debate on the eve of the South Carolina primary.

With mounting fear among the Democratic establishment that the self-described democratic socialist is on the verge of gaining a significant lead in the delegates needed to secure the nomination, several candidates are resorting to a last ditch effort to stop him. The day before Tuesday night's debate in Charleston, they previewed their lines of attack in a series of digital or television advertisements.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, highlighted Sanders' call for a government-financed health care system as an example of his "polarization." Former Vice President Joe Biden accused Sanders of trying to undermine President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection. And former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg assailed Sanders' record on gun control.

The new wave of infighting came just hours before seven Democrats were set to meet for the party's 10th — and perhaps most consequential — debate of the 2020 primary season. And it marked a seminal moment in Sanders' political career. After spending decades as an outside agitator accustomed to attacking the party establishment, he's suddenly the one on defense.

His handling of the pressure could be crucial in determining whether he stays at the top of the Democratic pack. During a town hall Monday night televised on CNN, Sanders said he expected the attacks. But he still seemed to be adjusting to his new status. 

Years of largesse give Bloomberg his own political machine

When Mike Bloomberg held a rally this month at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the signs of his wealth and influence were everywhere.

Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, long a paid adviser to one of Bloomberg's charitable programs and now to his campaign, warmed up the crowd with chants of "Mike will get it done!" That followed a performance of the Nick Jonas song "Jealous" by an a capella group from the University of Pennsylvania, where Bloomberg has funded public health research.

"Bloomberg interns" have worked at the National Constitution Center and other Philadelphia cultural sites thanks to his largesse, and Bloomberg gave the center's former CEO a $50,000 donation for his successful 2016 run for state treasurer.

Across the city, soda sales had dropped after a 2017 tax increase that Bloomberg spent millions to pass, study and defend with the support of Mayor Jim Kenney, whose reelection he backed last year with $1 million in outside spending. And the Bloomberg-endorsed state attorney general was leading a data-driven campaign against gun crime in the city.

Bloomberg told the crowd that his spending had transformed American life: It helped shut down 300 coal-fired power plants, strengthen gun laws in 20 states and flip the U.S. House to a Democratic majority. The self-made business news and information tycoon boasted that he would be the only New York billionaire in a race against President Donald Trump, who has been accused of exaggerating his riches and running a fake charity.

Trump expresses optimism about eventual US-India trade deal

NEW DELHI (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he's optimistic about the prospects of inking a trade deal with India despite moves by both sides that created doubt about the ability to reach an agreement.

Trump emerged from a pair of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi citing progress toward a deal but offering no details. Trump had made clear before the trip that hammering out a long-sought trade deal with India was unlikely during the two-day trip.

"Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I'm optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries," Trump told reporters on the second and final day of his whirlwind, 36-hour, first official visit to India.

The day began with an elaborate welcome ceremony in front of the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, continuing the pomp and pageantry the Indian government had lavished on Trump a day earlier. 

Cannons fired as the president's armored car, nicknamed "The Beast," rolled through the palace gates accompanied by a parade of red-uniformed guards on horseback. The ceremony included hundreds of military officials, marching with instruments and swords, as well as an official greeting by India's president and Modi.

In SC, Buttigieg faces black voters wary of a gay candidate

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina state Sen. Gerald Malloy is fine with a gay presidential candidate like Pete Buttigieg. His older male relatives are not — and that may be the defining challenge of Buttigieg's campaign.

As Buttigieg tries to sustain his early success in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has to prove that he can win over African American voters, who make up the vital core of the party base. A relatively small but nonetheless influential number of black South Carolinians may be resistant to him because of his sexuality.

"He's got to convince people like my dad and my uncles, when they still unfortunately subscribe to stereotypes," said Malloy, who is black and lives in Hartsville, a small town in rural northeast South Carolina with a black population of almost 50%.

A poll commissioned by Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, this month found that it made no difference in the decision-making to 79% of African American voters if a candidate for president is gay. The number was only slightly lower than white voters. Conversely, 16% of black voters said they'd be less likely to support a gay candidate, slightly higher than white voters, at 13%. But in a primary race with several candidates, that small percentage could make a major difference in the outcome.

Buttigieg is appealing for the support of black voters in part as a person guided by Christian faith and in part as a matter of inclusiveness. That approach worked among Iowa's and New Hampshire's vastly white electorates, where he finished in the top two. A poor showing in South Carolina, where black voters could make up two-thirds of the Democratic primary electorate, might suggest that he cannot win over black Democrats. 

Weinstein case could influence other sex crime prosecutions

NEW YORK (AP) — New York prosecutorsare hailing Harvey Weinstein's conviction as a pivotal moment that could change the way the legal system views a type of sexual assault case historically considered difficult to prove.

Most of the women who testified against Weinstein stayed in contact with him — and sometimes had consensual sexual encounters with him — after alleged attacks. None promptly reported his crimes. There was little physical evidence to bolster their stories.

The jury convicted anyway, finding the producer guilty of raping one woman in 2013 and sexually assaulting another in 2006.

"This is a new day," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said after the verdict was announced. "Rape is rape whether the survivor reports within an hour, within a year or perhaps never. It's rape despite the complicated dynamics of power and consent after an assault. It's rape even if there is no physical evidence."

But some women's advocates cautioned that it's too soon to know how much the legal landscape has shifted.

US opera union probe finds Plácido Domingo abused power

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An investigation into legendary singer Plácido Domingo by the U.S. union representing opera performers found more than two dozen people who said they were sexually harassed or witnessed inappropriate behavior by the superstar when he held senior management positions at Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera, according to people familiar with the findings.

The investigation, conducted by lawyers hired by the American Guild of Musical Artists, concluded that the accounts from 27 people showed a clear pattern of sexual misconduct and abuse of power by Domingo spanning at least two decades, according to those who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the findings. 

In response to a request for comment from the AP, Domingo issued a statement saying: "I have taken time over the last several months to reflect on the allegations that various colleagues of mine have made against me. I respect that these women finally felt comfortable enough to speak out, and I want them to know that I am truly sorry for the hurt that I caused them. I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I have grown from this experience."

The union's investigation was the first of two independent inquiries launched after multiple women accused Domingo of sexual harassment and abusing his power in two AP stories published last year. The second inquiry, still ongoing, was launched by LA Opera, where Domingo had been general director since 2003 before resigning in October.

According to the people familiar with the contents of the union's investigation, lawyers from the firm Cozen O'Connor interviewed 55 people from September until late December. In addition to the 27 who said they experienced or witnessed sexually suggestive behavior on the part of Domingo in the 1990s and 2000s, 12 others said they were aware of the star's reputation and that it was common knowledge at the two companies.

Syrian father teaches daughter to laugh when the bombs fall

BEIRUT (AP) — Abdullah Mohammed would do anything for his daughter, even forcing himself to laugh with her at the sound of bombs to help her overcome her fear. 

In Idlib, that's a lot of laughter.

The province in northwestern Syria is the last opposition-held stronghold in the war-ravaged country. It has been the subject of a ferocious military campaign and relentless bombardment by Russia-backed Syrian government troops since early December. More than 900,000 civilians have been on the move since then, displaced from their homes. Many now live in tents, abandoned buildings, makeshift shelters and in open fields near the Turkish border.

As the advancing troops neared his hometown of Saraqeb two months ago, Mohammed fled with his wife and daughter further north to the town of Sarmada, where they are now staying in an abandoned house offered to him by a friend.

Mohammed and his daughter, 3-year-old Salwa, became overnight celebrities after a video they shot was shared widely on social media — a reminder of the horrors faced by children in Syria. In the video, Salwa, wearing a pink dress, stands on a sofa next to her father. 

Asian shares extend losses after Dow drops more than 1,000

Shares are mostly lower in Asia on Tuesday after Wall Street suffered its worst session in two years, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumping more than 1,000 points on fears that a viral outbreak that began in China will weaken the world economy. 

Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 3 percent, to 22,686.61 after it reopened from a holiday on Monday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged 0.2 percent lower to 26,777.88 and the Shanghai Composite index sank 1.6 percent to 2,984.19. In Australia, the S&P ASX/200 shed 1.2 percent to 6,896.10. 

South Korea's Kospi rebounded from a steep loss on Monday, adding 0.6 percent to 2,091.80. Shares also rose in Singapore but fell elsewhere in the region. 

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's main benchmark dropped 2.7% amid a political upheaval after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad offered his resignation to Malaysia's king while his political party quit the ruling alliance. 

Overnight on Wall Street, traders sought safety in U.S. government bonds, gold and high-dividend stocks like utilities and real estate. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to the lowest level in more than three years.

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