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Justice Dept. seeks to overturn order halting execution

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court on Saturday seeking to move forward with the first federal execution in nearly two decades.

Daniel Lee, 47, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

But Chief District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Friday in Indiana that the execution would be put on hold because of concerns from the family of the victims about the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 people and is ravaging prisons nationwide.

The Justice Department is seeking to immediately overturn that ruling. In the emergency motion to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it argues that the judge’s order “misconstrues both federal and state law and has no basis in equity” and asks the appeals court to permit the government to carry out the execution on Monday afternoon.

“The capital sentence at issue here – imposed for the murder of an eight-year-old and her parents during a robbery to fund a white supremacist movement – has been repeatedly upheld by federal courts, and the inmate’s own efforts to halt its implementation have very recently been rejected by this Court and the Supreme Court,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.

The Justice Department also argues that while the Bureau of Prisons has taken measures to accommodate the family and implemented additional safety protocols because of the pandemic, the family’s concerns “do not outweigh the public interest in finally carrying out the lawfully imposed sentence in this case.”

The relatives would be traveling thousands of miles and witnessing the execution in a small room where the social distancing recommended to prevent the virus’ spread is virtually impossible. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press this week that he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

The injunction that was imposed late Friday delays the execution until there is no longer such an emergency. The court order applies only to Lee’s execution and does not halt two other executions that are scheduled for later next week.

The decision to resume executions has been criticized as a dangerous and political move. Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that isn’t high on the list of American concerns right now.

The federal prisons system has struggled in recent months to stem the exploding coronavirus pandemic behind bars. As of Friday, more than 7,000 federal inmates had tested positive; the Bureau of Prisons said 5,137 of them had recovered. There have also been nearly 100 inmate deaths since late March.

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Trump advisers rally Wisconsin Republicans, mock Democrats

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A pair of President Donald Trump’s top advisers touted him to Wisconsin Republicans on Saturday as a defender of law and order who will win over key Black voters, while casting presumed Democratic rival Joe Biden as out of touch and Biden’s party as a “mob” bent on erasing American history.

The strategists headlined the state Republican convention, which the party held in-person at a Green Bay convention center despite the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The schedule was shortened, masks and hand sanitizer were made available, and guests had to accept risk and liability for their health in attending. Wisconsin set record highs in daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state in each of the two days leading up to the convention.

Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump adviser who is Cuban American, and Katrina Pierson, who is Black and worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, are among the highest-profile senior female staffers working to help him get reelected. They participated in a women for Trump bus tour in Wisconsin leading up to them speaking at the convention.

Both women described Trump as a “law and order” president.

Speaking to a mostly white audience, Pierson said Republicans have the “moral authority to stand strong and fight back” and win over minority voters.

“And that is why the black voices for Trump coalition will be taking on Black Lives Matter,” she said. “Because we have the candidate who has the policies that prove Black lives matter because he believes that all lives matter.”

Schlapp said Trump will keep communities safe and stand by police. She contrasted him with Biden and Democrats, who Schlapp said “let the left mobs destroy our cities. … These Democrats want to rewrite our past, they want to erase history, that’s why they tear these statues down.”

“Do we want to be the next Seattle? Do we want to be the next Minneapolis? Do we want to be the next Chicago?” she asked as the crowd of about 300 shouted “no!” after each question.

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Phil Schulman dismissed the comments as “delusional conspiracy theories and outright lies that will continue to put Wisconsinites and Americans everywhere at risk and cost Trump the presidency.”

Schulman said Republicans, by holding the convention in person, were “following Trump’s lead by ignoring the deadly crisis that is COVID-19 and don’t have the slightest understanding of the pain and suffering so many people across the badger state are experiencing because of this president’s gross incompetence.”

Schlapp cast Trump as a leader in the effort to fight COVID-19, even as Democrats mocked Republicans for holding their convention in person. Wisconsin Democrats switched to an all-virtual state convention, which they held in June.

Schlapp said Trump has worked with local, state and federal leaders to fight the coronavirus, while emphasizing the importance of reopening the economy, including schools in the fall.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, of Green Bay, repeatedly blamed the coronavirus on China, saying it had “unleashed a pandemic on the world.”

Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and it’s a key battleground state in this year’s election, as well. Polls have shown Biden with a lead, but the polls in 2016 also showed Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Trump at this point. Clinton never campaigned in Wisconsin after the primary, which Schlapp mentioned when wondering whether Biden would come.

“Even if he were in Wisconsin, he wouldn’t know,” she said.

Biden recorded a video message for the state Democratic convention and has also held virtual events targeting Wisconsin since the virus broke out. His surrogates have also been holding virtual events.

Pierson said that the Trump campaign had far more resources this time than in 2016, when it barely won the state.

“This time we have an entire Army locked and loaded,” she said.

Pierson also said not to be concerned about voter fraud, an issue that Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly raised as rationale for policies making it more difficult for people to vote. She said instead of worrying about fraud, Republicans should think about turning out a margin so large “that any fraud won’t matter.”


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Michigan wants kids caught up on vaccines after pandemic dip

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan’s health department is urging that children be caught up on their vaccines as soon as possible after a drop in immunizations due to the cancellation of appointments during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state said the percentage of 5-month-olds fully up to date on all recommended vaccines was less than half in May, down from about two-thirds in recent years. Vaccination coverage declined in almost every other milestone age cohort below age 2, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy health director, said it is concerning that so many children are behind, making them susceptible to preventable diseases. Health care providers are putting in place safety procedures to ensure patients can come in for well visits and immunizations, she said.

“Vaccines are essential,” Khaldun said. The flu vaccine will be vital for anyone age 6 months and older this fall to keep people out of the hospital for flu-related illnesses and to protect the health system’s capacity during the pandemic, she said.

In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered restrictions on nonessential medical procedures to reduce the strain on the health system as COVID-19 cases peaked, which contributed to delays in routine appointments – as did people’s fears and adherence to stay-at-home restrictions. She lifted the medical order about two months later.

The pandemic-related drop in immunizations comes at a time health experts already are sounding the alarm about a slight dip in Michigan’s vaccination rates over the past two years. The percentage of fully immunized toddlers was 73.9% last year, down from 75% in 2017, according to an analysis done by the Michigan League for Public Policy and Data Driven Detroit.

The U.S. last year saw the most measles cases in 27 years. Michigan has had measles, whooping cough, mumps and meningitis cases in recent years despite there being vaccines.

“Herd immunity protects everyone from contagious diseases, but the exact rate of immunity to protect a population varies depending on the disease, so any dip in vaccinations is a threat,” said Kelsey Perdue, project director for Kids Count in Michigan.

Michigan – one of 45 states to let K-12 students forgo vaccine requirements for religious reasons – is among 15 states to also allow a philosophical exemption. The state’s kindergarten waiver rate, 4.5%, has improved in recent years due to a policy change but remains above the national average of 2.5%.

Bipartisan legislation introduced last month would require proof of vaccinations before entering 12th grade – not just kindergarten and 7th grade – as a way to ensure an accurate immunization status for high school students. The bills also would direct the state Department of Health and Human Services to write rules adopting, by reference, the immunization schedule recommended by a CDC council.

The proposed move could be a factor if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and required, for instance.

“COVID-19 reminds us every day of the importance of immunizations, and the tragic loss of life that can occur when they are not available or utilized,” said the bills’ main sponsor, Democratic Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing. “This legislation is a critical tool to ensure students are protected when they return to the classroom.”


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Biden forges brand of liberal populism to use against Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) – Joe Biden stood in a Pennsylvania metal works shop, just miles from his boyhood home, and pledged to define his presidency by a sweeping economic agenda beyond anything Americans have seen since the Great Depression and the industrial mobilization for World War II.

The prospective Democratic presidential nominee promised the effort would not just answer a pandemic-induced recession, but address centuries of racism and systemic inequalities with “a new American economy” that “finally and fully (lives) up to the words and the values enshrined in the founding documents of this nation – that we’re all created equal.”

It was a striking call coming from Biden, a 77-year-old establishment figure known more as a back-slapping deal-maker than visionary reformer. But it made plain his intention to test the reach of liberal populism as he tries to create a coalition that can defeat President Donald Trump in November.

Trump and his Republican allies argue that Biden’s positioning, especially his ongoing work with progressives, proves he’s captive to a “radical” left wing. Conversely, activists who backed Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary were encouraged, yet cautious, about Biden’s ability to follow through while conceding that his plans on issues including climate action and criminal justice still fall short of their ideals.

Biden’s inner circle insists his approach in 2020 is the same it’s been since he was elected to the Senate in 1972: Meet the moment.

“He’s always evolved,” said Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longest-serving adviser. “The thing that’s been consistent for his entire career, almost 50 years, is he never promises things that he doesn’t think he can do.”

Kaufman, who succeeded Biden in the Senate when he ascended to the vice presidency, said Biden’s core identity hasn’t changed: “progressive Democrat,” friendly to labor and business, consistent supporter of civil rights, believer in government and the private sector. What’s different in 2020, he said, are the country’s circumstances – a public health crisis, near-Depression level unemployment, a national reckoning on racism – and the office Biden now seeks.

“If you want to get something done, encourage it,” Kaufman said. “What he learned over history watching campaigns is that you put forth a program, and then you come into office, and everybody involved knows that’s the program you’re offering.”

Biden’s evolution has been on display from the start of his campaign as he’s tacked left both in substance and style while trying to preserve his pragmatist brand.

At the start of the Democratic primary, Biden was positioned as offering a moderate alternative to Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” and Warren’s push for “big structural change.”

The former vice president countered their proposed universal government-funded health insurance with a government insurance plan that would compete alongside private insurance. Progressives wanted tuition-free public higher education; Biden offered tuition subsidies for two-year schools. Biden called the climate crisis an “existential threat” and offered a clean energy plan with a trillion-dollar price tag, but resisted the full version of progressives’ Green New Deal. He promised hefty tax hikes for corporations and the investor class but opposed a “wealth tax” on individuals’ net worth.

Biden noted that his health care platform put him to the left of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, who had jettisoned a “public option” from his 2010 health care law, angering liberal Democrats.

And on race, even before the recent national uprising against police violence, Biden spoke often of the nation’s systemic failure “to live up to” the Declaration of Independence. “Thomas Jefferson didn’t,” he said often in early speeches, alluding to the fact that the Declaration’s author and the third U.S. president owned slaves.

Still, Biden isn’t immune from the kind of internal party tensions that cost Clinton progressive support in 2016, and he’s spent the last three months shoring up his left flank.

Biden and Sanders created policy groups to write recommendations for Democrats’ 2020 platform. Those committees unveiled 110 pages of policy plans Wednesday, ahead of Biden’s speech in Pennsylvania. They left Biden short of endorsing single-payer health insurance and the most aggressive timelines to achieve a carbon-neutral economy, but ratified his claims of a more progressive slate than his predecessors’.

Further, Biden already had moved toward Sanders’ tuition position, endorsing four years of full subsidies for most middle-class households. He adopted Warren’s proposed bankruptcy law overhaul and her ideas for a government procurement campaign to benefit U.S. companies.

Progressives promise continued pressure.

“I think our job is really to sometimes push him,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said. Jayapal, who helped lead the Biden-Sanders health care task force, said that means being “alongside him, of course, and then sometimes be out in front.”

Likewise, Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement, a leading environmental advocacy group, said her group won’t abandon the Green New Deal. But she credited Biden for embracing a level of public investment that would remake the energy economy during the pandemic recession.

Biden has managed party unity that wasn’t present four years ago.

“I don’t consider Biden’s proposals a political hat tip to progressives as much as rising to the moment we’re living in,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a Warren ally.

The former vice president also has amassed an impressive slate of endorsements and built a stable of regular campaign surrogates, including all his major primary rivals. Many of them held events in the hours and days following his speech Thursday in a show of force that Trump, even with his intense online presence and fervent base, would be hard-pressed to match.

For his part, Trump accused Biden of “plagiarizing” his economic populism but also tarred Biden as a leftist who can’t win.

“It’s a plan that is very radical left, but he said the right things because he’s copying what I’ve done,” Trump said Friday before departing the White House for Florida.

Kaufman said Biden will continue campaigning as a nominee unconcerned about such labels. “What’s allowed him to survive all these years,” Kaufman said, “is that he’s not into any of those characterizations.”

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Senate, House runoffs included on Alabama runoff ballot

The Republican Senate runoff for U.S. Senate and three contests to select party nominees for two open U.S. House seats are the highlights of Tuesday’s election in Alabama.

Here is a look at the top races on the ballot:


Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former football coach Tommy Tuberville are fighting over the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the November election, but a third person weighs heavily in the race: President Donald Trump.

While Sessions previously served in the Senate for two decades from Alabama and was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016, the president is supporting Tuberville, who coached at Auburn University for 10 seasons ending in 2008.

Sessions, who angered Trump by stepping aside from the investigation into Russian meddling in the last election, is still portraying himself as solidly in Trump’s corner. But Trump has harshly criticized Sessions while tweeting his support for Tuberville, who is making his first bid for political office.

Tuberville narrowly led Sessions in voting in the March primary, which included five other candidates. Turnout in the runoff could be light, partly because of the limited ballot and also because of the worsening coronavirus pandemic in Alabama.


The race to replace Rep. Bradley Byrne in the 1st District of southwest Alabama includes a runoff on both the Republican and Democratic sides.

Jerry Carl and Bill Hightower are both portraying themselves as Trump-supporting conservatives as they seek the GOP nod for the seat held by Byrne, who finished third in the Senate race in March and didn’t seek re-election to the House.

Carl, the president of the Mobile County Commission, has started multiple companies. Hightower is a business operator who served five years in the Alabama Senate.

Kiani A. Gardner and James Averhart are vying for the Democratic nomination in District 1. A native of Hawaii, Gardner led primary balloting but had to sideline her runoff campaign for a time after donating a kidney to a stranger in Birmingham. Averhart is a military veteran who served as president of a national Marines group.


Each billing himself as conservative who supports President Trump, Jeff Coleman and Barry Moore will meet in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the District 2 House seat now held by Rep. Martha Roby, who didn’t seek another term.

Coleman, a native of Dothan, runs a family-owned moving and storage company in southeast Alabama, where the district is located. Moore, who grew up on a farm in Coffee County, served two terms in the Alabama House ending in 2018.

The eventual nominee will be a favorite in the Republican-leaning district in November against Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall.


Fred Bell and Tonya Smith Chestnut are competing for the Democratic nomination for the 5th District seat on the Alabama Board of Education.

Bell is a former member of the Montgomery City Council who served as a part-time municipal judge. Chestnut is a retired educator with 36 years of experience working in a number of classroom and administrative roles in the district, which includes much of central and southwestern Alabama.

The seat is now held by Tommie Stewart, who was appointed following the death of longtime board member Ella Bell last year.

The winner will face Republican nominee Lesa Keith in the fall.


Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum will meet Will Smith in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the Place 2 seat.

Kellum, who has served on the court since 2009, led a three-person field in March but couldn’t get a majority. Smith is a former member of the Lauderdale County Commission.

The five-member court is composed entirely of Republicans. No Democrat is seeking the Place 2 position so winning the runoff will be tantamount to election.

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Survivors mark 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – Bosnia is marking the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the only crime in Europe since World War II that has been declared a genocide, with only a small number of survivors allowed to take part in commemoration events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The brutal execution in July 1995 of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys is being commemorated in a series of events and the reburial of recently identified remains of nine victims in a memorial cemetery and center just outside the town in eastern Bosnia.

The Srebrenica massacre is the only episode of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide, including by two U.N. courts. After murdering thousands of Srebrenica’s Muslims, in an attempt to hide the crime, Serbs dumped their bodies in numerous mass graves scattered throughout eastern Bosnia.

Body parts are still being found in mass graves and are being put together and identified through DNA analysis. Close to 7,000 of those killed have already been found and identified.

Newly identified victims are buried each year on July 11 – the anniversary of the day the killing began in 1995 – in the memorial cemetery just outside of Srebrenica.

Typically, thousands of visitors from various countries attend the commemoration service and funeral, but this year only a relatively small number of survivors will be allowed at the cemetery due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Britain’s Prince Charles, are addressing the commemoration ceremony via prerecorded video messages.

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German club plans mass virus testing to fill stadium again

BERLIN (AP) – German soccer club Union Berlin is offering free coronavirus tests for more than 20,000 fans as part of a plan to hold games in a full stadium in September.

The Bundesliga club will offer testing ahead of each game to 22,012 fans – the stadium’s official capacity – and club staff, Union said Friday night. Each person must test negative for the virus within 24 hours of kickoff and bring confirmation along with a ticket, the club added.

Union wants to implement the plan in time for the first home league game of the new season, which could be as soon as Sept. 18. Other clubs have experimented with socially distanced seating plans, but more than 80% of the capacity at Union’s stadium consists of terraces where fans stand close together.

“Our stadium experience doesn’t work with social distancing, and if we aren’t allowed to sing and shout, then it’s not Union,” club president Dirk Zingler said in a statement.

“We want to ensure as best we can that nobody is infected at our sold-out stadium – this applies to Union club members and the away supporters.

“To implement such a plan is an enormous organizational and economic challenge, which we are happy to tackle with all our might. It means that we as a football club will carry the costs of implementing the necessary measures ourselves.”

The club’s plan is more ambitious than those of other German clubs because it relies on mass testing instead of social distancing. It faces significant obstacles. Germany has a comparatively large testing capacity for the coronavirus, but the pre-game surge in demand in Berlin would be a new challenge.

The Berlin city government also has a ban in place on mass gatherings until Oct. 24. That rule caused the Berlin marathon, which was set for Sept. 27, to be canceled.

Leipzig has explored holding games at up to 50% capacity with socially distanced seating and other leading German clubs have worked on similar plans. The league is speaking with the German government and is encouraging clubs to talk with local health authorities to draw up plans.

The Bundesliga restarted in May amid the coronavirus pandemic, the first of Europe’s major leagues to do so. All games through to the end of the season were held without any fans.


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England World Cup winner Jack Charlton dies at 85

LONDON (AP) – Jack Charlton, an uncompromising central defender who played alongside his brother, Bobby, in England’s World Cup-winning side in 1966 before enjoying coaching success with Ireland, has died. He was 85.

Nicknamed “Big Jack,” and celebrated for his earthy “beer and cigarettes” image, Charlton was Footballer of the Year in England in 1967. He spent all his club career at Leeds from 1952-73, tying its all-time record of 773 appearances. He won every domestic honor, including the league title in 1969.

Charlton’s family said he died at home on Friday in Northumberland.

“As well as a friend to many, he was a much-adored husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” the family said in a statement. “We cannot express how proud we are of the extraordinary life he led and the pleasure he brought to so many people in different countries and from all walks of life.

“He was a thoroughly honest, kind, funny and genuine man who always had time for people. His loss will leave a huge hole in all our lives but we are thankful for a lifetime of happy memories.”

His biggest achievement came with the England national team that beat Germany 4-2 after extra time in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

Bobby, his younger brother, played in midfield. Jack celebrated the victory by partying in a random person’s house in north London, ending up sleeping on the floor. That was typical of the man who kept the common touch despite his fame and remained an affable character, fond of life’s simple pleasures.

“I got a lift back the following morning and my mother was playing hell as I hadn’t been to bed all night,” Charlton recalled. “I said, ‘Mother, we’ve just won the World Cup!’”

Charlton made 35 appearances for England between 1965-70, also playing in the 1968 European Championship and the 1970 World Cup. A very different player to Bobby, who was once all-time top scorer for both England and Manchester United, Jack was in the shadow of his brother during his playing career.

It was obvious from an early age that Bobby “was going to play for England and would be a great player,” Jack recalled in a 1997 BBC interview. “He was strong, left- and right-footed, good balance, good skills. He had everything, our kid. I was over 6 foot (1.8 meters). Leggy. A giraffe, as I finished up being called.”

Of all the England World Cup winners to go into management, Jack Charlton was easily the most successful. He had brief but impressive spells at northeast clubs Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle before being hired by Ireland in 1986 as its first foreign coach.

Adopting a direct, physical and attack-minded style, Charlton got the best out of Ireland’s hard-working players and guided them to three major tournaments, including the 1990 World Cup where the Irish reached the quarterfinals. Ireland also played at Euro 1988 and the 1994 World Cup under Charlton.

“You get the ball forward, you compete, you close people down, you create excitement, you win balls when you shouldn’t win balls, commit yourself to the game,” Charlton said of Ireland’s style. “A lot of the pundits didn’t like it but the teams we played against hated it. They’d never experienced anything like what we were dictating to them … We were a match for anybody in the world.”

Charlton said his best memory as Ireland coach was beating Brazil 1-0 in a friendly at Lansdowne Road in 1987. He resigned in 1995 after losing in a Euro 1996 playoff to the Netherlands. He was awarded honorary Irish citizenship a year later. A life-size statue of him was erected at Cork Airport, depicting him wearing fishing gear and holding a salmon – recalling Charlton’s favorite pastime of fishing.

“I am as much Irish as I am English,” said Charlton, who was given the freedom of Dublin.

Born May 8, 1935, in a gritty area of northern England, Charlton worked down the mines as a teenager before going for a trial at Leeds. He grew up in a footballing family, cousin to Newcastle great Jackie Milburn while his uncles Jack, George, Jimmy and Stan all played professionally. “It left me no choice but to be a footballer,” Charlton said.


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Zimbabwe bird sanctuary has 400 species, not enough tourists

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – A fish eagle swoops over the water to grab a fish in its talons and then flies to its nest.

Nearby are a martial eagle, a black eagle, an Egyptian vulture and hundreds of other birds. With an estimated 400 species of birds on an idyllic spot on Zimbabwe’s Lake Chivero, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Harare, the Kuimba Shiri bird sanctuary has been drawing tourists for more than 15 years.

The southern African country’s only bird park has survived tumultuous times, including violent land invasions and a devastating economic collapse but the outbreak of coronavirus is proving a stern test.

“I thought I had survived the worst, but this coronavirus is something else,” said owner Gary Strafford. “One-third of our visitors are from China. They stopped coming in February … and when we were shut down in March, that was just unbelievable.”

A life-long bird enthusiast, Strafford, 62, established the center for injured, orphaned and abandoned birds in 1992 and tourism has kept the park going.

With Zimbabwe’s inflation rising to over 750%, tourism establishments are battling a vicious economic downturn worsened by the new coronavirus travel restrictions.

Zimbabwe’s tourism was already facing problems. The country recorded just over 2 million visitors in 2019, an 11% decline from the previous year, according to official figures. However, tourism remained one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners, along with minerals and tobacco.

Now tourism “is dead because of coronavirus,” said Tinashe Farawo, the spokesman for the country’s national parks agency. National parks and other animal sanctuaries such as Kuimba Shiri are battling to stay afloat, he said.

“We are in trouble. All along we have been relying on tourism to fund our conservation … now what do we do?” he asked.

Kuimba Shiri, which means singing bird in Zimbabwe’s Shona language, was closed for more than three months. It’s the longest time the bird sanctuary, located in one of the global sites protected under the United Nations Convention on Wetlands, has been shut.

On a recent weekday, the only sound of life at the place usually teeming with children on school trips was that of singing birds perched on the edges of large enclosures. Horses, zebras and sheep fed on grass and weeds on the lakeshore.

A parrot standing on a flower pot at the entrance repeatedly shouted “Hello!”

“He misses people, especially the children,” said Strafford, who established Kuimba Shiri on the 30-acre spot on Chivero, the main reservoir for Harare. Now it is home to many rare species including falcons, flamingos and vultures.

“This place is a dream place for me,” he said.

Things turned nightmarish however when then president, the late Robert Mugabe, launched an often-violent land redistribution program in which farms owned by whites were seized for redistribution to landless Blacks in 2000.

Animal sanctuaries were not spared and Kuimba Shiri was targeted “30 to 40 times,” said Strafford. Eventually, the sanctuary was endorsed by Mugabe and returned to a measure of stability.

In 2009, Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed as hyperinflation reached 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. The sanctuary struggled to make ends meet. Many birds starved to death while those that could fend for themselves were released into the wild.

“We sold our vehicles and a tractor to feed the birds. When it really got desperate we had to kill our horses,” he said.

Now, a decade later, Strafford is again being forced to sell some items as coronavirus and a new economic crisis take their toll. A land excavator, a boat, a truck, a tractor and sheep are among the items he hopes to urgently sell.

But there is some hope. As Zimbabwe relaxes some of its restrictions, the sanctuary is now able to open to limited numbers of visitors.

On a recent weekend, Strafford displayed the talents of his trained falcons and other raptors to a small group for the first time since March.

Strafford enthusiastically described the various traits of the birds and supervised as a barn owl perched on a 5-year-old boy’s gloved hand.

“Everything got to start afresh,” he said after the show. “I have started training the birds again. We are beginning to fly again!”

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Disney World to reopen as coronavirus cases surge in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – “The Most Magical Place on Earth” is reopening after nearly four months with new rules in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are reopening Saturday, while Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will follow four days later.

The reopening comes as a huge surge of Floridians have tested positive for the new coronavirus in recent weeks. Many cities and counties around the state have recently reinstated restrictions that had been lifted in May, when cases seemed to drop.

All of Disney’s Orlando parks closed in mid-March in an effort to stop the virus’s spread. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando closed around the same time but reopened several weeks ago after instituting similar rules to protect employees and customers from the virus.

Disney’s new rules include mandatory masks and social distancing. Visitors will need reservations to enter a park, and they won’t be allowed to hop between parks. Both visitors and employees will receive temperature checks when they enter. Fireworks shows and parades have been suspended to prevent drawing too many people together.

Disney has been opening its parks back up around the globe for the past two months. In May, the company opened Disney Springs, a complex of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in Lake Buena Vista.

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