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    Police in Germany have raided dozens of homes linked to anti-government groups suspected of manufacturing fake documents. Prosecutors in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe said the 25 premises searched Wednesday were tied to 31 suspected members of the Reich Citizens movement. Members of the Reich Citizens movement reject the current German state order. The movement overlaps with far-right extremist groups and has come under closer scrutiny from authorities after a number of violent incidents involving so-called Reich Citizens. Prosecutors said the suspects forged passports, driving licenses and citizenship certificates.
  • The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. TOP OF THE HOUR: — Virus expands grip in many areas, as US nears 100,000 deaths. — Cyprus pledges to cover costs for visiting tourists who test positive. — India surpasses 150,000 coronavirus cases with another one-day high. — Las Vegas casinos to reopen June 4. ___ NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is pledging to cover costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing in the east Mediterranean island nation. The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will only have to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home. A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. Some 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients. A 500-room “quarantine-hotel” will host exclusively patients’ family members and other close contacts. The pledge came in a five-page letter sent to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that Cyprus is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country. Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. The country expects to lose as much as 70% of 2.6 billion euros in tourism-generated revenue this year. The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts that the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population. International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9 initially from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway. ___ NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus caseload has surpassed 150,000, with another single-day high of more than 6,000 reported on Wednesday. The spike comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government prepares a new set of guidelines, with the fourth phase of the two-month-old lockdown across the country set to end on Sunday. The Health Ministry reported 151,767 cases on Wednesday, a jump of 6,387, with 4,337 deaths — an increase of 170 in the past 24 hours. It said 64,426 people have recovered from the virus. Most of the cases are concentrated in five of India’s 28 states. An increase has also been reported in some of the country’s poorest eastern states as migrant workers returning to native villages from large cities have begun arriving home on special trains. India eased lockdown restrictions earlier this month, allowing shops to reopen and manufacturing to resume. Some trains and domestic flights began operating again. Metro services, schools and colleges, and hotels and restaurants are shuttered nationwide. ___ LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that he will allow casinos to reopen June 4, welcoming tourists to return to the glitzy gambling mecca of Las Vegas. The Democratic governor told reporters that Nevada will welcome visitors from across the country to come to Las Vegas and have a good time. Sisolak closed the casinos 10 weeks ago as part of a broad shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The casinos typically draw millions of tourists to Las Vegas and power the state’s economy. The governor said he would also allow in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday. ___ SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 40 new coronavirus cases for its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, causing alarm in a country where millions of children are returning to school. Figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought national totals to 11,265 cases and 269 deaths. All but four of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have been scrambling to stem transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and an e-commerce warehouse. Three cases were linked to international arrivals. A steady rise in cases in the greater capital area over the past few weeks has raised concern as officials proceed with a phased reopening of schools, which began with high school seniors last week. More than 2 million high school juniors, middle school seniors, first and second graders and kindergarten students were expected to return to school on Wednesday. ___ MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s health department has reported 501 more deaths from the coronavirus — the first time the country’s one-day figure has exceeded 500. The number of new cases reported Tuesday also set a daily high, with 3,455 additional infections confirmed. Mexico has recorded nearly 74,560 confirmed cases and 8,134 deaths, though officials acknowledge the number of cases is probably several times higher due to the country’s extremely low testing rate. Mexico’s daily death toll is now approaching that of the United States, at around 620. Brazil leads in daily deaths with over 800. ___ BEIJING — China reported one imported case of coronavirus Wednesday and no new deaths as legislators meeting for the ceremonial parliament’s annual session pushed for improvements in the public health system. The national Health Commission said in its daily report that 79 people remain in treatment, while another 410 are under isolation and monitoring for possibly having the virus or after testing positive without showing any symptoms. China has reported 4,634 COVID-19 deaths among 82,993 cases. Public health has been discussed more than usual at the National People’s Congress session, which was delayed more than two months and cut from two weeks to one because of the virus outbreak that began in the central city of Wuhan late last year. ___ Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • The European Union unveiling a massive coronavirus recovery plan worth hundreds of billions of euros to help countries rebuild their ailing economies, but the bloc remains deeply divided over what conditions should be attached to the funds. The move Wednesday comes as the 27-nation trading bloc is set to enter its deepest-ever recession as the impact from the coronavirus pandemic ravages economies. Virtually every country has broken the EU’s deficit limit as they’ve spent to keep health care systems, businesses and jobs alive. Earlier this month, the leaders of Germany and France — historically, the two main drivers of EU integration — agreed on a one-time 500 billion-euro ($543 billion) fund, a proposal that would add further cash to an arsenal of financial measures the bloc is deploying to cope with the economic fallout. That plan would involve the EU borrowing money in financial markets to help sectors and countries that are particularly affected by the pandemic. The European Commission’s blueprint is likely to resemble the Franco-German plan in many ways while attaching the fund to the EU’s next long-term budget. The big question will be how much money will take the form of grants and how much would be loans. Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — a group of countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” for their budgetary rectitude — are reluctant to see money given away without any strings attached, and their opposition to grants could hold up the project. “Will it be grants or loans? And if it will be grants, who are going to pay the grants? Loans, I think is a more interesting way forward to discuss, but we also have to discuss under what conditions shall we give these loans,” Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said Tuesday. Whatever its content, the commission’s plan is likely to spark heated debate and the EU does not have time for the wrangling to drag on. The new budget period begins on Jan 1, and countries across the bloc are desperate for funds now. All 27 member countries must agree for the recovery fund to take effect. ___ Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
  • “Do as I say, but not as I do” was the message many British saw in the behavior of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's key aide, who traveled hundreds of miles with coronavirus symptoms during the country's lockdown. While Dominic Cummings has faced calls for his firing but support from his boss over his journey from London to the northern city of Durham in March, few countries seem immune to the perception that politicians and top officials are bending the rules that their own governments wrote during the pandemic. From U.S. President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, global decision-makers have frequently set bad examples, whether it's refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules aimed at protecting their citizens from COVID-19. Some are punished when they’re caught, others publicly repent, while a few just shrug off the violations during a pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives worldwide. Here are some notable examples: NEW ZEALAND HEALTH MINISTER CALLS HIMSELF AN “IDIOT” In April, New Zealand’s health minister was stripped of some of his responsibilities after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures. David Clark drove 19 kilometers (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family as the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home. “I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” Clark said. He also earlier acknowledged driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said normally she would fire Clark but that the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and demoting him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings. MEXICO’S LEADER SHAKES HANDS Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it pained him not to embrace supporters during tours because of health risks, but he made a remarkable exception in March, shaking hands with the elderly mother of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Asked about shaking her hand when the government was urging citizens to practice social distancing, López Obrador said it would have been disrespectful not to. “It’s very difficult humanly,” he said. “I’m not a robot.” AMERICA’S PANDEMIC POLITICS The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement in the U.S. It's been stoked by Trump — who didn’t wear a mask during an appearance at a facility making them — and some other Republicans, who have questioned the value of masks. This month, pandemic politics shadowed Trump’s trip to Michigan as he toured a factory making lifesaving medical devices. He did not publicly wear a face covering despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that refusing to do so might lead to a ban on his return. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, wore a mask along with his wife, Jill, as they laid a wreath Monday at a Delaware veterans’ memorial — his first public appearance since mid-March. Trump later retweeted Fox News analyst Brit Hume’s criticism of Biden for wearing a mask in public. Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for not wearing a mask while on a visit to the Mayo Clinic. NETANYAHU’S PASSOVER HOLIDAY While the rest of Israel was instructed not to gather with their extended families for traditional Passover Seder in April, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin hosted their adult children for the festive holiday meal, drawing fierce criticism on social media. Israeli television showed a photo of Avner Netanyahu, the premier’s younger son, attending the Seder at his father's official residence. Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized in a televised address, saying he should have adhered more closely to the regulations. THE FRENCH EXCEPTION French President Emmanuel Macron also has been inconsistent with masks, leaving the French public confused. Although Macron has sometimes appeared in a mask for visits at hospitals and schools, it's a different story in the Elysee presidential palace and for speeches. During a visit to a Paris hospital on May 15, Macron initially wore a mask to chat with doctors but then removed it to talk with union workers. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also faced criticism this month for huddling with dozens of mask-makers in a factory for a photo where everyone removed their masks. PUTIN’S DIFFERENT APPROACH The only time Russian President Vladimir Putin wore protective gear in public was on March 24, when he visited a top coronavirus hospital in Moscow. Before donning a hazmat suit, Putin shook hands with Dr. Denis Protsenko, the head of the hospital. Neither wore masks or gloves, and a week later, Protsenko tested positive for the virus. That raised questions about Putin’s health, but the Kremlin said he was fine. Putin has since held at least seven face-to-face meetings, according to the Kremlin website. He and others didn’t wear masks during those meetings, and Putin also didn’t cover his face for events marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II. When asked why Putin doesn’t wear a mask during public appearances, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin has a different approach to protecting the president’s health. “When it comes to public events, we ask medical workers to test all the participants in advance,” Peskov told reporters. PUERTO RICO OFFICIAL’S INCONSISTENT MESSAGE Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was criticized for not always wearing a mask despite holding new conferences ordering people to cover their face outside their homes and inside businesses. A member of the opposition Popular Democratic Party also filed a police complaint last week against members of Vázquez’s New Progressive Party, alleging they violated a curfew by gathering to inaugurate the party’s new headquarters. Police are investigating the incident, which angered many Puerto Ricans. SCOTTISH MEDICAL OFFICIAL TAKES THE LOW ROAD Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, broke her own rules and traveled to her second home during lockdown in April. She faced blowback after photos emerged of her and her family visiting Earlsferry in Fife, which is more than an hour’s drive from her main home in Edinburgh. She apologized and resigned. “I did not follow the advice I’m giving to others,” Calderwood said. “I am truly sorry for that. I’ve seen a lot of the comments from … people calling me a hypocrite.” JAPAN’S GAMBLING SCANDAL A top Japanese prosecutor was reprimanded and later resigned this month after defying a stay-at-home recommendation in a gambling scandal. Hiromu Kurokawa, the country’s No. 2 prosecutor who headed the Tokyo High Prosecutors’ Office, acknowledged that he wasn't social distancing when he played mahjong for money at a newspaper reporter's home twice in May. Japan didn’t enforce a stay-at-home recommendation, but his case outraged the public because many were following social distancing measures. ITALIAN PRESS CONFERENCE CRITICISM At a March news conference to open a COVID-19 field hospital in Milan’s old convention center, photographers and video journalists were pushed into corners that did not allow proper spacing. Only text reporters were given seating in line with regulations. The Codacons consumer protection group announced it would file a complaint with prosecutors in Milan. “What should have been a moment of great happiness and pride for Lombardy and Italy was transformed into a surreal event, where in violation of the anti-gathering rules, groups of crowds formed,’’ Codacons said. SOUTH AFRICA’S RULE-BREAKING DINNER In April, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was placed on special leave for two months and forced to apologize by President Cyril Ramaphosa after she violated stay-at-home regulations. Ramaphosa directed police to investigate after a photo emerged on social media of Ndabeni-Abrahams and several others having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana. SPANISH HOSPITAL CEREMONY INVESTIGATED Madrid’s regional and city officials sparked controversy when they gathered on May 1 for a ceremony shuttering a massive field hospital at a convention center. Eager to appear in the final photo of a facility credited with treating nearly 4,000 mild COVID-19 patients, dozens of officials didn't follow social distancing rules. Spain’s restrictions banned more than 10 people at events like the one that honored nurses and doctors. The central government opened an investigation, and Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso apologized. She said officials “got carried away by the uniqueness of the moment.” Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also defied strict stay-at-home orders, with a television station filming him power walking around in northern Madrid. The Spanish prosecutor’s office is investigating whether Rajoy, who was premier from 2011 to 2018, should be fined. INDIAN CRICKET GAME CRITICIZED In India, a top leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party drew flak last weekend after playing a game of cricket. Manoj Tiwari, also a member of India’s parliament, said he followed social distancing rules during the game. Videos circulating on social media showed Tiwati without a mask. He was also seen taking selfies with people. LEADERS WHO FOLLOW THE RULES Some leaders are setting a good example, including Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Media jokingly called him the most relaxed politician in the world after he was photographed queuing at a supermarket this month, wearing a mask and following social distancing measures. The photo was widely shared on social media. Another rule-follower is Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who did not visit his ill 96-year-old mother in a nursing home during the last eight weeks of her life because of coronavirus restrictions. He only came to her bedside during her final hours this month. “The prime minister has respected all guidelines,” according to a statement read by a spokesman. “The guidelines allow for family to say goodbye to dying family members in the final stage. And as such the prime minister was with her during her last night.' ___ Adamson reported from Leeds, England. Associated Press writers Dasha Litvinova in Moscow; Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem; Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy; Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi; and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed. ___ Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • South Korea reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections in weeks on Wednesday and India saw another record single-day jump of more than 6,000 cases, as the pandemic expanded its grip across much of the globe. Still, optimism over reopening economies from business shutdowns to fight the virus spurred a rally on Wall Street, even as the official U.S. death toll approached 100,000. Outbreaks are still climbing in much of the Americas, while many countries in Asia and much of Europe are making steady progress in containing the deadliest pandemic in a century. Cyprus announced Wednesday that it was preparing to welcome tourists back on June 9 and would cover all costs — lodging, food, drink and medication — for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus, and their family members, while on vacation in the east Mediterranean island nation. The pledge came in a five-page letter that was sent out to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols, including a requirement for COVID-19 testing three days before departure, as the tourism-reliant country seeks to woo vacationers. Cyprus has confirmed about 940 cases of the virus and fewer than 20 deaths. In New Zealand, which is still banning foreign arrivals, the Ministry of Health said there were no COVID-19 patients under treatment in the country's hospitals. The nation took aggressive and early action to stop transmissions and has reported only 21 deaths. It has 21 active cases out of 1,504 confirmed and probable ones. In South Korea, 40 newly confirmed cases — the biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days — raised alarm as millions of children were returning to school. All but four of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul region, where officials are scrambling to stop transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and an e-commerce warehouse. South Korea has reported 269 deaths and 11,265 cases, after managing to contain a severe earlier outbreak. Authorities were testing 3,600 employees of a local e-commerce giant, Coupang, after discovering dozens of coronavirus infections linked to workers at the company’s warehouse near Seoul. India saw another record single-day jump, reporting 6,387 new cases on Wednesday, as the government prepared new guidelines for the next phase of a 2-month-old national lockdown that is due to end on Sunday. In the Americas, from Mexico to Chile, health officials were reporting surging coronavirus cases and overwhelmed hospitals. Mexico’s health department reported 501 deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday, a new one-day high, and 3,455 more infections. Its daily death toll is approaching that of the U.S., at about 620. Brazil currently leads in daily deaths with more than 800. Authorities in Chile said their intensive care units were near full capacity, with about 4,000 new cases being confirmed daily. “This is an extraordinarily difficult time,” Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said. A U.S. travel ban took effect Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has raged against state and local leaders enforcing stay-at-home measures despite warnings that the outbreak is deepening. Brazil has about 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.6 million cases in the U.S. — and has counted over 23,000 deaths, but many fear its true toll is much higher. Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 5.6 million people and killed over 350,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths, while the U.S. has reported more than 98,900 in a span of less than four months, more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. The actual number of deaths is thought to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died of the virus without ever being tested for it. President Donald Trump several months ago likened the coronavirus to the flu and dismissed worries that it could lead to so many deaths. The administration’s leading scientists have since warned that as many as 240,000 could die from the virus. The White House said Tuesday that the president was committed to holding a Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital even as local officials warned that the region — one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus — will not be ready to hold a major event. “Given the number of individuals that would try to attend such an event, logistically such an event would be impossible to put on safely,” lawmakers from the city wrote in a statement. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that the city won’t be issuing any permits for large gatherings in the immediate future. The capital is still under a stay-at-home order, with plans to shift to Phase One of its reopening this weekend. Reopenings are pushing ahead even as more than a dozen states are still seeing increasing numbers of new cases. News of relaxations of precautions was cheered on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 closing 1.2% higher, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining nearly 530 points, or 2.2%. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that casinos can reopen on June 4, welcoming tourists to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas. Sisolak shuttered the casinos, which draw millions of tourists and power the state economy, 10 weeks ago to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. In New York, the state with the highest death toll from the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was time to focus on relaunching New York City’s moribund economy. After ringing open the New York Stock Exchange's trading floor for the first time in two months, he laid out a plan that included accelerating major infrastructure projects and tackling transmission of the virus in the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Cuomo reported a one-day total of 73 deaths on Tuesday, the lowest figure in months. “In this absurd new reality, that is good news,” he said. ___ Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
  • China is taking matters into its own hands after last year's tumultuous anti-government protests in Hong Kong that often descended into tear gas-filled clashes. In a surprise move, the central government announced last week that it would develop laws to outlaw secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress is expected to ratify the bill Thursday, and legislation could be finalized this summer. China's decision raises questions about the future of the semi-autonomous territory. Will China station its feared state security officers in the city? Does it signal an erosion or the end of the “one-country, two-systems” framework that gives Hong Kong a high degree of local autonomy? The devil is in the details. And they haven't come out yet. “There are still a lot of important questions we have, which have not been answered,” said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist and veteran of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. BEIJING'S BOMBSHELL The proposal the Congress is set to approve is really a guideline for future steps. It tasks the legislature's Standing Committee, a smaller body with decision-making authority, with developing specific laws at future meetings. Two items in the seven-article draft are getting particular attention. One is the possible deployment of state security. The other is the bypassing of Hong Kong's legislature by crafting and approving the laws in Beijing. The Hong Kong government is required to enact national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, its constitution, but has been unable or unwilling to do so because of opposition. An attempt in 2003 was abandoned in the face of huge protests. China dropped its bombshell the day before the opening of the annual National People's Congress last week. In the wake of last year's protests, the most violent since China took back the former British colony in 1997, it said it was stepping in. Technically, the central government can do this, but it doesn't look good. Article 18 of the Basic Law says that the congressional Standing Committee can add laws on defense, foreign affairs and other matters outside Hong Kong's autonomy. National security falls into that. For Cheng and others in the pro-democracy camp, the move is the latest in a series of steps that mean the end of “one-country, two systems.” But, he said, “We have to admit that this is legal.' CONCERN OVER ARRESTS After the initial announcement, the biggest shock came in Article 4 of the proposal, which reads in part: “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in (Hong Kong) to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” Speculation swirled. Would Chinese police be able to arrest people in Hong Kong? Would arrested protesters be questioned by both local and national police? “This may be worrisome. It depends on what the bill says about what powers these people have,' said Albert Chen, a constitutional law scholar at Hong Kong University and member of a committee that advises the congressional Standing Committee on the Basic Law. “If these people have powers of arrest, of search of people’s home or offices, I think people would find it very difficult to accept that,” he said. Details may emerge at upcoming committee meetings in late June and late August. DIVIDE DEEPENS The protests in Hong Kong and the reaction in Beijing illustrate a fundamental divide that has once again bubbled to the surface. The freedom of expression and other rights that Hong Kong residents have under “one country, two systems” allow for protests and public criticism of the government. It can, at times, be messy. China's ruling Communist Party sees stability as vital to maintaining its grip on the country, including the territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao. “One country, two systems” is not about to disappear. Hong Kong will continue to manage most of its local affairs, from taxation to common crime. But Beijing is poised to wield an increasingly heavier hand when it comes to dissent and any possible challenges to its ultimate control of Hong Kong.
  • Even in a pandemic, there's no slowdown for swindlers in Latin America. From Argentina to Panama, a number of officials have been forced to resign as reports of fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks and other medical supplies pile up. The thefts are driven by price-gouging from manufacturers and profiteering by politically connected middlemen who see the crisis as an opportunity for graft. “Whenever there’s a dire situation, spending rules are relaxed and there’s always someone around looking to take advantage to make a profit,” said José Ugaz, a former Peruvian prosecutor who jailed former President Alberto Fujimori and was chairman of Transparency International from 2014-17. Coronavirus clusters are still spreading in Latin America, fueling a spike in deaths, swamping already-precarious hospitals and threatening to ravage slumping economies. Against this backdrop, reports of fraud have proliferated. On Tuesday, police in Rio de Janeiro raided the governor's residence as part of a widening probe into the alleged embezzlement of part of the $150 million in public funds earmarked for building field hospitals. In Colombia, 14 of 32 governors are under investigation for crimes ranging from embezzlement to unlawfully awarding no-bid contracts. In Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, prosecutors are probing a politically connected crony for buying 15,000 N95 surgical masks that, despite having expired, cost the city 10 times their listed price. Perhaps the biggest fallout is in Bolivia, where the health minister was arrested amid allegations that 170 ventilators were bought at inflated prices. The breathing machines were purchased for nearly $28,000 each. But their Spanish manufacturer said it sold them to a distributor for only 6,000 euros ($6,500). Making matter worse, the machines aren’t suitable for longer-term care. The probe threatens to derail the presidential candidacy of interim leader Jeanine Anez. She assumed power in November, promising a clean break from 13 years of leftist rule by Evo Morales, who resigned amid vote-rigging allegations. Similar accusations of over-billing have shaken Panama, where a top aide to President Laurentino Cortizo quit and his vice president is under pressure to resign after prosecutors last month began investigating the planned purchase of 100 ventilators at nearly $50,000 each. In Brazil, which has the world's second-highest number of confirmed cases, police in one state created a task force to investigate pandemic-related crimes. Its nickname, “Corona Jato,” is a nod to the region’s biggest recent corruption scandal, the “Lava Jato,” or “Car Wash,” probe that uncovered billions stolen from state-run companies. Tuesday's surprise search of the governor's mansion and 10 other addresses in Rio has rattled Brazil's political establishment because Gov. Wilson Witzel is a fierce critic of President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of undermining state measures to fight the virus. Witzel denied any wrongdoing and accused Bolsonaro of ordering the raid as political retribution. To be sure, disasters breed corruption all over the world, not just in Latin America. Spain, Italy and other countries also have been rocked by revelations of impropriety during the pandemic. In the U.S., an estimated 16% of $1 billion in aid spent after Hurricane Katrina was lost in potentially fraudulent payments. In one example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid one individual rental assistance as well as $8,000 to stay 70 nights at a hotel — in Hawaii. But stealing state funds is especially vexing in Latin America because of gaping poverty and a tattered social safety net. More than half its workers toil in the informal sector without health care or social security. “That's the real scandal,” said Argentine writer Martín Caparrós, co-editor of a book about the region’s most shameless stories of graft called “We Lost: Who Won the Americas Cup of Corruption?” (Spoiler alert: An Argentine vice president convicted of buying a stake in a money-printing company while overseeing its bankruptcy proceedings was voted the worst offender by readers). Acceptance of corruption dates to the Spanish conquest, when powerful viceroys gave extensive land holdings to friends, and forgiveness of sins could literally be bought from the Roman Catholic church, Caparrós said. Roberto de Michele, the top transparency expert at the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank, disagrees, saying that even in normal conditions, an estimated 10% to 25% of global spending on health care is lost to corruption — hundreds of billions of dollars every year. But abuse multiplies in emergencies like natural disasters. He said the risks are even higher in the pandemic, as officials compete for limited supplies, disrupting established price mechanisms. “If you don’t stop at the red light, and nothing happens, or you can bribe the policeman and get away with it, then more people will have incentives not to stop at the red light,” said de Michele. “That’s institutional design, not culture.” Latin America countries consistently rank among the most corrupt. The latest survey by Berlin-based Transparency International found that more than half of the region’s residents think the problem is getting worse, with 1 in 5 admitting to paying a bribe to public officials in the past year. Scandals involving officials caught stealing from school lunch programs, passing briefcases full of cash or placing lovers in cushy jobs are frequently in the news. Still, de Michele is optimistic that social pressure will bring change. A turning point came in 2016, when Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht admitted to paying $788 million in bribes across Latin America over more than a decade. That led to the jailing of former presidents in Peru and Brazil. Technology can also help protect state funds, de Michele said. He cited Paraguay, which unveiled a platform allowing users to track in almost real time the status of 110 emergency contracts worth $26 million in spending tied to COVID-19. Finance Minister Benigno López said the platform will empower citizen groups to monitor how resources are spent. “The solution to corruption is punitive justice,” López told The Associated Press. “But at least this tool puts all public officials on notice that our actions will be under the microscope.' —- Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman —- Associated Press writers David Biller in Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, Kathia Martinez in Panama City, Franklin Briceno in Lima, Peru, and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed.
  • These are children of the global pandemic. In the far-north Canadian town of Iqaluit, one boy has been glued to the news to learn everything he can about the coronavirus. A girl in Australia sees a vibrant future, tinged with sadness for the lives lost. A Rwandan boy is afraid the military will violently crack down on its citizens when his country lifts the lockdown. There is melancholy and boredom, and a lot of worrying, especially about parents working amid the disease, grandparents suddenly cut off from weekend visits, friends seen only on a video screen. Some children feel safe and protected. Others are scared. And yet, many also find joy in play, and even silliness. Associated Press reporters around the world asked kids about living with the virus and to use art to show us what they believe the future might hold. Some sketched or painted, while others sang, danced ballet, built with LEGOs. A few just wanted to talk. In the remote forests of northern California, one boy, a Karuk Indian, wrote a rap song to express his worries about how his tribe of just 5,000 will survive the pandemic. Their worries are matched in many places by resilience and hope, for a life beyond the virus. This is life under lockdown, through the eyes of children. ____ LILITHA JIPHETHU, 11, SOUTH AFRICA Lilitha Jiphethu has made a ball out of discarded plastic grocery bags to keep her amused during the lockdown. She and her four siblings play with that makeshift ball almost every day in a small scrub of ground that they’ve fenced off outside their home. The 11-year-old screams as her brothers throw the ball at her. Then she laughs, picks up the ball and throws it back at them. This happens again and again. Lilitha’s house is like hundreds of others in this informal settlement of families just outside Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city. It’s made of sheets of scrap metal nailed to wooden beams. Like many children under lockdown, she misses her friends and her teachers and especially misses playing her favorite game, netball. But she understands why school is closed and why they are being kept at home. “I feel bad because I don’t know if my family (can catch) this coronavirus,” Lilitha says. “I don’t like it, this corona.” She prefers singing to drawing and chooses to sing a church song in her first language, Xhosa, as her way of describing the future after the pandemic. She misses her choir but takes comfort in the song’s lyrics. She smiles as she begins. Her sweet voice drifts through the one-room home. “I have a friend in Jesus,” she sings. “He is loving and he’s not like any other friend. “He is not deceitful. He is not ashamed of us. “He is truthful, and he is love.” —Bram Janssen and Gerald Imray __ HUDSON DRUTCHAS, 12, UNITED STATES Hudson Drutchas waited and worried as his mom and sister recovered from coronavirus, quarantined in their rooms. Just a few weeks earlier, he was a busy sixth-grader at Lasalle II, a public elementary school in Chicago. Then the governor issued a stay-at-home order. Now, the soft-spoken 12-year-old receives school assignments by computer and looks to dog Ty and cat Teddy for comfort. “Since I don’t get to see my friends a lot, they’re kind of my closest friends,” he says. He giggles when Teddy, now 9, snarls. “He sometimes gets really grumpy because he’s an old man. But we still love him a lot.” When not doing schoolwork, Hudson jumps and flips on his trampoline and lifts himself around a doorframe outfitted so he can practice climbing, something he usually does competitively. He knows he’s fortunate, with a good home and family to keep him safe, but it’s difficult to be patient. “It makes me feel sad that I am missing out on a part of my childhood,” he says. When he draws his version of the future, Hudson makes a detailed pencil sketch showing life before the coronavirus and after. The world before looks stark and full of pollution in the drawing. In the future, the city is lush with clear skies and more wildlife and trees. “I think the environment might kind of, like, replenish itself or maybe grow back,” Hudson says. Still, he feels uncertain: “I’m worried about just how life will be after this. Like, will life change that much?” —Martha Irvine ___ ALEXANDRA KUSTOVA, 12, RUSSIA Hard times can have a silver lining. Alexandra Kustova has come to understand this during this pandemic. Now that all her studies are conducted online, she has more time for her two favorite hobbies -- ballet and jigsaw puzzles. The 12-year-old also able to spend more time with her family and help her grandmother, who lives in the same building, two floors down at their apartment in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Urals, a mountain range that partly divides Europe and Asia. Together, they take time to water tomato plants and enjoy one another’s company. Time has slowed down. “Before that I would have breakfast with them, rush out to school, come back, have dinner, go to ballet classes, come back -- and it would already be time to go to bed,” Alexandra says. Ballet has been her passion since she was 8. Now she does classes at home and sends videos of her drills to the trainer, who gives her feedback. The dance she shows for an AP reporter begins slowly and finishes with leaps in the air. Just like the pandemic, Alexandra says, it is “sad in the beginning and then it becomes joyful.” “I believe the end is joyful because we must keep on living, keep on growing,” she says. —Yulia Alekseeva ______ TRESOR NDIZIHIWE, 12, RWANDA No school. No playing with friends. Soldiers everywhere. That’s life during the coronavirus pandemic for Tresor Ndizihiwe, a 12-year-old boy who lives in Rwanda, one of seven brothers and sisters. Their mother, Jacqueline Mukantwari is paid $50 a month as a schoolteacher, but she used to earn extra money giving private lessons. That business has dried up, and the family gets food parcels from the government twice a month. The only regular outside time Tresor has is in a small courtyard next to his home. “The day becomes long,” he says in his native tongue, Kinyarwanda. “(You) can’t go out there” — he indicates the world outside his house — “and it makes me feel really uncomfortable.” Tresor draws a picture of the future that shows soldiers shooting civilians who are protesting, he says. He adds dabs of red paint next to one of those who has fallen. “There is blood,” he says, “and some are crying, as you can see.” It’s a stark image for a boy to produce. Rwanda was the first country in Africa to enforce a total lockdown because of the virus. It’s also a place where the security forces meant to be helping keep people safe have been accused of serious abuses of power. Yet he wants to be a soldier. Jacqueline says her son is a good student — “so intelligent.” She struggles to reconcile his own desire to join the military with the picture he has drawn. —Daniel Sabiiti and Gerald Imray ___ JEIMMER ALEJANDRO RIVEROS, 9, COLOMBIA Life in Colombia’s countryside has become even more difficult for the family of Jeimmer Alejandro Riveros. The price of herbs and vegetables his single mom and siblings cultivate on a farm in Chipaque have declined. A spotty internet connection makes virtual classes difficult, and a nationwide quarantine means less time outdoors. “Here is a mountain with a river,” Jeimmer, 9, says, pointing at each item in his drawing. In his mind, the future doesn’t look so different. “Here I am. Here’s my mommy. Here is my brother. Here is my house. Here is the sun and here is the sky.” The family recently launched a YouTube channel with videos showing how to grow and propagate plants that now has more than 420,000 followers. Their first video, introducing the Jeimmer’s mom, older brother and dog, has garnered, by now, more than 1 million views. “Let’s make this go viral!” Jeimmer says, as birds chirp in the background. Colombia is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, and poverty abounds in rural areas where many still lack basic utilities like safe drinking water. Jeimmer’s family often walks 40 minutes a day to get fresh milk. Capital city Bogota — about an hour from the family’s farm — has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Colombia. But cases are increasingly being identified in rural areas with few hospitals. Chipaque reported its first case earlier this month. Despite the obstacles, Jeimmer maintains an upbeat outlook on life under quarantine. He feels safe from the virus with his mom and brother. And he imagines a future with more time spent outdoors and one day, a grown-up job. “It doesn’t matter that we’re in lockdown,” he says. “We can be happy.” —Christine Armario ___ ISHIKIIHARA E-KOR, 11, UNITED STATES Ishikiihara E-kor misses all the normal kid things during the pandemic: playing baseball, hanging out with friends and having a real party for his 11th birthday, which he instead celebrated with relatives on a Zoom call. The internet periodically goes out for hours, making it hard for him to complete his school work, so he plays with his dog, Navi Noop Noop. But Shikii, as his friends call him, also has bigger things on his mind. He’s a Karuk Indian, a member of California’s second-largest tribe, and has been reading about how the pandemic is rampaging through the Navajo Nation, another tribe hundreds of miles away. The virus can feel far away in the tribe’s tiny outpost of Orleans, California, where the crystal clear lower Klamath River winds through densely forested mountains south of the Oregon-California border. But in a rap Shikii wrote, he urged fellow tribal members not to get complacent. “Stay away, man, 6 feet at least. Social distancing, it’s a thing that could save us. What? Like 5,000 of us left, Karuk tribe, man, that’s it.” Ishikiihara, whose full name means “sturgeon warrior” in the Karuk language, later adds, “If we even just lost a few people, that would be really sad.' Rapping about his worries isn’t new for him. He has a song about how his tribe lost its tradition fishing salmon runs on the Klamath River, pondering in verse why the Karuk “needed permission to go fishin’.” —Gillian Flaccus __ BANEEN AHMED, 10, JORDAN Despite the harshness she has experienced, the quiet, studious girl is brimming with hard-won optimism. Her family’s suffering in war-time Iraq has taught Baneen Ahmed that outside events can turn life upside down in an instant. In the chaotic aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an uncle was kidnapped, and a great-uncle was killed by armed militias, forcing her family to seek refuge in Jordan. By comparison, the coronavirus pandemic seems manageable, the 10-year-old says. Scientists will find a vaccine, she says, speaking in halting but vocabulary-rich English, her favorite subject of study at a private school in the Jordanian capital of Amman. “It’s going to take a year or a little bit to find a cure, so it’s going to end,” says Baneen, who prefers to talk and show how she’s studying at home under lockdown, rather than drawing a picture. “In Iraq, it’s not going to end,” she continues. “It’s like so hard to end it, the killing and the kidnapping.” In the future, she sees herself studying abroad, maybe in the United States or Turkey. She’s thought about a career in medicine, but is excited by any opportunity to learn. For her, school represents hope. “I want to go somewhere else because they will let us study good things,” Baneen says. “And my future is going to be good.” —Karin Laub __ ELENA MORETTI, 11, ITALY For Elena Moretti, the pandemic is not some faraway threat. Italy was the first European country to be hit by COVID-19, and her mother is a doctor in the public health system that has seen 27,500 personnel infected and more than 160 doctors dead nationwide. Elena, 11, is afraid of the coronavirus. Whenever a package arrives in the mail, she brings it out onto the terrace and disinfects it with a spray-bottle soap solution she made herself. It's a bottle, too, in Elena's drawing, capturing the virus inside. “The virus wanted to attack us, so instead of bringing us down, we counterattack and imprison it,” she said of her drawing. That fighting spirit has helped Elena get through more than two months of lockdown. After an initial spell of sleeping late because her teachers hadn’t transitioned to remote learning, Elena now does schoolwork, karate and hip-hop lessons online. Sometimes the internet connection goes out. But she’s still managed to keep in touch with friends, with some video chats lasting for hours. She’s also discovered a new hobby, baking sweets — apple tort, cupcakes and cream-filled pastry. Now that Italy’s lockdown has begun to ease, Elena is starting to go out again, but the fear remains. “I’m afraid it might spread even more and take all of us,” she said. —Paolo Santalucia __ NIKI JOLENE BERGHAMRE-DAVIS, 11, AUSTRALIA When she doesn’t move enough, she doesn’t sleep well. So, Niki Jolene Berghamre-Davis tries to go hiking in the forest whenever possible during this global pandemic. Even in the best of times, that’s where the 11-year-old from Port Melbourne, Australia, feels most at home. “She is our nature girl,” says her mother, Anna Berghamre. Her mom wasn’t surprised when Niki Jolene drew a self-portrait of herself facing a grove of trees. Within the drawing, there are signs of caution. “I have a face mask in my hand,” she says holding up the drawing, “because, well, I’ve just kind of taken it off, and I’m still aware.” She says that falling leaves she included in the sketch symbolize the lives that have been lost in this pandemic. Yet the roots of the trees — wide and prominent like those of the flowering red gum trees near her family’s townhome — represent “possibilities,” says the bubbly girl, known as “Snickers” to some of her friends. She smiles often, showing a full set of braces on her teeth. “After this corona pandemic, after this will end, I think it will be much more full of life,” she says, throwing her arms up for emphasis. She hopes, for instance, that people will walk more and drive less because she’s noticed how people in her neighborhood have often done without their cars during the shutdown. “I think people won’t take things for granted anymore.” —Martha Irvine ___ DANYLO BOICHUK, 12, UKRAINE Danylo Boichuk envies his cat, Kari, who is able to escape from the family home in a Kyiv suburb and run free. Because of the pandemic, his family had to cancel a summer camp in Bulgaria, and 12-year-old Danylo worries a lot about closed borders. Sitting on his back porch, he has used his LEGO blocks and figures to create his version of the future — a situation at the border. “Here is a vessel en route to Copenhagen, and border guards are inspecting it,” Danylo explains, pointing to particular pieces and holding up others. “This crew member shows medical evidence that everyone on board is healthy, except for one man in an isolation cell.” The plastic figure makes a rattling sound after he drops it into the makeshift jail. “There is a security guard restricting contact with the man,” he continues. “There are IT specialists at work. There are also people who lost their jobs — musicians, farmers, showmen.” The boy wonders if authorities in some countries will use the coronavirus crisis to tighten their grip on people’s lives. “For example, they may implant chips to track (people’s) whereabouts … ,” Danylo surmises. His parents say he has an analytical mind. Already, he wants to become a businessman in the future and create a start-up to develop online games. He’s been reading books about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, and other famous entrepreneurs, during self-isolation. After the pandemic, he says people will invest more in internet products and games. “This is an opportunity one should use,” he says. —Dmitry Vlasov __ ANA LAURA RAMÍREZ LAVANDERO, 10, CUBA Her drawing depicts a simple enough dream for a 10-year-old — “Viaje a la Playa,” a trip to the beach. On the page, she has colored a palm tree with three brown coconuts, a boat floating in the distance and a shining yellow sun. It is a scene representative of life on her island country, known for its white sand and aqua-blue waters. For now, however, Ana Laura Ramírez Lavandero can only dream of the beach. Under lockdown, she finds herself confined to the fourth-floor apartment she shares with her parents and grandmother. On the balcony, she watches life through a rusted iron trellis. It can seem like a jail. “My life changed,” says the girl, who’s accustomed to playing on the streets of her working and middle-income neighborhood in Havana. The only time she’s been able to go out in nearly two months has been for an emergency trip to the dentist. Schools are closed, and because many people in Cuba don’t have internet, the education ministry is broadcasting lessons on state television. Ana Laura dreams of becoming a famous drummer. This was her first year at a highly selective institute for students identified early on as musically talented. She is continuing with classes in math, history and Spanish, but not music. Her children’s chorus also can’t meet right now. Usually, her own choir meets alongside another one, with boys and girls of all ages. “People feel united in the chorus,” she says wistfully. She can’t wait to see them again. —Andrea Rodríguez ___ SANWERIA BROTHERS, 8 AND 9, INDIA Advait Vallabh Sanweria, age 9, grins as his younger brother lists all the things they’ve been doing during India’s extended shutdown. “We get spanked, scolded, watch movies, cook, sweep floors and use the phone and make Skype calls,” Uddhav Pratap Sanweria, age 8, says in Hindi. At times the brothers are a bit of a comedy routine, or at least a danger to the furniture in their home. They’ve turned one room into a cricket pitch, with one brother bowling, or pitching, the ball, while the other bats. Other times, they play quieter games, such as chess or Uno. Excited at first about school shutting down indefinitely, the brothers missed being able to go outside. “It is frustrating to stay locked inside our homes,” Advait Vallabh, the 9-year-old says of the lockdown, which have since eased a little. “When I get frustrated, sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I cry.” Recently, the brothers were excited to see a rainbow arching across blue skies outside their home. “The weather has changed so much,” says Advait Vallabh, noting the visibly fresh air in New Delhi, as pollution in the otherwise choked city has cleared drastically during the lockdown. Even with the ups and downs, the brothers believe the lockdown should continue for a year. “They shouldn’t reopen until the time there are zero cases left,” the younger Uddhav Pratap says. —Rishi Lekhi and Rishabh Raj Jain ___ OWEN WATSON, 12, CANADA Dressed in a puffy parka made by his mom and with cellphone in hand, Owen Watson gives a tour of his town, Iqaluit, in the far-north Canadian territory of Nunavut. There’s still snow on the ground in May, though the days are getting longer in this place known for its spectacular views of the northern lights. “That light blue place is the school that I used to go to,” 12-year-old Owen says of the shuttered structure behind him. Then he turns to a playground. “It’s not supposed to be played with right now.” Surrounded by rivers, lakes and the ocean, filled with Arctic char, his dad, Aaron Watson, says the name of their town means “fishes” in Inuktitut, the language spoken by this region's Inuit people, which includes Owen and his mom and sister. Dad is originally from Stratford, Ontario, and works in the tourism industry in Nunavut. Under nationwide shutdown, Owen has kept busy with packets of work from his teachers. He rides his bike around the even-quieter-than-usual town – and tries not to worry too much. His dad observes how much Owen has been watching news about the coronavirus and wonders if they’re raising a future scientist. So far, there have been no documented cases of the coronavirus in the town of about 8,000 people, many of whom work for the federal government and the city. When flights are running, they can fly to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, in three hours. So young Owen thinks it’s only a matter of time before the virus arrives. “If it gets here,” he says, “I’ll be more afraid.” He waits and watches. The sun sets to the west, as clouds reflect soft shades of pink and purple. It’s a lot for a boy to think about. —Martha Irvine
  • Thousands of protesters shouted pro-democracy slogans and insults at police in Hong Kong before lawmakers later Wednesday debate a bill criminalizing abuse of the Chinese national anthem in the semi-autonomous city. Police massed outside the legislative building ahead of the meeting and warned protesters that if they did not disperse, they could be prosecuted. In the Central business district, police raised flags warning protesters to disperse, before they shot pepper balls at protesters and searched several people. More than 50 people in the Causeway Bay shopping district were rounded up and made to sit outside a shopping mall, while riot police patrolled and warned journalists to stop filming while brandishing pepper spray. At least 16 people, most of them teenagers, were arrested on charges of possessing items fit for unlawful purposes, such as petrol bombs and screwdrivers. Three of the people arrested were charged for dangerous driving. Lawmakers were to debate a bill that would make it illegal to insult or abuse the “March of the Volunteers” in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Those found guilty could face up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,450). The bill was proposed in January 2019 after Hong Kong spectators jeered at the anthem during high-profile, international soccer matches in 2015. Last year, FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association after fans booed the Chinese national anthem at a World Cup qualifying game. Hong Kong was returned to China from British colonial rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that promised freedoms not found on the mainland. Anti-China sentiment has risen as residents see Beijing moving to erode those rights. Mass protests in 2014, known as the Umbrella Revolution, followed the Chinese government’s decision to allow direct election of the city leader only after it screened candidates. In the end, the plan for direct elections was dropped. Legislation proposed in Hong Kong last year that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trials set off months of demonstrations that at times involved clashes between protesters and police. The legislation was withdrawn. China's ceremonial parliament now meeting in Beijing has moved to enact a national security law for Hong Kong, aimed at forbidding secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference and terrorism. Hong Kong's own government has been unable to pass such legislation due to the opposition in the city, but Beijing advanced the law itself after the protests last year. Opponents of the anthem bill say it is a blow to freedom of expression in the city, while Beijing officials previously said that the law would foster a patriotic spirit and the country’s socialist core values.
  • Japanese police on Wednesday arrested a suspect in the deadly arson at a Kyoto anime studio last year after he recovered enough from his own severe burns to respond to the police investigation. Kyoto police said they arrested Shinji Aoba, 42, on murder and arson allegations, 10 months after obtaining the warrant because they had to wait for Aoba to recover. Police also reportedly waited to arrest him until Japan’s coronavirus emergency was fully lifted this week. Aoba is accused of storming into Kyoto Animation's No. 1 studio on July 18 last year, setting it on fire and killing 36 people, and injuring more than 30 others. The attack shocked Japan and drew an outpouring of grief from anime fans worldwide. Police, quoting witnesses to the attack, have alleged Aoba arrived carrying two containers of flammable liquid, entered the studio’s unlocked front door, dumped the liquid and set it afire with a lighter. About 70 people were working inside the studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, at the time of the attack. One of the survivors, an animator, told Japanese media he jumped from a window of the three-story building gasping for air amid scorching heat after seeing a “a black mushroom cloud” rising from downstairs. Many others tried but failed to escape to the roof, fire officials said. Many died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Aoba sustained severe burns on his face, torso and limbs and was unconscious for weeks. He reportedly still cannot walk or feed himself without assistance. Police were to pursue their investigation while carefully monitoring his health. “We will now focus on the suspect's interrogation and pursue our investigation in order to fully examine the crime,' police investigator Toshiyuki Kawase told reporters. Japanese television footage showed Aoba, his face scarred and eyebrows lost apparently from the fire, strapped to a stretcher as he was carried into a police station. Police have said Aoba told them he set the fire because he thought ”(Kyoto Animation) stole novels.” He told investigators Monday that he thought he could kill many people with gasoline, Japanese media reports said. Prosecutors are expected to seek formal criminal charges against him in a few weeks. Kyoto Animation’s hits include “Lucky Star” of 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009. Its new feature film, “Violet Evergarden,” about a woman who professionally writes letters for clients, was scheduled to open in April but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The fire was Japan’s deadliest since 2001, when a blaze in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times. ___ Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

News

  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday dismissed President Donald Trump’s tweets threatening to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte. “I’m not surprised by anything I see on Twitter,” Cooper said. “It’s OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be.” According to WSOC-TV, the governor said state health officials will continue to work with convention organizers to draft guidelines that will ensure the event can be conducted safely during the coronavirus pandemic. “I supported having the convention in North Carolina. But we have to put the health and safety of North Carolinians as the guiding star in this process, and we hope to continue the discussions and look forward to those discussions with the RNC later on this weekend and into next week,” he later added. For months, Republican leaders’ public posture has been that the party’s national convention, where Trump will be formally nominated in August, is “full steam ahead.” But on Memorial Day, the president appeared to hamstring convention planning by threatening to pull the event from Charlotte because of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions. In a series of tweets Monday morning, the president threatened to pull the event out of North Carolina if Cooper doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s tweets Monday came just two days after the state recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet. Currently, mass gatherings at venues like arenas are prohibited as part of Cooper’s executive order because of the potential spread of the novel coronavirus. The RNC is set for Aug. 24 through Aug. 27 at the Spectrum Center and Charlotte Convention Center. Trump expressed his concern about spending millions of dollars without knowing if the state would allow them to fully occupy the space. “Plans are being made by thousands of enthusiastic Republicans and others to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” Trump said. “They must be immediately given an answer by the governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.” Trump said if he is not given an answer, he will find another location for the convention. “This is not something I want to do,” Trump said. “Thank you, and I love the people of North Carolina.” Cooper allowed the state to enter a second phase of gradual reopening Friday with some further loosening of restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said the state must continue to closely watch virus trends and has ordered entertainment venues, gyms and bars to remain closed. On Monday, Cooper responded to Trump’s tweet, saying, “State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plan as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.” Cooper warned on Tuesday that it is still too early to give the president the assurances he demanded about “whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.” “Already, we’ve been in talks with the RNC about the kind of convention that they would need to run, and the kind of options that we need on the table. We’re talking about something that’s going to happen three months from now, and we don’t know what our situation is going to be regarding COVID-19 in North Carolina,” he said. On Monday, Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte released a joint statement, saying, “We are in constant communication with our local and federal counterparts to plan and prepare for a safe Republican National Convention (RNC). The City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and other local stakeholders will continue to plan for the RNC while respecting national and state guidance regarding the pandemic. We are working with stakeholders to develop guidelines for several large events planned for Charlotte in the coming months including the RNC and anticipate providing that guidance in June.” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted: “With the health and safety of our residents and visitors being the top priority, the city of Charlotte will continue to follow guidance from Governor Cooper and public health professionals in determining the best and safest way to host the Republican National Convention. While I’ve remained consistent in my statements regarding the RNC being held in Charlotte, the science and data will ultimately determine what we will collectively do for our city.” Meanwhile, two GOP governors on Tuesday offered up their states to host the Republican National Convention. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent an open plea to Trump on Tuesday to consider his state as an alternate site. Kemp’s offer was followed by one from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The convention is expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors to the Charlotte area and millions of dollars to the local economy. In a letter that North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen sent to the RNC, she requested a written plan for how the convention plans to address COVID-19 safety protocols. The letter came in response to the president’s tweet Monday and confirmed that the RNC and state officials in North Carolina were in talks about convention planning as recent as Friday. “Jordan Whichard from Governor Cooper’s team shared with you the written protocols that NASCAR developed and then refined after discussions with our public health teams which allowed that event to occur in the Charlotte area this past weekend,” she wrote. “While the RNC convention is obviously a very different event with its unique challenges for COVID-19, we hoped it would help illustrate the type of plan that would facilitate further conversations. The status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve, thus, it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation.' Cohen urged the RNC to consider “several scenarios” as they continue to move forward with planning, since the abrupt threat from Trump comes just after North Carolina saw its highest one-day spike in cases over the weekend since the onset of the pandemic. Cooper referenced the letter during Tuesday’s briefing, saying he aims to reach a resolution with the RNC about how to move forward with the event. “We’re going to have to take steps to protect people. We have asked the RNC to present to us in writing their proposals. We’ve had discussions with them about a very limited convention all the way up, and we want to see in writing what their plans are,” Cooper said. “We asked NASCAR to do the very same thing, and NASCAR did a good job this weekend of executing their plan,” he added. “We want to see from the RNC what their plans are, and we have asked them to submit those plans to our public health officials. They have someone hired to advise them as well. And we look forward to the back and forth on that. We’d like to reach a resolution that everybody can be reasonable about that puts public health, safety, the science and the facts as the number one thing we’re trying to do here. So we look forward to those continue conversations. Everyone wants to get back into action soon, but I think everyone knows that we have to take certain steps to make sure we’re protected.' After Cooper’s news conference, Trump said the governor needs to confirm within a week whether the GOP convention in Charlotte can go forward. “If he can’t do it, if he feels he can’t do it, all he has to do is tell us, and then we’ll have to pick another location,” Trump said of Cooper. “I don’t want to have it where we get there and they announce ... ‘Guess what? You can’t put anybody in the arena,’ or you can put a tiny number of people in.” Read more here. –Visit WSOCTV.com for the latest on this developing story.
  • The body of a missing 5-year-old boy has been recovered in Ohio, Adams County Sheriff Kimmy Rogers confirmed Tuesday. According to WHIO-TV, Cameron Walters, who was reported missing from Mineral Springs Lake Resort in Peebles on Monday, was found dead in the water Tuesday, but authorities have not specified where. The boy went missing about 5:15 p.m. Monday, officials said. Groups of volunteers and water rescue crews returned to the campground Tuesday to continue the search for the missing boy, according to WCPO-TV. An Endangered Missing Child Advisory was issued for Walters late Tuesday morning, saying he was believed to be in danger. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information about the case to call their department at 937-544-2314. No further information was immediately available. – Visit WHIO.com for the latest on this developing story.
  • Nearly 5.6 million people worldwide -- including more than 1.6 million in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. While efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak continue, states have begun to shift their focus toward reopening their economies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Wednesday, May 27, continue below: US coronavirus cases approach 1.7M, deaths near 99K Published 12:40 a.m. EDT May 27: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States surged toward 1.7 million early Wednesday across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, there are at least 1,681,212 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 98,916 deaths.  The hardest-hit states remain New York with 363,836 cases and 29,302 deaths and New Jersey with 155,764 cases and 11,194 deaths. Massachusetts, with 93,693 cases, has the third-highest number of deaths with 6,473, while Illinois has the third-highest number of cases with 113,195. Only 16 states and territories have confirmed fewer than 6,000 cases each. Five other states have now confirmed at least 52,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 99,684 cases, resulting in 3,823 deaths • Pennsylvania: 72,778 cases, resulting in 5,163 deaths • Texas: 57,230 cases, resulting in 1,546 deaths • Michigan: 55,104 cases, resulting in 5,266 deaths • Florida: 52,255 cases, resulting in 2,259 deaths Meanwhile, Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut each has confirmed at least 41,000 cases; Virginia, Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 32,000 cases; Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota, Tennessee and Washington each has confirmed at least 20,000 cases, followed by Iowa with 17,703 and Arizona with 16,864; Wisconsin and Alabama each has confirmed at least 15,000 cases, followed by Rhode Island with 14,210 and Mississippi with 13,731; Nebraska and Missouri each has confirmed at least 12,000 cases, followed by South Carolina with 10,416; Kansas and Delaware each has confirmed at least 9,000 cases; Kentucky, Utah, the District of Columbia and Nevada each has confirmed at least 8,000 cases, followed by New Mexico with 7,130; Arkansas and Oklahoma each has confirmed at least 6,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s state-by-state breakdown.
  • A hair salon in North Carolina is denying service to employees at a Tyson plant due to a coronavirus outbreak. SmartCuts posted a sign at their Wilkesboro location that read, in part, “Due to the number of Tyson employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, we are unable to serve Tyson employees.' The note was widely circulated on social media. Last week, 570 workers at that Tyson plant tested positive for the coronavirus. Some of the Tyson workers WSOC-TV spoke with were upset by the sign placed outside the SmartCuts, but others said they understand the owners’ decision. David Gentry, who has worked at Tyson for years, doesn’t agree with the ban. “Knock on the door, shoot them a bird and cuss them out,” he said. “That’s me.” The business is about two miles from the Tyson plant. The sign said the business would be “unable to serve Tyson employees until approximately June 8, once the recent COVID outbreak has been controlled.” The business has enacted several precautions to keep workers and customers safe, including mask-wearing, temperature checks and social distancing measures. “I think it’s a good thing because too many people are passing who’ve had this virus,” said one customer, Frances McManus. “That there is something this place has to deal with,” said another customer, James Spears. “Because if they come in with the disease, that’s bringing it into their business.” SmartCuts said it will give Tyson employees a $3 discount once they return to providing services to them. Bob Hartley owns SmartCuts and said he’s not only trying to protect his employees but his customers and the community. “If it is unethical in some way that’s still legal but unethical, we will stop it,” he said. “It’s just an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19 on the Wilkesboro community and among our employee group.”
  • The line to get into That One Place stretched down the walkway outside the restaurant. There was no social distancing and virtually no one wore a facemask as they waited for their party to be called to an open table inside. “I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it,” said John Weiman. “It’s about time. It’s time to make a change.” His wife Michelle Weiman added, “I’m looking forward to it, very hungry. Glad he’s doing it.” The Port Orchard restaurant has been open for takeout service during the statewide coronavirus shutdown. But restaurant owner Craig Kenady said he was encouraged by his employees to open his business on Memorial Day to customers seated inside as a way of protesting, saying smaller counties such as Kitsap have fewer cases of COVID-19 and should be treated differently than larger counties such as King, Pierce and Snohomish. “I do think if we’re going to take it on a case-to-case basis then we need to actually look at our county based off of our numbers,' said Kenady. “We’re not in it to break laws, not in it to cause problems. We’re not doing this for politics. We’re doing this for freedom.” Staff in the restaurant wore masks and gloves as they serve patrons. Some tables were kept empty to keep customers further apart from each other. Kenady said his protest would last just one day, on Memorial Day before he goes back to takeout only. “We don’t discount the virus at all. We believe in it and we believe in the severity of it. But we also feel at the same time we can safely operate,” Kenady said.
  • Dozens of tombstones dating from the 19th century were found near a North Carolina neighborhood. A Piedmont Natural Gas worker told WSOC-TV that he found dozens of what appeared to be decades-old tombstones in a wooded area behind the Crestdale Crossing neighborhood. The stones appear to be from the 19th century and have what looks like dates and initials carved in them. The discovery piqued the interest of local historian Jeff Houser who said burial grounds are often lost to developments. Houser believes they are footstones created for a family grave. “These were either pulled up from someplace and set into the woods for some reason,” he said. He said the stones might have never been used, but it would take some time to uncover the truth. “We’d like to know why are these are here, how they got there and who are they for,” Houser said. Historians are working to compare the initials on the stones with census records from that time. Houser said that as of now, there is no official record of a cemetery in the area.