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Sheriff: 3 dead at Wisconsin quarry were shot over $600 debt

Authorities say three men who were found dead at the entrance of a quarry in western Wisconsin were forced to kneel on the ground and shot multiple times over a $600 debt

Khamthaneth Rattanasack, 44, and Nya Thao, 33, have each been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

They are accused of killing Peng Lor and Nemo Yang, both 24, and Trevor Maloney, 23, whose bodies were discovered shortly before 5 a.m. on July 23 outside the Romskog Quarry in western Wisconsin by two workers, La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf said.

Wolf said that hours after the bodies were found, a woman told authorities that she was with the victims the night before they were killed and the four of them were staying in the same hotel room in Onalaska. The woman said that early on the morning of July 23, she and the victims believed they were being followed by a black Mercedes Benz. They briefly stopped at another hotel and she went inside to drop off some items. She returned to her car to find the Mercedes next to it.

Thao was sitting in her vehicle, behind the driver’s seat, and Rattanasack was in the Mercedes, with one of the victims who had been in her car. The woman said Rattanasack had a gun, Wolf said.

The woman was told to drive her car and follow the Mercedes, then drive to the quarry near West Salem, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of La Crosse, which is along the Minnesota border. Rattanasack told all three of the victims to get on their knees, then he gave Thao the gun and Thao shot all three men multiple times, Wolf said.

The next day, someone in Minneapolis contacted the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office with information about the slayings. That person told authorities that the killings were over a $600 debt that was owed to Rattanasack, who had just gotten out of prison, Wolf said.

He did not know why the woman’s life was spared. Asked whether she had been threatened, he said he could not comment, but noted that she was fearful.

Rattanasack, also known as “Black” or “Kham,” was arrested Wednesday night in Amherst. Thao, also known as “Kush,” was arrested early Thursday in Wausau.

Wolf said they are both in custody at the La Crosse County Jail and have not yet made their first court appearance. Court records do not list attorneys to comment on their behalf.

Lor and Yang had no permanent address, but frequently lived in and around the La Crosse area, while Maloney’s last known addresses were in Cashton and Sparta in western Wisconsin, the sheriff’s department said.

Wolf said investigators believe some of the victims and suspects may have been members of rival gangs. He didn’t have specifics on their relationships.

Wolf said authorities do not have additional suspects at this time, but the investigation is ongoing.

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Kansas City Black clergy group calls for US probe of police

A group of Black clergy members is joining other civil rights groups in seeking a federal investigation into officer misconduct in the Kansas City police department

LIBERTY, Mo. — A group of mostly Black pastors has joined other civil rights organizations in Kansas City who are seeking a federal investigation into officer misconduct in the city’s police department.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the department because it has not been responsive to calls for more accountability, particularly in shootings or violent interactions with minority residents, Pastor Darron Edwards said.

“Something needs to happen to change the trajectory of our city in terms of protecting and serving people in all its Zip codes,” Edwards said Thursday.

On Monday, the Urban Council, an umbrella group of civil rights organizations, announced it had sent a letter to U.S Attorney Merrick Garland asking for an investigation into “disturbing patterns” of violent policing toward Black men.

The civil rights groups also criticized the Board of Police Commissioners, which includes the mayor and four members appointed by the governor. They say the board has protected the police department and the current organization makes Kansas City one of largest metropolitan cities in the U.S. without local police control.

Edwards said his group hand-delivered its letter to Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who represents the Kansas City area, about two weeks ago. The group has also asked the Missouri State Auditor and the Kansas City auditor to investigate aspects of the department.

The U.S Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the two calls for investigations. Scott Holste, a spokesman for the Missouri Auditor’s office, said the request from Getting to the Heart of the Matter is under review.

Kansas City police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina said the department has had an agreement with the Justice Department, the FBI and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office since 2015 to ensure the department reports incidents that could be considered civil rights violations or excessive force.

“We take very seriously the quality of relationships and respect between the community as well as members of the (police department),” said Becchina, who said the department has procedures to report discrimination or racial complaints and fully investigates those complaints.

The civil rights groups have long criticized the department and called for the resignation or firing of Police Chief Rick Smith, with the complaints increasing after racial injustice protests that began in the summer of 2020.

Unlike those groups, Getting to the Heart of the Matter had worked with the department to improve police-community relationships and was publicly lauded by Smith and others for those efforts.

That relationship changed on June 1, when the group released a video of a fatal police shooting of a Black man at a convenience store. Edwards and others said video of Malcolm Johnson, 31, being shot as he struggled with several officers contradicted the police department’s version that he was shot after he shot an officer.

They contend Johnson was “executed” by police while several officers had him pinned on the floor.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has turned its investigation into Johnson’s shooting over to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office.

Edwards said the department stopped working with his group since it held news conferences to question the Johnson case. He said he used to hear from Chief Smith or someone from the department nearly every day but has not received any communication or been asked to speak to any groups since June 1.

Becchina said in his statement that the department continues to work with Edwards and dozens of others in the faith based community on a weekly basis.

Edwards said the problems with the police department go beyond the Malcolm Johnson case.

“The investigations are necessary because I see no leadership from the chief of police,” Edwards said. “There is no accountability, no responsiveness to the needs or voices of the community.”

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Tornadoes spur injuries, damage in eastern Pennsylvania

At least five people were injured when severe weather struck homes and businesses in eastern Pennsylvania

BENSALEM, Pa. — At least five people were injured when severe weather struck an auto dealership, homes and other businesses in eastern Pennsylvania, authorities said.

The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes touched down Thursday in Bucks County, sending trees falling and debris flying. The thunderous downpour flooded streets and roadways.

“I have been doing this for 34 years, I haven’t seen that sort of devastation from a storm,” said Bensalem Police Public Safety Director Fred Harran.

One of those tornadoes damaged the auto dealership and a mobile home park, news outlets reported.

Four people were injured at the dealership and a fifth was hurt at a nearby business, Harran told reporters in a nighttime news conference. All injuries were considered non-life-threatening, he said.

A video posted on Twitter shows a building at the dealership collapsed, with emergency sirens abound.

Anthony Perez, an employee at the dealership, told The Courier Times of Bucks County that a weather alert sounded on his phone just before the tornado hit.

“At that point, we were looking for shelter,” he said. “Everything was in a flash.”

Harran said authorities would work through the night to help people secure housing or return to their homes, restore power outages and clear the roadways, which were littered with debris after the tornadoes blew through.

“We’re going to have Friday morning rush hour in that area, which has a lot of traffic,” Harran said.

Severe weather was a concern around the region Thursday, with the NWS issuing warnings in New Jersey and Ohio as well.

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GOP govs, lawmakers supporting Mississippi anti-abortion law

A dozen Republican governors and more than 200 GOP members of Congress are wading into a court fight over a Mississippi law to restrict abortion, the outcome of which could have implications for similar measures across the country.

On Thursday, attorneys for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, leader of the gubernatorial effort, submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Mississippi, which wants to enforce its 2018 law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi’s Republican attorney general filed papers last week asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic is challenging the legality of the 2018 law, arguing that it unconstitutionally restricts access to abortion. The nation’s high court will likely hear that case in the fall, with a decision probably in 2022.

Arguing the issue of abortion is best left to the states, rather than federal-level entities, the attorneys for the dozen Republican governors wrote that citizens have the ability to vote out state lawmakers with whom they disagree over abortion policies.

“The Court should take this opportunity to correct the mistakes in its abortion jurisprudence and recognize that the text and original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment have nothing to do with abortion,” McMaster’s attorneys wrote. “Rather than creating a federal constitutional right, the Court should leave regulating abortion to the States, where the people may act through the democratic process.”

McMaster’s attorneys also argued that the high court’s landmark abortion decisions have “upended the careful balance that the Constitution strikes between the Federal Government and the States.”

The arguments are similar to the ones made by Mississippi’s attorney general.

Also Thursday, an amicus brief from 184 U.S. House members and 44 U.S. senators, all Republicans, also argued in favor of delegating governance over abortion-related issues to the states, calling it “long overdue for this Court to return lawmaking to legislators.”

About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Earlier this year, McMaster signed the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” which requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, something typically detected about six weeks after conception. If it’s found, the abortion can be performed only if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.

Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from taking effect during the lawsuit, which is on hold pending the Mississippi case.

In 2019, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation that would outlaw almost all abortions, with no exceptions for cases of rape and incest. A federal judge has blocked that measure from taking effect.

“There is nothing wrong with giving this issue back to the people,” McMaster’s attorneys wrote, adding that allowing states to handle the issue individually “should lower the proverbial temperature in these debates,” lessening the consternation over abortion in judicial confirmations and presidential campaigns.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement that the Republicans “want to ban abortion outright,” something she called “deeply out of the step with the American public — 80 percent of whom support access to safe, legal abortion.”

Also signing onto McMaster’s brief are the governors of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, and Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.

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US urges UN Council to press Myanmar to return to democracy

“Too many in Myanmar have needlessly perished and too many more will die without action by the United Nations,” Andrews warned. “The U.N. must act immediately to halt the military junta’s attacks, harassment and detentions in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis … so that doctors and nurses can provide life-saving care and international organizations can help deliver vaccinations and related medical care.”

DeLaurentis told the informal council meeting that Myanmar’s military has said it doesn’t plan to honor commitments it made in April at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN. Myanmar, previously known as Burma, belongs to the 10-member regional group.

“So what are we waiting for?” DeLaurentis asked council members. “This council is failing in our collective responsibility to safeguard international peace and security. And it is failing the people of Burma. We must do more, and we must do more now.”

At the ASEAN summit, leaders issued a five-point action plan that calls for stopping violence, constructive dialogue, appointment of an ASEAN special envoy as mediator, humanitarian aid and the mediator’s visit to Myanmar.

But a day after attending the summit, Myanmar’s junta leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said he would consider the five points when the situation in Myanmar is stable, and in May he reportedly told Chinese television he didn’t see that the five points could be implemented.

Gum San Nsang of the Kachin Political Interim Coordination Team, which advocates for the rights of the Kachin ethnic groups in northern Myanmar, said in a virtual briefing to the council that “while we consider ASEAN’s five-point consensus to be a great step forward, the current health crisis demands immediate robust action.”

He called on the Security Council to impose an arms embargo and no-fly zone along Myanmar’s borders with China, India and Thailand, to impose sanctions on senior military leaders and state-owned enterprises, and to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for prosecution for the alleged crime of aggression against civilians.

Opponents of the military have been seeking alliances with ethnic minority groups as a way to strengthen their resistance. At least 20 ethnic minorities, including the mainly Christian Kachin, have kept up on-again, off-again armed struggles for greater autonomy for decades

Nsang said that despite pain and suffering, sickness and disease, hardship and terror, “We can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We see the Feb. 1 coup has placed the nation on to fast track to national unity and national cohesion,” he said. “Solidarity within and across ethnic and religious communities is at a sobering height. In Kachin state, the inter-tribal tensions which we witnessed up until even before the coup hardly exist now.”

Susanna Hla Hla Soe, minister for women in the National Unity Government set up by ousted lawmakers, said in a virtual briefing that food is getting scarce, “the economy is collapsing and the health system has collapsed with a new wave of COVID-19 spreading like wildfire across the country.”

Soe called the military junta’s report of 6,000 positive coronavirus cases and 400 deaths from COVID-19 “just the tip of the iceberg,” citing the lack of a data collection system.

“There is also growing evidence that the military council is purposely targeting the health care workers,” she said, saying that more than 250 attacks on front-line workers and medical staff have been documented this year.

Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, criticized the Security Council for not having started negotiations on a resolution to address Myanmar’s crisis.

“The General Assembly already called for an arms embargo on Myanmar,” he said. “The Security Council should urgently follow up and impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar, targeted sanctions on military leaders and associated companies, and a ban on gas revenues to the junta.”

General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, unlike Security Council resolutions. And the 119-1 vote in the General Assembly, with 36 abstentions, reflected divisions that would make it difficult to get agreement on a council resolution. Among the countries abstaining were China and Russia, which are among the five council members with power to veto action.

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PG&E could face criminal charges over deadly California fire

Prosecutors say they will file criminal charges against Pacific Gas & Electric over its role in a Northern California wildfire last year that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes

Pacific Gas & Electric will face criminal charges because its equipment sparked a wildfire last year that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes, a Northern California prosecutor announced Thursday.

It would be the latest action against the nation’s largest utility, which was forced into bankruptcy over devastating wildfires ignited by its long-neglected electrical grid.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced on Facebook that her office had determined that PG&E was “criminally liable” for the Zogg Fire.

Prosecutors hadn’t yet decided which charges to file, but they plan to do so before the September anniversary of the blaze, Bridgett said.

PG&E said the loss of life and devastation from the fire was “heartbreaking” but said it has resolved civil claims with Shasta County and continues to reach settlements with victims and their families ïn an effort to make it right.”

“We do not, however, agree with the district attorney’s conclusion that criminal charges are warranted given the facts of this case,” the utility’s statement said.

Pushed by strong winds, the fire that began on Sept. 27 raged through the Sierra Nevada mountains and local communities, killing four people, burning about 200 homes and blackening about 87.5 square miles (226.6 square kilometers) of land.

In March, state fire investigators concluded that the fire was sparked by a gray pine tree that fell onto a PG&E transmission line. Two counties, Shasta and Tehama, have sued the utility for negligence, arguing that PG&E had failed to remove the tree even though it had been marked for removal two years earlier.

PG&E, which has an estimated 16 million customers in central and Northern California, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 after its equipment was blamed for a series of fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed 10,000 homes.

That blaze largely destroyed the town of Paradise, about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco. It was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.

PG&E pleaded guilty to more than 80 counts of involuntary manslaughter over that blaze, which was linked to a badly maintained and aging transmission tower.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy last summer and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with some wildfire victims. But it still faces both civil and criminal actions.

The Sonoma County district attorney’s office filed charges in April over a 2019 blaze that forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

PG&E also has been rebuked by California power regulators and a federal judge overseeing its criminal probation for breaking promises to reduce the dangers posed by trees near its power lines.

Last week, PG&E announced plans to bury 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and other vegetation across the drought-stricken state.

The cost was put at $15 billion, most of which will likely be covered by customers.

The announcement came just days after PG&E told regulators that its equipment may have ignited the Dixie Fire northeast of San Francisco. That blaze in Plumas County had burned more than 346 square miles (896 square kilometers) of timber and head-high chaparral and was only 23% contained.

Currently the largest fire in California, it has destroyed more than 40 homes and other buildings and threatens about 10,700 more while the end of the week could see hotter temperatures and lower humidity that could make the battle harder, fire officials said.

A historic drought and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

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Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has retracted a decision to end a key defense pact with the United States, allowing large-scale combat exercises between U.S. and Philippine forces that at times have alarmed China to proceed

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has retracted a decision to end a key defense pact with the United States, allowing large-scale combat exercises between U.S. and Philippine forces that at times have alarmed China to proceed.

Duterte’s decision was announced Friday by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a joint news conference with visiting U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin in Manila. It was a step back from the Philippine leader’s stunning vow early in his term to distance himself from Washington as he tried to rebuild frayed ties with China over territorial rifts in the South China Sea.

“The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Austin, referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement. “There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track.”

Austin thanked Duterte for the decision, which he said would further bolster the two nations’ 70-year treaty alliance.

“Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crises to the pandemic and, as we do, a strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said. “A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”

Terminating the pact would have been a major blow to America’s oldest alliance in Asia, as Washington squares with Beijing on a range of issues, including trade, human rights and China’s behavior in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

The U.S. military presence in the region is seen as a counterbalance to China, which has used force to assert claims to vast areas of the disputed South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands equipped with airstrips and military installations. China has ignored a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its historic basis.

In a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said that Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea “has no basis in international law” and “treads on the sovereignty of states in the region.” He said the U.S. supports the region’s coastal states in upholding their rights under international law, and is committed to its defense treaty obligations with Japan and the Philippines.

Duterte notified the U.S. government in February 2020 year that the Philippines intended to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows large numbers of American forces to join combat training with Philippine troops and sets legal terms for their temporary stay.

U.S. and Philippine forces engage in about 300 activities each year, including the Balikatan, or shoulder-to-shoulder, exercises, which involve thousands of troops in land, sea and air drills that often included live-fire exercises. They’ve often sparked China’s concerns when they were held on the periphery of the sea Beijing claims as its own.

The Balikatan exercises resumed last April but were considerably scaled down due to continuing COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.

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Today in History – ABC News

Today in History

Today is Friday, July 30, the 211th day of 2021. There are 154 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a measure creating Medicare, which began operating the following year.

On this date:

In 1619, the first representative assembly in America convened in Jamestown in the Virginia Colony.

In 1864, during the Civil War, Union forces tried to take Petersburg, Virginia, by exploding a gunpowder-laden mine shaft beneath Confederate defense lines; the attack failed.

In 1908, the first round-the-world automobile race, which had begun in New York in February, ended in Paris with the drivers of the American car, a Thomas Flyer, declared the winners over teams from Germany and Italy.

In 1916, German saboteurs blew up a munitions plant on Black Tom, an island near Jersey City, New Jersey, killing about a dozen people.

In 1945, the Portland class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, having just delivered components of the atomic bomb to Tinian in the Mariana Islands, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine; only 317 out of nearly 1,200 men survived.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a measure making “In God We Trust” the national motto, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one).

In 1975, former Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in suburban Detroit; although presumed dead, his remains have never been found.

In 1980, Israel’s Knesset passed a law reaffirming all of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

In 2001, Robert Mueller (MUHL’-ur), President George W. Bush’s choice to head the FBI, promised the Senate Judiciary Committee that if confirmed, he would move forcefully to fix problems at the agency. (Mueller became FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001, a week before the 9/11 attacks.)

In 2003, President George W. Bush took personal responsibility for the first time for using discredited intelligence in his State of the Union address, but predicted he would be vindicated for going to war against Iraq.

In 2008, ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (RA’-doh-van KA’-ra-jich) was extradited to The Hague to face genocide charges after nearly 13 years on the run. (He was sentenced by a U.N. court in 2019 to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.)

In 2010, the Afghan Taliban confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and appointed his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.

Ten years ago: NATO jets bombed three Libyan state TV satellite transmitters in Tripoli, targeting a propaganda tool in Moammar Gadhafi’s fight against rebels.

Five years ago: Sixteeen people died when a hot air balloon caught fire and exploded after hitting high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture near Lockhart, Texas, about 60 miles northeast of San Antonio.

Today’s Birthdays: Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is 87. Blues musician Buddy Guy is 85. Movie director Peter Bogdanovich is 82. Feminist activist Eleanor Smeal is 82. Former U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder is 81. Singer Paul Anka is 80. Jazz musician David Sanborn is 76. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 74. Actor William Atherton is 74. Actor Jean Reno (zhahn rih-NOH’) is 73. Blues singer-musician Otis Taylor is 73. Actor Frank Stallone is 71. Actor Ken Olin is 67. Actor Delta Burke is 65. Law professor Anita Hill is 65. Singer-songwriter Kate Bush is 63. Country singer Neal McCoy is 63. Actor Richard Burgi is 63. Movie director Richard Linklater is 61. Actor Laurence Fishburne is 60. Actor Lisa Kudrow is 58. Bluegrass musician Danny Roberts (The Grascals) is 58. Country musician Dwayne O’Brien is 58. Actor Vivica A. Fox is 57. Actor Terry Crews is 53. Actor Simon Baker is 52. Actor Donnie Keshawarz is 52. Movie director Christopher Nolan is 51. Actor Tom Green is 50. Rock musician Brad Hargreaves (Third Eye Blind) is 50. Actor Christine Taylor is 50. Actor-comedian Dean Edwards is 48. Actor Hilary Swank is 47. Olympic gold medal beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor is 44. Actor Jaime Pressly is 44. Alt-country singer-musician Seth Avett (AY’-veht) is 41. Actor April Bowlby is 41. Former soccer player Hope Solo is 40. Actor Yvonne Strahovski is 39. Actor Martin Starr is 39. Actor Gina Rodriguez is 37. Actor Nico Tortorella is 33. Actor Joey King is 22.

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Ex-CIA officer accused of spying for China has memory issues

A former CIA officer accused of spying for China is asking for a mental competency evaluation after telling his attorney he believes he is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and is having trouble remembering things

HONOLULU — A former CIA officer accused of spying for China is asking for a mental competency evaluation after telling his attorney he believes he is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and is having trouble remembering things.

Ma’s court-appointed attorney, Birney Bervar, said Thursday that he felt compelled to file a motion for a mental competency evaluation after meeting with Ma a couple of weeks ago.

“Ma said he just can’t remember things and that he believes it impairs his ability to assist properly in his defense,” the motion said.

Bervar’s motion also noted that Ma’s older brother developed Alzheimer’s 10 years ago and is now completely disabled by the disease. The brother is referred to as a co-conspirator in the indictment against Ma, but prosecutors didn’t charge him because of his incompetency due to Alzheimer’s, the motion said.

A magistrate judge scheduled a hearing for Aug. 12 on the motion.

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UN extends CAR arms embargo despite China appeal to lift it

The U.N. Security Council has extended the arms embargo against the Central African Republic for a year despite an appeal from China to lift it

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council extended the arms embargo against the Central African Republic for a year on Thursday despite an appeal from China to lift it, saying the government hasn’t met U.N. benchmarks including ensuring the protection and control of all weapons.

The council adopted the resolution, which also extends targeted sanctions on individuals and companies, by a vote of 14-0 with China abstaining.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills welcomed the renewal of the arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes, calling the measures “critical to promoting peace and security” in the Central African Republic. He stressed that “there is no military solution to the crisis” in the country, known as CAR.

The mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013 when mainly Muslim Selaka rebels ousted then president Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, whose country sponsored the resolution, told reporters after the vote it is “particularly important in the deteriorating context of the Central African Republic, with a very worrying amount of violence and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

“The spread of arms is clearly part of the problem and their control remains a major issue for the security of the country,” he said.

But China’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dai Bing strongly disagreed, saying that since December’s successful elections, “the security situation in the country continues to improve.”

When the council imposed the arms embargo on CAR in December 2013, he said, the intention was to help restore order.

But “in reality, the arms embargo has become an obstacle that hampers the CAR government’s efforts to strengthen its security capabilities,” Dai said.

The resolution notes that CAR authorities, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and the Economic Community of Central African States also supported lifting the arms embargo.

“The ultimate goal is indeed to lift the embargo for the Central African forces: that is why the Council has set up benchmarks to accompany the CAR’s progress,” he said.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky urged CAR to meet the benchmarks so the council could consider lifting the arms embargo next year.

China’s Dai reiterated “that the council should fully lift the sanctions against the CAR at an early date in light of changes in the situation.”

The resolution extends the arms embargo to July 31, 2022 and reiterates the council’s readiness to review the arms embargo. It also extends the mandate o the panel of experts monitoring implementation of all sanctions until Aug. 31, 2022.

Last month, the panel accused Russian military instructors and the CAR forces they are supporting of “excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings, the occupation of schools and looting on a large scale” — allegations Moscow strongly rejected.

In a 40-page report obtained by The Associated Press, the panel said it collected “testimonies” from a large number of local officials, government military and internal security forces, and community-level sources in multiple locations in the country who reported “the active participation of Russian instructors in combat operations on the ground.”

The panel said many of the officials and other sources reported that Russian instructors “often led rather than followed” CAR troops as they advanced on different towns and villages in a counter-offensive against rebels linked to Bozize.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov categorically denied the allegations as “yet another lie,” saying “Russian military advisers couldn’t take part and didn’t take part in any killings or lootings.”