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Belarus says Russians plotted attacks; Kremlin rolls eyes

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Thursday accused more than 30 detained Russians of plotting terror attacks amid a presidential election campaign, allegations that Russian officials angrily rejected.
The grave accusations mark an unprecedented spike in tensions between Russia and Belarus, which are neighbors and traditionally allies. Independent observers and opposition supporters in Belarus have dismissed the alleged terror plot as a campaign stunt by President Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader who is seeking a sixth term in next month’s election.
The Belarusian State Security Committee, still known by its Soviet-era name KGB, said it detained 32 people from private Russian military firm Wagner early Wednesday at a sanitarium outside the capital of Minsk. Another person was detained in the country’s south.
Security Council Secretary Andrei Ravkov said Thursday that the Russians are facing a criminal probe on charges of plotting terror attacks in Belarus. He claimed that Belarusian authorities were searching for another 200 Russian “militants” believed to be in the ex-Soviet nation.
The Kremlin responded by urging Belarus to explain its action and to fully respect the detainees’ rights.
“There is no information about any wrongdoing of the Russians that may have caused the detention.,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He shrugged off the allegations of the Russians’ involvement in efforts to destabilize Belarus as “nothing but innuendo.”
After being summoned by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev also dismissed the accusations as unfounded. He said the Russians were en route to an unspecified country and checked into the sanitarium near Minsk after they missed a connecting flight at the capital’s airport.
Mezentsev demanded immediate consular access to the detainees and urged Belarusian authorities to show their evidence against the Russians.
The Wagner company is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who was indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The firm has allegedly deployed hundreds of military contractors to eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
Many observers have pointed out that Belarus long has provided a transit corridor for sensitive Russian operations abroad.
Lukashenko is campaigning to remain in office amid an upsurge in opposition protests fueled by public fatigue with his iron-fisted rule and a painful economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Some observers see the detention of the Russians as an attempt by the president to mobilize public support in the Aug. 9 election.
“Amid a sharp drop in his popularity, Lukashenko has to turn to theatrical gestures to scare everyone and to try to stem the wave of protests,” Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent political analyst based in Minsk, said.
Throughout his 26-year rule, Lukashenko has relied on cheap Russian energy and loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. Belarus and Russia have a union deal envisaging close political, economic and military ties, but Moscow has recently cut some of the subsidies, arguing that Belarus must accept closer integration to receive energy resources at a discount.
The Belarusian leader has bristled at Russian demands and accused the Kremlin of harboring plans to deprive Belarus of its post-Soviet independence.
“The new scandals help remind the Kremlin that it needs to pay for loyalty,” Klaskovsky said.
Belarus’ Investigative Committee said Thursday it was also investigating whether the detained Russians could have been involved in preparations for staging “mass riots” as part of a criminal probe against a jailed opposition blogger, Sergei Tikhanovsky. He has been in custody since May on charges of attacking a police officer, which he rejected as a provocation
Tikhanovsky’s wife, Svetlana, who is challenging Lukashenko in the election, dismissed the new accusations against her husband as “absolutely unlawful.” Election officials rejected attempts by two other potential presidential challengers to register for the race.
Over 20,000 Tikhanovskaya’s supporters gathered Thursday at her rally in Minsk, the biggest since the start of the campaign. Many participants dismissed the official claims of a Russian subversion plot as a sham.
“We are worried about the lack of money to buy food and medicines, not some mythical enemies and plots,” retiree Nikolai Ostapchuk, 72, said.
“No one believes in these thriller stories about Russian militants, which are intended to switch our attention, scare us and keep us at home,” said 43-year-old driver Dmitry Furkovsky.

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Livestock prices stress Muslims in Africa ahead of Eid

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Even in the best of times, many Muslims scramble to afford a sheep to slaughter on Eid al-Adha, a display of faith that can amount to an entire month’s income. Now, the financial pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic are straining families across Africa even more as they prepare for the Islamic holy day.
From Morocco to Senegal to Nigeria, the important religious tradition of purchasing a ram is simply beyond financial reach for some this year. And even those who can afford a sheep are getting smaller ones since prices in some parts of the continent have doubled compared to last year.
“The situation is really complicated by the coronavirus. It’s a tough market,” said Oumar Maiga, a livestock trader in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city. “People are not coming in the way they usually would. We are in a situation we’ve never seen in other years.”
As families cut back, hawkers who sell fancy carving knife sets to drivers stuck in traffic also are doing less business for Eid al-Adha, which will be observed Friday. The tailors who sew elaborate holiday boubous and vendors who sell barbecue grills by roadsides are hurting, too.
In Senegal’s capital, Dakar, thousands of sheep oblivious to their fate stood on display outside the Léopold Senghor stadium. With just 48 hours to go before the holiday expected Friday, Abdou Karim Seck struggled to find a deal.
“My budget is 120,000 CFA ($206), and the sheep I’m being offered at this price are too small,” he said. His sales as a trader have been falling for nearly three months now. “They wouldn’t even cost 80,000 CFA ($137) in normal times.”
During Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, Muslims commemorate the prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor. It’s also a time when families gather to prepare and enjoy a large feast, and many typically shell out for new outfits for the whole family.
But Malika Bounhi, who lives in Morocco, said she won’t be taking part in Eid celebrations for the first time. Bills have been piling up since she lost her private sector job due to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
“It is heartbreaking that I won’t be able to bring joy to my children during Eid,” she said.
Prices have skyrocketed in Morocco because of intercity travel restrictions that have upended the supply of sheep, said Saad Azizi, a regional manager for Morocco’s sheep and goat association. Prices also were pushed up after the government closed several markets for failing to comply with health measures.
Abdou Ka, a young salesman from the interior of Senegal, remembers a “big rush” of customers wanting sheep at this time last year.
“This year, I’m a bit worried. We only see a few customers, and they have a low budget,” Ka said. “It’s because of the coronavirus. I have the impression that people are struggling to find money. Only civil servants come in large numbers. And some of them don’t agree to pay much.”
The cheapest ram a person can find in Dakar goes for about 80,000 CFA ($137), though more handsome ones can be sold for four times that amount. Unhappy buyers say their money doesn’t seem to be going as far this year.
“I want a good sheep for 225,000 francs ($387). What the sellers are offering me is not good,” said Mariama Thiaré, a businesswoman. “Last year, I had a big sheep for the same amount.”
Some searching for deals have traveled further outside the capital, only to find nothing cheaper. Others who prepaid for their rams say now the sellers are demanding 25% more to get the animals delivered by Friday.
On Wednesday, Alioune Ndong said he still didn’t know how he’d come up with the money for his family’s feast, and he called on Senegal’s government to help struggling families like his.
“COVID-19 has drained my money, said the tailor based in the town of Mbour outside the capital. “How do you expect me to be able to buy a ram? I pray God to be able to get one before Friday.”

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Former president who brought direct elections to Taiwan dies

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who brought direct elections and other democratic changes to the self-governed island despite missile launches and other fierce saber-rattling by China, has died. He was 97.
Taipei Veterans General Hospital said Lee died Thursday evening after suffering from infections, cardiac problems and organ failure since being hospitalized in February.
Lee strove to create a separate, non-Chinese identity for Taiwan, angering not only China, which considers the island part of its territory, but also members of his Nationalist Party who hoped to return victorious to the mainland.
Lee later openly endorsed formal independence for the island but illness in his later years prompted him to largely withdraw from public life.
“President Lee’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratic journey was irreplaceable and his death is a great loss for the country,” current President Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement.
Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalists, who earlier served in Lee’s Cabinet, said Lee’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratization “deserves recognition from the people.”
“Although former President Lee’s political philosophy has undergone tremendous changes after his resignation, former President Ma is still grateful for his dedication to the country and believes that history will have a fair and objective evaluation,” a statement from Ma’s office said.
Physically imposing and charismatic, Lee spanned Taiwan’s modern history and was native to the island, unlike many who arrived with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, at the end of the Chinese civil war.
At times gruff, at times personable, he left little doubt he was the man in charge in almost any setting.
“A leader must be tough and strong enough so he can put an end to disputes and chaotic situations,” he wrote in his autobiography.
He was born in a farming community near Taipei on Jan 15, 1923, near the midpoint of Japan’s half-century colonial rule. The son of a Japanese police aide, he volunteered in the Imperial Japanese Army and returned to Taiwan as a newly commissioned second lieutenant to help man an anti-aircraft battery.
He earned degrees in Japan and Taiwan, as well as at Iowa State University and Cornell University in New York. He worked for the U.S.-sponsored Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, which sought to encourage land reform and modernize Taiwanese agriculture. He was a member of overwhelmingly Buddhist Taiwan’s Christian minority.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, noting Lee’s close ties with Japan, praised him for his contributions to bolster friendship between Japan and Taiwan. “Many Japanese people have developed special attachment to President Lee as a leader who had established freedom, democracy and universal values in Taiwan and cornerstone of Japan-Taiwan relation,(asterisk) Abe said Friday.
In 1971, Lee joined the governing Nationalist Party. As a descendant of the people who migrated to the island from China in the 17th and 18th centuries, he was part of the party’s effort to broaden its base beyond the 1949 arrivals from the mainland. He was Taipei mayor, Taiwan province governor and vice president before succeeding to the presidency in 1988.
In his early years as president, Lee met significant resistance from Nationalist hard-liners who favored the party’s tradition of mainlander domination and resented Lee’s native status. He beat back the resistance, largely by giving his detractors important political positions.
In 1990, Lee signaled his support for student demands for direct elections of Taiwan’s president and vice president and the end of reserving legislative seats to represent districts on the Chinese mainland. The following year he oversaw the dismantling of emergency laws put into effect by Chiang Kai-shek’s government, effectively reversing the Nationalists’ long-standing goal of returning to the mainland and removing the Communists from power.
Communist China saw the democratic steps as a direct threat to its claim to Taiwan, and its anger was exacerbated when Lee visited the United States in 1995. To Beijing, Lee’s visit to Cornell signaled the United States was willing to accord special recognition to the ruler of a “renegade” Chinese province.
The U.S. made sure Lee did not meet with high-ranking American officials, including then-President Bill Clinton, but its attempts to dampen Chinese anger were unsuccessful.
China soon began a series of threatening military maneuvers off the coast of mainland Fujian province that included the firing of missiles just off Taiwan’s coast. More missiles were fired immediately before the March 1996 presidential elections, and the U.S. response was to send aircraft carrier battle groups to Taiwan’s east coast in a show of support. Taiwanese were uncowed and the elections went ahead, with Lee victorious.
In a celebrated interview in late 1996, Lee declared that relations between Taiwan and China had the character of relations between two separate states. This was heresy, not only in the eyes of Beijing, but also for many Nationalists, who continued to see Taiwan as part of China, and looked forward to eventual union between the sides, though not necessarily under Communist control.
In 2000, Taiwan elected Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party as president, ending a half-century of Nationalist monopoly. His election was virtually guaranteed by a split in the Nationalist Party, which had two representatives in the race. The retiring Lee had supported one of them but was still blamed for the split, and the party moved to expel him.
In 2001, supporters of Lee formed a new pro-independence party. The Taiwan Solidarity Union also wanted to break the cultural and political connection between the island and the mainland.
Lee himself backed away from wanting a formal declaration of independence for Taiwan, insisting it already was, given the island was not Chinese Communist-controlled.
In 2012, he backed independence-minded candidate Tsai of the DPP, who lost to Ma, an avatar of closer ties between China and Taiwan.
Tsai ran again and was elected in 2016, upping tensions again with China. Lee was ailing by that time and played little role in the election. Tsai won re-election this year by a healthy margin over her Nationalist challenger.
Lee is survived by his wife of seven decades, Tseng Wen-hui, and their two daughters. A son died in 1982 from cancer.
There was no immediate announcement about funeral arrangements.

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International Headlines

Reports: Hong Kong may postpone election, citing coronavirus

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong may postpone highly anticipated legislative elections scheduled for Sept. 6, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, local media reports said Friday.
An announcement could come as soon as Friday evening, multiple Hong Kong newspapers and TV stations said. They all quoted unnamed sources.
A postponement would be a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalize on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to make gains. A group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.
The city of 7.5 million people has seen a surge in coronavirus infections since the beginning of July. Hong Kong had recorded over 3,100 infections as of Thursday, more than double the tally on July 1.
The government has tightened social distancing restrictions, limiting public gatherings to two people, and banned dining-in at restaurants after 6 p.m.
The lead-up to the elections has been closely watched, after a national security law that took effect in late June stipulated that candidates who violated the law would be barred from running.
The new law is seen as Beijing’s attempt to curb dissent in the city, after months of pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year.
On Thursday, 12 pro-democracy candidates including prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong were disqualified from running for not complying with the city’s constitution or pledging allegiance to the local and national governments.
“Beyond any doubt, this is the most scandalous election ever in Hong Kong history,” Wong said at a news conference Friday. “I wish to emphasize that no reasonable man would think that this election ban is not politically driven.”
“Beijing has staged multiple acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking the majority in the Hong Kong legislature,” he said.
The elections could be deferred for up to a year, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper, which cited unnamed sources.

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Asia-Pacific tourism makes patchy restart, and some missteps

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Tourism operators across Asia and the Pacific are making furtive and faltering advances, as well as some spectacular missteps, after travel was largely halted by the coronavirus pandemic that continues ebbing and mostly surging around the globe.
The Indonesian resort island of Bali tentatively opened to domestic visitors on Friday while struggling tourism businesses in Queensland, known as Australia’s Sunshine State, will soon lose visitors from the nation’s biggest city, Sydney.
With international travel heavily restricted, progress in reviving tourism has been at best anemic and usually perilous.
The perils became evident in Vietnam’s popular beach destination of Da Nang, where an outbreak that began with one person last week has swelled to nearly 100 cases. Da Nang’s beaches, which host some 50,000 tourists daily during the high season, were emptied when the city was locked down Tuesday.
Queensland state, which is believed to be free of community transmission of the virus, has been allowing in all interstate travelers except those from coronavirus hot spot Victoria state.
While businesses lost visitors from Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, at least they could look forward to Sydney residents escaping the Southern Hemisphere’s winter for a tropical Great Barrier Reef vacation.
But a growing Sydney outbreak led the Queensland government to reconsider and Sydney visitors will now be banned from Saturday.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council deputy chief executive Brett Kapernick said the loss of Sydney visitors would cost some tourism operators 40% of their revenue.
“With this pandemic, the situation becomes fluid and therefore evolves weekly,” Kapernick said. “A week ago, we didn’t think we’d be facing a border closed to Sydney.”
Like Australia, Hong Kong effectively closed its borders in March, driving down tourist numbers by 90%. At first, Hong Kong seemed successful in dealing with the pandemic, helped by residents’ fastidious mask-wearing and restrictions on public gatherings and restaurants.
The city had weeks with zero local transmissions in May and June, and the government relaxed the rules. Hotels offered “staycation” packages and theme parks reopened.
The tourism industry was again plunged into crisis, though, by Hong Kong’s worst outbreak in July, with hundreds of new, locally transmitted cases.
Japan’s outbreaks have spread across the country with increasing travel during summer holidays. In recent days, the numbers of newly confirmed infections nationwide has topped 1,000 and the number of deaths recently also surpassed 1,000, with more than 31,000 confirmed cases so far.
Critics have faulted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration for its “GoTo” campaign, offering discounts and other incentives for domestic tourism, even though the campaign excluded Tokyo, a hot spot with surging infections.
Thailand, like Vietnam, has been among the success stories of the pandemic. It has counted around 3,300 cases, with all of them in recent weeks among Thai soldiers, workers and students returning from abroad. But the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development recently cited the Southeast Asian travel hub as one of the countries expected to lose the greatest percentage of its GDP due to the pandemic and tourism restrictions.
Thailand’s Cabinet this week approved three projects together worth more than $700 million to help the tourism industry, which normally account for more than 10% of GPD.
Bali’s reopening to domestic tourism after an almost four-month lockdown is step toward overseas arrivals resuming in September.
Normally bustling beaches and streets on the idyllic island were emptied in late March. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shuttered all shops, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions. Limits were eased beginning three weeks ago, and visitors will face stringent rules in hotels, restaurants and on beaches.
The island that’s home to more than 4 million people, attracted more than 6 million tourists from abroad and 10 million from Indonesia last year, according to government data.
According to Indonesia’s Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, the tourism sector has lost an estimated $500 million due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The government will waive taxes for hoteliers and restaurants in 10 promoted destinations for the next six months. Local governments will be compensated by the central government for the loss of taxes, which is estimated to total $230 million.
In Australia, Kapernick said keeping Queensland COVID-19-free was more important to the struggling tourism industry than letting in more holidaymakers.
“What will send businesses to the wall quicker is if we don’t control these outbreaks that are happening now and we find ourselves in a situation like (hot spot state) Victoria,” Kapernick said.

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Trump faces rare rebuke from GOP for floating election delay

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump repeatedly tests the Republican Party’s limits on issues including race, trade and immigration. On Thursday, he struck a boundary.
GOP officials from New Hampshire to Mississippi to Iowa quickly pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that it might be necessary to delay the November election — which he cannot do without congressional approval — because of the unfounded threat of voter fraud. They reassured voters that the election would proceed on the constitutionally mandated day as it has for more than two centuries.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley was especially blunt: “All I can say is, it doesn’t matter what one individual in this country says. We still are a country based on the rule of law, and we want to follow the law.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu vowed his state would hold its November elections as scheduled: “End of story.” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who leads the House Republican Conference, said, “The resistance to this idea among Republicans is overwhelming.”
The top Republicans in the House and Senate, who have spent the past four years championing Trump in Congress, also distanced themselves from the notion of a delayed election.
It was a rare rebuke for Trump from his fellow Republicans, but one that might not last. There was little conservative opposition to Trump’s broader push to raise questions about the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, including his suggestion later Thursday that a delayed result because of mail-in ballots would be a sign of fraud.
The simple reality remains that Republicans up and down the ballot this fall need Trump’s fervent base on their side to have any chance of winning.
The dynamic has forced Trump-backed politicians to walk a delicate balance as they condemn the president’s most erratic behavior and ideas while trying not to upset his die-hard loyalists. At the same time, many Republican leaders are struggling under the weight of health, economic and social crises that the Trump administration has failed to contain.
The government announced Thursday that the U.S. economy plunged by a record-shattering 32.9% annual rate last quarter as the pandemic forces a wave of layoffs that shows no sign of abating.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he feared “a new wave of economic downturn” as he grapples with pressure to institute a second stay-at-home order as coronavirus infections in his state surge. The first-term Republican governor said he would do “everything possible” to avoid another shutdown but could not rule out the possibility.
Reeves encouraged Trump to embrace a reelection message focused on his ability to revive the nation’s economy, a familiar suggestion from frustrated Republican officials, though the president has shown little interest in adopting a consistent message.
Reeves said he opposes any plan to change the election date: “I don’t personally think a delay in the election at this point in time is necessary.” But he said he remained “100% committed to doing everything possible” to help Trump beat Democratic rival Joe Biden in November.
“I don’t believe that the president is losing significant support from Republicans,” Reeves said.
Indeed, Trump confidant Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said he would support Trump’s call to delay the election “until things are normal so people can walk in.”
“If it takes a few more months, then so be it,” Falwell said in an interview, raising the prospect of limiting the president’s powers if the delay extends beyond his first term.
There have been a handful of moments that strained the GOP’s allegiance to Trump since he emerged as his party’s unlikely presidential nominee four years ago, yet his party has increasingly acquiesced to his turbulent leadership as his presidency progressed.
Just weeks before the 2016 election, several elected officials, including then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, publicly turned their back on Trump after he was caught admitting to sexual predatory behavior in an “Access Hollywood” video. Less than a year later, the Republican National Committee rebuked the president after he claimed there were “very fine people” on both sides of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. And Republican leaders briefly raised concerns last year when Trump was caught pressuring Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden — an episode that would ultimately lead to his impeachment.
There have been a series of lower-profile flashpoints over the last four years that prompted modest concerns from Republicans that were quickly forgotten, and the latest debate over the election date may soon fall into that category.
Trump cannot change the election date without the approval of Congress, and policymakers in both parties made clear they would oppose such a move. Trump’s ultimate goal, however, may have less to do with the election date than undermining the results of the election if he loses.
Current polls suggest that Trump is trailing Biden by a significant margin in several swing states.
The president did not deny that he was trying to cast doubt about the election results when asked directly during Thursday’s press briefing. Instead, he repeatedly cited the prospect of voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent in U.S. politics.
“I don’t want to delay. I want to have the election. But I also don’t want to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing, and the election doesn’t mean anything,” Trump said, warning of the possibility of “a crooked election.”
Back in New Hampshire, a swing state where Trump hosted a virtual event Thursday night, Sununu said the president’s comments about the election date would not affect his continued support for Trump’s reelection.
“Look, the president says things and tweets things all the time,” the governor said. “I don’t know what his thought process is there. I can only speak for New Hampshire, and we have a great system.”

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US government drops effort to silence Trump’s ex-lawyer

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government dropped its effort to silence President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer on Thursday, saying it will no longer demand that Michael Cohen not speak with the media in the weeks before his book critical of his former boss is released.
An agreement between lawyers for the government and Cohen attorney Danya Perry lifting the media ban that had prevented Cohen from speaking publicly awaited a signature by a federal judge.
Cohen is completing the last two years of a three-year prison sentence at home after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress.
He was released from prison in May amid coronavirus fears in U.S. prisons, only to be returned earlier this month after making it known that he planned to publish a book critical of the president. He said in court papers that the book titled “Disloyal: The True Story of Michael Cohen, Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump” would be published before the November election.
Cohen, 53, had sued federal prison officials and U.S. Attorney General William Barr, saying he was ordered back to prison because of the book. U.S. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein last week ordered him released, saying the government’s action was retaliatory and a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Probation authorities had told Hellerstein in court documents that Cohen was sent back to prison because he refused to sign a form banning him from publishing the book or communicating with the media or public.
The Bureau of Prisons has said any assertion that the reimprisonment of Cohen “was a retaliatory action is patently false.”
He was released to home confinement on Friday after being held behind bars since July 9.
Cohen’s book is anticipated in part for what it might divulge about the circumstances that led him to plead guilty to campaign finance charges and blame Trump for directing him to commit the crimes.
The charges stemmed from his efforts to arrange payouts during the 2016 presidential race to keep the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal from making public claims of extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.
In a written declaration, Cohen said his book “will provide graphic and unflattering details about the President’s behavior behind closed doors.”

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Trump says he’ll help with funeral costs for slain soldier

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump met Thursday with the family of a soldier who investigators say was slain on the Texas Army base where she was stationed, saying it is a “terrible story” and that he would help with funeral expenses.
The family of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were found July 2 following her disappearance in April from Fort Hood, rallied with several dozen supporters before the meeting with Trump, calling for justice in the case and for changes in the way the military handles sexual abuse and harassment.
“It’s an incredible story. It’s a terrible story,” Trump said to the family in the Oval Office. “So we’re going to look into it very powerfully. We already have started, as you know, and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa. We’ll be in touch with you constantly.”
Guillen’s family has said she was sexually harassed by the fellow solider suspected of killing her, but the Army has said there is no evidence supporting the claim. The Army has said she may have experienced harassment by others at the base that was not sexual in nature. Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy on July 10 ordered a review of the command climate at Fort Hood.
“The truth will come out whether they like it or not,” said Lupe Guillen, the younger sister of Vanessa Guillen, said ahead of the meeting with the president.
She said relatives were disappointed to not have heard from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott regarding her sister’s case and were ready to take their story straight to the White House.
John Wittman, a spokesperson for Abbott, said the governor’s office has not heard from the Guillen family but is prepared to help. He said the governor’s office was looking into whether Texas has any authority over a U.S. military death. He also said the Texas attorney general’s office was looking into whether the family may be eligible for assistance from the crime victim’s compensation fund.
“Governor Abbott’s heart aches for the Guillen family and he and the First Lady keep them in their prayers,” Wittman said in a text message.
Investigators have not revealed a motive for Guillen’s death. They said in a complaint that she was bludgeoned to death in the armory room of the Army base near Killeen. Fellow Fort Hood soldier Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, is suspected to have killed and dismembered Guillen. Robinson killed himself after being confronted by police on July 1. A civilian suspect, 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, is in custody on three counts of conspiracy to destroy evidence for helping Robinson hide Guillen’s remains and attempting to flee.
The family is pushing a bill that would address procedures for reporting sexual harassment and assault in the military, according to the family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, who helped write it. U.S. Reps. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, are sponsoring the bill, which is named #IAmVanessaGuillen after a social media movement on harassment in the military.
Guillen’s mother, Gloria Guillen, said she was angry to hear McCarthy say her daughter was not sexually harassed. She said she had spoken to her daughter about the harassment, but Gloria Guillen did not detail what her daughter said. She said she was speaking up for all women in the military.
“If there is war, who is going to defend us if our soldiers are scared to join?” she said in Spanish. “Who is going to guard our country if our soldiers are being assaulted, killed and disappeared?”
A funeral has not been held for Guillen because relatives are still waiting for her remains, Khawam told Trump. They hope to have a service soon in Houston.
“And if I can help you out with the funeral, I’ll help you out, financially, I’ll help you,” Trump said.
Army officials said that the panel reviewing the climate and culture of the military community at Fort Hood will include former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division Chris Swecker, chairman of McGuireWoods LLP Jonathan Harmon, assistant general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Carrie Ricci, regional director of veteran nonprofit FourBlock Queta Rodriguez and Jack White, a partner at Fluet Huber + Hoang.

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Some educators of color resist push for police-free schools

DENVER (AP) — School districts nationwide are working to remove police officers from campuses, but some Black and Indigenous educational leaders are resisting the push prompted by the national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.
Some say the system is hamstrung by a complicated mix of police response policies and a lack of support for alternative programs, which plays a role in students of color being disproportionately punished and arrested — the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. Some support individual officers skilled at working with students. Others say they need to learn more as activists urge change.
Cities from Portland, Oregon, to Denver to Madison, Wisconsin, have taken steps to remove police from schools following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. But some school leaders like Stacy Parrish, principal of Northeast Early College in Denver, said school resource officers are being unfairly blamed for students of color ending up in the criminal justice system.
Parrish, a member of the Klamath Tribes, said she supports the movement to combat overpolicing but believes it’s irresponsible to eliminate school resource officers and replace them with counselors and social workers without changing the overall approach to discipline.
“Generalizations and romanticizations aren’t getting us anywhere when our democracy needs our public schools more than ever,” Parrish said.
The problem lies in the tangle of state laws and school policies that mandate when police respond — such as a student suspected of selling drugs — and a lack of money for alternative ways of helping troubled students, she said. School policy in Denver requires overworked counselors to take students to court if they repeatedly miss class, while drug treatment programs are underfunded but a better solution for students who bring drugs to school, Parrish said.
Some school officials have rejected activists’ demands to cancel police contracts. Chicago’s school board left the decision to local councils mostly comprised of parents.
Kenwood Academy, a predominantly Black public school near the University of Chicago, has two officers who focus on protecting students from problems like shootings or domestic disputes between parents on campus, principal Karen Calloway said.
She said one officer stopped dismissal after learning of a nearby shooting last year, and many parents thanked her for the swift action.
“That, to me, was worth the money that we spend on school resource officers alone,” Calloway said.
The officers, whom the local council voted this month to keep, can’t discipline students, she said.
In San Francisco, the school board voted in June not to renew its agreement with police before getting a recommendation from its African American Parent Advisory Council. In a letter to the board, the group said it was divided: Some saw school resource officers as the only positive relationship between police and schools.
“Members of our Leadership Team have been extremely vocal at previous Board of Education meetings, asking that an opportunity be created to ​widely ​hear the voices of the Black community,” the letter said. “To our knowledge, that has not been done.”
The council is planning a town hall to discuss police in schools but said a more pressing concern could be how teachers and staffers can get police involved in disciplinary issues that are supposed to be off limits to police and disproportionately push Black students out of school. It noted that 35% of students suspended in the 2017-2018 school year were Black, though they only make up 6% of the population in the San Francisco Unified School District.
The district didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Latoya Pitcher, who’s on the Black parents council, said she’s hopeful those supporting equity won’t implement knee-jerk solutions to address the embarrassment that comes with exposing systemic racism.
“I am grateful that SFUSD today has a progressive board that fights against all ‘-isms,'” she said.
In Denver, Kevin Wilson, who oversees student discipline at the Collegiate Prep Academy, a mostly Black and Latino school, said he supports the police reform movement. Wilson, who is Black, had difficulties with police growing up in the neighborhood where he now works, but he thinks school officers have unfairly become “collateral damage” in the movement.
Because his school has no officer, he said he’ll sometimes ask a Black and bilingual officer from a nearby school to meet with particularly recalcitrant students. The officer often will work with the student instead of writing a ticket, Wilson said.
“That is what our community needs,” he said.
Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson, who pushed to end the contract with police, said he would like school resource officers to remain a specialized unit within the Police Department but only go to schools when called.
Creating a new security plan will involve looking at changes to the discipline policy, Anderson said. And the district’s roughly 1,500 employees are getting implicit bias training to try to prevent students of color from being disciplined more harshly.
Another district in the Denver area has kept its officers but also has more funding for mental health support, which can help prevent students from getting in trouble with the law.
Aurora Public Schools gets about $10 million a year for mental health staffers and programs from a voter-approved tax. The district has worked out an agreement with Aurora police, who are under scrutiny for last year’s death of Black 23-year-old Elijah McClain, to delineate which issues fall to police and which to educators. The number of students referred to police since 2011 has declined by 62%, including the proportion of Black students.
School board president Kyla Armstrong-Romero, who also oversees Colorado’s juvenile detention facilities, believes trained school resource officers can help keep children out of the criminal justice system. However, districts also need to hire diverse teachers and train staffers to try to understand students from different backgrounds, she said.
Armstrong-Romero said she was involved in the juvenile system as a Black student who bounced between 14 schools, and she credits educators with helping her.
“I think it’s important that we capitalize on the roles that all those people play,” she said.
Former Denver student Tiera Brown, 28, who supported the schools’ decision to phase out officers, wonders if there would be more fellow Black students in her University of Denver law class if they had been treated with more understanding as teens.
She was ticketed by police at school at 13 when she stood by a friend who fought with a bully. Despite having good grades and winning academic awards, she said she received in-school suspensions for things like talking back to her teachers and was sent to a room that was like the school jail.
“For a lot of people who don’t have hope to begin with, what is it going to do them? I think it just adds to the hopelessness,” she said.

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National News

Oregon police try to tamp down nightly Portland protests

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon police took over protecting a federal courthouse in Portland that’s been a target of violent protests as local authorities try to tamp down demonstrations that have wracked the city every night for more than two months following the killing of George Floyd.
Having state and local officers step up their presence was part of a deal between the Democratic governor and the Trump administration that aimed to draw down the number of U.S. agents on hand during the unrest.
Portland police cleared out a park Thursday morning across from the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse that demonstrators have used as a staging ground but reopened the park shortly before dark.
By 10:30 p.m., hundreds of people had gathered and were listening to speeches in front of the Justice Center, a building that is one block over from the courthouse and houses city and county law enforcement offices. There was no sign of state troopers or local police and the crowd remained peaceful.
Under the deal announced by Gov. Kate Brown, federal agents sent by President Donald Trump were to begin a phased withdrawal, with Oregon State Police taking over outside the building. But federal officials insist agents wouldn’t leave the city completely but be on standby in case they’re needed.
Trump said in a tweet that U.S. officers would stay in Portland until the violence was under control.
“If she can’t do it, the Federal Government will do it for her. We will not be leaving until there is safety!” Trump wrote about Brown, saying that she wasn’t doing enough to control the “anarchists & agitators.”
Alicia Goss, who said she had been to 60 consecutive nights of protests, said late Thursday she was skeptical of the deal.
“I don’t believe anything anymore,” she said. “I won’t believe it until I see it.”
Jaleel Oneman waited for speeches to begin as the crowd grew earlier in the evening and said he didn’t expect much difference between the federal agents and state police who would be patrolling the protesters Thursday for the first time.
“Stop hiding behind everything that you’re saying. Stop hiding behind your badges, stop hiding behind your lies, stop hiding behind the system that’s just been beating us up every day,” he said, referencing law enforcement. “There ain’t no difference to me. No, not at all.”
In preparation for the handover, state troopers, the local sheriff and Portland police met and agreed not to use tear gas except in cases where there’s a danger of serious injury or death, Mayor Ted Wheeler said. Federal agents sent to the city in early July have used it nightly as protesters lob rocks, fireworks and other objects.
Wheeler, who himself was gassed when he joined protesters outside the courthouse last week, added that tear gas “as a tactic really isn’t all that effective” because protesters have donned gas masks and often return to the action after recovering for a few minutes. The Democrat also apologized to peaceful demonstrators exposed to tear gas used by Portland police before federal officials arrived.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he believes the new collaboration between local law enforcement agencies will be seen “as a victory in many ways.”
“A lot of people came out to express their displeasure of folks from the federal government here and engaging in crowd control with members of our community,” Lovell said. “So I’m hoping that on many levels that people are happy in this development.”
Lovell said he is “very happy and very hopeful” with the collaboration between city and state police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department.
“We have trained and worked with Oregon State Police and crowd control events extensively, throughout the years,” Lovell said.
Portland has seen demonstrations since Floyd died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
Demonstrations have at times attracted up to 10,000 people for peaceful marches and rallies around the city. But some protesters have turned to violence that’s been increasingly directed at the courthouse and other federal property.
The Trump administration sent federal agents to guard the courthouse earlier this month and quell the unrest but the deployment had the opposite effect, reinvigorating protesters who found a new rallying point in opposing the federal presence.
The U.S. government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday. During the past two months of protests, Lovell said the city police department has made more than 400 arrests and undertaken many different strategies in an attempt to deescalate the situation.
“It’s been a long two months,” he said.