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ZION, Illinois (AP) — A holy miracle happened in Zion 115 years ago. Or so millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world believe.

The Ahmadis view this small-sized city, 40 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, as a place of special religious significance for their global messianic faith. Their reverence for the community began more than a century ago -- with fighting words, a prayer duel and a prophecy.

Zion was founded in 1900 as a Christian theocracy by John Alexander Dowie, an evangelical and early Pentecostal preacher who drew thousands to the city with his faith healing ministry. The Ahmadis believe their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, defended the faith from Dowie’s verbal attacks against Islam, and defeated him in a sensational face-off armed only with prayers.

Most current residents may not have an inkling of that high-stakes holy fight of a bygone era. But, for the Ahmadis, it is one that has created an eternal bond with the city of Zion.

This weekend, thousands of Ahmadi Muslims from around the world have congregated in the city to celebrate that century-old miracle and a significant milestone in the life of Zion and of their faith: The building of the city’s first mosque.

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Dowie was born in Scotland in 1847. His family immigrated in 1860 to Australia, where he was ordained and became pastor of a Congregational church.

Dowie left Australia in 1888 for the United States where he grew in popularity with his healing ministry. Stories of Dowie’s miracles abound, including one about Sadie Cody, a niece of Buffalo Bill Cody, a celebrity known for his Wild West Show, who said her spinal tumor was healed by Dowie’s prayers.

With money accumulated from the faithful, Dowie bought 6,000 acres of land in Lake County, Illinois, hoping to establish a Christian utopia. Dowie’s laws forbade gambling, theaters, circuses, alcohol and tobacco. He also banned swearing, spitting, dancing, pork, oysters and tan-colored shoes. Whistling on Sunday was punishable by jail time.

The massive 8,000-seat Shiloh Tabernacle, built in 1900, became Zion’s religious center. It was there that Dowie appeared with his flowing white beard, robed in the brightly embroidered garments of an Old Testament high priest, and declared himself “Elijah the Restorer.”

While he welcomed Black people and immigrants into Zion, Dowie had harsh words for politicians, medical doctors and Muslims, which he expressed in his journal.

In 1902, Dowie wrote: “This is my job to gather people from the East and West, North and South and inhabit Christians in this Zion City as well as other cities until the day comes when the Mohammedan religion is totally wiped out of this world. Oh God show us the day.”

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In his palms on a recent September day, Tahir Ahmed Soofi cradled a crumbling, yellow newspaper from the 1900s bearing Dowie’s image.

“Dowie is a part of our history, too,” said Soofi, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Zion chapter, as he arranged these relics in glass displays that will become part of the new mosque’s museum. The community has named this mosque Fath-e-Azeem, which means “a great victory” in Arabic.

The $4 million building, with a large prayer hall and plush carpeting, will replace their older, retrofitted center less than two miles away, which has been the community’s home since 1983.

As he got the new space ready for the Oct. 1 inauguration, Soofi recounted the tale passed down to generations of Ahmadis. When Ahmad, the religion's founder who lived in Qadian, India, heard about Dowie's angry proclamations against Muslims, he urged him to stop, Soofi said.

Ahmadis believe that their founder, who was born in 1835, was the promised reformer the Prophet Muhammed predicted and the metaphorical second coming of Jesus Christ.

Soofi said when Dowie ignored Ahmad's pleas, in 1902, he challenged Zion's founder to a “prayer duel.”

In The New York Times and other U.S. publications at the time, this challenge was built up as a battle between two messiahs – to ascertain who was the true prophet and which was the true religion. Ahmad asserted in writing that, “whoever is the liar may perish first.”

Dowie refused to acknowledge Ahmad's challenge and scoffed at his statements that Jesus was human, survived the crucifixion and lived out the rest of his life in Kashmir. He shot back writing: “Do you think that I should answer such gnats and flies?”

In the following years, Dowie’s fortunes began to fade. In 1905, one of his top lieutenants, Wilbur Voliva, took over leadership of the church after Dowie was accused of extravagance and misusing investments. Dowie’s health suffered thereafter. He died in 1907 after a paralytic stroke, at age 60.

While Ahmad died a year after Dowie passed, at age 73, his followers saw Dowie’s downfall and death as a great victory for their founder and faith.

For Ahmadis worldwide, the result of this prayer duel reaffirmed the truth of their messiah’s claims, said Amjad Mahmood Khan, U.S. spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It’s a story Ahmadi children grow up hearing at home and in their mosques worldwide.

“Whether you talk to an Ahmadi in Miami, Maine, South Dakota or Seattle, they will know this story and what a great victory it was,” Khan said, adding that it doesn’t mean they exult in Dowie’s demise. “It’s the triumph of what Islam stands for in the face of false allegations, and it’s about the victory of prayer over prejudice.”

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“Welcome to Shiloh House.”

Kathy Goodwin, who volunteers every week at the 1902 Swiss-inspired chalet that Dowie built at 1300 Shiloh Boulevard, greets visitors with these words before she takes them around the 25-room mansion. Dowie spent $90,000 (about $3 million in today's dollars) to build it and $50,000 more to furnish it.

He brought fixtures from Europe, including a porcelain bath. The house had running water, electricity and phones, a rarity in that time.

Goodwin tells visitors about her family’s connection to Dowie. Her grandfather, a master carpenter from Switzerland, and his German wife went to hear Dowie speak in Chicago. Then and there, they decided to follow the preacher to Zion. Goodwin’s grandfather was chief carpenter for Shiloh House and her father, the last of 15 children, ran around the mansion as a child while his dad helped build it.

The house has numerous images of Dowie — painted, photographed and woven with lace. Dowie, who was 5-foot-2, had carpenters craft custom wooden step stools so he could reach the top shelves of his bookcases. The house even has on one wall, two framed pieces crafted with Dowie's hair by his barber. One shows the Dowie's greeting “Peace to thee” and another is a depiction of the Bible.

Goodwin is proud of Dowie’s legacy and wants it preserved.

“He believed in love, kindness, helping people,” she said. “I honestly believe people were healed here.”

She also believes Dowie, in his later years, “got carried away” and “did things with money he shouldn’t have.”

“But he paid for it,” she said. “I’m here because I want his story to stay alive.”

Goodwin also yearns to go back to a time when she was a little girl and the city played chimes at 9 in the morning and 9 at night.

“People stopped wherever they were and prayed,” she said. “I'm sorry it's not like that any more.”

Mike McDowell’s great grandparents moved to Zion in 1905 from North Dakota because his great grandmother believed Dowie cured her whooping cough. McDowell sits on the board of the Zion Historical Society, which maintains Shiloh House. He is also a city commissioner and pastor at Christ Community Church, the remnant of Dowie’s original congregation.

McDowell says his congregation now identifies as evangelical and doesn’t adhere to Dowie’s teachings. But he credits the founder for innovative municipal planning.

“He came up with the idea of subdividing the community and making it self-sufficient,” McDowell said. “He created the city’s park system requiring every housing subdivision to have green spaces.”

McDowell said Dowie’s downfall began when “he started believing his own press and thought of himself more highly than he ought to have.”

He agrees what Dowie said about Muslims and Ahmed was “inflammatory,” but doesn’t believe the founder accepted Ahmad’s prayer duel.

“Both men had visions of grandeur about themselves,” McDowell said, “which probably weren’t appropriate.”

McDowell is happy to see the new mosque and lauds the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for their many service projects in town, particularly food giveaways that were valuable to many during the pandemic.

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Just as McDowell’s and Goodwin’s ancestors moved to Zion following Dowie’s healing powers, Tayyib Rashid moved with his family to the area last year from Seattle when plans for the new mosque came to fruition.

“You can’t have a Zion mosque anywhere else,” he said, adding that he feels a deep connection to the prayer duel and prophecy. “Dowie had all the means and resources. (Ahmad) had God on his side.”

For community member Suriyya Latif, the new mosque reflects the Ahmadi community’s motto, which is painted in giant letters on the wall of their community center: “Love for all, hatred for none.”

“People pull up to the parking lot and take selfies with that sign,” she said.

The prayer duel, she said, is not an archaic tale, but a current manifestation of the community’s motto. Latif, who has toured the Shiloh House, wishes Dowie could have seen what his faith had in common with Islam.

Dowie banned pork and alcohol in Zion, which are also commands in Islam. Even Dowie’s greeting “Peace to thee” is synonymous with the Muslim greeting “Salam alaikum.”

The Ahmadis have struggled to gain acceptance even among mainstream Muslims, adding to the significance of establishing the mosque in Zion, said national spokesperson Khan. Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974.

Khan said the global Ahmadiyya community’s current leader and caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is in Zion to inaugurate the new mosque this weekend — a momentous occasion for U.S. Ahmadis. Ahmad was forced into exile from Pakistan after his election in 2003 and resides in London.

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Over the years, Zion’s Ahmadiyya community has been buttressed by women who have assumed leadership roles, as well as African Americans who have accepted the faith in large numbers. About half of the community in Zion is African American.

Ahmadi women raised nearly half of the $4 million needed for the new mosque, said Dhiya Tahira Bakr, national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's women’s auxiliary. Bakr, who is African American, converted to Islam nearly four decades ago. Transcending culture and language barriers has not been difficult because their faith has bound Ahmadis of all backgrounds together, she said.

“I didn’t grow up drinking chai or eating spicy food, but I enjoy it now,” Bakr said. “When you talk to one another, you forget about all that because you are bonding with the heart.”

The prayer duel and Dowie’s demise opened up a path in Zion for the Ahmadiyya Muslims to build on that foundation by serving the community, she said.

“We knock on doors and let people know that they don’t have to be afraid of us because we are Muslim or Black or Asian or whatever,” Bakr said. “It’s important we do this work for our children so we can dispel all these stereotypes.”

Mayor Billy McKinney’s family moved to Zion in 1962, as the civil rights movement was gathering momentum. For Black families, racially integrated Zion was an oasis in a nation where segregation was the norm, he said. The mayor believes a community partnership has emerged from this century-old feud.

Like many Zion residents, McKinney had not heard about the prayer duel and was initially surprised to learn about Dowie’s hostility toward Muslims.

He says now is the time to move forward in unity.

“History is history and I could take issue with anyone from the past if I wanted to,” McKinney said. “I’m about looking forward.”

The mayor will present Ahmad, the fifth successor to the sect’s founder who challenged Dowie, with a key to the city as a symbol of trust and friendship.

The Ahmadis are moving forward with the construction of their minaret, which they expect will be completed next year. The minaret is a global symbol of Islam and the faith’s call to prayer five times a day.

It would be a stark contrast from Dowie’s vision of a Christian utopia.

“The founding fathers of Zion are probably rolling in their graves,” said David Padfield, minister of Church of Christ, a non-denominational congregation around the corner from the mosque. “They didn’t even want our church here.”

Padfield, who supports the Ahmadiyya community, says it was the founders’ intolerance and exclusion of other faiths that “made it difficult for them to function.”

Soon, towering 70 feet above the ground, the mosque’s minaret will be the tallest structure in the city that Dowie built.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The defense team in the Capitol riot trial of the Oath Keepers leader is relying on an unusual strategy with Donald Trump at the center.

Lawyers for Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist group, are poised to argue that jurors cannot find him guilty of seditious conspiracy because all the actions he took before the siege on Jan. 6, 2021, were in preparation for orders he anticipated from the then-president — orders that never came.

Rhodes and four associates are accused of plotting for weeks to stop the transfer of presidential power from the Republican incumbent to Democrat Joe Biden, culminating with Oath Keepers in battle gear storming the Capitol alongside hundreds of other Trump supporters.

Opening statements in the trial are set to begin Monday.

Rhodes intends to take the stand to argue he believed Trump was going to invoke the Insurrection Act to call up a militia to support him, his lawyers have said. Trump didn't do that, but Rhodes' team says that what prosecutors allege was an illegal conspiracy was "actually lobbying and preparation for the President to utilize" the law.

It's a novel legal argument in a trial that's one of the most serious cases coming out of the Capitol attack.

"This is an incredibly complicated defense of theory and I don't think that it's ever played out in this fashion in American jurisprudence," one of Rhodes' lawyers, James Lee Bright, told The Associated Press.

The Insurrection Act gives a president broad authority to call up the military and decide what shape that force will take. Trump did float that kind of action at other points in his presidency.

To succeed with this line of defense, Bright would have to convince a jury that Rhodes was waiting on the go-ahead from the president, which could be a major hurdle.

Rhodes' lawyers have argued Trump could have called up a militia in response to “what he perceived as a conspiracy to deprive a class of persons in several states of their voting rights." Rhodes published an open letter on the Oath Keepers' website in December 2020 urging Trump use the Insurrection Act to “‘stop the steal’ and defeat the coup.”

If Rhodes testifies, he could face intense questioning from prosecutors, who say his own words show the Oath Keepers would act no matter what Trump did.

Bright said Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, understands the risks of testifying but has insisted since the first day they met that he be able to “speak his piece."

Rhodes and his associates — Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson — are the first Jan. 6 defendants to be tried on seditious conspiracy, a rarely used Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove.

The defense would have to convince the jury that the Oath Keepers really intended to defend the government, not use force against it, said David Alan Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor who's now a professor at Stanford Law School.

“If you think you are plotting to help protect the government, there is an argument that that means you don’t have the required guilty mindset that’s necessary in order to be guilty of seditious conspiracy," he said.

Court records show the Oath Keepers repeatedly warning of the prospect of violence if Biden were to become president. The Oath Keepers amassed weapons and stationed armed “quick reaction force” teams at a Virginia hotel in case they were needed, prosecutors say.

Among those likely to testify against Rhodes are three of his former followers, including one who has said Rhodes instructed them to be ready to use lethal force if necessary to keep Trump in the White House.

Defense lawyers say the quick reaction force teams were defensive forces only to be used if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act. If Rhodes really wanted to lead a revolution, his lawyers say there was no better opportunity to deploy the quick reaction force than when hundreds of people were storming the Capitol. But the Oath Keepers never did.

“The conditions would never be better. Yet, Rhodes and the others left the Capitol grounds and went to Olive Garden for dinner,” they've written in court papers. Rhodes never went into the Capitol and has said that the Oath Keepers who did acted on their own.

The Insurrection Act is shorthand for a series of statues that Congress passed between 1872 and 1871 defining when military force can be used in the United States by the federal government, said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck. The Act does give the president wide discretion to decide when military force is necessary, and what qualifies as military force, Vladeck said.

The last time the Insurrection Act was used was in May of 1992, by President George H.W. Bush to call out the military to respond to Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of white police officers accused in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King.

Even if Trump had acted, prosecutors would still have a strong case that the Oath Keepers tried to keep Congress from carrying out its responsibilities as part of the transfer of presidential power, Vladeck said. Even if the president could authorize their actions, the Oath Keepers could still have been — as the law puts it — forcibly opposing other elements of the government, he said.

“The government of the United States is more than just the president,” Vladeck said.

Michael Weinstein, a former Justice Department prosecutor, agreed that Rhodes' argument is not likely to win over a jury. But that may not be his only goal.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a show trial for him,” said Weinstein, now a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey. “This is his opportunity to really promote himself and his philosophy and make himself out to be a bit of a martyr."

Trump did talk about sending in U.S. troops to American cities in summer 2020 as protesters filled the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, an action that would have come under the Insurrection Act. He never did.

Los Angeles-based defense lawyer Nina Marino said the Insurrection Act defense could work.

“I think it’s a great defense from the 1800s resurrected into 2022,” she said. But she added: “If there’s evidence that they would have done it anyway, then I think that really, really damages the defense.”

Prosecutors have already pointed to a message from December 2020 that Rhodes wrote, saying Trump “needs to know that if he fails to act, then we will." Days before the riot, Rhodes warned that the “final nail” would be put in the “coffin of this Republic,” unless they fought their way out.

"With Trump (preferably) or without him, we have no choice,” Rhodes wrote in a chat, according to court papers. He added: “Be prepared for a major let down on the 6-8th. And get ready to do it OURSELVES."

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.

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For full coverage of the Capitol riot, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — A right-wing populist party that received the second-most votes in Sweden’s general election last month landed the chairmanships of four parliamentary committees Saturday and with it, the ability to wield more influence in mainstream Swedish politics.

The positions to be held by lawmakers from the Sweden Democrats include chairing the Riksdag's justice, foreign affair, business affairs and labor market committees.

“It is important for us, a milestone in the party’s history,” legislator Richard Jomshof, a Sweden Democrat who was tapped to be the next chairman of the justice committee, told Swedish public broadcaster SVT. “It is an expression of the fact that we are Sweden’s second largest party.”

In addition to the four chairperson posts, the party was allowed to name the vice-chairs of parliament's civil affairs, traffic, defense and tax committees.

Sweden Democrats, a nationalist and anti-immigration party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, is part of right-wing bloc that won a narrow majority in the Riksdag in the Sept. 11 election.

Decisions on the posts were announced Friday in a joint statement from the four center-right parties that are in talks to form a coalition government. Sweden Democrats, which is one of the four, announced its nominees Saturday.

Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the center-right Moderates, the party that placed third, has been tasked with forming a government that is likely to have the Sweden Democrats as part of a governing coalition or at least the party's support in securing a majority in parliament.

Kristersson has until Oct. 12 to present results of his talks with parties to Parliament speaker Andreas Norlen.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An attack by armed separatists on a police station in a southeastern city killed 19 people, including four members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported Saturday.

The assailants in Friday's attack hid among worshippers near a mosque in the city of Zahedan and attacked the nearby police station, according to the report.

IRNA quoted Hossein Modaresi, the provincial governor, as saying 19 people were killed. The outlet said 32 Guard members, including volunteer Basiji forces, were also wounded in the clashes.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was related to nationwide antigovernment protests gripping Iran after the death in police custody of a young Iranian woman.

Sistan and Baluchestan province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and has seen previous attacks on security forces by ethnic Baluchi separatists, although Saturday's Tasnim report did not identify a separatist group allegedly involved in the attack.

IRNA on Saturday identified the dead as Hamidreza Hashemi, a Revolutionary Guard colonel; Mohammad Amin Azarshokr, a Guard member; Mohamad Amin Arefi, a Basiji, or volunteer force with the IRG; and Saeed Borhan Rigi, also a Basiji.

Tasnim and other state-linked Iranian news outlets reported Friday that the head of the Guard’s intelligence department, Seyyed Ali Mousavi, was shot during the attack and later died.

It is not unusual for IRG members to be present at police bases around the country.

Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the last two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by the morality police in the capital of Tehran for allegedly wearing her mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely.

The protesters have vented their anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

The protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups, including Kurdish opposition movements in the northwest that operate along the border with neighboring Iraq. Amini was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first erupted in Kurdish areas.

Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.

Also on Friday, Iran said it had arrested nine foreigners linked to the protests, which authorities have blamed on hostile foreign entities, without providing evidence.

It has been difficult to gauge the extent of the protests, particularly outside of Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.

Witnesses said scattered protests involving dozens of demonstrators took place Saturday around a university in downtown Tehran. Riot police dispersed the protesters, who chanted “death to dictator.” Some witnesses said police fired teargas.

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, meanwhile, reminded Iran’s armed forces of their duty to people’s lives and rights, the foreign-based opposition Telegram channel Kaleme reported.

Mousavi's Green Movement challenged Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election in unrest at a level unseen since its 1979 Islamic Revolution before being crushed by authorities.

“Obviously your capability that was awarded to you is for defending people, not suppression people, defending oppressed, not serving powerful people and oppressors,” he said.

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A multi-screen cinema hall opened on Saturday in the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir for the first time in 14 years in the government's push to showcase normalcy in the disputed region that was brought under India's direct rule three years ago.

Decades of a deadly conflict, bombings and brutal Indian counterinsurgency campaign have turned people away from cinemas, and only about a dozen viewers lined up for the first morning show, the Bollywood action movie “Vikram Vedha.” The 520-seat hall with three screens opened under elaborate security in Srinagar's high security zone that also houses India’s military regional headquarters.

“There are different viewpoints about (cinema) but I think it’s a good thing,” said moviegoer Faheem, who gave only one name. “It’s a sign of progress.”

Others at the show declined to comment.

The afternoon and evening shows had less than 10% occupancy on Saturday, according to India’s premier movie booking website in.bookmyshow.com.

The multiplex was officially inaugurated on Sept. 20 by Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in Kashmir. The cinema is part of Indian multiplex chain Inox in partnership with a Kashmiri businessman.

After Kashmiri militants rose up against Indian rule in 1989, launching a bloody insurgency that was met with a brutal response by Indian troops, the once-thriving city of Srinagar wilted. The city’s eight privately owned movie theaters closed on the orders of rebels, saying they were vehicles of India’s cultural invasion and anti-Islamic.

In the early 1990s, government forces converted most of the city’s theaters into makeshift security camps, detention or interrogation centers. Soon, places where audiences thronged to Bollywood blockbusters became feared buildings, where witnesses say torture was commonplace.

However, three cinema halls, backed by government financial assistance, reopened in 1999 amid an official push to project the idea that life had returned to normal in Kashmir. Soon after, a bombing outside one hall in the heart of Srinagar killed a civilian and wounded many others and shut it again. Weary Kashmiris largely stayed away, and the other hall locked its doors within a year. One theater, the Neelam, stuck it out until 2008.

Officials said the government is planning to establish cinemas in every district of the region, where tens of thousands have been killed in the armed conflict since 1989. Last month, Sinha also inaugurated two multipurpose halls in the southern districts of Shopian and Pulwama, considered as hotbeds of armed rebellion.

“The government is committed to change perceptions about Jammu and Kashmir, and we know people want entertainment and they want to watch movies,” Sinha told reporters at the inauguration.

In 2019, India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy and brought it under direct control, throwing Kashmir under a severe security and communication lockdown.

The region has remained on edge ever since as authorities also put in place a slew of new laws, which critics and many residents fear could change the region’s demographics.

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ROME (AP) — Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is poised to become Italy’s next premier, vowed Saturday to put national interests first in tackling soaring energy costs as she made her first public appearance since her Brothers of Italy party won the most votes in the country's national election.

Meloni addressed farmers and producers at an agricultural fair in Milan sponsored by Italy’s influential Coldiretti farm lobby, emerging from a week of closed-door meetings with allies and the outgoing government following the Sept. 25 vote that is poised to give Italy its first far-ight-led government since World War II.

Her appearance came after Germany this week announced it would spend up to 200 billion euros ($195 billion) helping consumers and businesses cope with surging energy prices due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, while refusing to back a European price cap on gas, as Italy and other countries have sought.

Meloni said if her government takes a similar action, it shouldn't be seen as some populist, nationalist reaction but rather a “lucid” strategy to “defend national interests to arrive at common solutions.”

“Italy’s posture must return to start off with the defense of its national interests to find common solutions,” Meloni told the farmers in Milan.

“That is something that will change in the coming months. It doesn’t mean having a negative stance toward others, it means having a positive one for ourselves that starts off from the defense of national interests, because everyone else is doing it,” she said.

Her speech came as Italian energy giant ENI reported that Russia's Gazprom said it could not confirm any gas deliveries Saturday via Austria.

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A teenager was killed and another was wounded in a shooting at a high school homecoming football game in Oklahoma Friday night, police said.

The victims, both 17, were shot during the event at McLain High School for Science and Technology shortly before 10 p.m., according to a statement by the Tulsa Police Department posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“When Officers arrived, we found two victims amongst the crowd of hundreds. One 17-year-old male was pronounced dead at the scene,” the post said.

The surviving victim was taken to a hospital in critical condition but has improved to stable condition, the statement said.

Several officers and a K-9 unit searched nearby neighborhoods but were not immediately able to find the suspected shooter, who ran away from the scene, police said.

Police said the suspect is believed to be another 17-year-old.

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of Florida's flooded homes from Hurricane Ian while authorities in South Carolina waited for daylight to assess damage from its strike there as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. continued to push north.

The powerful storm terrorized millions of people for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina. Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday morning and reach south-central Virginia by the afternoon.

At least 30 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm's tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.

Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water Friday, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.

“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don't know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.

In South Carolina, Ian's center came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.

The storm's winds were much weaker Friday than during Ian's landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.

Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge had washed a boat right up next to his apartment.

“That's the scariest thing in the world because I can't stop no boat,” he said. “I'm not Superman.”

Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems continued to arise. A 14-mile (22-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed late Friday in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the massive mount of water swelling the Myakka River.

Ross Giarratana, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tampa, said the Myakka was cresting at a record 12.73 feet (3.88 meters) Saturday morning.

Further southeast, the Peace River was also at a major flood stage early Saturday in Polk, Hardee and DeSoto counties. The majority of those points have not yet crested, Giarratana said.

“It was crazy to look at just how quickly the rivers were rising,’’ he said. “We knew that we were in for some record stuff.”

The official death toll climbed throughout the day Friday, with authorities warning it would likely rise much higher once crews made a more comprehensive sweep of the damage. Searches were aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. He described one submerged home as an example.

“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.

The dead included a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who who fell into rising water inside his home while awaiting rescue.

Authorities also said a 22-year-old woman died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a rooftop while putting up rain shutters. Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week.

Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion’’ in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co., which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

In the Sarasota suburb of North Point, Florida, residents of the Country Club Ridge subdivision waded through waterlogged streets Friday. John Chihil solemnly towed a canoe and another small boat through the ankle-deep water.

“There’s really not much to feel. It’s an act of God, you know?” he said. "I mean, that’s all you can do is pray and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

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Gomez Licon reported from Punta Gorda, Florida; Associated Press contributors include Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers, Florida; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Daniel Kozin in North Port, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.

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The Supreme Court opens its new term Monday, hearing arguments for the first time after a summer break and with new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Already the court has said it will decide cases on a range of major issues including affirmative action, voting rights and the rights of LGBTQ people. The justices will add more cases to their docket in coming months.

A look at some of the cases the court has already agreed to hear. The justices are expected to decide each of the cases before taking a summer break at the end of June:

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

In cases from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the court could end any consideration of race in college admissions. If this seems familiar, it's because the high court has been asked repeatedly over the past 20 years to end affirmative action in higher education. In previous cases from Michigan and Texas, the court reaffirmed the validity of considering college applicants' race among many factors. But this court is more conservative than those were.

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VOTING RIGHTS

The court could further reduce protections for minority voters in its third major consideration in 10 years of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to combat enduring racial discrimination in voting. The case the justices are hearing involves Alabama, where just one of the state's seven congressional districts has a Black majority. That's even though 27% of the state's residents are Black. A three-judge panel that included two appointees of President Donald Trump agreed that the state should have to create a second district with a Black majority, but the Supreme Court stopped any changes and said it would hear the case. A ruling for the state could wipe away all but the most obvious cases of intentional discrimination on the basis of race.

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ELECTIONS

Republicans are asking the justices to embrace a novel legal concept that would limit state courts' oversight of elections for Congress. North Carolina's top court threw out the state's congressional map that gave Republicans a lopsided advantage in a closely divided state and eventually came up with a map that basically evenly divided the state's 14 congressional districts between Democrats and Republicans. The state GOP argues that state courts have no role to play in congressional elections, including redistricting, because the U.S. Constitution gives that power to state legislatures alone. Four conservative justices have expressed varying levels of openness to the “independent state legislature” theory.

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CLEAN WATER

This is yet another case in which the court is being asked to discard an earlier ruling and loosen the regulation of property under the nation's chief law to combat water pollution. The case involves an Idaho couple who won an earlier high court round in their bid to build a house on property near a lake without getting a permit under the Clean Water Act. The outcome could change the rules for millions of acres of property that contain wetlands.

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IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration is back at the Supreme Court to argue for a change in immigration policy from the Trump administration. It's is appealing a ruling against a Biden policy prioritizing deportation of people in the country illegally who pose the greatest public safety risk. Last term, the justices by a 5-4 vote paved the way for the administration to end the Trump policy that required asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their court hearing. In July, also by a 5-4 vote, the high court refused to allow the administration to implement policy guidance for deportations. A Trump-era policy favored deporting people in the country illegally regardless of criminal history or community ties.

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LGBTQ RIGHTS

A new clash involving religion, free speech and the rights of LGBTQ people will also be before the justices. The case involves Colorado graphic and website designer Lorie Smith who wants to expand her business and offer wedding website services. She says her Christian beliefs would lead her to decline any request from a same-sex couple to design a wedding website, however, and that puts her in conflict with a Colorado anti-discrimination law.

The case is a new chance for the justices to confront issues the court skirted five years ago in a case about a baker objected to making cakes for same-sex weddings. The court has grown more conservative since that time.

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NATIVE AMERICAN ADOPTION

In November, the court will review a federal law that gives Native Americans preference in adoptions of Native children. The case presents the most significant legal challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act since its 1978 passage. The law has long been championed by Native American leaders as a means of preserving their families and culture. A federal appeals court in April upheld the law and Congress’ authority to enact it. But the judges also found some of the law’s provisions unconstitutional, including preferences for placing Native American children with Native adoptive families and in Native foster homes.

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BACON LAW BACKLASH

Also on the menu for the justices: a California animal rights law. The case stems from a 2018 ballot measure where California voters barred the sale of pork in the state if the pig it came from or the pig's mother was raised in confined conditions preventing them from laying down or turning around. Two agricultural associations challenging the law say almost no farms satisfy those conditions. They say the “massive costs of complying” with the law will “fall almost exclusively on out-of-state farmers” and that the costs will be passed on to consumers nationwide.

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ART WORLD

The court's resolution of a dispute involving pieces by artist Andy Warhol could have big consequences in the art world and beyond. If the Warhol side loses a copyright dispute involving an image Warhol made of the musician Prince, other artworks could be in peril, lawyers say. But the other side says if Warhol wins, it would be a license for other artists to blatantly copy.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Supreme Court at https://apnews.com/hub/us-supreme-court

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — September has come and gone, marking another painful milestone for the world's largest rainforest. It's the worst month for fire in the Amazon in over a decade.

Satellite sensors detected over 42,000 fires in 30 days according to Brazil’s national space institute. It is the first time since 2010 that fires in the Amazon surpassed 40,000 in a single month.

This September was two and a half times worse than last. Coming at the peak of the dry season, it's usually the worst month not only for fire but also for deforestation.

The official data for forest loss only goes through September 23 so far, yet is already 14% more devastating than September 2021. In just those three weeks, the Amazon lost 1,120 square kilometers of rainforest (434 square miles), an area larger than New York City.

The surge in forest fire occurs amid a polarizing presidential campaign. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a second four-year term against leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled Brazil between 2003 and 2010 and leads in the polls. The first round of the election is on Sunday.

Despite the smoke clogging the air of entire Amazon cities, state elections have largely i gnored environmental issues. Besides the President, Brazilians will also elect governors and state and national parliaments.

In Para state, worst for both deforestation and fire, the subject of deforestation was barely touched on during a TV debate among gubernatorial candidates held Tuesday by the Globo network.

Over an hour and a half, only one candidate mentioned the steep increase in deforestation. Globo, Brazil’s leading television network, did not even select it as one of eight debate topics.

Protecting the forest is not a high-priority for the population, after years of pandemic and a deteriorating economy, Paulo Barreto, a researcher with the nonprofit Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, told the Associated Press. “But the fact that journalists don’t ask is an even bigger problem." Deforestation can lead to more poverty, he said. “On the other hand, there are growing economic opportunities related to conservation.”

Fire in the Amazon is almost always deliberately set, to improve cattle pasture or burn recently-felled trees once they are dry. Often the fires burn out of control and reach pristine forest areas.

Studies have shown that deforestation rates peak in election years, and 2022 has been particularly intense because of Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, according to analysts.

“With a chance of changing the government to one that promises more rigor, it seems that the deforesters are taking advantage of the possibility that the party’s over,” Barreto said.

Since Bolsonaro took office, in 2019, deforestation has been on the rise, as his administration has defanged environmental authorities and backed measures to loosen land protections, emboldening environmental offenders.

The far-right leader has repeatedly denied that fire is even increasing, despite official data from his government agency. On Thursday night, during the final Presidential debate before the vote, he said that forest fires occur periodically in the Amazon, dismissed the criticism as a “war of narratives,” and said Brazil “is an example to the world” on conservation.

It was an answer to Simone Tebet, a senator who is close to agribusiness leaders and considered a moderate in the race. In one the of the few moments free of personal insults, she criticized Bolsonaro's environmental record in a segment related to climate change.

“Your administration is the one that has set biomes, forests and my Pantanal wetlands on fire. Your administration favored miners and loggers, and protected them,” she said. “You, in this regard, were the worst president in Brazil’s history.”

During his campaign, da Silva promised to restore law enforcement and gained support from Indigenous and environmental leaders, such as former Environment Minister Marina Silva. She had broken publicly with the former president over his push to build hydroelectric dams and other development initiatives in the Amazon.

In announcing her support during a meeting with da Silva a few weeks ago, she called Bolsonaro a threat to Brazil’s democracy. She said the country is facing a critical moment on issues ranging from the environment to the economy.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Tropical Storm Orlene is expected to grow into a hurricane by Saturday as its heads for an expected landfall on Mexico's northwestern Pacific coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Orlene had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) early Saturday. It was centered about 235 miles (380 kilometers) south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes and moving north at 5 mph (7 kph).

The center said Orlene is a small, compact storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending out only 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the center.

It was forecast to grow to hurricane force by Saturday morning before falling back to tropical storm strength ahead of a forecast Monday landfall in Sinaloa state, in the region around the resort city of Mazatlan.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Problems with rape kit evidence testing keep haunting Memphis.

A city long plagued by a heavy backlog of untested sexual assault kits was shaken by Cleotha Henderson's arrest in the killing of Eliza Fletcher after she was abducted during a morning jog last month.

So when authorities said his DNA was linked to a rape that occurred nearly a year earlier — charging him separately days after he was arrested in Fletcher’s killing — an outraged city turned to the obvious question: Why was he still on the streets?

The case of Henderson, who already has served 20 years in prison for a kidnapping he committed at 16, has reignited criticism of Tennessee’s sexual assault testing process. That has included calls for shorter delays from the testing agency, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and questions about why Memphis didn't seek to fast-track a kit that could have been tested in days.

Instead, it took nearly a year, unearthing key evidence too late to charge Henderson before Fletcher’s killing.

The tragic outcome brings back memories from the early 2010s, when Memphis revealed a backlog of about 12,000 untested rape kits that took years to whittle down and led to a lawsuit that's still ongoing. The new rape charges have spurred another lawsuit accusing the Memphis Police Department of negligence for the delay.

The scenario also has raised broader concerns about Tennessee's struggles with a problem that has been in the national spotlight for decades and that some states have addressed.

In response, GOP Gov. Bill Lee and Republican legislative leaders have fast-tracked money for 25 additional TBI lab positions, including six in DNA processing. The agency had requested 50 more this year, but Lee funded only 25 in his proposed budget and lawmakers approved that amount.

Meghan Ybos, a rape victim involved in the backlog lawsuit, blames the city for not curbing a problem known for years despite receiving more than $20 million in grants to address the backlog.

“I don’t think the shortcomings of Memphis law enforcement are limited to the handling of rape kits," Ybos said, "but I think the public should be outraged at the lack of transparency about what Memphis has done with tens of millions of grant money that the city and county have received to test rape kits, train police, hire victim advocates, prosecute cold rape cases and more.”

As of August, Tennessee's three state labs averaged from 28 to 49 weeks to process rape kits under circumstances that don't include an order to rush the test. More than 950 rape kits sat untested in labs.

TBI attributed the delays to staffing woes and low pay that complicates recruiting and keeping scientists.

TBI Director David Rausch laid out further moves in hopes of processing all evidence in eight to 12 weeks within the next year: Overtime, weekend hours, more outsourcing to private labs and using retired TBI workers for new worker training to free up current employees.

Tennessee doesn't require specific turnaround times for newly collected rape kits, though 19 other states do, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, which is pushing Tennessee to follow suit. Massachusetts requires processing kits within 30 days, but most of the states require testing within 60, 90 or 120 days.

Tennessee's House and Senate speakers haven't flagged turnaround mandates as a priority. TBI, meanwhile, said any turnaround requirement would need proper funding.

Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation, said Tennessee's problems aren't unique. Without an official U.S. count of rape kits awaiting analysis, Knecht estimated there are likely more than 200,000 untested kits in law enforcement or hospital storage nationally.

“Every single one of these kits that is sitting on a shelf could represent someone like the offender in this case, where you look at their criminal history and they’re committing all kinds of crime, they’ve been doing it for decades, and the evidence that could stop them is sitting on a shelf somewhere,” Knecht told The Associated Press.

Henderson was charged with first-degree murder in the kidnapping and killing of Fletcher, a mother of two and a kindergarten teacher who was on a pre-dawn run Sept. 2 when she was forced into an SUV on the University of Memphis campus. Her remains were found on Sept. 5 behind a vacant Memphis house.

Henderson, who also has gone by Cleotha Abston, has not entered a plea in the killing but was rebooked in jail on Sept. 9 on charges related to the September 2021 rape of a Memphis woman. Henderson has pleaded not guilty to charges in that attack, including aggravated rape.

The new lawsuit brought by the woman who says she was raped in that attack says Memphis police could have prevented Fletcher’s death if they had investigated the 2021 rape more vigorously.

“Cleotha Abston should and could have been arrested and indicted for the aggravated rape of (the alleged victim) many months earlier, most likely in the year 2021,” the lawsuit says. The AP isn't naming the woman.

Rape kits contain semen, saliva or blood samples taken from a victim. Specimens containing DNA evidence are uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to check for a match.

In Memphis, backlogs have long been a problem. About 12,000 untested rape kits were disclosed there in 2013. A task force was formed, and police began using results to start investigations — and get some convictions.

The city has said the backlog revealed in 2013 has been eliminated. But long delays in testing rape kits persist in Tennessee, including cases from Memphis.

In the Henderson case, Memphis police said a sexual assault report was taken Sept. 21, 2021. A rape kit was submitted two days later to TBI, the bureau said.

“An official CODIS hit was not received until after" Fletcher’s abduction, police said, and probable cause to make an arrest “did not exist until after the CODIS hit had been received.”

TBI said no request was made for expedited analysis and no suspect information was included in the submission.

The kit eventually was pulled from evidence storage and an initial report was completed Aug. 29, the bureau said.

The 2021 DNA matched Henderson's in the national database on Sept. 5, three days after Fletcher's abduction, authorities said. TBI reported the match to Memphis police.

Under Tennessee law, police agencies generally have 30 days to send rape kit evidence to TBI or another lab, but there's no mandate on processing times.

TBI said its budget request was conservative — $10.2 million for 40 scientists and 10 lower-level positions. A West Virginia University forensic calculator said TBI labs needed another 71 positions, the bureau noted.

In DNA testing, the labs currently have six supervisors and 26 special agent/forensic scientist positions, some in hiring or lengthy new hire training. TBI hopes to start the 40 scientists — 14 in DNA — by late this month and others by late March.

Still, many have grown impatient at a situation they say called for urgency.

“These are our most vulnerable victims,” said Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, a Memphis organization pressing for a fairer criminal justice system. “To have a backlog like that build up, and still, to this day, have it be the norm that a rape kit test takes the many months that it does, is really not acceptable.”

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Mattise reported from Nashville, Tennessee.

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PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona judge on Friday declined to put her order that allowed enforcement of a pre-statehood law making it a crime to provide an abortion on hold, saying abortion rights groups that asked her to block the order are not likely to prevail on appeal.

The ruling from Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson means the state's abortion providers will not be able to restart procedures. Abortions were halted on Sept. 23 when Johnson ruled that a 1973 injunction must be lifted so that the Civil War-era law could be enforced.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich sought the order lifting the injunction. Attorneys with his office told the judge that, since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 decision said women do not have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion, there was no legal reason to block the old law.

Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate had urged Johnson to keep the injunction issued shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. They argued that laws enacted by the state Legislature in the ensuing 50 years should take precedence.

Planned Parenthood's lawyers on Monday asked Johnson to put her ruling on hold to allow an appeal.

Before last Friday’s ruling allowing enforcement of the old law, abortions were legal in Arizona until the fetus was viable, usually at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. But on Saturday, a law enacted by the state Legislature last spring banning abortion at 15 weeks took effect.

Gov. Doug Ducey has said that law takes precedence, but his lawyers did not seek to argue that position in court. Brnovich and some Republican lawmakers insist the old law is in force.

Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said she was “outraged” by the ruling.

“It is impermissible that Arizonans are waking up each morning to their elected officials making conflicting statements about which laws are in effect or claiming that they do not know, and yet the court has refused to provide any clarity or relief,” Fonteno said.

Some clinics in Arizona have been referring patients to providers in California and New Mexico since Johnson lifted the injunction on the old law, and they were prepared to restart abortions. The pre-statehood law carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion. Last year, the Legislature repealed a law allowing charges against women who seek abortions

Ashleigh Feiring, a nurse at abortion provider Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix, said her office will keep looking for ways to serve patients.

“We’re trying to think of everything we can to get loopholes in the law,” Feiring said Friday, adding that the facility would be willing to once again provide the procedure.

Feiring said her office continues to do post-miscarriage care and provide patients with ultrasounds so they know how many weeks pregnant they may be. That's important, because abortion pills can only be used in the first 10-12 weeks of a pregnancy.

Feiring said some patients are able to get an abortion pill prescription from a provider in Sweden and get it filled through the mail by a pharmacy in India, but that takes about three weeks. Arizona law bans delivery of the abortion pill through the mail, and U.S. providers generally will not take that risk.

Since Roe was overturned, Arizona and 13 other states have banned abortions at any stage of pregnancy. About 13,000 people in Arizona get an abortion each year, according to Arizona Department of Health Services reports.

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BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon on Saturday delivered a maritime border demarcation proposal to President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday, as negotiations with Israel progress.

Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948 and both countries claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea.

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser for energy security at the U.S. State Department who has been mediating between the two neighbors, last visited Beirut in September, where he expressed optimism after meeting with Lebanon’s president, caretaker prime minister and parliament speaker.

Aoun's office in a statement said U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea delivered a proposal from Hochstein during a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda.

President Aoun in an interview with local media last week said that the negotiations could soon come to a close “where we will obtain our right to extract oil and gas.”

Lebanon and Israel both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty.

A Lebanese official who attended the talks last month told The Associated Press that the proposal put forward by the U.S. envoy gives Lebanon the right to the Qana field, located partially in Israel’s domain. A part of it stretches deep into a disputed area. The official added that the main point now is how to draw the demarcation line in a way that stretches south of Qana.

Israel set up a gas rig at its designated location at the Karish field. Israel says the field is part of its U.N.-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon insists Karish is in a disputed area.

In July, the Israeli military shot down three unarmed drones belonging to Lebanon's Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah flying over the Karish field. Hezbollah’s leader has issued warnings to Israel over the maritime dispute, saying that “any arm” that reaches out to steal Lebanon’s wealth “will be cut off.”

The heavily armed group, which has fought several wars with Israel, has repeatedly said in the past that it would use its weapons to protect Lebanon’s economic rights. Hezbollah officials have however said they would endorse a deal reached between Lebanon’s government and Israel.

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LONDON (AP) — Trains in Britain all but ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets.

Only about 11% of train services were expected to operate across the U.K. on Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they called the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand that wage increases keep pace with inflation that is expected to peak at around 11% this month.

Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by about 20%, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved swiftly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.

Concern that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar this week and forced the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.

“We need to get things done in this country more quickly,” Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published Saturday. “So I am going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term.”

Many workers aren’t convinced.

Four labor unions have called three, 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruptions for much of the week.

The timing is of particular concern for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, with is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins Sunday in Birmingham, England.

“We don’t want to inconvenience the public, and we’re really sorry that that’s happening,’’ Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”

Lynch urged Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from government tax cuts.

As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle on Saturday. Lingering disruptions are likely to effect service on Sunday morning as well.

Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which begins at 9:30 a.m., have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.

“It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,’’ said Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group. “That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The House of Elders in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland has extended the term of office of President Muse Bihi Abdi by two years, a decision expected to cause more unrest by opposition groups.

Sulayman Mohamud Adan, the speaker of the chamber, said lawmakers voted 72-1 with one abstention in favor of the president's request for the term extension.

In August, at least five people were killed and 100 injured at protests where demonstrators demanded the holding of elections in November. They feared the president would postpone the vote and extend his term.

The Somaliland National Electoral Commission later announced it had postponed the election until July 2023, saying the previously scheduled date of Nov. 13 was not viable due to time, technical and financial constraints.

The president assumed office in 2017, and his term was due to expire next month.

Omar Nur, the sole lawmaker to vote against the extension, told The Associated Press he decided to oppose it because parliament members weren't consulted before the proposal was submitted.

“I don’t want to see our country plunging into chaos,” he said.

Somaliland, a region of more than 3 million people strategically located by the Gulf of Aden, broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict.

The region has maintained its own government, currency, and security system despite its lack of international recognition.

Over the years, Somaliland has largely succeeded in holding regular elections, including parliamentary elections last year.

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A senior Ukrainian official says Russian forces on Saturday shelled a civilian evacuation convoy in the country’s northeast, killing 20 people. Bombardments have intensified as Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

Kharkiv region Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said the convoy was struck in the Kupiansy district, calling the attack on people who were trying to flee the area to avoid being shelled “сruelty that can’t be justified.”

Russian forces have not acknowledged or commented on the attack, apparently the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy. Russian troops have retreated from much of the Kharkiv region after a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive last month but continued to shell the area.

The attack comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military vowed to keep fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

Ukrainian officials said Saturday that their forces had surrounded thousands of Russian forces holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, which is located in one of the four incorporated areas. Zelenskyy formally applied Friday for Ukraine to join NATO, increasing pressure on Western allies to help defend the country.

Also Saturday Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant. It appeared to be an attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear plant.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it was aware of the reports of Murashov’s capture, and had contacted Russian authorities for clarification on what happened.

“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, demanding the director's immediate release.

The power plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling nearby.

Amid growing international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has embarrassed the Kremlin appeared on the verge of retaking more ground.

A Ukrainian official said Saturday that the Russian-occupied city of Lyman was surrounded, with some 5,000 Russian forces trapped there. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes to resupply Russian forces in Lyman were blocked.

“The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a television interview. “Now they have three options: to try to break through, to surrender or to die together.”

His claims could not immediately be verified. Russia has not confirmed its forces were cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow was sending more troops to the area.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine likely will retake Lyman in the coming days.

Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared Russian forces were retreating from Lyman, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. That corresponds to online videos purportedly showing some Russian forces falling back as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached Lyman’s outskirts.

It said Ukraine also was making “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which became a key front line since the Ukrainian counteroffensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.

The Russian army struck the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second time with missiles, according to regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim. The first attack was conducted with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he said on Telegram.

One of the rockets hit a five-story apartment building in the city center, while windows of the surrounding houses were blown out. In another part of the city, a private house and a two-story residential building suffered extensive damage. Five people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby, Kim said.

In its heaviest barrage in weeks, Russia's military on Friday pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, with one strike in the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital killing 30 and wounding 88.

In a daily intelligence briefing Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to conduct attacks on the ground likely due to a lack of munitions, the British military said.

“Russia is expending strategically valuable military assets in attempts to achieve tactical advantage and in the process is killing civilians it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.

The attack came while Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties, which included the Zaporizhzhia region. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces, but gave no evidence.

Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine, in what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War.” The NATO chief was meeting Saturday with Denmark's prime minister amid investigations into explosions on Russian pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi is paying tribute to 89-year-old James Meredith 60 years after white protesters erupted into violence as he became the first Black student to enroll in what was then a bastion of Deep South segregation.

As it has done on other 10-year anniversaries of integration, the university is hosting celebrations and academic events. On Saturday, Meredith is being honored during the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game, two days after he attended the Rebels' practice to speak to players.

“He came and revolutionized our thinking. He came to open our closed society," Donald Cole, who retired in 2018 as the university's assistant provost and head of multicultural affairs, said during a celebration Wednesday night.

The enigmatic Meredith, who lives in Jackson, has long resisted the label of civil rights leader, as if civil rights are separate from other human rights. He says his effort to enter Ole Miss was his own battle to conquer white supremacy.

Meredith being honored at the Ole Miss-Kentucky game is an ironic echo of history.

Two days before Meredith enrolled on the Oxford campus in 1962, race-baiting Gov. Ross Barnett worked a white crowd into a frenzy at a football stadium in Jackson. Ole Miss fans waved Confederate flags to support their Rebels over the Kentucky Wildcats — and to defy any move toward racial integration.

“I love Mississippi," Barnett declared. "I love her people! Our customs! I love and I respect our heritage!”

The next evening, Barnett quietly reached an agreement with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to let Meredith enter Mississippi's oldest public university. Meredith already had a federal court order.

White mobs of students and outsiders erupted when he arrived on the leafy campus with the protection of more than 500 federal law enforcement officers. The attorney general's brother, President John F. Kennedy, deployed National Guard troops to quell the violence, and Meredith enrolled on Oct. 1.

During the event Wednesday at the university, Meredith told an audience: “In my opinion, this is the best day I ever lived. But there’s some more truth. Celebration is good. I don’t think there’s anybody in this house or in the state of Mississippi that think the problem has been solved."

Meredith has said for the past several years that he's on a mission from God, to persuade people to abide by the Ten Commandments. He said Wednesday that he sees a special role for Black women to lead the way in restoring moral order to American society.

“There’s nothing in Mississippi that God, Jesus Christ and the Black woman cannot fix," Meredith said.

Meredith grew up in segregated Mississippi before finishing high school in Florida. He served in the Air Force and attended Jackson State College, a historically Black school in the state capital, before suing to gain admission to Ole Miss.

A resident and a French journalist were killed in the violence as Meredith enrolled. More than 200 officers and soldiers were wounded and 200 people were arrested.

Federal marshals provided Meredith with round-the-clock protection until he graduated with a political science degree in 1963. Meredith said Wednesday that most of his knowledge about what was happening on campus came from the marshals.

“Most of them were scared to death of the Mississippi people with rifles and shotguns,” he said.

U.S. Marshals Service Director Ronald L. Davis named Meredith an honorary deputy marshal during the ceremony Wednesday. Davis, who is Black, said Meredith brought widespread change to American society.

“You chose a path that was not traveled — one with much resistance, one with fear and threats and violence, and you went there anyway,” Davis said.

The University of Mississippi had about 21,850 students on all of its campuses in the 2021 fall semester, with about 12.7% Black enrollment. About 38% of Mississippi residents are Black.

Ethel Scurlock, the first Black dean of the university's honors college, said during the keynote speech Wednesday that she had not yet been born when Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962 or when he was shot soon after setting out on his March Against Fear in 1966.

“But Mr. Meredith, I am here today," Scurlock said. “I am the unborn baby that you were willing to go to war for.”

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MUBENDE, Uganda (AP) — The nurse wanted the toddler with a high fever transferred at once from a private clinic in Uganda to a public hospital even though the child tested positive for malaria amid an Ebola outbreak that has rattled health workers.

But the clinic's owner wasn't convinced as he examined the boy in his lap. The boy didn't have Ebola, he concluded after looking for the tell-tale bloody signs of the virus, and then sent the patient and his thankful mother home after administering intravenous medication.

The incident underscores the pitfalls health workers face in their response to a new Ebola outbreak in central Uganda. Because some malaria symptoms are similar to those of the Sudan strain of Ebola now circulating in three districts, community-based clinics that are usually the first port of call for those seeking care can be ill-equipped to make the right decisions at the right time.

“You can’t say that everyone who is dying is dying of Ebola,” said nurse Edgar Muhindo of Mubende's St. Florence Clinic, which unknowingly treated two Ebola patients for malaria before they sought care elsewhere. “But if it’s Ebola, it’s important to confirm that it’s Ebola. That’s why it’s important for more health units to have the machines that can detect this Ebola virus.”

Simple microscopes at such remote clinics can quickly confirm malaria or typhoid, possibly obscuring the possibility that the same patient could simultaneously have Ebola.

This was the case with a 24-year-old man who became sick in mid-September, was treated for malaria and pneumonia, and died the day before a sample from him confirmed the Ebola outbreak.

By that time, six others had died from what officials called a strange illness.

Mellon Kyomugisha, a medical lab assistant who recalled touching the first confirmed Ebola victim when he came to St. Florence Clinic with malaria, said she felt it wasn't necessary to isolate until worrisome symptoms emerge. She was at work several days later, putting on protective gear when she had to see a patient.

Thirty-five Ebola cases have been confirmed since Sept. 20, including six health workers, and a doctor is among at least seven confirmed deaths.

Only one government-run facility, located 180 kilometers (111 miles) away in Entebbe, is equipped to test for Ebola, and officials sometimes wait up to 48 hours before results come in.

Ebola, which manifests as a viral hemorrhagic fever, is spread through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or contaminated materials. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding.

Scientists don’t know the natural reservoir of the virus, but they suspect the first victim in an Ebola outbreak gets infected through contact with an infected animal or eating its raw meat.

The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people, the largest death toll since the virus was discovered in 1976.

Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks, including one in 2000 that killed more than 200. Authorities don't expect the current outbreak to be so deadly but are urging people to immediately report suspected cases. There is no proven vaccine for the Sudan strain of Ebola.

Health authorities are still investigating the source of the current outbreak, which likely began in August, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in a televised address earlier this week. It was a surprising admission for an East African country that's often cited for its leadership in fighting disease outbreaks.

Hamstrung by testing difficulties from the beginning, the initial response was sometimes chaotic as health officials raced to corral contacts and set up an isolation unit, according to health workers and others on the ground.

Some health workers said they felt helpless when ambulances delayed in picking up patients possibly suffering from Ebola. A woman whose farmworker died of Ebola recalled being taken into an isolation unit where some quarantined patients started to bleed, worrying those without symptoms who knew they risked infection.

Health authorities in Mubende have since created separate isolation spaces for Ebola patients and their contacts, said Rosemary Byabasaija, the leader of a government task force fighting Ebola. She said early “disorganization” in case management has since been rectified.

“When the news broke, it caused stampeding both in the hospital and the communities,” she said.

Ugandan authorities had documented 427 known contacts by Friday. But some taken into quarantine escaped and remain at large, complicating the tracing work that's key to preventing a widening outbreak.

“It's like someone throwing a grenade,” Dr. Emmanuel Batiibwe, director of Mubende Hospital, said of the outbreak's early days. “There's that explosion. Everybody scampers for cover and then they begin coming back slowly to see what's going on... So it was a similar scenario which happened here."

The hospital made “the biggest alarm you can ever think of,” he said, and soon efforts were underway to set up an isolation unit with the help of Doctors Without Borders. That unit was still being set up 10 days after the outbreak had been declared.

Farmer Margaret Nakanyike, one of those herded into the isolation unit after two members of her household showed Ebola signs, said she was lucky to escape infection at the hospital. After testing negative, she is isolating at her house not far from the garden where her worker who died from Ebola was buried.

Across Madudu, the subcounty in Mubende that's been hardest hit, ambulances speed along the dirt road to respond to Ebola alerts.

Kaamu Kato, who runs a government-run health center in Madudu, waited anxiously for an ambulance to take a 16-year-old mother with a baby who had arrived with a fever and bloody diarrhea. She didn't have malaria, so Kato and others immediately Ebola-alerted for an ambulance.

The transport came two hours later. The patient, after trying to leave, lay in the grass, apparently in pain, as health workers watched from a distance. Kato said he could do nothing.

“There are things which are beyond my control,” he said. “I have played my part. It's now up to them to come here quickly or to delay.”

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tens of thousands of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are scheduled to attend the faith’s biannual conference this weekend, in which senior leaders will address nearly 17 million believers throughout the world from their headquarters in Utah.

The conference, held at the church's 21,000-seat conference center across the street from its Salt Lake Temple, generally provides officials a venue to discuss spiritual matters, announce changes in church policy and doctrine and reflect on current events. In previous years, leaders have encouraged vaccinations, lowered the minimum age for church missionaries and denounced racism.

At a conference in April, President Russell Nelson mostly eschewed politics while stressing unity and faith. It was the church's first in-person conference since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a thinly-veiled reference to those clamoring for changes to church policy, another high-ranking church official warned against demanding revelation. Latter-day Saints believe church doctrine can be guided by continuing revelation — communication between God and high-ranking officials. Members also believe Nelson, the church's 98-year-old top leader, is a prophet.

This weekend's event, which runs Saturday and Sunday and is broadcast to members around the world, comes as the church faces scrutiny for the way it handles reports of sexual abuse. An investigation by The Associated Press published in August found the church’s abuse reporting system can be misused by church leaders to divert accusations away from law enforcement.

The story, based on sealed records and court cases filed in Arizona and West Virginia, uncovered a host of concerns, including how church officials have cited exemptions to mandatory reporting laws, known as clergy-penitent privilege, as reason to not report abuse.

The church has criticized the AP investigation, saying it mischaracterizes how the system works, and staunchly defended its policies.

In a follow-up story published Wednesday, the AP reported that both the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for years have lobbied state lawmakers throughout the country against closing the loophole that exempts church officials from mandates that require professionals like therapists or teachers to report abuse to authorities.

The reports have prompted calls for change from members of the faith, including former bishops, and Latter-day Saint lawmakers, including one who plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole next year in Utah.

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BEIJING (AP) — Spectators watched a masked, 96-member honor guard raise a Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square as the ruling Communist Party marked its 73rd anniversary in power on Saturday under strict anti-virus controls.

The flag-raising at sunrise was one of the few National Day events planned after authorities called on the public to avoid travel during what usually is one of the country’s busiest tourism periods.

National Day marks the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People’s Republic of China by then-leader Mao Zedong following a civil war. The former ruling Nationalist Party left for Taiwan, now a self-ruled democracy.

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive John Lee promised to revive the battered economy. He wore a red mask the color of the Chinese flag and was flanked by masked dignitaries at a downtown convention center.

In Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, members of the pro-mainland Taiwan People's Communist Party raised a Chinese flag in the southern city of Tainan and released red balloons and white doves. About 150 people took part.

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — As Islamic extremists intensified their attacks in Burkina Faso earlier this year, coup leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba urged the West African nation's people to give him until September to improve things as interim president.

A group of junior officers held him to just that Friday evening: calling his time up in a new coup launched on the last day of the month.

Concerns already were mounting Saturday, though, that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on growing swaths of the once peaceful country.

Burkina Faso's new junta leadership announced on state television that it will effectively restart the clock on the road back to democracy, erasing much of the recent diplomacy between Burkina Faso and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS.

“The Damiba administration had only just reached common ground with ECOWAS, agreeing to a transition timeline in July,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

Burkina Faso's new leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, is vowing to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight extremists. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup, .

The junta said in a statement late Friday that the country would be committing “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue and the restoration of the integrity of our territory.” But it remains to be seen whether the new leadership can turn around a crisis that has forced 2 million residents to flee their homes.

Earlier this month, Damiba addressed the nation and told the Burkinabe people that “our efforts have begun to bear fruit at the military operational level.” Only two days later, a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in the north, killing at least 35 people.

This week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after gunmen attacked a supply convoy in Gaskinde, a commune in Soum province in the Sahel.

“Faced by the continually worsening security situation, we, the officers and junior officers of the national armed forces, were motivated to take action with the desire to protect the security and integrity of our country,” said the Friday statement read by junta spokesman Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho.

“A meeting will be convened to adopt a new transitional constitution charter and to select a new Burkina Faso president be it civilian or military,” the statement continued.

Friday’s developments felt all too familiar in West Africa, where a coup in Mali in August 2020 set off a series of military power grabs in the region. Mali also saw a second coup nine months after the August 2020 overthrow of its president, when the junta’s leader sidelined his civilian transition counterparts and put himself alone in charge.

Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called the developments “very regrettable,” saying the instability would not help in the fight against the Islamic extremist violence.

“How can we hope to unite people and the army if the latter is characterized by such serious divisions?” Zougmore said. “It is time for these reactionary and political military factions to stop leading Burkina Faso adrift.”

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Mednick reported from Barcelona.

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VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A new aerospace company reached orbit with its second rocket launch and deployed multiple small satellites on Saturday.

Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, in early morning darkness and arced over the Pacific.

“100% mission success,” Firefly tweeted later.

A day earlier, an attempt to launch abruptly ended when the countdown reached zero. The first-stage engines ignited but the rocket automatically aborted the liftoff.

The rocket's payload included multiple small satellites designed for a variety of technology experiments and demonstrations, as well as educational purposes.

The mission, dubbed “To The Black,” was the company's second demonstration flight of its entry into the market for small satellite launchers.

The first Alpha was launched from Vandenberg on Sept. 2, 2021, but did not reach orbit.

One of the four first-stage engines shut down prematurely but the rocket continued upward on three engines into the supersonic realm where it tumbled out of control.

The rocket was then intentionally destroyed by an explosive flight termination system.

Firefly Aerospace said the premature shutdown was traced to an electrical issue, but that the rocket had otherwise performed well and useful data was obtained during the nearly 2 1/2 minutes of flight.

Alpha is designed to carry payloads weighing as much as 2,579 pounds (1,170 kilograms) to low Earth orbit.

Other competitors in the burgeoning small-launch market include Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, both headquartered in Long Beach, California.

Firefly Aerospace, based in Cedar Park, Texas, is also planning a larger rocket, a vehicle for in-space operations and a lander for carrying NASA and commercial payloads to the surface of the moon.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A strong and shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Saturday, killing a resident, injuring 11 and damaging more than a a dozen houses and buildings, police said.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck about 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) northeast of Sibolga, a coastal city in North Sumatra province, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was 13 kilometers (8 miles) deep.

The pre-dawn earthquake was followed by two 5.0 magnitude aftershocks.

A 62-year-old man died of a heart attack while fleeing to safety in Tarutung village, which is closest to the epicenter, said local police chief Johanson Sianturi. Eleven people have been injured and at least 15 houses and buildings damaged in the village, he said.

Authorities were still investigating the full extent of the damage.

A footage released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed several residents evacuating an injured person by a van to a hospital while panicked voices cried for help. The agency also showed several people receiving treatment and walls cracked by the earthquake.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 270 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In February, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 460 in West Sumatra province. In January 2021, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed more than 100 people and injured nearly 6,500 in West Sulawesi province.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed nearly 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — The president of the European Union's executive arm traveled Saturday to Bulgaria for the opening of a natural gas link between the country and Greece, emphasizing the EU’s determination to stop relying on Russian energy imports.

Speaking at a ceremony in Sofia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the pipeline as an important contribution to limiting opportunities for Russia to use its gas and oil reserves to blackmail or punish the EU.

“This pipeline changes the energy security situation for Europe. This project means freedom,“ von der Leyen told an audience that included heads of state and government from the region.

The European Commission committed nearly 250 million euros to finance the project, von der Leyen said.

The importance of the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline, which was completed in July, has significantly risen after Moscow decided to turn its natural gas deliveries into a political weapon.

In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after it refused Moscow’s demand to pay for the deliveries in rubles, Russia’s currency. Relations between the two former Soviet bloc allies have tanked in recent months, and last month Bulgaria ordered the expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats, triggering an angry response from Moscow.

“People in Bulgaria and across Europe are feeling the consequences of Russia’s war. But thanks to projects like this, Europe will have enough gas for the winter,” von der Leyen said. "Europe has everything it needs to break free from our dependency on Russia. It is a matter of political will.

The 182-kilometer (115-mile) conduit runs from the northeastern Greek city of Komotini, where it links to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, up to Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria. Plans call for an initial capacity of 3 billion cubic meters of gas a year, and the prospect of future expansion to 5 billion cubic meters.

The Bulgarian executive of the project, Teodora Georgieva, said the pipeline would help supply other countries in southeastern Europe.

“We have the opportunity to supply gas to the Western Balkans, to ensure supplies to Moldova and Ukraine,” Georgieva said.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The African soccer confederation has removed Guinea as host of the 2025 African Cup of Nations because of inadequate infrastructure, the latest in a series of switches and delays for the continental championship over the last 10 years.

The decision was announced late Friday night and after Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe traveled to the country to meet with Col. Mamady Doumbouya, the head of the military junta in Guinea who took power in a coup in 2021.

CAF said its executive committee would meet in Algeria on Saturday to discuss the details of re-opening the bidding process for the 2025 tournament, which might also be put back a year after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the African Cup of Nations sequence.

Guinea's hosting of the continental championship had been under scrutiny for weeks after an inspection committee made a visit in early September and determined that Guinea wouldn't be ready. CAF made an internal decision then to strip the West African nation of the tournament but held off making an official announcement until Motsepe's visit.

Last month, Doumbouya had said that the African Cup was still a "priority” for the new military leadership and insisted it should go ahead in Guinea, but it was taken out of his hands. Motsepe said he visited the country on Friday “out of respect to the people of Guinea” before the decision to move the tournament was announced.

In a statement, CAF said the infrastructure and facilities in Guinea were “not ready to host a world class AFCON competition."

The decision means every African Cup since 2013 has been moved because of problems with the original host country.

South Africa stepped in as host for civil war-torn Libya in 2013, Equatorial Guinea was a replacement for Morocco in 2015, Gabon replaced Libya, which still wasn't ready in 2017, Egypt took over for an under-prepared Cameroon in 2019 and Cameroon hosted its tournament three years later than originally planned in 2022, when there was also a one-year delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The delay with Cameroon has pushed Ivory Coast's African Cup back to 2024 when it was meant to host in 2021.

The African Cup of Nations is held every two years, although CAF now faces the prospect of holding its biggest tournament on consecutive years in 2024 and 2025 if it keeps to those dates.

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Associated Press writers Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, and Isifu Wirfengla in Yaounde, Cameroon, contributed to this story.

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 5G services in India on Saturday, calling it a “step towards the new era.”

The launch in select cities will cover the entire country over the next couple of years, a government statement said.

Modi launched the much-awaited services that aim to provide seamless coverage, high data rate, less delay in internet connectivity and highly reliable communications in presence of India’s telecom leaders in New Delhi.

“This event will be etched in history,” Modi said at the launch. He said it was a “step towards the new era in the country” and “the beginning of infinite opportunities.”

Bharti Airtel is rolling out its 5G services in eight cities on Saturday and has set March 2024 as the deadline for countrywide coverage for as many as 5,000 towns.

Reliance Jio telecom company plans to start from four metropolitan areas in October and hopes to reach most cities and towns in 18 months.

The government said that the cumulative economic impact of 5G on India is expected to reach $450 billion by 2035.

Research agency OMDIA projects that with 369 million 5G subscriptions — over half the total global 5G subscriptions currently — India will be just behind China and the U.S. in world rankings by 2026. India would have ousted Japan from the third spot with 147 million customers, according to Business Standard newspaper.

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HELSINKI (AP) — Polling stations opened Saturday in Latvia for a general election influenced by neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine, divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority and the economy, particularly high energy prices.

Several polls showed the center-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the top vote-getter, with up to 20% support.

Karins, who became head of Latvia's government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that along with New Unity includes the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, and the Conservatives.

A total of 19 parties have over 1,800 candidates running in the election, but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-U.S. citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up over 25% of Latvia's 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them - for various reasons - since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians. In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony's immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert it. Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

Harmony is now trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support, according to a recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM.

“I think the Russophonic part of the population is very fragmented,” Pauls Raudseps, a columnist at Latvian news magazine IR, told The Associated Press. “You can’t say it’s unified on anything. Some part is pro-Putin. But what we’ve seen is that the war in general has changed attitudes. And it has happened fairly rapidly.”

Latvia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 27 people dead.

The powerful storm, estimated to be one of the costliest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S., has terrorized people for much of the week — pummeling western Cuba and raking across Florida before gathering strength in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean to curve back and strike South Carolina.

While Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week, the storm left many areas of Charleston's downtown peninsula under water. It also washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach.

Online cameras showed seawater filling neighborhoods in Garden City to calf level. As Ian moved across South Carolina on its way to North Carolina Friday evening, it dropped from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.

Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power.

Even though the storm system has long passed over Florida, new issues were still presenting themselves Friday night. A 14-mile (22-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the amount of water in the Myakka River.

Many of the deaths were drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman swept away into the ocean by a wave. A 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.

Other storm-related fatalities included a 22-year-old woman who died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man who fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters. An 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines also died after the equipment stopped working during power outages.

Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week as the storm churned northward. The death toll was expected to increase substantially once emergency officials have an opportunity to search many of the hardest-hit areas.

Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets in Florida after the storm to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.

“There's really been a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.

Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion’’ in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said first responders have focused so far on “hasty” searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.

“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.

Desperate to locate and rescue their loved ones, social media users shared phone numbers, addresses and photos of their family members and friends online for anyone who can check on them.

Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.

“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”

The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the barrier island of Sanibel, Florida, and gouged crevices into its sand dunes. Taller condominium buildings were intact but with the bottom floor blown out. Trees and utility poles were strewn everywhere.

Municipal rescuers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters Friday to evacuate residents who stayed for the storm and then were cut off from the mainland when a causeway collapsed. Volunteers who went to the island on personal watercraft helped escort an elderly couple to an area where Coast Guard rescuers took them aboard a helicopter.

Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph).

After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.

“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”

Ian's heavy rains and winds crossed into North Carolina on Friday evening. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant, given that up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas.

“Hurricane Ian is at our door. Expect drenching rain and sustained heavy winds over most of our state,” Cooper said. “Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe.”

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors.”

"It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said.

“I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”

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Gomez Licon reported from Punta Gorda, Florida; Associated Press contributors include Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers, Florida; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.

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BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader promised Saturday to revive its struggling economy following a campaign to crush a pro-democracy movement as China's ruling Communist Party marked its 73rd anniversary in power under strict anti-virus controls.

In Beijing, crowds of spectators watched a 96-member honor guard raise the Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital. There were no parades or other public events after authorities called on the public to avoid holiday travel.

National Day marks the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People's Republic of China by then-leader Mao Zedong following a civil war. The mainland's former ruling Nationalist Party left for Taiwan, now a self-ruled democracy.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee warned in a speech that COVID-19 “still overshadows” the city of over 7 million people. He promised to revive the struggling economy and “safeguard people’s livelihood" as travel and other anti-virus curbs are eased.

Lee, who took office in July, is a former police chief who oversaw a crackdown that imprisoned pro-democracy activists, shut down a prominent newspaper and triggered an exodus of residents to Britain, the United States and Taiwan.

“Hong Kong now undergoes the critical transition from stability to prosperity,” said Lee, who wore a red mask the color of the Chinese flag and was flanked by masked dignitaries at a downtown convention center.

“I have full confidence in the future of Hong Kong, and so should you,” Lee said.

Lee invoked the slogan “patriots administering Hong Kong,” a reference to official efforts to block pro-democracy activists from holding public office. He said a speech given by President Xi Jinping during a July 1 visit would be his government’s “blueprint for governance.”

On Friday, Premier Li Keqiang, China's No. 2 leader behind Xi, promised at a National Day reception in Beijing to keep economic performance “within an appropriate range” despite the pressure of the pandemic, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The United States, Britain and other governments complain Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong in response to pro-democracy protests that began in 2019 violates its promise of autonomy for the former British colony.

Washington and other governments have imposed sanctions on some officials associated with the crackdown and withdrawn trade and other privileges that treated Hong Kong as a separate territory from the mainland.

This year’s National Day, normally one of China's busiest tourism periods, is overshadowed by anti-virus controls while other governments have eased travel and other restrictions.

The ruling party faces mounting complaints about the economic and human cost of travel and other restrictions.

Curbs are expected to stay in place at least until after a ruling party congress that begins Oct. 16, at which Xi, China’s most influential political figure in decades, is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader.

Hong Kong is easing travel and other restrictions to revive what used to be one of Asia’s most robust economies after activity contracted by 1.4% from a year earlier in the three months ending in June.

Visitors will be allowed to wait out a three-day quarantine at home instead of under supervision in a hotel under measures announced by Lee on Sept. 23.

In Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, members of the Taiwan People's Communist Party raised the Chinese flag in the southern city of Tainan and chanted, “Long live the Motherland.” The group of about 150 people released red balloons and white doves.

The party is led by Te-Wang Lin, a businessman who works in China. He once prompted controversy by driving a car from China with mainland license plates on Taiwanese roads.

Xi's government is stepping up efforts to intimidate Taiwan by flying fighter planes and bombers near the island and firing missiles into the sea. Beijing says the island is obliged to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has upgraded Malaysia's air safety rating to Category 1, allowing the country's carriers to expand flights to the United States after a three-year hiatus, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said Saturday.

Wee said the move will bolster tourism and economic growth in Malaysia, which opened up from pandemic shutdowns in April.

“With the return to Category 1, our airlines can now mount new flights to the U.S. and have code sharing with American carriers. There is no more barrier now,” said Wee, who was in Montreal for an ICAO assembly. “This is good news after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Riad Asmat, CEO of low-cost carrier AirAsia Malaysia, said it was a “very good start.” He said AirAsia, currently the only Malaysian carrier that flies to the United States — from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu — will seek opportunities to expand in the U.S.

The FAA lowered Malaysia's rating in November 2019 to Category 2 due to non-compliance with safety standards. The FAA identified deficiencies in areas including technical expertise, record keeping and inspection procedures.

Under the FAA system, countries are listed either as Category 1, which meets International Civil Aviation Organization standards, or Category 2, which doesn't meet standards.

Wee told an online news conference that the downgrade prompted Malaysia to restructure its Civil Aviation Authority and make various efforts to strengthen its aviation workforce, documentation processes and inspection methods to ensure effective safety oversight.

He said the FAA was satisfied the issues identified in 2019 had been rectified, but found 29 new problems in its December assessment. Those issues were swiftly rectified in the first half this year, he said, and the FAA has restored Malaysia's Category 1 rating.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail said the national carrier will resume flight plans with its partners, especially American Airlines, but didn't elaborate.

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GENEVA (AP) — Western countries are leading a rare two-pronged push at the U.N.’s main human rights body to better scrutinize the human rights records of two big world powers: China, over allegations of abuses during an anti-extremism campaign in western Xinjiang, and Russia, over its government's crackdown on dissent and protest against the war in Ukraine.

Going after two such influential U.N. members — two of the five permanent members of the Security Council no less — at the same time will be no small political task, diplomats and rights advocates say. It testifies to a growing rift between democracies and more autocratic countries, and is shaping up as a gamble of geopolitical clout, the outcome of which will resonate beyond the Geneva conference room where the Human Rights Council meets.

Some Western diplomats insist it’s now or never, and say it just so happens the two issues need separate attention.

Britain, Canada, the U.S. and the five Nordic countries are leading a call for council members to agree a debate at its next session in March on alleged abuses against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. They aim to build momentum on an Aug. 31 report by the U.N. human rights chief that raised concerns about possible crimes against humanity during Beijing's anti-extremism drive in the region.

On Tuesday, 26 European Union countries — all of them except Hungary — floated a proposal for the council to appoint a “special rapporteur” on Russia, citing a string of concerns about mass arrests and detentions; harassment of journalists, opposition politicians, activists and rights defenders; and crackdowns — at times violent — on protesters against President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

Both issues will come up for a vote near the end of the council’s current session on Oct. 7.

Intense backroom diplomacy is already underway. Developing countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East make up the majority of the 47 current members of the council. Stalwart allies of China and Russia, including Cuba, Eritrea and Venezuela, are members, as is China itself. Western and European countries have 13 seats.

Some European diplomats have expressed concern that the cultural, political and economic ties — even dependence — that many developing countries have with both Russia and China could torpedo the Western initiatives.

Alexander Pchelyakov, press secretary of the Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva, rejected the “politicized” Western proposal on Russia, insisting its “main goals are to punish Russia for pursuing an independent foreign policy course" and to divert attention away from the West's own problems when it comes to human rights, economics and energy.

The proposal on China is for a simple debate, with no consistent monitoring of the rights situation, and is just about the least intrusive form of scrutiny that the council could seek. The call stops short of creating a team of investigators to look into possible crimes in Xinjiang, or appoint a special rapporteur — a proposal that is on the table with Russia.

John Fisher, global advocacy deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said recently that action on China and Russia are its top two priorities, and they amount to “no small challenge."

“There was a time when states like China and Russia felt to be almost untouchable,” he said. "But it now feels that states of principle are finally saying ‘enough’ and standing up to those who would seek to disrupt the international rules-based order.”

“Even the fact that these initiatives are under active consideration — and quite likely both to move forward — is itself a signal of the relevance and engagement of the Human Rights Council," Fisher added.

Western diplomats appear to feel more confident about success with the Russia measure. The council has little power to force countries to act, and there's little certainty that Moscow would even allow an outside U.N.-backed monitor into Russia as part of the post — if the council seeks to create it.

The Xinjiang debate proposal is shaping up as the bigger ask, diplomats say. The situation is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a less pressing one than in Russia, where a crackdown is continuing. China, ever-protective of its reputation as its global profile and power rise, has said it has largely shuttered what it called training centers in Xinjiang — and what critics derided as detention centers.

One Western diplomat whose country backs the debate on Xinjiang, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, insisted the proposal was a “measured” response. Some supporters of China fret that the plan for a springtime debate is secretly just a foot in the door — a quiet effort that will aim to ramp up pressure on Beijing later on.

A key test will be with Africa, whose countries hold 13 council seats. Some have populations that are predominantly Muslim.

Nicolas Agostini of DefendDefenders, an NGO that promotes human rights in East Africa, told reporters recently that it estimates most African countries will abstain in the Russia vote, but maybe one or two — “we identified Malawi and the Gambia as the two most progressive African states that are members of the council right now” — will vote yes.

“Regarding China, it’s much more complex,” he said, alluding to "extreme Chinese pressure on African states, including members of the OIC — the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — that are African states.”

One African diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity because his country is still calibrating its response, said it has a “principled and objective approach” on the China resolution.

“We will have to consider our bilateral relations with the Chinese,” the diplomacy said coyly. “We're not just going to jump in there (in support of the draft decision).”

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, the fourth round this week of weapons launches that prompted quick, strong condemnation from its rivals.

In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is deepening the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from South Korean and U.S. militaries should such weapons be used.

“North Korea hasn’t abandoned its obsession with nukes and missiles despite the persistent international objection in the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the military headquarters in central South Korea. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Korean people in further pains.”

“If North Korea attempts to use nukes, it’ll face a resolute, overwhelming response by the South Korea-U.S. alliance and our military,” Yoon said.

Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in July alleged that Yoon’s government was led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has also rebuffed Yoon’s offers of massive assistance in return for denuclearization.

The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval drills between South Korea and the United States and their other training that involved Japan. North Korea views such military exercises by the allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues they reveal U.S. and South Korean “double standards” because they brand the North’s weapons tests as provocation.

On Saturday, South Korea, Japanese and U.S. militaries said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region.

According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350-400 kilometers (220-250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 kilometers (20-30 miles) before they landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, said the missiles showed “irregular” trajectory.

Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and “irregular” trajectory suggest they were likely nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed the Iskander-like weapon to defeat South Korean and U.S. missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including U.S. military bases there.

The five other ballistic missiles fired by North Korea on three occasions this week show similar trajectories to the ones detected Saturday.

“The repeated ballistic missile firings by North Korea are a grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Ino called the launches “absolutely impermissible," adding that four rounds of missile testing by North Korea in a week is “unprecedented.”

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

On Friday, South Korea, the United States and Japan held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Earlier this week, South Korean and U.S. warships conducted bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military drills this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The North Korean missile tests this week also bookended U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' visit Thursday to South Korea, where she reaffirmed the United States' “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last month adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalatory nuclear doctrine.

During his speech Saturday, Yoon said the North Korean law threatens South Korea's national existence and that Seoul will expand military exercises with Washington and bolster South Korea’s own missile strike and surveillance capacities in response.

South Korean officials have typically avoided harsh rhetoric on North Korea to prevent an escalation of animosities. But Yoon’s Defense Ministry has recently warned North Korea would self-destruct if it uses its nuclear weapons

This year, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests in what experts call an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. South Korean and U.S. officials say North Korea has also completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test, which would be the seventh of its kind and the first in five years.

Experts say Kim Jong Un eventually wants to use the enlarged nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he views as necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.

Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. The country’s missile launches this year are seen as exploiting a divide at the U.N. council over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and U.S.-China competitions.

“North Korea’s frequent short-range missile tests may strain the isolated state’s resources. But because of deadlock on the U.N. Security Council, they are a low-cost way for the Kim regime to signal its displeasure with Washington and Seoul’s defense exercises while playing the domestic politics of countering an external threat,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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TOKYO (AP) — A popular Japanese professional wrestler and lawmaker Antonio Inoki, who faced a world boxing champion Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match in 1976, has died at 79.

Inoki brought Japanese pro-wrestling to fame and pioneered mixed martial arts matches between top wrestlers and champions from other combat sports like judo, karate and boxing.

Inoki, who was battling a rare disease called amyloidosis, died earlier Saturday, according to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., of which he was the founding president.

He rose to global fame in the sport in 1976 when he faced Ali in a mixed martial arts match at Tokyo’s Budokan hall, an exhibition match that Japanese fans remember as “the fight of the century.”

To many of those outside Japan, however, the match was seen as unprofessional and not taken seriously. Inoki was mostly on the mat and kicking at Ali’s legs as the boxing champion circled around him.

He was the first in his sport to enter politics. He promoted peace through sports and made more than 30 trips to North Korea during his time as a lawmaker in hopes of forging peace and friendship.

Inoki was upbeat and in good spirits, even as he was fighting the disease. With his trademark red scarf dangling from his neck, Inoki last appeared in public in August on a TV show, in a wheelchair.

“As you can see, I'm pushing myself to the limit, and I'm getting power as I get to see you,” he said.

Born as Kanji Inoki in 1943 in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, he moved to Brazil with his family when he was 13 and worked at a coffee plantation. Inoki won local fame in shot put as a student, and debuted as a professional wrestler at 17 while on wrestling tour in Brazil where he captured the attention of Rikidozan, known as the father of Japanese pro-wrestling.

Inoki made his pro-wrestling debut in 1960 and gave himself a ring name Antonio Inoki two years later.

With his archrival and another Japanese legend, the late Shohei “Giant” Baba, Inoki made pro-wrestling a hugely popular sport in Japan. Inoki founded the New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972.

Inoki entered politics in 1989 after winning a seat in the upper house, one of Japan’s two chambers of parliament, and headed the Sports and Peace Party. He traveled to Iraq in 1990 to win the release of Japanese citizens who were held hostage there. He also staged a pro-wrestling match in North Korea.

Inoki built a personal connection with North Korea over the years and visited the country repeatedly to help resolve Japan’s longstanding issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals to the North.

He retired as a wrestler in 1998, but remained active in politics until 2019.

An outpouring of tributes were posted on social media.

“A huge star has fallen. An era has come to an end,” tweeted Atsushi Onita, also a wrestler who once served as lawmaker. Onita called Inoki "the great father of pro-wrestling” and added, “Thank you Inoki-san. I express my condolences from the bottom of my heart.”

Yoshifu Arita, a journalist and former lawmaker, praised Inoki for his effort to resolve the abduction issue with the North.

“Another important route with North Korea is lost,” Arita tweeted, as he criticized other former Japanese leaders for relying on “useless” connections and making no improvement. “Thank you for your hard work, Mr. Inoki.”

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, which was the target of deadly protests during the summer, said the United Nations is “ready and willing” to work closely with the government to step up the pace of withdrawal of the U.N. force that has over 14,000 troops and police.

Bintou Keita told the Security Council on Friday that in the wake of the resurgence of the M23 rebel group in recent months, the “crisis of confidence” that had already affected the U.N. mission and the people in eastern Congo had worsened. This provided “fertile ground” for stigmatization of the force and the sowing of disinformation about the mission, known as MONUSCO.

"That has led to new violent protests and serious incidents claiming the lives of some dozens of protesters and of four mission personnel,” she said.

Congo’s mineral-rich east is home to myriad rebel groups. Security has worsened there despite a year of emergency operations by the armies of Congo and Uganda. Civilians in the east have faced violence from jihadi rebels linked to the Islamic State group. Fighting has also escalated between Congolese troops and the M23 rebels, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes.

MONUSCO’s mission is to protect civilians, deter armed groups, and build the capacity of state institutions and services. But protesters said armed groups were still roaming the east and the U.N. force wasn’t protecting them. The peacekeepers were also accused of retaliating against the protesters, sometimes with force.

Keita reiterated her “deepest condolences” to families of the victims and deep regret at the violence. Congo’s government said in early August that at least 36 people were killed and more than 170 others injured in the protests.

She condemned “in the strongest terms incitement to hatred, hostility and violence” and welcomed a statement by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi at last week’s annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly “against tribalism and hate speech.” She also welcomed efforts by Congolese authorities, civil society, and influential community figures “that have called for calm and restraint in an incredibly difficult security context.”

Keita, who is also the U.N. special envoy, said the United Nations is supporting government efforts to thwart “inter-communal tensions” in eastern Congo, and she encouraged the government to adopt a draft law in parliament against tribalism, racism and xenophobia.

After the anti-U.N. protests, Tshisekedi called a meeting to reassess MONUSCO’s presence. Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula later mentioned 2024 as the goal for withdrawal of the force. It took over from an earlier peacekeeping operation in 2010.

Noting the president’s instruction to the government “to reevaluate the transition plan, in order to step up the pace of Moscow’s withdrawal,” Keita said, “We are ready and willing to work closely with the government to this end.”

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GENEVA (AP) — Political issues are swirling around the Iran men’s soccer team amid turmoil on the streets at home just weeks before the World Cup where it will play the United States, Wales and England.

At home in Iran, two weeks of demonstrations and a violent crackdown by state authorities have followed the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police. She had been detained for allegedly wearing a mandatory headscarf too loosely.

Players made their silent protest at a World Cup warmup game this week, where the Iranian soccer federation tried to silence fans by locking them out of the stadium in Austria.

The federation also tried this month to organize a warmup game in November with Russia, Iran’s military ally whose teams are pariahs in soccer since the invasion of Ukraine.

FIFA was urged Friday by long-time campaigners for the rights of women fans to attend games in Iran to expel the national team from the World Cup.

“The Islamic Republic’s authorities and its football federation must not be given the honor of participating in football’s finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets,” the Open Stadiums group said.

Open Stadiums called on FIFA to uphold its statutory commitment to respect and strive to promote “all internationally recognized human rights.”

Soccer’s governing body did not immediately comment on the fans' request.

FIFA already did expel Russia from this World Cup — imposing a ban before a European qualifying playoffs semifinal in March against Poland — though without invoking human rights reasons. Instead, FIFA cited “irreparable and chaotic” harm to the World Cup due to security risks and potential opponents likely refusing to play Russia.

Iran should certainly play at the World Cup in Qatar, its near neighbor across the Persian Gulf water, though the likelihood increased this week of political disruption for FIFA to deal with at the tournament starting Nov. 20.

Players have made their stand after being criticized for not reacting to Amini’s death days later at their first warmup game in Austria.

On Sunday, striker Sardar Azmoun wrote to his 4.9 million followers on Instagram that team rules prohibited comment “but I am no longer able to tolerate silence.”

He added being kicked out of the team would be “a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair.”

A team-wide reaction followed Tuesday when the Iranian anthem played ahead of the game against Senegal. Each player wore a wore a plain black jacket that covered up their national team badge.

The game went ahead without fans in the stadium near Vienna, as the federation tried to stop demonstrators outside using a platform for dissent that would be seen on a live broadcast at home.

Star striker Mehdi Taremi later wrote on Instagram of being “ashamed” to see videos from Iran of violence against women in the streets.

Protesters in Iran have also targeted wider repression with some calls to overthrow the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Soccer was drawn closer into the Iranian turmoil in the same week FIFA president Gianni Infantino claimed progress for women’s fans there at a World Trade Organization event in Geneva.

“Women attend football games now in Iran which was not possible until a couple of (months) ago,” Infantino said Tuesday, when he also visited United Nations human rights officials hours before the Iran players’ protest in Austria.

Infantino’s claim was disputed by Open Stadiums which said “when the Islamic Republic pretended to open league matches for women, it was far from the equality FIFA’s own statutes require.”

“To begin with, very few women could buy tickets, then in a humiliating way got physically harassed by Iran’s morality police,” the activist group said.

The tension between FIFA and Iranian women fans is despite some success at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

FIFA intervened four years ago to ensure fans could display their campaign banners in stadiums.

More cooperation could be called upon in Qatar, when Iran has a global audience to face England in just the second game of the tournament on Nov. 21.

Coach Carlos Queiroz's team also faces Wales in Group B on Nov. 25 and four days later against the U.S.

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John Duerden in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report

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