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Protesters ride on a bus during a 'Free Assange' demonstration to mark WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's birthday, in London, Britain, July 1, 2022. REUTERS/John Sibley

WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges, his brother said on Friday, the latest step in his legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.

Assange, 50, is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks’ release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables which Washington said had put lives in danger.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel approved his extradition, with her office saying British courts had concluded his extradition would not be incompatible with his human rights, and that he would be treated appropriately.

Australian-born Assange’s legal team have lodged an appeal against that decision at the High Court, his brother Gabriel Shipton confirmed. The court must give its approval for the appeal to be heard, but it is likely the legal case will take months to conclude.

“We also urge the Australian government to intervene immediately in the case to end this nightmare,” Shipton told Reuters.

The saga began at the end of 2010 when Sweden sought Assange’s extradition from Britain over allegations of sex crimes. When he lost that case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he spent seven years.

When he was finally dragged out in April 2019, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions although the Swedish case against him had been dropped. He has been fighting extradition to the United States since June 2019 and remains in jail.

“We’re going to fight this. We’re going to use every appeal avenue,” his wife Stella Assange told reporters after Patel approved his extradition.

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Medical abortion drug mifepristone

The maker of a drug used in medication abortions has told a federal judge that the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling eliminating the nationwide right to abortion does not allow Mississippi to stop it from selling the pills in the state.

GenBioPro Inc, which makes a generic version of the drug mifepristone, said in a Thursday filing in Jackson, Mississippi federal court that the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug should override any state ban.

The Las Vegas-based company sued the state in 2020 to challenge regulations that restricted medication abortion specifically. Mississippi is now set to ban nearly all abortions under a 2007 “trigger law” following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade establishing a constitutional right to abortion.

GenBioPro said that law will create a “that-much more direct and glaring conflict” with the FDA. It cited US Attorney General Merrick Garland’s statement last week that states “may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy.”

Mississippi said in an opposing filing that “the legal landscape following Dobbs has shifted overwhelmingly in favour of the state’s authority to regulate or prohibit abortion,” and that there was no evidence that Congress ever intended the FDA to restrict states’ ability to regulate abortion.

The US Department of Justice has not intervened in the case, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bans and restrictions on abortion are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states, including 13 like Mississippi with so-called “trigger” laws designed to take effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.

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Mayor of San Pedro Huamelul marries a new crocodile each year, complying with ancient traditions.  (Source: Reuters)

A small-town Mexican mayor married his alligator bride in a colorful ceremony as traditional music rang out and revelers danced while imploring the indigenous leader to seal the nuptials with a kiss.

San Pedro Huamelula Mayor Victor Hugo Sosa obliged more than once during Thursday’s wedding, bending down to plant his lips on the small alligator’s snout, which had been tied shut presumably to avoid unwanted biting.

The ritual marriage likely dates back centuries to pre-Hispanic times among Oaxaca state’s Chontal and Huave indigenous communities, like a prayer pleading for nature’s bounty.

“We ask nature for enough rain, for enough food, that we have fish in the river,” said Sosa, mayor of the small fishing village on Oaxaca’s steamy Pacific coast.

Oaxaca, located in Mexico’s poor south, is arguably the country’s richest in indigenous culture and home to many groups that have stubbornly maintained their languages and traditions.

The age-old ritual in San Pedro Huamelula, now mixed with Catholic spirituality, involves dressing the alligator or caiman in a white wedding dress plus other colorful garments.

The seven-year-old reptile, referred to as a little princess, is believed to be a deity representing mother earth, and her marriage to the local leader symbolizes the joining of humans with the divine.

As trumpets blared and drums provided a festive beat, locals carried the alligator bride in their arms through village streets as men fanned it with their hats.

“It gives me so much happiness and makes me proud of my roots,” said Elia Edith Aguilar, known as the godmother who organized the wedding.

She said that she feels privileged to be entrusted with carrying out the ceremony, and noted she spent a lot of time fretting over what the bride would wear.

“It’s a very beautiful tradition,” she added with a smile.

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A Supreme Court ruling on Thursday limiting Washington’s authority to reduce carbon output from power plants will hurt global efforts to fight climate change by slowing America’s emissions cuts and undermining US leadership efforts on the international stage, according to diplomats.

The conservative court‘s 6-3 ruling, the latest in a flurry of controversial judicial decisions from the bench, comes as the administration of US President Joe Biden seeks to decarbonize the US economy and rally global ambition to move away from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels to cleaner sources.

“It is very disappointing as it makes it very difficult for the U.S. administration to enforce the move to reduce emissions of GHGs,” said Carlos Fuller, Belize’s Ambassador to the United Nations. “It also puts the administration in a very weak negotiating position, as their attempts to get everyone to increase their ambition will be met with scepticism.”

In a rare criticism of a member state, the United Nations on Thursday called the Supreme Court ruling “a setback in our fight against climate change.”

“Decisions like the one today in the US or any other major emitting economy make it harder to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement for a healthy, liveable planet,” United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, referring to a 2015 international deal to curb warming.

“But we also need to remember that an emergency as global in nature as climate change requires a global response, and the actions of a single nation should not and cannot make or break whether we reach our climate objectives.”

Scientists have said the world must dramatically reduce its emissions in the coming years in order to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the threshold at which they say the worst effects of climate change become unavoidable.

Biden acknowledged in a statement that the ruling risked damaging the US ability to combat climate change. But he added: “I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis.”

“I have directed my legal team to work with the Department of Justice and affected agencies to review this decision carefully and find ways that we can, under federal law, continue protecting Americans from harmful pollution, including pollution that causes climate change,” Biden said.

Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at Open Society Foundations, and a former climate negotiator for the UK and EU, said the world will be watching.

“To renew confidence in its leadership, the US will need to swiftly pivot and keep its targets on track,” she said.

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A video of former U.S. President Donald Trump is played as Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the Trump administration, testifies during a House Select Committee public hearing that investigates the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, at the Capitol, in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2022. Anna Moneymaker/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of his presidential limousine on Jan. 6, 2021, when his security detail declined to take him to the U.S. Capitol where his supporters were rioting, a former aide testified on Tuesday.

The then-president dismissed concerns that some supporters gathered for his fiery speech outside the White House that day carried AR-15-style rifles, instead asking security to stop screening attendees with metal-detecting magnetometers so the crowd would look larger, the aide testified.

“Take the effing mags away; they’re not here to hurt me,” Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a top aide to Trump‘s then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, quoted Trump as saying that morning.

Hutchinson, in testimony on the sixth day of House of Representatives hearings into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol assault by Trump‘s followers, said the conversation was relayed to her by Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official who was Trump‘s deputy chief of staff for operations.

The New York Times and NBC, citing sources in the Secret Service, said the head of Trump‘s security detail, Robert Engel, and the limousine driver were prepared to testify under oath that Trump never lunged for the steering wheel. Engel was in the room when Ornato relayed the story, Hutchinson said.

The New York Times and CNN, citing unnamed sources, said Ornato also denied the story and was willing to testify.

Citing her conversation with Ornato, Hutchinson testified that Trump struggled with Secret Service agents who insisted he return to the White House rather than join supporters storming the Capitol where Congress was meeting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over him in the presidential election.

Trump‘s supporters were roused by his false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud

“‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,'” Hutchinson quoted an enraged Trump as saying. She said Trump tried from the back seat to grab the steering wheel of the heavily armored presidential vehicle and lunged in anger at a Secret Service official.

Trump, a Republican, denied her account of his actions.

“Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is ‘sick’ and fraudulent,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media app.

In a statement, the Secret Service said it was cooperating fully with the committee and would continue to do so.

“We learned of the new information shared at today’s hearing and plan on responding formally and on the record as soon as they can accommodate us,” it added.

Hutchinson’s lawyer Jody Hunt wrote on Twitter that she had “testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told. Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath.”

Dozens of courts, election officials and reviews by Trump‘s own administration rejected his fraud claims, including outlandish stories about an Italian security firm and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s tampering with U.S. ballots.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

WITNESS TAMPERING?

At the end of about two hours of testimony, Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the nine-member House panel, presented possible evidence of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

Cheney showed messages to unidentified witnesses advising them that an unidentified person would be watching their testimony closely and expecting loyalty.

Republican Mick Mulvaney, who served as Trump‘s chief of staff before Meadows, tweeted: “There is an old maxim: it’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up. Things went very badly for the former President today. My guess is that it will get worse from here.”

Hutchinson told the committee that Meadows and Trump‘s former attorney Rudy Giuliani had sought pardons from Trump.

Giuliani told WSYR radio in Syracuse, New York, on Tuesday that he had not sought a pardon.

Tuesday’s hastily called hearing marked the first time this month, in six hearings, that a former White House official appeared for live testimony.

Speaking in soft but assured tones, Hutchinson, 26, painted a picture of panicked White House officials bristling at the possibility of Trump‘s joining what was to become a violent mob pushing its way into the Capitol, hunting for his vice president, Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers who were certifying the victory of Biden over Trump.

‘EVERY CRIME IMAGINABLE’

The White House officials’ worries focused on the potential criminal charges Trump and others could face.

“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” Hutchinson said White House counselor Pat Cipollone told her if Trump were to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“‘We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen, this would be a really terrible idea for us. We have serious legal concerns if we go up to the Capitol that day,'” Cipollone said, Hutchinson testified.

Hutchinson, who sat doors away from Trump‘s Oval Office, testified that days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Meadows knew of the looming violence that could unfold.

“‘Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,'” she quoted him as saying inside the White House on Jan. 2 with her boss.

She testified that Giuliani had said of Jan. 6: “‘We’re going to the Capitol, it’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there; he’s going to look powerful.'”

At that point, she told the committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans: “It was the first moment that I remembered feeling scared and nervous of what could happen on Jan. 6.”

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump‘s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump‘s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Before resigning, Barr told the Associated Press in an interview there was no evidence of fraud. That angered Trump so much that he threw his lunch at a White House wall, breaking a porcelain dish and leaving ketchup dripping down the wall, according to video testimony to the committee from Kayleigh McEnany, Trump‘s White House press secretary at the time.

Hutchinson told the committee it was not unusual for Trump to throw food when he was angry: “There were several times throughout my tenure with the chief of staff that I was aware of him either throwing dishes or flipping the tablecloth to let all the contents of the table go onto the floor and likely break or go everywhere.”

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The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to the allegations

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the Feb. 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.”

The agency also added another 31 entities to the blacklist from countries that include Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. Of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to the allegations against the companies, but said Beijing had not provided military assistance to Russia or Ukraine. It said it would take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies, arguing that the sanctions violate international law.

Three of the companies in China accused of aiding the Russian military, Connec Electronic Ltd, Hong Kong-based World Jetta, and Logistics Limited, could not be reached for comment. The other two, King Pai Technology Co, Ltd and Winninc Electronic did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong is considered part of China for purposes of U.S. export controls since Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.

The firms’ blacklisting means their U.S. suppliers need a Commerce Department license before they can ship items to them.

The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation”, by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.

While U.S. officials had previously said that China was generally complying with the restrictions, Washington has vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce the regulations.

“We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating U.S. law,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in the same statement.

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People exit from an Amtrak train that derailed after hitting a dump truck at an uncontrolled crossing, near Mendon, Missouri/photo Dax McDonald

A fourth person has died after an Amtrak train carrying about 275 passengers and a dozen crew hit a dump truck at a railroad crossing on Monday and derailed, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said on Tuesday.

The fourth victim was a passenger aboard the train, which was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it collided with a dump truck near Mendon, Missouri, about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Kansas City, Missouri. Two other passengers and the truck driver were also killed in the collision.

Eight cars and two locomotives derailed, Amtrak officials said, leaving all but one car lying on its side along the track surrounded by grass and farmland. Passengers evacuated the wreck through windows facing skyward.

A Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman said the collision occurred at an uncontrolled crossing without lights or signals.

About 150 people were transported from the scene to 10 area hospitals with injuries that ranged from minor to severe, the patrol said on Tuesday.

A team of 16 investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were due at the crash site early Tuesday morning to begin an investigation.

It was too early to speculate on a cause of the wreck or the speed of the train, NTSB officials said.
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File photo: Ghislaine Maxwell

Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for helping the sex offender and globetrotting financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls.

The British socialite, 60, was convicted in December for recruiting and grooming four girls to have sexual encounters with Epstein, then her boyfriend, between 1994 and 2004.

The month-long trial was widely seen as the reckoning that Epstein – who killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at age 66 while awaiting his own sex trafficking trial – never had. It was one of the highest-profile cases in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual abuse, often at the hands of wealthy and powerful people.

In often emotional and explicit testimony during the trial, four women testified that Maxwell was a central figure in their abuse by Epstein.

U.S. Circuit Judge Alison Nathan read the sentence at a hearing in Manhattan federal court.

Prosecutors last week called Maxwell’s conduct “shockingly predatory” and said she deserved to spend at least 30 years behind bars for the five charges on which she was convicted, based on their interpretation of federal sentencing guidelines.

Maxwell’s lawyers had earlier said in court papers that she should be sentenced to no more than 5-1/4 years, arguing that she was being scapegoated for Epstein’s crimes and that she had already spent significant time in jail.

Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 and repeatedly denied bail. Since then, she has been held mostly at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), where she has complained of vermin and the scent of raw sewage in her cell. Her lawyer has compared her confinement conditions to those of Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Maxwell was placed on suicide watch over the weekend. However her lawyers said she was not suicidal.

In April, Nathan rejected Maxwell’s bid for an acquittal, but set aside guilty verdicts on two counts because they overlapped. That reduced Maxwell’s maximum possible sentence to 55 years from 65 years.

Maxwell on Tuesday said it was her “greatest regret” to have ever met Jeffrey Epstein as the British socialite prepared to be sentenced for helping the sex offender and globetrotting financier sexually abuse underage girls.

Speaking in Manhattan federal court, Maxwell called Epstein a “manipulative, cunning and controlling man” who fooled everyone in his orbit, and said she was “sorry” for the pain that his victims experienced.

“It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein,” Maxwell said.

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Lisa Turner,47, holds her daughter Lucy Kramer,14, during a candlelight vigil outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

People attending Pride celebrations hosted by LGBTQ+ communities across the United States expressed outrage at the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, and a wave of anti-transgender legislation.

For more than 50 years, LGBTQ+ people and supporters have marched on the last weekend in June to celebrate hard-won freedoms. But now many fear those freedoms are under threat.

Pride parades in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver followed protests in some of the same cities decrying the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“This march is going to have more of a serious tone than celebratory, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all,” said Krystal Marx, executive director of Seattle Pride, which drew thousands of people to its parade on Sunday.

In New York City, throngs of people dressed in rainbow colors cheered as representatives of the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood took part in a parade in Manhattan. The marchers held pink signs that read “Together. We fight for all.”

“Everybody please scream for Planned Parenthood!” an announcer called over a loudspeaker. “We won’t back down!” the crowd responded.

The marches commemorate protests that broke out after police raided a gay bar at the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28, 1969.

LGBTQ leaders fear the abortion ruling by the court’s conservative justices endangers personal freedom beyond abortion rights. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Court might reconsider other precedents, mentioning specifically the rulings protecting the rights to contraception, same-sex intimacy and gay marriage.

“The anti-abortion playbook and the anti-LGBTQ playbook are one and the same. Both are about denying control over our bodies and making it more dangerous for us to live as we are,” Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement.

Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling against abortion rights, the LGBTQ+ community’s Pride month jubilation was weighed down by a raft of Republican-backed state laws that specifically target transgender youth.

The measures enacted in several red states bar classroom discussion of gender identity, block access to healthcare to help young people transition, and restrict participation in sports.

In Texas, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott has called for prosecuting some gender-affirming care as child abuse, the line from overturning Roe to rolling back LGBTQ+ rights was clear to Patrick Smith, who attended Houston’s Pride Parade.

“The government should stay out of our private lives,” said Smith, who attended the event on Saturday with his partner. “Women went first. I fear what could happen to us too.”

Abortion rights and transgender rights were top of mind at San Francisco’s Pride parade, where people held signs that read “Abort the Court,” “Protect trans youth,” and organizers led a chant of “Get your laws off our bodies.”

“It feels like there’s a cloud over everybody who has a uterus,” said Maya Reddick, a high school student attending San Francisco’s celebration with friends. She held a sign that said “reproductive rights are human rights.”

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell

Iran‘s indirect talks with the United States on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact will resume soon, the Iranian foreign minister said on Saturday amid a push by the European Union’s top diplomat to break a months-long impasse in the negotiations.

“We are prepared to resume talks in the coming days. What is important for Iran is to fully receive the economic benefits of the 2015 accord,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said, adding that he had held a “long but positive meeting” with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said he could not speak on the status of the negotiations.

“But there’s nothing changed about our position that a nuclear deal is the best way to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons status,” Kirby told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One. “We want to get them back into compliance.”

The pact appeared close to being revived in March when the EU – which is coordinating negotiations – invited foreign ministers representing the accord’s parties to Vienna to finalise an agreement after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.

But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

“We are expected to resume talks in the coming days and break the impasse. It has been three months and we need to accelerate the work. I am very happy about the decision that has been made in Tehran and Washington,” Borrell told a televised news conference in Tehran.

Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved”, comments that Iran‘s Foreign Ministry has neither confirmed nor denied.

“We agreed on resumption of negotiations between Iran and U.S. in the coming days, facilitated by my team, to solve the last outstanding issues,” Borrell said.

“And the coming days mean coming days. I mean, quickly, immediately.”

In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.

The U.S. withdrawal and its reimposition of crippling sanctions prompted Iran to begin violating its core nuclear limits about a year later.

Western powers fear Iran is getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear bomb if it decided to, though Iran says its intentions are entirely peaceful.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran‘s Supreme National Security Council, which makes the decisions in the nuclear talks, told Borrell that Iran will further develop its nuclear programme until the West changes its “illegal behaviour”. 

“Iran‘s retaliatory actions in the nuclear sector are merely legal and rational responses to U.S. unilateralism and European inaction and will continue as long as the West’s illegal practices are not changed,” Shamkhani said, without elaborating.

And despite the imminent resumption of talks, Borrell appeared to play down the possibility of a quick deal.

“I cannot predict … We are pushing for it. I appreciate the goodwill from the Iranian side. There is also goodwill from the American side,” Borrell said in a news conference on an EU website.

“Talks between Iran, the U.S. and the EU will not take place in Vienna because they will not be in the 4+1 format… they will probably take place somewhere closer to the Persian Gulf and more specifically in a Persian Gulf state,” Iranian media quoted Borrell as saying.

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FILE PHOTO: The NASA logo

NASA will launch a rocket from the remote wilderness of northern Australia on Sunday evening, the first commercial space launch in Australia and the agency’s first from a commercial spaceport.

The suborbital rocket will be briefly visible seconds after the launch, scheduled for 10:44 p.m. (1344 GMT) Australian Central Standard Time, and will travel 300 kilometres (186 miles) into space.

The dry Australian landscape and its closeness to the equator offer optimal conditions for space launches, said Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who will be 400 metres from the launch pad at the Arnhem Space Centre.

“At 12 degrees in Arnhem you don’t get many places closer to the equator. Particularly you don’t get places close to the equator where you can get dry, stable air. Florida, where Cape Canaveral is, is kind of a swamp,” he said, referring to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The U.S. space agency, formally the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has said three launches from Arnhem Space Centre in June and July will help it explore how a star’s light can influence a planet’s habitability.

Sunday’s mission will carry detectors to measure X-rays produced by hot gases that fill the space between stars to help study how they influence the evolution of galaxies, NASA said in a statement.

The second and third missions in July will observe Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to Earth, and the nearest to the Southern Cross constellation that features on the Australian flag, said Tucker. The constellation and Alpha Centauri can only be seen in the Southern skies.

“The big goal is to see if there is potentially Earth-like planets around it,” he said, adding scientists have been waiting a decade to launch a rocket from the Southern Hemisphere. It will be visible for 10-50 seconds.

“100 seconds after launch the science teams will be active and they will be controlling the telescope on board… They will know in real time how successful it is.”

NASA is the first client for the commercial space port operated by Equatorial Launch Australia, and 70 NASA staff have travelled to Australia for the three missions.

The payload and rocket will return to Earth the same evening.

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"God willing, it's going to save a lot of lives," President Biden said at the White House after signing the bill with his wife Jill by his side

US President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law the first major federal gun reform in three decades, days after a decision he condemned by the Supreme Court expandingfirearm owners’ rights.

“God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” Biden said at the White House after signing the bill with his wife Jill by his side.

The bipartisan bill came together just weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo that killed more than 30 people, including 19 children at an elementary school.

The law includes provisions to help states keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The reform came the same week as the Supreme Court expanded gun owners’ rights, saying on Thursday for the first time that the U.S. Constitution protected an individual’s ability to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.

“The Supreme Court has made some terrible decisions,” Biden told reporters after that ruling, and another on Friday that eliminated the right to abortion nationwide.

Gun control has long been a divisive issue in the nation with several attempts to put new controls on gun sales failing time after time.

Biden, who is looking to improve sagging public approval ratings ahead of Nov. 8 midterm elections for control of Congress, made securing victories on gun control a part of his campaign pitch to voters.

The new law blocks gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners and cracks down on gun sales to purchasers convicted of domestic violence. It also provides new federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws intended to remove guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.

It does not ban sales of assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines. But it does take some steps on background checks by allowing access, for the first time, to information on significant crimes committed by juveniles.

“At this time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential: If we can reach compromise on guns, we oughta be able to reach compromise on other critical issues,” Biden said before traveling to Germany for the Group of Seven rich nations summit.

“I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never gonna give up. But this is a monumental day.”

He said he would host families of gun violence victims and lawmakers at a White House event on July 11 to mark the passage of the gun safety law.

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An abortion rights demonstrator dressed in a Handmaid's Tale costume, protests outside the United States Supreme Court

Some cried tears of joy, others looked downcast and chanted defiantly that the battle was not yet lost as hundreds of protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court celebrated or condemned its ruling to overturn the right to an abortion.

Despite some fears that the emotionally wrought issue could trigger violence, the protests by abortion rights opponents and supporters, many of them university students, took place peacefully, with the two groups standing on either side of the court building on First Street in Washington, D.C.

Many gathered on Friday before the court took the dramatic step of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide. Read full story

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude that the Supreme Court took it upon themselves to take the brave action to save these babies,” said Macy Petty, 22, from South Carolina.

Petty sank to her knees crying on hearing the news of the court’s decision, while fellow activists around her cheered and sang a song about Jesus loving all people.

Opinion polls show a majority of Americans support abortion rights. But overturning Roe has been a goal of opponents and Christian conservatives for decades, with annual marches in Washington including in January of this year.

The packed street in front of the fenced-off Supreme Court was divided down the middle.

On one side, there was a party atmosphere as abortion rights opponents played music, blew bubbles, danced and chanted “Goodbye Roe.” On the other side, abortion rights advocates chanted “no justice, no peace.”

“I am here to stand against the shame in our country that has allowed for the killing of innocent preborn lives,” said Marco Sanchez, 23, from Portland, Oregon, who has been involved in Students for Life anti-abortion group since his junior year of high school.

About a dozen female Democratic lawmakers walked outside the U.S. Capitol to address the demonstrators for abortion rights, including progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who chanted “into the streets.”

Standing among abortion rights activists, Sam Goldman, 35, decried the court’s decision as “illegitimate.”

“Forced motherhood is illegitimate. This must not stand. Legal nationwide abortion on command is what’s needed and people need to flood the streets and not stop until that demand is won,” Goldman said.

Several abortion rights activists said the court seemed to be out of step with public opinion, as a majority of Americans favor abortion access.

“To overturn a ruling that’s stood for this long based on a court system that has become political is devastating,” said Nancy Johnson, who flew in from the state of Washington to protest.

“It feels like there are a narrow group of citizens who are making laws. I worry that if this could happen, what’s next. We should all worry about that; not just women.”

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Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrate outside the United States Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday took the dramatic step of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide, handing a momentous victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who want to limit or ban the procedure.

The court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative majority, upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The vote was 5-4 to overturn Roe, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing separately to say he would have upheld the Mississippi law but not taken the additional step of erasing the precedent altogether.

The justices held that the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a fetus would be viable outside the womb – between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy – was wrongly decided because the U.S. Constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights.

A draft version of the ruling indicating the court was likely to overturn Roe was leaked in May, igniting a political firestorm.

Mississippi’s law had been blocked by lower courts as a violation of Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights. .

By erasing abortion as a constitutional right, the ruling restores the ability of states to pass laws prohibiting it. Twenty-six states are seen as either certain or likely now to ban abortion. Mississippi is among 13 states already with so-called trigger laws designed to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Abortion is likely to remain legal in liberal states. More than a dozen states currently have laws protecting abortion rights. Numerous Republican-led states have passed various abortion restrictions in defiance of the Roe precedent in recent years.

Before the Roe decision, many states banned abortion, leaving women who wanted to terminate a pregnancy with few options. As a result of Friday’s ruling, women with unwanted pregnancies in large swathes of America may face the choice of traveling to another state where the procedure remains legal and available, buying abortion pills online or having a potentially dangerous illegal abortion.

Overturning Roe v. Wade has long been a goal of Christian conservatives and many Republican officeholders.

Republican former President Donald Trump as a candidate in 2016 promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would reverse Roe. He was able to appoint three conservative justices – a third of the total – during his four years in office, moving the court rightward and building a 6-3 conservative majority. All three Trump appointees – Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – were in the majority in Friday’s ruling.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi, challenged the 2018 law and had the support of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration at the Supreme Court. The law allows abortions when there is a “medical emergency” or a “severe fetal abnormality” but does not have an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

A federal judge in 2018 struck the law down, citing the Roe precedent. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion.

Roe v. Wade recognized that the right to personal privacy under the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy. The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey reaffirmed abortion rights and prohibited laws imposing an “undue burden” on abortion access.

Roberts denounced the May 2 leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in the case and announced an investigation to identify the culprit. Supreme Court leaks are extremely rare, especially concerning internal deliberations before a ruling is issued. Following the leak, Biden condemned the overturning of Roe as a “radical” step and urged Congress to pass legislation protecting abortion access nationally.

Thousands of people rallied for abortion rights in Washington and other cities after the leak, including some protesters at the homes of some conservative justices. A California man armed with a handgun, ammunition, a crow bar and pepper spray was arrested near Kavanaugh’s Maryland home on June 8 and charged with attempted murder.

The justices in 2016 struck down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion facilities and doctors. The justices in 2020 struck down a Louisiana law that similarly placed restrictions on doctors who perform abortions. But the court has become more conservative in recent years with the addition of three appointees made by former President Donald Trump.

Since 2018, the court lost two champions of abortion rights. Liberal Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg died in 2020, being replaced by Barrett, who as an academic before joining the judiciary signaled support for overturning Roe.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes sided with the liberal justices on social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, retired in 2018 and was replaced by Kavanaugh. Kennedy was part of the majority in the 1992 decision and voted to strike down the Texas abortion restriction in 2016.

Gorsuch in 2017 replaced the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who was an abortion opponent.

Opinion polls show a majority of Americans support abortion rights. But overturning Roe has been a goal of anti-abortion activists and Christian conservatives for decades, with annual marches in Washington including in January of this year.

The number of U.S. abortions increased by 8% during the three years ending in 2020, reversing a 30-year trend of declining numbers, according to data released on June 15 by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supporters abortion rights.

The U.S. abortion rate peaked in 1980, seven years after the Roe ruling, at 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age – 15-44 – and stood at 13.5 per 1,000 in 2017 before increasing to 14.4 per 1,000 women by 2020. In 2020, there were 930,160 U.S. abortions, with 20.6% of pregnancies ending in abortion in 2020, up from 18.4% in 2017. Mississippi experienced a 40% increase in abortions performed from 2017 to 2020.

Globally, abortion rights generally have been increasing. The U.N. World Health Organization said around 73 million abortions take place globally each year, including 29% of all pregnancies.

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A man uses a vape device

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday blocked Juul Labs Inc from selling its e-cigarettes in the United States, potentially dealing a fatal blow to the once high-flying San Francisco company.

Following a nearly two-year-long review of scientific and public health data submitted by the company, the agency said the applications “lacked sufficient evidence” to show that sale of the products would be appropriate for public health.

Some of the findings raised concerns due to insufficient and conflicting data, including whether potentially harmful chemicals could leach out of the Juul pods, the agency said.

Juul and other e-cigarette brands, including British American Tobacco Plc’s BATS.L Vuse and Imperial Brands Plc’s IMB.L Blu, had to meet a September 2020 deadline to file applications to the FDA showing the products provided a net benefit to public health.

The agency had to judge whether each product was effective in getting smokers to quit and, if so, whether the benefits to smokers outweighed the potential health damage to new e-cigarette users – including teenagers – who never smoked.

“The agency has dedicated significant resources to review products from the companies that account for most of the U.S. market. We recognize … many have played a disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement on Thursday.

Juul did not provide evidence to show the products were up to the agency’s standards and raised “significant questions”, the FDA said.

“Without the data needed to determine relevant health risks, the FDA is issuing these marketing denial orders,” Michele Mital, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said.

Juul did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The company had sought approval for its vaping device and tobacco and menthol flavored pods that had nicotine concentrations of 5% and 3%.

E-cigarette makers have been selling products in the United States for years without being officially authorized by the FDA, as regulators repeatedly delayed deadlines for the companies to comply with federal guidelines.

Teenage use of e-cigarettes surged with the rise in popularity of Juul in 2017 and 2018. E-cigarette use among high school students grew from 11.7% in 2017 to 27.5% in 2019, before falling back to 11.3% in 2021, a federal survey showed.

In 2020, the FDA banned all flavors except tobacco and menthol for cartridge-based e-cigarettes such as Juul. The company pulled all other flavors including mint and mango in late 2019, following regulatory scrutiny and an outcry from anti-smoking advocates.

The Biden administration has been looking at other ways to help people quit smoking in an effort to cut down on preventable cancer deaths. It said this week it plans to propose a rule establishing a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and other finished tobacco products to make them less addictive. 

Some analysts have said Juul might appeal the decision.

“This would then allow Juul products to remain on the market while this appeal is ongoing,” Jefferies analyst Owen Bennett said, adding that the process could take over a year.

Altria Group Inc MO.N, which has a 35% stake in Juul, closed down 9% on Wednesday after the Wall Street Journal first reported that the FDA was preparing to ban Juul e-cigarettes in the United States.

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U.S. President Joe Biden

The United States will cancel $6 billion in student loans for 200,000 borrowers who claimed they were defrauded by their colleges, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden said.

A settlement agreement between the borrowers and the U.S. Department of Education was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday and must be approved by a federal judge.

Student debt cancellation has become a priority for many liberals and one that could shore up popularity with younger and more highly-educated voters, who lean Democratic, before November’s midterm congressional elections. 

About 43 million Americans have federal student loan debt, according to educationdata.org.

The loans of those borrowers will be fully eliminated, and any payments they made will be refunded, according to the court filing of the settlement deal.

The lawsuit from borrowers had accused the administrations of Biden and former President Donald Trump of illegally delaying for years any action on the applications that borrowers had filed with the Education Department seeking debt relief.

In a statement on Thursday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona described the settlement as “fair and equitable for all parties” and said it will deliver “billions of dollars of automatic relief” to the 200,000 borrowers.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents students across the U.S. in fighting against student debt, described the settlement as “momentous.”

The Biden administration had previously approved $25 billion in student debt forgiveness for about 1.3 million borrowers.

The administration had been reluctant to unilaterally make an unprecedented cancellation of college debt owned by the U.S. government. The president had instead earlier asked Congress to pass a bill forgiving debt that he could sign.

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People shopping at the Miami Guns Store and Range, in Hialeah, Florida

A bipartisan package of modest gun safety measures passed the U.S. Senate late on Thursday even as the Supreme Court broadly expanded gun rights by ruling Americans have a constitutional right to carry handguns in public for self-defense.

The landmark court ruling and Senate action on gun safety illustrate the deep divide over firearms in the United States, weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, killed more than 30 people, including 19 children.

The Senate bill, approved in a 65-33 vote, is the first significant gun control legislation to pass in three decades, in a country with the highest gun ownership per capita in the world and the highest number of mass shootings annually among wealthy nations.

“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans. Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it,” President Joe Biden said following the vote. “The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk.”

The bill, which supporters say will save lives, is modest – its most important restraint on gun ownership would tighten background checks for would-be gun purchasers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as juveniles.

Republicans refused to compromise on more sweeping gun control measures favored by Democrats including Biden, such as a ban on assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines.

“This is not a cure-all for the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor ahead of the vote.

The Supreme Court ruling earlier on Thursday, pushed through by its conservative majority, struck down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.

The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, violated a person’s right to “keep and bear arms” under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

In the Senate vote late on Thursday, 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting for the bill.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the bill’s passage and said in a statement it would advance in the House on Friday, with a vote coming as soon as possible.

House Republicans had instructed their members to vote against the bill, although since the chamber is controlled by Democrats their support was not needed for the bill’s passage.

Biden will sign the bill into law.

The Senate action came weeks after an impassioned speech by Biden, in which he declared “enough” of gun violence and urged lawmakers to act.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support some new limits on firearms, demands that typically rise following mass shootings like those that occurred in Texas and New York.

Democrats warned that the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday could have dire consequences for gun safety nationwide.

“The Supreme Court got the ruling wrong,” Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator on the gun safety legislation, said in an interview.

“I’m deeply worried about the court’s willingness to take away from elected bodies the ability to protect our constituents and that has real grave implications for the safety of our country,” said Murphy, whose home state of Connecticut, where 26 people were killed in a 2012 shooting at an elementary school.

Conservatives defend a broad reading of the Second Amendment, which they say limits most new restrictions on gun purchases.

The Senate’s 80-page Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would encourage states to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be dangerous and tighten background checks for would-be gun buyers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as juveniles.

More than 20,800 people have been killed in gun violence in the United States in 2022, including through homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.

‘MONUMENTAL WIN’

The Supreme Court ruling, authored by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, declared that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”

“This is a monumental win for NRA members and for gun owners across the country,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement.

“This ruling opens the door to rightly change the law in the seven remaining states that still don’t recognize the right to carry a firearm for personal protection.”

In the Senate, Republican backers of the new gun safety bill said that the measure does not erode the rights of law-abiding gun owners, who are among their most ardent constituents.

“It does not so much as touch the rights of the overwhelming majority of American gun owners, who are law-abiding citizens of sound mind,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, who backs the legislation.

The bill provides funding to help states adopt “red flag” laws to keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It would also fund alternative intervention measures in state where red flag laws are opposed and provide for enhanced school security.

It closes the “boyfriend loophole” by denying gun purchases to those convicted of abusing intimate partners in dating relationships, although if they have no further convictions or penalties they will be allowed to purchase again.

It also allows states to add juvenile criminal and mental health records to national background check databases.

Senator John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator on the bill, was booed last week as he discussed its contents during a speech before a Republican Party convention in his home state of Texas.

FACTBOX-What’s in, and what’s out, of the U.S. Senate’s gun safety bill

IN: STATE CRISIS INTERVENTION SUPPORT

The bill would provide $750 million to states and Native American tribes to create and administer “red flag” measures intended to ensure weapons are kept out of the hands of people whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others. These measures would be consistent with state and federal due process and constitutional protections.

OUT: ASSAULT-WEAPONS BAN

During an impassioned June 2 speech, Democratic President Joe Biden urged Congress to re-impose the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, which prohibited the manufacture, transfer and possession of semi-automatic assault-style weapons and the transfer and possession of large-capacity ammunition feeding devices. That measure faced staunch opposition from Republicans in Congress.

IN: ENHANCED REVIEW PROCESS FOR BUYERS UNDER 21

The legislation will require an investigative period to review the juvenile criminal and mental health records for gun buyers under 21 years of age, giving three days for an initial check and an additional seven days to look into potential disqualifying records. This would include checks with state databases and local law enforcement.

OUT: HIGHER AGE REQUIREMENT TO BUY SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES

The bill will not create a provision to raise the age for buying a semiautomatic rifle to 21 nationwide. Currently the minimum age to buy is 18. Federal law already prohibits anyone younger than 21 legally buying a handgun.

IN: PENALTIES FOR “STRAW PURCHASES”

The bill cracks down on criminals who illegally straw purchase and traffic guns. A straw purchase occurs when a person buys a weapon for someone who is not legally allowed to buy one. This would become a federal offense under the new law.

OUT: FEDERAL BACKGROUND CHECK EXPANSION

The bill does not include proposals to expand federal background checks to buy a weapon from three to 10 days. It also does not close a loophole in federal law that allows many sales over the internet and at gun shows to go unchecked.

IN: MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, TELEHEALTH INVESTMENTS

The bill would expand community behavioral health center models and makes investments to increase mental health and suicide prevention program access. It also would help fund crisis and trauma intervention and recovery services and makes investments in programs that increase access to mental and behavioral health services for youth and families in crisis via telehealth.

OUT: REPEAL OF LIABILITY SHIELD

The bill does not amend or repeal a federal liability shield that protects gun manufacturers from being sued for violence carried out by people carrying, and shooting, their guns.

IN: CLARIFICATION ON DEFINITION OF LICENSED DEALER

The legislation clarifies the definition of a federally licensed firearms dealer and cracks down on criminals who illegally evade licensing requirements.

IN: PROTECTIONS FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS

Those who are convicted of domestic violence crimes and face domestic violence restraining orders would be subject to criminal background checks for gun purchases under the new law. The “boyfriend loophole,” a sticking point in negotiations, would be closed by adding people convicted of domestic abuse in dating relationships to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for five years, at which point they would be removed pending no further prohibited crimes or similar offenses.

IN: SCHOOL-BASED MENTAL HEALTH AND SUPPORT SERVICES FUNDING

The legislation allocates funding to expand mental health and supportive services in schools, including early identification and intervention programs.

IN: SCHOOL SAFETY RESOURCE FUNDING

Federal funds would go to programs that help primary and secondary schools create safety measures, support school violence prevention efforts and provide training to school personnel and students.

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Pope Francis speaks during the weekly general audience on June 8, 2022 at St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Pope Francis on Wednesday lamented the spiral of violence engulfing Mexico after two Jesuit priests and a man seeking sanctuary were gunned down inside a church.

The pope, himself a Jesuit, expressed sadness and dismay over the killings of men he called his “brothers” in the mountains of the northern state of Chihuahua.

“So many murders in Mexico. I am close, in affection and prayer, to the Catholic community affected by this tragedy,” the pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican.

Priests Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquin Mora, 81, were shot dead in the town of Cerocahui on Monday “while trying to defend a man who was seeking refuge,” according to the order, also known as the Society of Jesus.

The pursued man, identified as tour guide Pedro Palma, was also killed and his body taken away with those of the two priests.

Chihuahua state governor Maru Campos later confirmed that the three men’s bodies had been found.

“We have managed to locate and recover… the bodies of the Jesuit priests Javier Campos and Joaquin Mora, and of the tour guide Pedro Palma,” Maru Campos said in a video posted to social media.

The identity of the victims was confirmed by forensic experts, while the state prosecutor’s office announced a reward of $250,000 for information leading to the capture of the alleged murderer.

Authorities have identified as a suspect a 30-year-old man already wanted over the murder of an American tourist in 2018.

The prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday that before the murders, the suspect had assaulted two other people after a disagreement over a baseball game.

He later kidnapped Palma, who managed to escape and ran into the church seeking help.

About 30 priests have been killed in Mexico in the past decade, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial, a Catholic organization.

More than 340,000 people have been killed in a wave of bloodshed in Mexico since the government deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006.

– Crime-ridden region –

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday that a manhunt was under way for the alleged murderer.

The suspect was identified by another priest present in the church, he told reporters.

“That area of the mountains has for some time been infiltrated, penetrated, dominated by crime,” Lopez Obrador said.

The three bodies were placed in the back of a pickup truck by armed men, covered with plastic and taken away, according to Father Luis Gerardo Moro Madrid, head of the Jesuits in Mexico.

“We demand justice,” the order said.

Experts say Chihuahua is an important transit route for illegal drugs bound for the United States and violently contested between rival trafficking gangs.

Father Jorge Atilano Gonzalez, also a Jesuit, told a local television station the priests killed on Monday had attempted to intervene because they knew the assailant, who was from the area.

“He wanted to confess” after the shooting, he said, citing the testimony of the third priest present.

“What we believe is that he was in a state of alcoholism or addiction because of the reaction he had,” he added.

– ‘Important social work’ –

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico condemned the killings, saying the priests had carried out “important social and pastoral work” among the Raramuri, or Tarahumara, Indigenous people.

“The murder of these two well-known priests reminds us of the situation of extreme violence and vulnerability faced by the communities of the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua,” said UN human rights representative Guillermo Fernandez-Maldonado.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference called for a rapid investigation as well as increased security for the country’s clergy.

It is common for religious leaders in Mexico to act as defenders of their communities and as mediators with criminal gangs operating there.

In states such as Michoacan and Guerrero, some have even entered into dialogue with drug traffickers in a bid to keep the peace in largely poor regions with little government presence.
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US President Joe Biden speaks about supporting Ukrainians defending their country against Russia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2022.  Jim WATSON / AFP

The United States said Tuesday it stood firmly behind Lithuania and NATO commitments to defend it after Russia warned its neighbor over restrictions on rail transit.

“We stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article Five — the premise that an attack on one would constitute an attack on all — that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad,” he said.

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic both in NATO and the European Union, has been among the most outspoken nations in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuania said that it would restrict the rail transit of goods sanctioned by the EU into Kaliningrad, an isolated Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

Russia warned that it would “certainly respond” to the “hostile actions.”

Price said that the United States welcomed the “unprecedented economic measures” taken by Lithuania and other nations against Russia over its invasion.

Asked about Russia’s statements, Price said, “We aren’t going to speculate on Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster and don’t even want to give it additional airtime.”

AFP
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There was no further explanation of the rift between Elon Musk's daughter and her father, the Tesla and SpaceX chief

Elon Musk’s transgender daughter has filed a request to change her name in accordance with her new gender identity and because “I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.”

The petition for both a name change and a new birth certificate reflecting her new gender identity was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica in April. It came to light recently in some online media reports.

The former Xavier Alexander Musk, who recently turned 18, the age of consent in California, has asked the court to change her gender recognition from male to female and to register her new name, according to court documents available online through PlainSite.org.

Her new name was redacted in the online document. Her mother is Justine Wilson, who divorced Musk in 2008.

There was no further explanation of the rift between Musk’s daughter and her father, the Tesla and SpaceX chief who is attempting a $44 billion takeover of social media platform Twitter

Neither a lawyer who represents Musk nor the Tesla media office immediately responded to Reuters emails requesting comment.

In May, about a month after the name and gender change document was filed, Musk declared his support for the Republican Party, whose elected representatives support a raft of legislation that would limit transgender rights in states across the country.

Musk has weighed in on the issue of transgender people choosing their preferred pronouns, tweeting in 2020, “I absolutely support trans, but all these pronouns are an esthetic nightmare.”

REUTERS