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Turkey Uighurs fear sellout to China in exchange for vaccine

BEIJING (AP) — Abdullah Metseydi, a Uighur in Turkey, was readying for bed last month when he heard commotion, then pounding on the door. "Police! Open the door!"

A dozen or more officers poured in, many bearing guns and wearing the camouflage of Turkey's anti-terror force. They asked if Metseydi had participated in any movements against China and threatened to deport him and his wife. They took him to a deportation facility, where he now sits at the center of a brewing political controversy.

Opposition legislators in Turkey are accusing Ankara's leaders of secretly selling out Uighurs to China in exchange for coronavirus vaccines. Tens of millions of vials of promised Chinese vaccines have not yet been delivered. Meanwhile, in recent months, Turkish police have raided and detained around 50 Uighurs in deportation centers, lawyers say — a sharp uptick from last year. 

Although no hard evidence has yet emerged for a quid pro quo, these legislators and the Uighurs fear that Beijing is using the vaccines as leverage to win passage of an extradition treaty. The treaty was signed years ago but suddenly ratified by China in December, and could come before Turkish lawmakers as soon as this month.

Uighurs say the bill, once law, could bring their ultimate life-threatening nightmare: Deportation back to a country they fled to avoid mass detention. More than a million Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities have been swept into prisons and detention camps in China, in what China calls an anti-terrorism measure but the United States has declared a genocide.

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Fiercely divided House kicks Greene off both her committees

WASHINGTON (AP) — A fiercely divided House has tossed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she'd earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.

Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, nearly all Republicans voted against the Democratic move Thursday but none defended her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.

Yet in a riveting moment, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words "FREE SPEECH."

The chamber's near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump's presidency. He faces a Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.

Thursday's fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.

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US virus deaths surpass 450K; daily toll is stubbornly high

Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines.

Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year. New COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week, said the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But there's also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — including this Sunday, to watch football, she added.

"I'm worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Walensky said one reason cases and hospitalizations are not rising as dramatically as they were weeks ago is because the effect of holiday gatherings has faded.

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Israel, a global leader in COVID vaccinations, finds limits

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — When it comes to fighting the coronavirus, Israel is discovering the limits of vaccines.

The country famous for its high-tech prowess and spirit of innovation is home to the world's speediest vaccination drive, fueled from the top by national pride and a deep longing to start "getting back to life," as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it.

But experts say reopening the country will still take months, complicated by coronavirus mutations that have spread from Britain and South Africa, a refusal among some sectors to adhere to safety rules and wobbles in the pace of vaccinations of people under 60.

While the government is expected to begin easing a third nationwide lockdown in the coming days, there are likely to be further, partial closings as the threat ebbs and flows.

"This is going to be a balancing act," said Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center. 

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Pariah with benefits: US aiding Saudi defense despite chill

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden laid out a tougher line on Saudi Arabia than any U.S. president in decades. He said he would make the kingdom "pay the price" for human rights abuses and "make them in fact the pariah that they are."

But if Biden is making Saudi Arabia a pariah now, it's a pariah with benefits.

While Biden announced Thursday he was making good on his campaign commitment to end U.S. support for a five-year Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, his administration is making clear it won't abandon U.S. military assistance for the kingdom and plans to help Saudi Arabia strengthen its own defenses. 

His approach reflects the complexity of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. While Biden is taking a tougher line than his predecessors, he and his foreign policy team recognize the U.S. can't allow relations to unravel. They see the importance of maintaining aspects of a military, counterterrorism and security relationship seen as vital for security of both nations.

"The United States will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align and will not shy away from defending U.S. interests and values where they do not," the State Department said in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press.

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Myanmar resistance to coup builds despite army's pressures

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Nonviolent resistance to Myanmar's military coup gathered steam Friday, with public protests extending to several regions, including the tightly controlled capital, Naypyitaw.

The military has tried to quash opposition with selective arrests and by blocking Facebook access to prevent users from organizing protests. Facebook is most people's primary tool for accessing information on the internet, where traditional media is state-controlled or intimidated by threats of legal action by the state.

The latest politician detained is Win Htein, a senior member of the deposed ruling party, the National League for Democracy. He was seized at his home in Yangon, the country's biggest city, and taken to Naypyitaw early Friday, party spokesman Kyi Toe announced.

The military's takeover Monday began with the preemptive detention of senior government officials and politicians, including the country's leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. She is healthy and remains under house arrest at her her official residence in Naypyitaw, Kyi Toe said.

Win Htein, 79, is Suu Kyi's longtime confidante and had publicly called for civil disobedience in opposition to Monday's coup. He told Britain's BBC radio in a phone call early Friday that he was being arrested for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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Surprise tax forms reveal extent of unemployment fraud in US

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Unemployment agencies across the country were bombarded with so many claims during the pandemic that many struggled to distinguish the correct from the criminal.

Now, simple tax forms — barely enough to fill a half-sheet of paper — are revealing the extent of the identity theft that made state-run unemployment offices lucrative targets for fraud after millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Unemployment benefits are taxable, so government agencies must send a tax form — known as a 1099-G — to people who received the benefits so they can report the income on their tax returns. States are mailing 1099-Gs in huge numbers this year after processing and paying a record number of unemployment claims. 

Teri Finneman of Lawrence, Kansas, was surprised when she got a form saying she owed taxes on $1,500 in unemployment payments that she never received — a sign that someone likely stole her personal information and used it to claim benefits. 

"It is extremely frustrating how many Kansans have been impacted by this," she wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

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Moscow's jails overwhelmed with detained Navalny protesters

MOSCOW (AP) — The video, shot by a man detained in a Moscow protest, shows a group of people jammed into a police minibus. One of them says on the recording that they had already been held there for nine hours, with some forced to stand because of overcrowding and no access to food, water or bathrooms.

Another video taken in a dingy holding cell intended for eight inmates shows 28 men crammed inside awaiting transfer, with no mattresses on the cots and a filthy pit latrine-like toilet.

Detainees are recounting their miserable experiences as Moscow jails were overwhelmed following mass arrests from protests in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny this week. They described long waits to be processed through the legal system and crowded conditions with few coronavirus precautions.

"We were detained on Jan. 31 during a peaceful protest, and we ask for help and public attention to the inhumane conditions we're forced to be in," pleads the man in the police minibus video. The video was first posted Tuesday on the messaging app Telegram by Sasha Fishman, who received it from her friend Dmitry Yepishin, one of the detainees in the vehicle.

More than 11,000 protesters were reported detained across Russia in the pro-Navalny rallies on two straight weekends last month and in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Tuesday, after he was ordered by court to serve nearly three years in prison. 

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India clamps down on free speech to fight farmer protests

NEW DELHI (AP) — When Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of The Caravan, India's leading investigating magazine, logged onto Twitter on Monday, he was shocked to find the magazine's account blocked.

Jose was already dealing with a case of sedition and other charges against him, the magazine owners and a freelance journalist. At the heart of the allegations is the magazine's coverage of the ongoing farmers' protests that have gripped India for more than two months.

As the farmers camp out at the edges of the capital, protesting new agricultural laws they say will devastate their earnings, the mainstream and social media have come under unprecedented attacks from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. Critics say it has used the massive demonstrations to escalate a crackdown on free speech, detaining journalists and freezing Twitter accounts. 

"It's a very chilling development for the press," said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group.

Jose shared a screenshot of the blocked account from his personal handle. Soon outrage ensued. Activists, journalists and media watchdogs rushed to condemn Twitter, which said it had acted upon a "valid legal request" issued by an Indian authority.

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Super Bowl ads aim to comfort and connect

NEW YORK (AP) — Super Bowl ads each year offer a snapshot of the American psyche. And this year, it's a doozy.

After a year of pandemic fear and isolation, a tumultuous election capped by a riot at the Capitol, and periodic uncertainty as to whether there would even BE a Super Bowl, marketers have to tread carefully. The ideal: promote their brands to a weary audience looking for comfort and escapism without crossing any lines that might trigger viewers.

So Will Ferrell is teaming with GM — and Awkwafina and Kenan Thompson — on a madcap cross country dash to promote electric vehicles. Amazon toys with sexual innuendo when a woman is distracted by her new Alexa assistant that looks like the actor Michael B. Jordan. And Anheuser-Busch offers a hopeful look toward a time when we can say "let's get a beer" to friends and coworkers again.

"Comfort is key," said Villanova University marketing professor Charles Taylor. "Being edgy is going to get attention, but it risks getting out of the comfort zone at a time people have been cooped up in their homes and economic times are tough for many."

The prize for those who get the balance right? The chance to break into the psyche and (virtual) watercooler talk of an estimated 100 million viewers who will be watching the CBS broadcast of Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

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