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BERLIN (AP) — Germany's health minister expects the number of coronavirus infections in the country to keep rising for several weeks before peaking next month.

Karl Lauterbach told German public broadcaster ZDF late Wednesday that “the wave will reach its peak roughly in mid-February.”

Lauterbach warned that while hospitalization rates are currently low, clinics could see a severe strain in the coming weeks, noting that the share of people over age 50 who aren't vaccinated is significantly higher in Germany than in other European countries, such as Italy and Britain.

Germany's disease control agency reported 133,536 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, and 234 deaths.

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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  • Updated

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Long-haul carrier Emirates said Thursday it would resume its Boeing 777 flights to the U.S. after halting its use of the aircraft there over an ongoing dispute over the rollout of new 5G services in America.

International carriers that rely heavily on the wide-body Boeing 777, and other Boeing aircraft, canceled early flights or switched to different planes Wednesday following warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Chicago-based plane maker over possible interference from the new 5G signals with radio altimeters.

The FAA gave approval late Wednesday for more types of planes to land in low visibility near 5G signals, including the Boeing 777.

Among the most-affect airlines by the FAA decision was Dubai-based Emirates, a crucial East-West travel airline which flies only the 777 and the double-decker Airbus A380.

Emirates said its Boeing 777 service to Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Newark, Orlando and Seattle would resume Friday.

Flights to Boston, Houston and San Francisco, which saw Emirates deploy its Airbus A380 jumbo jet, will resume Boeing 777 flights on Saturday.

Tim Clark, Emirates president, apologized in a statement to the airline's customers for the disruption.

“Safety will always be our top priority, and we will never gamble on this front,” Clark said. “We welcome the latest development which enables us to resume essential transport links to the U.S. to serve travellers and cargo shippers.”

He added: “However, we are also very aware that this is a temporary reprieve, and a long-term resolution would be required.”

Similar 5G mobile networks have been deployed in more than three dozen countries, but there are key differences in how the U.S. networks are designed that raised concern of potential problems for airlines.

The Verizon and AT&T networks use a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to the one used by radio altimeters, devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground to help pilots land in low visibility. The Federal Communications Commission, which set a buffer between the frequencies used by 5G and altimeters, said the wireless service posed no risk to aviation.

But FAA officials saw a potential problem, and the telecom companies agreed to delay their rollout near more than 80 airports while the agency assesses which aircraft are safe to fly near 5G and which will need new altimeters.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia accused the West on Thursday of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine even as it blames Moscow of planning aggressive military action in the neighboring country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that Ukrainian and Western claims of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine were a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”

“They may have extremely tragic consequences for the regional and global security,” Zakharova said.

She pointed to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine by British military transport planes in recent days, claiming that Ukraine perceives Western military assistance as a “carte blanche for a military operation in Donbas.”

Donbas, located in eastern Ukraine, is under control of Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces for nearly eight years, a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.

Ukraine said earlier this week that it has taken the delivery of anti-tank missiles from the U.K. It has rejected Moscow’s claims that it plans an offensive to reclaim control of separatist-held areas in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's government, the U.S. and its NATO allies have expressed intensifying concerns in recent weeks over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.

The concentration of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to attack its neighbor. U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks Russia will invade Ukraine and warned President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.

Moscow has repeatedly denied having plans to launch an offensive. But it has sought a set of security guarantees from the West that would exclude NATO's expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations and the deployment of the alliance weapons there.

Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands in security talks last weeks, but kept the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for hostilities.

Amid the tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine Wednesday to reassure it of Western support. He traveled to Berlin on Thursday to meet with his British, French and German counterparts to discuss Ukraine and other security matters.

Blinken is set to deliver a speech on the Ukraine crisis later Thursday in the German capital before flying on to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Poland for two days of talks with his Polish counterpart. Poland, a European Union member state on Ukraine’s western border, has long supported Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to the democratic Western world.

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said in a Thursday morning radio interview that Poland is offering its political and diplomatic support to Ukraine, but he would not say whether military aid would be extended amid the Russian troop buildup.

“We are aware of how serious the situation is, hence our diplomatic activity,” Przydacz said on Radio RMF FM from the southern Polish city of Wisla, where Zelenskyy will visit Poland’s President Andrzej Duda through Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks Russia will invade Ukraine, and he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.

The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a “false-flag operation” to create a pretext for possible invasion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.”

In a move that further beefs up forces near Ukraine, Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s far east to its ally Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games that run through Feb. 20. Ukrainian officials have said that Moscow could use Belarusian territory to launch a potential multi-pronged invasion.

Polish Defense Minister said that along with offering support for Ukraine, Poland is reinforcing its own military capabilities.

“A firm policy is the best argument to an aggressive Russian policy, which is not something new, and an appropriate reaction is important,” Blaszczak said.

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Vanessa Gera contributed reporting from Warsaw.

AP
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel signed a three billion euro ($3.4 billion) deal on Thursday to buy three cutting edge submarines from Germany, the defense ministry announced.

The Dakar-class diesel-electric submarines will be produced by German manufacturer Thyssenkrupp and are expected to be delivered within nine years, the ministry said.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the procurement "will upgrade the capabilities of the Israeli Navy, and will contribute to Israel’s security superiority in the region.” Part of the cost of the ships will be covered by the German government, the ministry said.

Israeli and German officials inked the arms deal days before the Israeli Cabinet is set to vote on establishing a governmental committee to investigate the acquisition of submarines and other warships from Thyssenkrupp between 2009 and 2016, under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The newly acquired submarines are not directly related to that scandal, known as Case 3000.

Several Israeli businessmen, including Netanyahu's confidants and a former navy commander, are suspects in a graft scandal surrounding the purchase of naval armaments from Thyssenkrupp. Netanyahu was not named as a suspect in that scandal, but is currently on trial in three other corruption cases.

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BERLIN (AP) — Hardy Kruger, considered one of post-war Germany’s best actors, has died. He was 93.

His Hamburg-based literary agent, Peter Kaefferlein, said Thursday that Kruger died “suddenly and unexpectedly” Wednesday in California, where he lived with his third wife, American-born writer Anita Park.

Kruger starred in the 1957 British movie “The One That Got Away” about a captured German fighter pilot who stages a series of daring attempts to escape the Allies and, as the title suggests, finally succeeds.

His charm, good looks and the fact that he deserted from the Nazi army toward the end of World War II helped Kruger land further roles at a time when Germans of his generation were still eyed with suspicion abroad.

Kruger appeared in a string of English-language adventure and war movies, including “A Bridge too Far” (1977) and “The Wild Geese” (1978).

In later years, he focused on making travel films for German television, writing books and the occasional stage performance.

Franz Eberhard August Krueger was born April 12, 1928, in Berlin.

Initially, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his engineer father, but while at an elite Nazi boarding school he appeared in the 1944 film “Junge Adler.”

While it was intended as a propaganda movie, Kruger’s encounter with older actors on the set opened his eyes to the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.

As the war turned against Germany, Kruger’s Hitler Youth unit was drafted into the newly formed SS division “Nibelungen.”

Kruger, who was 16 at the time, found himself fighting experienced American troops in southern Germany.

In a 2006 interview with German daily Bild, he recounted how he and his school friends were sent to the front “as cannon fodder” in Hitler’s futile attempt to halt the Allies’ advance.

“I knew the war was lost,” he told the newspaper. “I knew that there were concentration camps and that the Nazis were a bunch of criminals.”

Kruger deserted and was captured by the Allies and spent some time as a POW. After the war, he returned to acting, first in theaters and then in Germany’s re-emerging movie industry.

Ambition led Kruger to Paris and London where he studied French and English, and dropped the umlaut in his surname name, in the hope of landing more glamorous roles in foreign films.

His breakthrough came when English director Roy Baker picked Kruger for the role of Luftwaffe ace Franz von Werra in “The One That Got Away.” Kruger managed to fit the archetype of the blond German soldier without appearing cold and superior — thereby avoiding being cast as the villain in the war movie roles that would inevitably follow.

"I had no interest in playing the war criminal,” Kruger said in a 2003 interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, adding that he wanted to portray the many Germans who found themselves unwilling participants in the war. In later years, Kruger supported campaigns to educate younger generations about Nazi crimes and confront neo-Nazi groups in post-war Germany.

“The fight against racism and the education of young people was his personal mission in life,” Kruger's agent said in a statement. “His warmth, his joy for life and his unshakable sense of justice made him unforgettable.”

Once again in the role of a former fighter pilot, Kruger starred in the French movie “Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray,” which won an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1963. Claude Martin, a former French ambassador in Berlin, said years later that the film inspired sympathy for the Germans among French moviegoers whose memories of the war were still fresh.

During the 1960s and ’70s Kruger appeared in numerous international blockbusters, starring alongside John Wayne in the safari movie “Hatari” (1962), and “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965), whose all-star cast included James Stewart, Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch.

An avid traveler, he once owned a farm in Tanzania at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kruger is survived by Park and his children Christiane, Malaika and Hardy Jr. from previous marriages.

AP
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Accusing the United States of hostility and threats, North Korea on Thursday said it will consider restarting “all temporally-suspended activities” it had paused during its diplomacy with the Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un presided over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party where officials set policy goals for “immediately bolstering” military capabilities to counter the Americans’ “hostile moves.”

Officials gave instructions to “reconsider in an overall scale the trust-building measures that we took on our own initiative … and to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities,” the KCNA said.

Experts say Kim is reviving an old playbook of brinkmanship to extract concessions from Washington and neighbors as he grapples with a decaying economy crippled by the pandemic, mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions.

The North has been ramping up its weapons demonstrations recently, including four rounds of missile launches just this month, in an apparent effort to pressure Washington over a prolonged freeze in nuclear diplomacy.

The North’s Foreign Ministry had already warned of stronger action after the Biden administration last week imposed fresh sanctions over its continued missile tests. The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed-door meeting for Thursday to discuss North Korea and non-proliferation matters.

South Korea said its military was closely monitoring the North as it urged its rival to return to dialogue.

China, North Korea’s main ally, repeated its denouncement of U.S. sanctions through a Foreign Ministry briefing on Thursday, calling them a source of tension on the Korean Peninsula. China has avoided criticizing the North over its recent missile launches and endorsed a return to multinational disarmament talks hosted by Beijing that have stalled since 2008.

Kim announced a unilateral suspension of his nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2018, as he initiated talks with then-President Donald Trump in an attempt to leverage his nukes for badly needed economic benefits.

Their summits followed a provocative run in North Korean nuclear and intercontinental range ballistic missile testing in 2017 that demonstrated Kim’s pursuit of an arsenal that can target the American homeland. He also exchanged threats of nuclear annihilation with Trump.

But negotiations have stalled since their second summit in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

At the end of that year, Kim returned to familiar threats and said the North was no longer obligated to maintain its suspension on nuclear and ICBM tests, which Trump touted as a major achievement.

However, the pandemic thwarted many of Kim’s economic goals as the North imposed a lockdown and halted most of its trade with China.

North Korea appeared this month to have resumed railroad freight traffic with China that had been suspended for two years.

It conducted its sixth and last test of a nuclear explosive device in September 2017. and its last launch of an ICBM was in November that year.

Some experts say that the North could dramatically raise the ante in weapons demonstrations after the end of February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. They say Pyongyang’s leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has offered open-ended talks but showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon his nuclear and missile program.

Saying that U.S. hostility has reached a “danger line” that can no longer be overlooked, the North Korean Politburo members called for practical measures to “more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength for defending dignity, sovereign rights and interests of our state," the KCNA said.

They criticized United States of continuing its military exercises with South Korea and arming its ally with advanced weaponry and claimed — apparently falsely — that Washington is continuing to send strategic assets to the region to pressure the North.

The United States since 2018 has dramatically scaled down its combined exercises with South Korea, which have mostly been reduced to computer simulations, to make room for diplomacy with North Korea and over COVID-19 concerns.

Duyeon Kim, an analyst at Washington’s Center for a New American Security, said North Korea’s claim of U.S. hostility is a pretext for continuing testing.

“Pyongyang is squarely focused on meeting its nuclear weapons milestones because of its military imperative to do so. This means more tests to come,” she said. “The pandemic has bought Pyongyang ample time to continue developing nuclear weapons because North Korea closed its borders and has been refusing direct talks, afraid of importing the virus.”

Kim Jong Un in recent years had showcased some new weapons he may wish to test, including what appeared to be North Korea’s largest ICBM that was rolled out during a military parade in October 2020.

He also issued an ambitious wish list of sophisticated weaponry early last year while setting a five-year plan to develop military forces, which included hypersonic missiles, solid-fuel ICBMs, spy satellites and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

If the North does stage another nuclear test, it may use it to claim it acquired an ability to build a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a purported hypersonic missile it tested twice so far this year, experts say.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the country's missile programs.

The State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a Russian man and a Russian company for their broader support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction activities. The Biden administration also said it would pursue additional U.N. sanctions over the North’s tests.

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BANGKOK (AP) — As the massive undersea Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, Tongans from around the world gazed on as their relatives livestreamed images of billowing clouds of ash, gas and steam emerging from beneath the depths.

Then darkness.

The eruption severed Tonga's single fiber-optic cable, rendering the entire Pacific archipelago offline and unable to communicate with the rest of the world — and leaving their loved ones terrified about what might have happened.

“It was absolutely crazy,” said Koniseti Liutai, a Tongan who lives in Australia.

“We were talking with family and relatives, because they were excitedly showing us the volcano's activities, then we heard the explosion and the big bang and everything went dark,” he said. “Then the next information we got was the tsunami warning and then the tsunami hitting; we were all absolutely fearing the worst.”

It wasn't only family and friends who could not get through. Huge ash clouds made backup communication by satellite phone next to impossible, and world leaders were not even able to get in touch with their Tongan counterparts to see what help they needed.

As the ash cleared, satellite communication improved and Tonga's telecoms operator, Digicel, said it had been able to restore international call services to some areas late Wednesday.

It cautioned, however, that due to the high number of calls and the limited capacity of its satellite link that people may need to try repeatedly to get through — something experienced by Liutai, who is deputy president of the Tonga Australia Chamber of Commerce.

“My first direct information was this morning,” he said Thursday. “My daughter, after 100 phone calls during the day and night, got through to my aunties, my mum's sisters, and we were in tears of joy — it was three in the morning, but for us it was like the middle of the day; we were so pumped and so happy.”

So far, three people have been confirmed killed after the volcanic eruption 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and the tsunami that followed. Several small settlements in outlying islands were wiped off the face of the map, according to the Red Cross and official reports, necessitating the evacuation of several hundred residents.

With the resumption of some communications, more photos have begun to emerge of the destruction, showing the once-verdant islands turned a charcoal black by a thick coating of volcanic dust.

Coastlines are strewn with debris, while people work to clean streets and walkways.

The 2-centimeter (0.78 inch) layer of ash that rendered the runway at Fua’amotu International Airport unusable has now been cleared, and the first flights carrying fresh water and other aid arrived Thursday.

A repair ship is being sent from Papua New Guinea to work on the undersea cable, but it will take some time to get to Tonga and the company in charge estimates it could take longer than a month to repair the line.

Given that the cable runs right through the volcanic zone, any new volcanic activity could completely scupper even that timeline.

For Liutai, who runs a business in Tonga, regular visits had allowed him to stay in close touch in the past, but with COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, he has come to rely on video calls like many other Tongans living abroad.

With that possibility now cut off, at least for the near future, he's hoping at least better telephone connections will soon be available so that the 106,000 residents of Tonga can better reach the outside world to tell their friends and family what's going on.

“It's something we've become so used to, talking to each other and sharing information with the ease of social media,” the 52-year-old said. “But when something scary has happened and you fear the worst, and even the government statement was general with no information, we were all nervous wrecks.”

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BEIJING (AP) — Global stocks were mixed Thursday after China cut interest rates and President Joe Biden said “we're not there yet” on lowering punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.

London and Tokyo gained while Shanghai and Frankfurt declined.

Wall Street futures were higher after the benchmark S&P 500 index lost 1% on Wednesday.

The Chinese central bank cut rates on one- and five-year loans after growth in the world’s second-largest economy sank to 4% over a year earlier in the latest quarter following a crackdown on surging debt among real estate developers.

“The question remains whether banks will respond by increasing lending,” Iris Pang of ING said in a report. Amid uncertainty about heavily indebted developers, Pang said, “banks will be picky about who they lend to.”

Biden said Wednesday it was uncertain when his administration could lift tariffs imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, on Chinese imports beginning in 2018 in a fight over technology and trade. The two sides signed a preliminary deal in January 2019.

“I’d like to be able to be in a position where I could say they’re meeting the commitments," Biden said at a news conference. “But we’re not there yet.”

In early trading, the FTSE 100 in London gained 0.1% to 7,602.94 while Frankfurt's DAX shed less than 0.1% to 15,802.96. The CAC 40 in Paris lost 0.2% to 7,157.90.

On Wall Street, futures for the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were 0.3% higher.

On Wednesday, the Dow retreated 1% on Wednesday and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite lost 1.4%.

Apple shed 2.1% and chipmaker Nvidia fell 3.2%. The technology sector of the S&P 500 has fallen more than 8% this year.

The market “succumbed to renewed fears of inflation/Fed tightening,” Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank said in a report.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index lost less than 0.1% to 3,555.06 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 3.4% to 24,952.35.

The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo gained 1.1% to 27,772.93 after December exports rose 17.5% over a year earlier. Growth in auto exports accelerated to 17.5% from November's 4.1%.

The Kospi in Seoul added 0.7% to 2,862.68 while Sydney's S&P ASX 200 gained 0.1% to 7,342.40.

India's Sensex lost 1.4% to 59,235.17. New Zealand declined while Southeast Asian markets advanced.

Investors have been wary since Fed officials said in mid-December plans to wind down bond purchases and other stimulus would be accelerated due to the spike in U.S. inflation to a four-decade high.

Late Tuesday, investors were pricing in a better than 86% probability the Fed will raise short-term rates at its March meeting, according to CME Group. That is up from 47% a month ago.

On Wednesday, Biden called on the Fed to do more to fight inflation.

“Given the strength of our economy, and the pace of recent price increases, it’s important to recalibrate the support that is now necessary,” Biden said.

Investors are watching the latest round of corporate earnings for indications inflation might be cutting into profits.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude lost 42 cents to $85.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 62 cents to $87.82 per barrel in London.

The dollar edged up to 114.31 yen from Wednesday's 114.25 yen. The euro gained to $1.1356 from $1.1351.

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BERLIN (AP) — A long-awaited report on the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse by clergy and others in Germany's Munich archdiocese, which was once led by retired Pope Benedict XVI, is set to be released Thursday.

The archdiocese commissioned the report from law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl nearly two years ago, with a mandate to look into abuse between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials handled allegations correctly.

The archdiocese, whose current archbishop is a prominent ally of Pope Francis, and the law firm say that top church officials have not been informed of the results ahead of its publication.

Munich's archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, hasn't been implicated in any wrongdoing to date. But in an extraordinary gesture last year, he offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases, declaring that the scandals had brought the church to “a dead end.”

Francis swiftly rejected the offer but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the abuse crisis.

A church-commissioned report concluded in 2018 at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger, and nearly a third served as altar boys.

In recent months, turbulence in the Cologne archdiocese over officials' handling of abuse allegations has convulsed the German church. A report last year found that the archbishop of Hamburg, a former Cologne church official, neglected his duty in several cases in handling such allegations, but Francis rejected his resignation offer.

That report cleared Cologne's archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, of wrongdoing. But Woelki's handling of the issue infuriated many Catholics. He had kept under wraps a first report on church officials' actions, drawn up by the same firm that produced the Munich report, citing legal concerns.

In September, the pope gave Woelki a several-month “spiritual timeout” after what the Vatican called “major errors” of communication.

Marx, a reformist who sits on powerful financial and political committees at the Vatican, has been the archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008.

His predecessors in the job include the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who served in Munich from 1977 to 1982 before becoming the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and his later election as pope.

When the church abuse scandal first flared in Germany in 2010, attention swirled around the case of a suspected pedophile priest whose transfer to Munich to undergo therapy Ratzinger approved in 1980.

The prelate was allowed to resume pastoral work, a decision that the church said was made by a lower-ranking official without consulting the archbishop. In 1986, the priest received a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.

The Munich archdiocese has scheduled a Jan. 27 news conference to respond to the report after an “initial examination.”

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At some of the world’s most sensitive spots, authorities have installed security screening devices made by a single Chinese company with deep ties to China’s military and the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party.

The World Economic Forum in Davos. Europe’s largest ports. Airports from Amsterdam to Athens. NATO’s borders with Russia. All depend on equipment manufactured by Nuctech, which has quickly become the world’s leading company, by revenue, for cargo and vehicle scanners.

Nuctech has been frozen out of the U.S. for years due to national security concerns, but it has made deep inroads across Europe, installing its devices in 26 of 27 EU member states, according to public procurement, government and corporate records reviewed by The Associated Press.

The complexity of Nuctech’s ownership structure and its expanding global footprint have raised alarms on both sides of the Atlantic.

A growing number of Western security officials and policymakers fear that China could exploit Nuctech equipment to sabotage key transit points or get illicit access to government, industrial or personal data from the items that pass through its devices.

Nuctech’s critics allege the Chinese government has effectively subsidized the company so it can undercut competitors and give Beijing potential sway over critical infrastructure in the West as China seeks to establish itself as a global technology superpower.

“The data being processed by these devices is very sensitive. It’s personal data, military data, cargo data. It might be trade secrets at stake. You want to make sure it’s in right hands,” said Bart Groothuis, director of cybersecurity at the Dutch Ministry of Defense before becoming a member of the European Parliament. “You’re dependent on a foreign actor which is a geopolitical adversary and strategic rival.”

He and others say Europe doesn’t have tools in place to monitor and resist such potential encroachment. Different member states have taken opposing views on Nuctech’s security risks. No one has even been able to make a comprehensive public tally of where and how many Nuctech devices have been installed across the continent.

Nuctech dismisses those concerns, countering that Nuctech’s European operations comply with local laws, including strict security checks and data privacy rules.

“It’s our equipment, but it’s your data. Our customer decides what happens with the data,” said Robert Bos, deputy general manager of Nuctech in the Netherlands, where the company has a research and development center.

He said Nuctech is a victim of unfounded allegations that have cut its market share in Europe nearly in half since 2019.

“It’s quite frustrating to be honest,” Bos told AP. “In the 20 years we delivered this equipment we never had issues of breaches or data leaks. Till today we never had any proof of it.”

In addition to scanning systems for people, baggage and cargo, the company makes explosives detectors and interconnected devices capable of facial recognition, body temperature measurement and ID card or ticket identification.

Critics fear that under China’s national intelligence laws, which require Chinese companies to surrender data requested by state security agencies, Nuctech would be unable to resist calls from Beijing to hand over sensitive data about the cargo, people and devices that pass through its scanners. They say there is a risk Beijing could use Nuctech’s presence across Europe to gather big data about cross-border trade flows, pull information from local networks, like shipping manifests or passenger information, or sabotage trade flows in a conflict.

Airports in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Athens, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Zurich, Geneva and more than a dozen across Spain have all signed deals for Nuctech equipment, procurement and government documents, and corporate announcements show.

Nuctech’s ownership structure is so complex that can be difficult for outsiders to understand the true lines of influence and accountability.

What is clear is that Nuctech, from its very origins, has been tied to Chinese government, academic and military interests.

Nuctech was founded as an offshoot of Tsinghua University, an elite public research university in Beijing. It grew with backing from the Chinese government and for years was run by the son of China’s former leader, Hu Jintao.

Datenna, a Dutch economic intelligence company focused on China, mapped the ownership structure of Nuctech and found a dozen major entities across four layers of shareholding, including four state-owned enterprises and three government entities.

Today the majority shareholder in Nuctech is Tongfang Co., which has a 71 percent stake. The largest shareholder in Tongfang, in turn, is the investment arm of the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), a state-run energy and defense conglomerate controlled by China’s State Council. The U.S. Defense Department classifies CNNC as a Chinese military company because it shares advanced technologies and expertise with the People’s Liberation Army.

Xi has further blurred the lines between China’s civilian and military activities and deepened the power of the ruling Communist Party within private enterprises. One way: the creation of dozens of government-backed financing vehicles designed to speed the development of technologies that have both military and commercial applications.

In fact, one of those vehicles, the National Military-Civil Fusion Industry Investment Fund, announced in June 2020 that it wanted to take a 4.4 percent stake in Nuctech’s majority shareholder, along with the right to appoint a director to the Tongfang board. It never happened — “changes in the market environment,” Tongfeng explained in a Chinese stock exchange filing.

But there are other links between Nuctech’s ownership structure and the fusion fund.

CNNC, which has a 21 percent interest in Nuctech, holds a stake of more than 7 percent in the fund, according to Qichacha, a Chinese corporate information platform. They also share personnel: Chen Shutang, a member of CNNC’s Party Leadership Group and the company’s chief accountant serves as a director of the fund, records show.

Nuctech maintains that its operations are shaped by market forces, not politics, and says CNNC doesn’t control its corporate management or decision-making.

But Jaap van Etten, a former Dutch diplomat and CEO of Datenna, said the question was “whether or not we want to allow Nuctech, which is controlled by the Chinese state and linked to the Chinese military, to be involved in crucial parts of our border security and infrastructure.”

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Associated Press researcher Chen Si in Shanghai and reporters Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Nina Bigalke in London, Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Justin Spike in Budapest, Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.