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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

March 03, 2021 - 8:04 PM

States rapidly expanding vaccine access as supplies surge

Buoyed by a surge in vaccine shipments, states and cities are rapidly expanding eligibility for COVID-19 shots to teachers, Americans 50 and over and others as the U.S. races to beat back the virus and reopen businesses and schools.

Indiana and Michigan will begin vaccinating those 50 and over, while Arizona and Connecticut have thrown open the line to those who are at least 55. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are reserving the first doses of the new one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for teachers. And in Detroit, factory workers can get vaccinated starting this week, regardless of age.

Giving the vaccine to teachers and other school staff “will help protect our communities," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said. “It’s going to take burdens off our parents and families. It’s going to make our schools get back to the business of teaching our kids.”

Until now, the vaccination campaign against the outbreak that's killed over a half-million Americans has concentrated mostly on health workers and senior citizens.

Around the U.S., politicians and school administrators have been pushing hard in recent weeks to reopen classrooms to stop students from falling behind and enable more parents to go back to work. But teachers have resisted returning without getting vaccinated.

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Police uncover ‘possible plot’ by militia to breach Capitol

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Police say they have uncovered intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, nearly two months after a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the iconic building to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden's victory.

The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that Trump will rise again to power on March 4. That was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.

Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The announcement comes as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies are taking heat from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their handling of the Jan. 6 riot. Police were ill-prepared for the mass of Trump supporters in tactical gear, some armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had broken and smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress' certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.

“The United States Capitol Police Department is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex,” the agency said in a statement. “We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4.” Police did not identify the militia group in the statement.

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Cuomo addresses harassment claims, vows to stay in office

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday rejected calls for his resignation in the face of sexual harassment allegations that have threatened his hold on power and damaged his national political standing.

The Democrat, speaking somberly in his first public appearance since three women accused him of inappropriate touching and offensive remarks, apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behaviour around women.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”

Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: “I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”

Cuomo acknowledged “sensitivities have changed and behaviour has changed” and that what he considers his “customary greeting” — an old-world approach that often involves kisses and hugs — is not acceptable.

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House prepares to pass landmark voting rights, ethics bill

Washington (AP) — House Democrats are poised to pass a sweeping elections and ethics bill, offering it up as a powerful counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country.

House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process, would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a murky campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

This bill “will put a stop at the voter suppression that we’re seeing debated right now,” said Rep. Nikema Williams, a new congresswoman who represents the Georgia district that deceased voting rights champion John Lewis held for years. “This bill is the ‘Good Trouble’ he fought for his entire life.”

To Republicans, though, it would herald a massive expansion of the federal government's role in elections, infringing on states that limit ballot access in the name of election security.

“If this were to become law it would be the largest expansion of the federal government's role in our elections that we’ve ever seen,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

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Video: Myanmar police hold AP journalist in chokehold

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A video of the arrest of Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw as he was photographing Myanmar security forces charging at anti-coup protesters shows him being quickly surrounded and held in a chokehold as handcuffs are placed on him.

Authorities have charged Thein Zaw and five other members of the media with violating a public order law that could see them imprisoned for up to three years.

The video starts with Thein Zaw standing by the side of a road on Saturday photographing dozens of security forces as they run at a group of protesters in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

Several police run at him, and he tries to escape. At least seven surround him as he is placed in a chokehold. He is pushed and shoved and quickly handcuffed. A policeman with a bullhorn then uses the handcuffs to pull him away.

Many of the police are carrying truncheons, while some have what appear to be guns and automatic weapons.

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UN: 38 died on deadliest day yet for Myanmar coup opposition

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar security forces were seen firing slingshots at protesters, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew in video showing a dramatic escalation of violence against opponents of last month’s military coup.

A U.N. official speaking from Switzerland said 38 people had been killed Wednesday, a figure consistent with other reports though accounts are difficult to confirm inside the country. The increasingly deadly violence could galvanize the international community, which has responded fitfully so far.

“Today it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on Feb. 1. We have today — only today — 38 people died. We have now more than over 50 people died since the coup started" and more have been wounded, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Wednesday.

Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.

The intensifying standoff is unfortunately familiar in a country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule — and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.

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Dems tighten relief benefits, firm up support for virus bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Democrats agreed to tighten eligibility limits for stimulus checks Wednesday, bowing to party moderates as leaders prepared to move their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill through the Senate.

At the same time, the White House and top Democrats stood by progressives and agreed that the Senate package would retain the $400 weekly emergency unemployment benefits included in the House-passed pandemic legislation. Moderates have wanted to trim those payments to $300 after Republicans have called the bill so heedlessly generous that it would prompt some people to not return to work.

The deal-making underscored the balancing act Democrats face as they try squeezing the massive relief measure through the evenly divided, 50-50 Senate. The package, Biden’s signature legislative priority, is his attempt to stomp out the year-old pandemic, revive an economy that’s shed 10 million jobs and bring some semblance of normality to countless upended lives.

Democrats have no choice but to broker compromises among themselves, thanks to their mere 10-vote House margin and a Senate they control only with Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. The party’s moderate and progressive factions are competing to use their leverage, but without going so far as to scuttle an effort they all support.

“He’s pleased with the progress that is being made with the rescue plan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of Biden, reflecting the flexibility he and all Democrats will need to prevail. “He’s always said he’s open to good ideas.”

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Virus surge forces Sao Paulo to shut as Buenos Aires reopens

SAO PAULO (AP) — A swell of COVID-19 cases is halting samba steps in Brazil's biggest metropolis while Argentina's capital tiptoes its way back to the tango floor.

The two biggest cities in each of the neighbouring South American countries are headed in opposite directions, reflecting how those that loosen restrictions despite warnings from scientists see a spike in the pandemic while others that keep social distancing measures in place are able to reopen their economies sooner.

Sao Paulo, home to almost 12 million people, is bracing for the worst two weeks yet in the pandemic and the growing risk that its once-resilient health care system will collapse, Gov. João Doria told reporters Wednesday. More than 75% of the city's intensive-care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients and some wards — like those of the private Albert Einstein hospital — are full for the first time.

Doria announced that the entire state, where 46 million people reside, on Saturday will face the highest level of restrictions to arrest the virus' spread. That means closure of all bars, restaurants, shopping malls and any other establishment deemed non-essential until at least March 19.

Meanwhile, the nearly 3 million residents of Buenos Aires are enjoying an easing of their restrictions, with authorization to attend movie theatres taking effect this week. On Wednesday, official figures showed just 26% of intensive-care beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. The low hospitalization rate also enabled local authorities in mid-February to reopen bars and restaurants until 2 a.m. -- something long sought in a city famous for its all-hours culture.

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Texas schools, stores divided on masks as mandate ends

DALLAS (AP) — The end of Texas' mask mandate is giving Lucy Alanis second thoughts about one of her occasional indulgences during the coronavirus pandemic: dining in at restaurants.

“I guess I'm a little scared," said Alanis, 27, a florist in Dallas.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's repeal of most COVID-19 restrictions — saying it was “time to open Texas 100%" — reverberated across the state and to the White House on Wednesday, a day after one of the country's most dramatic rollbacks of rules intended to slow the spread of the virus.

Businesses in Texas shed rules, city leaders plotted new safeguards and the state's 5 million schoolchildren largely remained under orders to keep wearing masks, at least for now. The pushback to Abbott's decision included one of his own pandemic advisers, who said he was not consulted ahead of time.

Texas has another week before the mandates end, but what daily life will look like after that remains unsettled after Abbott made the state the largest in the U.S. to no longer require masks, which health experts say is among the most effective ways to curb the spread of the virus.

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EXPLAINER: What to look for at China's annual Congress

BEIJING (AP) — China’s legislature begins its annual meeting this week with economic growth, climate and a crackdown on political opponents in Hong Kong expected to be on the agenda.

COMMUNIST PARTY FIRMLY IN CHARGE WHILE XI REIGNS SUPREME

The gathering of the National People’s Congress and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, brings handpicked delegates from across the country to discuss governing priorities and receive instructions from the ruling Communist Party leadership. Comprising roughly 3,000 members, the NPC is under complete party control and rubberstamps decisions made in advance but also offers the leadership feedback on pressing national concerns.

The party rejects any role for opposition parties or a separation of executive, judicial and legislative powers. Party leader and head of state Xi Jinping has eliminated limits on his term, potentially putting him in control for life. This year marks the centenary of the party's founding, and leaders will likely repeat a much-ballyhooed though difficult to qualify claim that no parts of the vast country of 1.4 billion people remain mired in extreme poverty.

ECONOMY TAKES CENTER STAGE

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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