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Six reported dead after Alpine glacier chunk strikes hikers – World News

The Canadian Press – Jul 3, 2022 / 2:30 pm | Story: 374028

The Uvalde school district’s police chief has stepped down from his position in the City Council just weeks after being sworn in following allegations that he erred in his response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Chief Pete Arredondo said in a letter dated Friday that he has decided to step down for the good of the city and “to minimize further distractions.” He was elected to the council on May 7 and was sworn in on May 31, just a week after the massacre, in a closed-door ceremony.

“The mayor, the city council, and the city staff must continue to move forward to unite our community once again,” Arredondo said in his resignation, first reported by the Uvalde Leader-News.

Arredondo, who has been on administrative leave from his school district position since June 22, has declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press. His attorney, George Hyde, did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Saturday.

On June 21, the City Council voted unanimously to deny Arredondo a leave of absence from appearing at public meetings. Relatives of the shooting victims had pleaded with city leaders to fire him.

The Uvalde City Council released Arredondo’s resignation letter Saturday, after city officials received notification of his intent to step down via email, but did not comment further.

Representatives of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin have not responded to AP’s requests for comment.

Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told a state Senate hearing last month that Arredondo — the on-site commander — made “terrible decisions” as the massacre unfolded on May 24 , and that the police response was an “abject failure.”

Three minutes after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered the school, sufficient armed law enforcement were on scene to stop the gunman, McCraw testified. Yet police officers armed with rifles stood and waited in a school hallway for more than an hour while the gunman carried out the massacre. The classroom door could not be locked from the inside, but there is no indication officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside, McCraw said.

McCraw has said parents begged police outside the school to move in and students inside the classroom repeatedly pleaded with 911 operators for help while more than a dozen officers waited in a hallway. Officers from other agencies urged Arredondo to let them move in because children were in danger.

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” McCraw said.

Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he didn’t consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have his police and campus radios but that he used his cellphone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and the classroom keys.

It’s still not clear why it took so long for police to enter the classroom, how they communicated with each other during the attack, and what their body cameras show.

Officials have declined to release more details, citing the investigation.

Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalde and has spent much of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city.

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The Canadian Press – Jul 3, 2022 / 2:28 pm | Story: 374007

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.

A gunman opened fire inside a busy shopping mall in the Danish capital on Sunday, killing several people and wounding several others, police said.

A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters, adding there was no indication that anyone else was involved in the attack, though police were still investigating.

Such shootings are rare in Denmark. Thomassen said it was too early to speculate on the motive for the shooting, which happened in the late afternoon at Field’s, one of the biggest shopping malls in Scandinavia and located on the outskirts of the Danish capital. When the shots rang out, some people hid in shops while others fled in a panicked stampede, according to witnesses.

“It is pure terror. This is awful,” said Hans Christian Stoltz, a 53-year-old IT consultant, who was bringing his daughters to see Harry Styles perform at concert scheduled for Sunday night near the mall. “You might wonder how a person can do this to another human being, but it’s beyond … beyond anything that’s possible.”

Thomassen gave no specific casualty count beyond saying several people were dead and several wounded. He said the suspect was an “ethnic Dane,” a phrase typically used to mean someone is white.

Danish broadcaster TV2 published a grainy photo of the alleged gunman, a man wearing knee-length shorts and a tank top and holding what appeared to be a rifle in his right hand.


ORIGINAL 11:00 a.m.

Danish police said Sunday that several people were shot at a Copenhagen shopping mall.

Copenhagen police said that one person has been arrested in connection with the shooting at the Field’s shopping mall, which is close to the city’s airport. Police tweeted that “several people have been hit,” but gave no other details.

Copenhagen Mayor Sophie H. Andersen tweeted: “Terrible reports of shooting in Fields. We do not yet know for sure how many were injured or dead, but it is very serious.”

Images from the scene showed people running out of the mall, and Denmark’s TV2 broadcaster posted a photo of a man being put on a stretcher. Witnesses said people were crying and hid in shops.

Laurits Hermansen told Danish broadcaster DR that he was in a clothing store at the shopping centre with his family when he heard “three-four bangs. Really loud bangs. It sounded like the shots were being fired just next to the store.”

A huge presence of heavily-armed police officers was on hand, with several fire department vehicles also parked outside the mall.

“One person has been arrested in connection with the shooting at Fields. We currently are not able to say more about the person concerned,” Copenhagen police tweeted. “We have a massive presence at Fields and are working on getting an overview.”

The shopping centre is on the outskirts of Copenhagen just across from a subway line that connects the city centre with the international airport. A major highway also runs adjacent to Fields.

The Canadian Press – | Story: 373996

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.

Authorities say the falling ice killed at least six and injured eight.

There could be about 10 people missing, Civil Protection official Gianpaolo Bottacin was quoted as saying by the online version of Italian daily Corriere della Sera. But Bottacin later told state television that it wasn’t yet possible to provide a firm number.

Rescuers were checking license plates in the parking lot as part of checks to determine how many people might be unaccounted for, a process that could take hours.


ORIGINAL 8:10 a.m.

A large chunk of Alpine glacier broke loose Sunday afternoon and slid down a mountainside, slamming into more than a dozen hikers on a popular trail on the peak. At least four people were killed, Italy’s state television said, and seven others were injured.

RAI state television didn’t cite a source for its report of fatalities. But earlier the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted that the search of the involved area of Marmolada peak involved at least five helicopters and rescue dogs. Separately, emergency dispatchers in northeast Italy tweeted that about 15 hikers were believed to have been in the stricken area.

The segment that broke away is known as a serac, or pinnacle of a glacier.

Marmolada, towering about 3,300 meters, is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites.

“A breaking away of rock provoked the opening of a crevasse on the glacier, leaving about 15 people involved,” the emergency dispatchers tweeted.

The Alpine rescue service said in a tweet that the segment broke off near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “along the itinerary normally used to reach the peak.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break away and rush down the peak’s slope, but the intense heat wave gripping Italy since late June could be a factor, Walter Milan, an Alpine rescue service spokesperson told RAI state TV.

“The heat is unusual,” Milan said, noting that temperatures in recent days on the peak had topped 10 C. ”That’s extreme heat” for the peak, Milan said. “Clearly it’s something abnormal.”

The injured, including a person in critical condition, were taken to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, according to rescue services.

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The Canadian Press – Jul 3, 2022 / 6:45 am | Story: 373989

Russia’s defence minister said Russian forces took control Sunday of the last major Ukrainian-held city in Ukraine’s Luhansk province, bringing Moscow closer to its stated goal of seizing all of Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Russia’s troops together with members of a local separatist militia “have established full control over the city of Lysychansk,” a ministry statement said.

Taking Lysychansk constitutes “the liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” one of two separatist regions in Ukraine that Russia recognizes as sovereign, the statement said.

Ukrainian fighters spent weeks trying to defend Lysychansk and to keep it from falling to Russia, as neighbouring Sievierodonetsk did a week ago. A presidential adviser predicted late Saturday that the city’s fate could be determined within days.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately provide an update on its status.

Earlier Sunday, Luhansk’s governor said Russian forces were strengthening their positions in a gruelling fight to capture the last stronghold of resistance in the province.

“The occupiers threw all their forces on Lysychansk. They attacked the city with incomprehensibly cruel tactics,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app. “They suffer significant losses, but stubbornly advance. They are gaining a foothold in the city.”

A river separates Lysychansk from Sievierodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said during an online interview late Saturday that Russian forces had managed for the first time to cross the river from the north, creating a “threatening” situation.

Arestovych said they had not reached the centre of the city but that the course of the fighting indicated the battle for Lysychansk would be decided by Monday.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk are the two provinces that make up the Donbas, where Russia has focused its offensive since pulling back from northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv, in the spring.

Pro-Russia separatists have held portions of both eastern provinces since 2014, and Moscow recognizes all of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign republics. Syria’s government said Wednesday that it would also recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of the two areas.

An occupation of Lysychansk would open the way for the Russians to move west into Donetsk province, where the sizable Ukrainian-held city of Slovyansk has come under rocket attacks several times since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Mayor Vadym Lyakh said new attacks Sunday killed an unspecified number of people.

Elsewhere in the war, the exiled mayor of the Russia-occupied city of Melitopol said Sunday that Ukrainian rockets destroyed one of four Russian military bases in the city.

The governor of the Belgorod region in western Russia said four people were killed Sunday by fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile. The Russian Defence Ministry said two Ukrainian drones were shot down over the city of Kursk.

Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoit said the town of Tetkino, on the Ukraine border, came under mortar fire.

The leader of neighbouring Belarus, a Russian ally, claimed Saturday that Ukraine fired missiles at military targets on Belarusian territory several days ago but all were intercepted by an air defence system. President Alexander Lukashenko described the alleged strike as a provocation and noted that no Belarusian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian military.

Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion. Last week, just hours before Lukashenko was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.

Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko that his government depends on economic support from Russia.

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 9:11 pm | Story: 373909

South African former track star Oscar Pistorius has met with the father of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he shot to death in 2013, as part of his parole process, the Steenkamp’s family lawyer told The Associated Press on Friday.

Lawyer Tania Koen said in a text message that Pistorius and Barry Steenkamp met face-to-face on June 22 as part of what’s known in South Africa as a victim-offender dialogue. It gives victims of crimes or their relatives a chance to meet with the offenders, if they choose to, before the offender can be eligible for parole.

Koen confirmed the meeting but declined to give any more details. She wrote in her message: “The dialogue is a private and confidential matter, hence we ask that our clients’ privacy be respected.”

Pistorius, once a double-amputee track star who made history by running at the Olympics, became eligible for parole last year, eight years after killing his girlfriend in his home in the South African capital, Pretoria. Pistorius, who is now 35, was ultimately convicted of murder in 2015 after a long and dramatic trial and numerous appeals. He was sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.

He has served most of his sentence at a prison in Pretoria but was moved to a facility in the southern city of Gqeberha, the Steenkamps’ home town, ahead of the meeting with Barry Steenkamp.

A parole hearing for Pistorius was scheduled for last year but it was canceled because he hadn’t yet met with Steenkamp’s parents.

In South Africa, those convicted of a serious crime must serve at least half their sentence before they are eligible for parole. Pistorius had already served time in jail after being initially convicted of culpable homicide — a charge similar to manslaughter — before an appeal by prosecutors resulted in that being overturned and him being convicted of murder.

Pistorius must still attend a parole hearing, where department of corrections officials will decide if he should be released early. Pistorius’ lawyer, Julian Knight, said last year that he had been “a model prisoner” and met the requirements for parole.

Pistorius was born with a congenital condition that led to both his legs being amputated below the knee when he was a baby. He became a multiple Paralympic sprinting champion running on carbon-fiber blades, and even qualified to compete against the world’s best able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.

But his image as one of the most inspiring figures in sports was shattered when he shot the 29-year-old Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet door in his house in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. He claimed he mistook her for a dangerous intruder but was convicted of a charge comparable to second-degree murder because he acted so recklessly by firing through the toilet door with his 9mm pistol.

 

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 9:04 pm | Story: 373908

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Friday that setbacks for President Joe Biden’s climate efforts at home have “slowed the pace” of some of the commitments from other countries to cut climate-wrecking fossil fuels, but he insisted the U.S. would still achieve its own ambitious climate goals in time.

Kerry spoke to The Associated Press after a major Supreme Court ruling Thursday limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s options for regulating climate pollution from power plants. The ruling raised the prospect the conservative-controlled court could go on to hinder other efforts by the executive branch to cut the country’s coal, oil and gas emissions. It came after Democrats failed in getting what was to be Biden’s signature climate legislation through the narrowly divided Senate.

The Biden administration is striving now to show audiences at home and abroad that the U.S. can still make significant climate progress, and strike deals with other countries to do the same. Scientists say only a few years are left to stave off the worst levels of global warming, triggering ever more deadly droughts, storms, wildfires and other disasters.

Kerry, Biden’s climate negotiator abroad, said he had not talked to foreign counterparts since the Supreme Court ruling, which some climate scientists called a gut punch and a disaster.

“But I’m confident they’ll ask me questions,” Kerry said. “But my answer is going to be look, we’re going to meet our goals … and the president is going to continue to fight for legislation from the Congress.”

“We absolutely are convinced we can meet our goals,” Kerry said.

Biden has pledged to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Despite two Democrats joining with Republicans to block what was supposed to have been transformative legislation moving the United States to cleaner energy, Biden has managed to free significant funding for electric charging stations and some other moves. The EPA has pledged to release alternative regulation to limit climate damage from the power sector early next year.

Kerry cited continuing progress in climate efforts abroad this year, including more governments committing to faster cuts in emissions and more signing a U.S.-backed methane pledge targeting climate-damaging leaks, venting and flaring from natural gas industries.

“This decision by the Supreme Court … is disappointing, but … it doesn’t take away our ability to do a whole bunch of things that we need to get done,” Kerry said.

“President Biden has enormous authority to continue to move forward. We are going to move forward. I am absolutely confident about our ability to continue to offer leadership on a global basis, which we’re doing right now.”

Kerry also pointed to progress the United States was making in cutting fossil fuel emissions independently of the government efforts, including through electric cars and other marketplace technological advances, and through clean-energy pushes from California and dozens of other states, mostly those led by Democrats.

Kerry described legislation on tax credits to encourage cleaner energy as common sense and doable. He declined to talk about the impact if even those failed to clear Congress.

“I wouldn’t be a gloomy-doomy over this,” he said. “I just say we got to work harder and fight harder.”

Asked if it was possible to ask China and other major polluters to make fast moves away from fossil fuels when the U.S. was struggling to meet some of its own goals, Kerry said, “they’ll make their own analysis. That will conceivably have an impact on what they decide to do or not.”

The administration’s setbacks getting major climate retooling through conservatives in Congress and the Supreme Court haven’t hurt the momentum he’s working for abroad in climate negotiations, Kerry insisted. “But I think it’s slowed the pace at which some of these things could happen,” he said.

“If the United States were able to accomplish more regarding our own goals, and we did so rapidly, that would put a lot of pressure on a lot of countries,” he said.

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 8:34 pm | Story: 373905

New York lawmakers approved a sweeping overhaul Friday of the state’s handgun licensing rules, seeking to preserve some limits on firearms after the Supreme Court ruled that most people have a right to carry a handgun for personal protection.

The measure, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul after passing both chambers by wide margins, is almost sure to draw more legal challenges from gun rights advocates who say the state is still putting too many restrictions on who can get guns and where they can carry them.

Hochul, a Democrat, called the Democrat-controlled Legislature back to Albany to work on the law after last week’s high-court ruling overturning the state’s longstanding licensing restrictions.

Backers said the law, which takes effect Sept. 1, strikes the right balance between complying with the Supreme Court’s ruling and keeping weapons out of the hands of people likely to use them recklessly or with criminal intent.

But some Republican lawmakers, opposed to tighter restrictions, argued the law violated the constitutional right to bear arms. They predicted it too would end up being overturned.

Among other things, the state’s new rules will require people applying for a handgun license to turn over a list of their social media accounts so officials could verify their “character and conduct.”

Applicants will have to show they have “the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon and to use it only in a manner that does not endanger oneself and others.”

As part of that assessment, applicants have to turn over a list of social media accounts they’ve maintained in the past three years.

“Sometimes, they’re telegraphing their intent to cause harm to others,” Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said at a news conference.

Gun rights advocates and Republican leaders were incensed, saying the legislation not only violated the Second Amendment, but also privacy and free speech rights.

“New Yorkers’ constitutional freedoms were just trampled on,” state Republican Chair Nick Langworthy said.

The bill approved by lawmakers doesn’t specify whether applicants will be required to provide licensing officers with access to private social media accounts not visible to the general public.

People applying for a license to carry a handgun will also have to provide four character references, take 16 hours of firearms safety training plus two hours of practice at a range, undergo periodic background checks and turn over contact information for their spouse, domestic partner or any other adults living in their household.

Hochul’s chief lawyer, Elizabeth Fine, insisted the state was setting out “a very clear set of eligibility criteria” and noted that the legislation includes an appeals process.

The measure signed into law Friday also fixes a recently passed law that barred sales of some types of bullet-resistant vests to the general public. The previous law inadvertently left out many types of body armor, including the type worn by a gunman who killed 10 Black people in a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week struck down a 109-year-old state law that required people to demonstrate an unusual threat to their safety to qualify for a license to carry a handgun outside their homes. That restriction generally limited the licenses to people who had worked in law enforcement or had another special need that went beyond routine public safety concerns.

Under the new system, the state won’t authorize permits for people with criminal convictions within the past five years for driving while intoxicated, menacing or third-degree assault.

People also won’t be allowed to carry firearms at a long list of “sensitive places,” including New York City’s tourist-packed Times Square.

That list also includes schools, universities, government buildings, places where people have gathered for public protests, health care facilities, places of worship, libraries, public playgrounds and parks, day care centers, summer camps, addiction and mental health centers, shelters, public transit, bars, theaters, stadiums, museums, polling places and casinos.

New York will also bar people from bringing guns into any business or workplace unless the owners put up signs saying guns are welcome. People who bring guns into places without such signs could be prosecuted on felony charges.

That’s a reverse approach from many other states where businesses that want to keep guns out are usually required to post signs indicating weapons aren’t allowed.

Gun advocates said the law infringes on rights upheld by the Supreme Court.

“Now we’re going to let the pizzeria owner decide whether or not I can express my constitutional right,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican. “This is a disgrace. See you in the courts.”

 

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 7:54 am | Story: 373832

American basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial Friday, 4 1/2 months after her arrest on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to play for a Russian team, in a case that unfolded amid tense relations between Moscow and Washington.

The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after police said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.

Griner, 31, was escorted into the courtroom in the Moscow suburb of Khimki while handcuffed and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. At a closed-door preliminary hearing Monday, her detention was extended for another six months, to Dec. 20, and her next court session was set for July 7.

Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned.

Her case comes at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already high tensions between the two countries. The U.S. then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia denounced the U.S. for sending weapons to Ukraine.

Elizabeth Rood, U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke with Griner, who “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”

“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”

She said the U.S. government, from its highest levels, “is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home safely.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution.

“The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances,” Peskov told reporters. “In view of what I’ve said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.

Griner’s supporters had kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the U.S. government’s chief negotiator.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has urged President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.”

“It was good to see her in some of those images, but it’s tough. Every time’s a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday.

The coach hoped that Biden would “take the steps to ensure she comes home.”

Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case — which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the U.S.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a setup.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 6:42 am | Story: 373814

Russian missile attacks on residential areas in a coastal town near the Ukrainian port city of Odesa early Friday killed at least 19 people, authorities reported, a day after Russian forces withdrew from a strategic Black Sea island.

Video of the pre-dawn attack showed the charred remains of buildings in the small town of Serhiivka, about 50 kilometres southwest of Odesa. The Ukrainian president’s office said three X-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and two campsites.

“A terrorist country is killing our people. In response to defeats on the battlefield, they fight civilians,” Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine’s Security Service said 19 people died, including two children. It said another 38, including six children and a pregnant woman, were hospitalized with injuries. Most of the victims were in the apartment building, Ukrainian emergency officials said.

The airstrikes followed the pullout of Russian forces from Snake Island on Thursday, a move that was expected to potentially ease the threat to nearby Odesa, home to Ukraine’s biggest port. The island sits along a busy shipping lane.

Russia took control of it in the opening days of the war in the apparent hope of using it as a staging ground for an assault on Odesa. The Kremlin portrayed the departure of Russian troops from Snake Island as a “goodwill gesture” intended to facilitate shipments of grain and other agricultural products to Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Ukraine’s military claimed a barrage of its artillery and missiles forced the Russians to flee in two small speedboats. The exact number of withdrawing troops was not disclosed.

The island took on significance early in the war as a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion. Ukrainian troops there reportedly received a demand from a Russian warship to surrender or be bombed. The answer supposedly came back, “Go (expletive) yourself.”

Zelenskyy said that although the pullout did not guarantee the Black Sea region’s safety, it would “significantly limit” Russian activities there.

“Step by step, we will push (Russia) out of our sea, our land, our sky,” he said in his nightly address.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces kept up their push to encircle the last stronghold of resistance in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the country’s Donbas region. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled much of the region for eight years.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were trying to encircle the city of Lysychansk and fighting for control over an oil refinery on the city’s edge.

“The shelling of the city is very intensive,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “The occupiers are destroying one house after another with heavy artillery and other weapons. Residents of Lysychansk are hiding in basements almost round the clock.”

The offensive has failed so far to cut Ukrainian supply lines, although the main highway leading west was not being used because of constant Russian shelling, the governor said. “The evacuation is impossible,” he added.

But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Friday that Russian and Luhansk separatist forces had taken control of the refinery as well as a mine and a gelatin factory in Lysychansk “over the last three days.”

Ukraine’s presidential office said a series of Russian strikes in the past 24 hours also killed civilians in eastern Ukraine – four in the northeastern Kharkiv region and another four in Donetsk province.

Russian bombardments killed large numbers of civilians earlier in the war, including at a hospital and a theater in the port city of Mariupol. Mass casualties had appeared to become more infrequent as Moscow concentrated on capturing the Donbas region.

However, a missile strike Monday on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, a city in central Ukraine, killed at least 19 people and injured another 62, authorities said Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied that Russian forces targeted the shopping mall, saying that his country doesn’t hit civilian facilities. He claimed the target in Kremenchuk was a nearby weapons depot, echoing the remarks of his military officials.

The Canadian Press – Jul 1, 2022 / 6:28 am | Story: 373811

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a sweeping inquiry into the New York Police Department’s sex crimes investigators following years of complaints about the way they treat crime victims.

The civil rights investigation, announced Thursday, will examine whether the NYPD’s Special Victims Division engages in a pattern of gender-biased policing, officials said.

“Survivors of sexual assault should expect effective, trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations by police departments,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. New York City’s two U.S. attorneys joined her in announcing the inquiry.

The police unit inspired TV’s “Law & Order: SVU,” and the real-life version has tackled such major cases as the prosecution of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. But the division also has faced a decade of complaints about thin staffing and superficial investigations.

In a 2019 lawsuit, a woman alleged detectives shrugged off her report of being raped by someone she’d been involved with, logging it as a “dispute” instead of a sex crime. Another woman said in the suit that her account of being kidnapped and gang-raped was grossly mishandled for months before she was told the case was “too complex” to investigate.

After the lawsuit and a leadership shakeup, the NYPD promised change. But victims’ advocates say it hasn’t happened.

“We hope the Justice Department’s investigation and our lawsuit will finally result in real change for victims and survivors of sexual assault in New York City,” said the women’s lawyer, Mariann Wang.

The NYPD said it welcomes the review and is committed to improving its investigations.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said she believed any “constructive” review would “show that the NYPD has been evolving and improving in this area, but we will be transparent and open to criticism as well as ideas.”

Mayor Eric Adams, a retired police captain who took office in January and appointed Sewell, said she immediately took steps to make sure the unit was “professional.”

“We were not sitting on our hands,” the Democrat said.

Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said the NYPD has already taken steps to address concerns, but authorities want to ensure victims are treated fairly in the future.

Justice Department officials said they planned a comprehensive review of policies, procedures and training for the Special Victims Division’s sex assault investigations — including how police interact with survivors and witnesses, collect evidence and complete investigations.

The officials also want to see what steps the police department has taken to fix deficiencies, including the unit’s staffing and its services for sexual assault survivors.

The Weinstein case spotlighted the sex crimes division, which helped build a prosecution that ended with a watershed conviction for the #MeToo movement. But along the way, prosecutors dropped one of the charges in 2018, after evidence surfaced that a detective had coached a witness and told an accuser to delete material from her cellphone.

A lawyer for the woman whose allegation was dropped from the case has faulted prosecutors for what happened. She said Thursday that she welcomed shining light on police practices, offering a mixed view of the police sex crimes unit.

“Our experience is that many viable sexual assault cases are tossed out by police at the earliest stages of investigation,” said the attorney, Carrie Goldberg. “On the other hand, some of the most consequential sexual assault prosecutions of recent history — for example, that of Harvey Weinstein — were driven by the tenacity of dedicated NYPD investigators.”

After the 2019 lawsuit, the unit got a new leader, Judith Harrison, and shifted to what she called a “victim-centered” approach — but she soon moved to a different position.

Successor Michael King, appointed in 2020, was a veteran investigator and forensic nurse. King was removed from the job in February, amid complaints about his leadership and continued mishandling of cases.

Last October, a woman who identified herself as a rape victim told a City Council hearing that detectives failed to interview witnesses, collect security camera footage from the bar where she’d been before the attack, or test for date-rape drugs. She said they closed the case twice without telling her.

In another case, detailed in a 2020 article in The New York Times, a New York University student said a sex crimes detective openly doubted her allegation that a stranger had raped her in her apartment. The investigator talked her out of moving forward and shut down the case, she said.

The suspected rapist, identified through fingerprints on a condom wrapper found at the apartment, was later jailed on burglary charges — but ended up being released and assaulting three more women because the Special Victims Division never told prosecutors he was a rape suspect, the Times reported.

The unit has also been under scrutiny, including from the NYPD’s internal affairs bureau, for allegedly mishandling rape kits and for investigators allegedly shortchanging the department on hours worked.

Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said sex crimes victims “deserve the same rigorous and unbiased investigations of their cases that the NYPD affords to other categories of crime.”

The Canadian Press – Jun 30, 2022 / 9:49 pm | Story: 373793

A Navy investigation released Thursday revealed that shoddy management and human error caused fuel to leak into Pearl Harbor’s tap water last year, poisoning thousands of people and forcing military families to evacuate their homes for hotels.

The investigation is the first detailed account of how jet fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a massive World War II-era military-run tank farm in the hills above Pearl Harbor, leaked into a well that supplied water to housing and offices in and around the sprawling base. Some 6,000 people suffered nausea, headaches, rashes and other symptoms.

After months of resistance, the military in April agreed to an order from the state of Hawaii to drain the tanks and close the Red Hill facility. A separate report the Defense Department provided to the state Department of Health on Thursday said December 2024 was the earliest it could defuel the tanks safely.

The investigation report listed a cascading series of mistakes from May 6, 2021, when operator error caused a pipe to rupture and 21,000 gallons of fuel to spill when fuel was being transferred between tanks. Most of this fuel spilled into a fire suppression line and sat there for six months, causing the line to sag. A cart rammed into this sagging line on Nov. 20, releasing 20,000 gallons of fuel.

The area where the cart hit the line isn’t supposed to have fuel, and so the officials who responded to the spill didn’t have the right equipment to capture the liquid.

“The team incorrectly assumes that all of the fuel has been sopped up,” Adm. Sam Paparo, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told reporters at a news conference. About 5,000 gallons wasn’t recovered.

“Meanwhile, over the course of eight days, that fuel enters into this French drain that is under the concrete and seeps slowly and quietly into the Red Hill well. And that fuel into the Red Hill well is then pumped into the Navy system,” Paparo said.

Red Hill officials thought that only 1,618 gallons had leaked in the May spill and that they recovered all but 38 gallons. They noticed that one of the tanks was short 20,000 gallons but believed it had flowed through the pipes and didn’t realize it had flown into the fire suppression line. They didn’t report the discrepancy to senior leadership.

After the November spill when people started getting sick, the military moved about 4,000 mostly military families into hotels for months while they waited for their water to be safe again.

The report said officials defaulted to assuming the best about what was happening when the spills occurred, instead of assuming the worst, and this contributed to their overlooking the severity of situation.

Paparo said the Navy was trying to move away from that. He called it an ongoing process “to get real with ourselves” and “being honest about our deficiencies.”

He recommended that the Navy review operations at 48 defense fuel storage facilities worldwide.

“We cannot assume Red Hill represents an outlier, and similar problems may exist at other locations,” Paparo wrote in the report.

The report said the investigation revealed that poor training and supervision, ineffective leadership and an absence of ownership regarding operational safety also contributed to the incident.

“The lack of critical thinking, intellectual rigor, and self-assessment by key leaders at decisive moments exemplified a culture of complacency and demonstrated a lack of professionalism that is demanded by the high consequence nature of fuel operations,” the report said.

In particular, the investigation highlighted a February 2021 decision by the commanding officer of Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor to remove uniformed military oversight from day-to-day operations at Red Hill. The report said this significantly increased the risks of fuel handling operations.

It also noted key leaders at the scene of the November 2021 spill failed to exercise a sense of urgency, critical thinking, forceful backup and timely and effective communication demanded “by the seriousness of the situation.”

Navy leaders briefed reporters on the investigation on Thursday but had placed an embargo on it until early Friday morning. The Defense Department also filed a copy of its defueling plan with state Department of Health to meet a Thursday deadline. State health officials released both the investigation and the defueling plan to the pubic on Thursday.

The Canadian Press – Jun 30, 2022 / 7:04 pm | Story: 373779

The tractor-trailer at the center of a human-smuggling attempt that left 53 people dead had passed through an inland U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint with migrants inside the sweltering rig earlier in its journey, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The truck went through the checkpoint on Interstate 35 located 26 miles (42 kilometers) northeast of the border city of Laredo, Texas.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said there were 73 people in the truck when it was discovered Monday in San Antonio, including the 53 who died. It was unclear if agents stopped the driver for questioning at the inland checkpoint or if the truck went through unimpeded.

The disclosure brings new attention to an old policy question of whether the roughly 110 inland highway checkpoints along the Mexican and Canadian borders are sufficiently effective at spotting people in cars and trucks who enter the United States illegally. They are generally located up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the border.

Texas state police also announced they would operate their own inland checkpoints for tractor-trailers on the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott, who considers the Biden administration’s efforts insufficient. It was unclear how many trucks they would be stopping.

Also Thursday, Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, the alleged driver of the tractor-trailer, made his initial appearance in San Antonio federal court. During a hearing that lasted about five minutes, Zamorano, wearing a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants, said very little, giving yes and no answers to questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Chestney about his rights and the charges against him.

The judge appointed a federal public defender for Zamorano as well as a second attorney since the smuggling charge he faces carries a possible death sentence. She scheduled a hearing next week to determine if he is eligible for bail.

It remained unclear just how long the migrants were in the trailer on the sweltering day and whether having their cell phones confiscated by the smugglers before being placed inside contributed to the extremely high death toll. Emergency calls from trapped migrants have not emerged in this case as they have in earlier incidents.

On Thursday, José Santos Bueso of El Progreso, Honduras said his daughter, 37-year-old Jazmín Nayarith Bueso Núñez, told him in their last conversation that she was in Laredo, that the smugglers were going to take their phones and she would not be able to communicate for a time. She last messaged her 15-year-old son around midday Monday, saying they were about to head to San Antonio and she would be out of contact.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that Border Patrol agents may stop vehicles at inland checkpoints for brief questioning without a warrant, even if there is no reason to believe that they are carrying people in the country illegally. Still, the practice has galvanized immigration advocates and civil libertarians who consider checkpoints ripe for racial profiling and abuse of authority. Some motorists post videos to social media accusing agents of heavy-handed, inappropriate questioning.

The Laredo-area checkpoint is on one of the busiest highways along the border, particularly for trucks, raising the possibility of choking commerce and creating havoc if every motorist is stopped and questioned.

Border Patrol officials call the checkpoints an imperfect but effective second line of defense after the border, acknowledging that agents must balance law enforcement interests with disrupting legitimate commerce and travel.

Volume and configuration vary widely among checkpoints, but agents generally have five to seven seconds to decide whether to question a driver, said Roy Villareal, former chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson, Arizona, sector.

“Ultimately, it’s very difficult to ascertain with crime in general. It’s hard to say whether you’re 100% effective, 50%, 10%.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who drives through the checkpoint almost weekly, said investigators believe the migrants boarded the truck in or around Laredo, though that is unconfirmed. That would be consistent with smuggling patterns: migrants cross the border on foot and hide in a house or in shrubbery on U.S. soil before getting picked up and taken to the nearest major city.

Even if the truck were empty, it would raise questions about the checkpoints. Migrants often perish trying to circumvent them, getting dropped off before reaching them with plans to get picked up on the other side. In Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, migrants walk through sweltering ranches to avoid a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of the border.

The Government Accountability Office reported this month that agents at inland checkpoints detained about 35,700 people believed to be in the U.S. illegally from the 2016 to 2020 fiscal years, only about 2% of all Border Patrol arrests. Agents seized drugs nearly 18,000 times during that period with more than nine of 10 arrests involving U.S. citizens.

They have been a trap for U.S. citizens carrying even small bags of marijuana. About 40% of pot seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from fiscal years 2013 to 2016 were an ounce (28 grams) or less from U.S. citizens, according to an earlier GAO report.

Abbott did not provide details on the extent of Texas’ new inland inspections announced Thursday. Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said troopers would take a “more aggressive stance.” Asked if that meant stopping every truck, Olivarez said he did not know and that it would partly depend on staffing.

“It’s going to be inspecting more than what we usually inspect,” Olivarez said.

In April, Abbott gridlocked Texas’ border for a week after issuing orders that troopers inspect every tractor-trailer entering from Mexico as part of his ongoing fight with the Biden administration over immigration policy. Those inspections, which were mechanical and safety inspections, did not turn up any migrants or drugs.

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