from the Associated Press

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More than $1.4 million has been raised for a man who spent 43 years behind bars before a judge overturned his conviction in a triple killing. The GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit Kevin Strickland had raised nearly $1.5 million as of Saturday evening. The Midwest Innocence Project set up the online fundraiser as they fought for his release, noting that he wouldn’t receive compensation from Missouri and needed help paying for basic living expenses. The state only allows wrongful imprisonment payments to people who were exonerated through DNA evidence, so the 62-year-old Strickland wouldn't qualify.

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Stephen Sondheim, the songwriter who reshaped the American musical theater in the second half of the 20th century, has died. He was 91. Sondheim influenced several generations of theater songwriters, particularly with such landmark musicals as “Company,” “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd.” His most famous ballad, “Send in the Clowns,” has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins. Six of Sondheim’s musicals won Tony Awards for best score, and he also received a Pulitzer Prize for “Sunday in the Park,” an Academy Award for the song “Sooner or Later” from the film “Dick Tracy,” five Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor.

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Extortion of avocado growers in western Mexico has gotten so bad that 500 vigilantes from a so-called “self-defense” group known as United Towns, or Pueblos Unidos, have gathered and pledged to aid police. The vigilantes were armed with AR-15s and other rifles, as well as a motley collection of shotguns. They said that drug cartels like the Viagras and the Jalisco cartel have been charging avocado growers ‘war taxes’ of about $1,000 per acre ($2,500 per hectare). Tired of the extortion demands and kidnappings, growers and farmers formed the group earlier this year, and it now claims to have almost 3,000 members.

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Inflation is soaring, businesses are struggling to hire and President Joe Biden’s poll numbers have been in free fall. The White House sees a common culprit, namely COVID-19. Biden’s team views the pandemic as the root cause of both the nation’s malaise and his own political woes. The Biden team sees getting more people vaccinated and finally controlling COVID-19 as the key to reviving the country and Biden’s own standing. But the coronavirus has proved to be a vexing challenge. The economy is actually improving, but there are signs COVID-19 will leave its scars. And now there's a new variant, omicron, to worry about.

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The new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus has popped up in more European countries, just days after being identified in South Africa., leaving governments around the world scrambling to stop the spread. The U.K. on Saturday tightened its rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two cases. New cases were confirmed Saturday in Germany and Italy, with Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong also reporting that the variant has been found in travelers. There are growing concerns that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for far longer than hoped because of fears that the new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines. 

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Police in North Carolina say that a man remains in critical condition following a shooting at a shopping mall that was packed with shoppers. Durham police said Saturday that investigators continue to investigate Friday's shooting at The Streets at Southpoint. A 10-year-old child and another man were also shot but sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Police said the shooting occurred during an apparent fight between two groups. A bystander described “mass hysteria” on one of the busiest shopping days of the year as shoppers ducked into stores for cover or ran for the exits. Police said that no charges have been filed.

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California and Colorado this year banned state agencies from using the word “alien” to refer to immigrants who entered the U.S. without permission. Supporters of the change say the word is demeaning and dehumanizing, and can have an impact on the treatment of immigrants. The Biden administration took a similar step for federal agencies. Yet the term “alien” remains in wide use in many states. That includes Texas, where a legislative effort to end its use recently failed. The word became a focal point of debate in several states earlier this year as the number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border swelled and led to fierce backlash from Republicans.

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The Dayton Board of Zoning Appeals has approved the city’s request to demolish a 129-year-old historic building that once was the site of the Wright brothers’ first bike shop. The city wants to tear down the site because the building has deteriorated to a point where it can no longer be maintained and redeveloped. Public safety concerns have also been raised by some who fear the building could collapse. But the Dayton Landmarks Commission rejected the demolition request in September. The panel instead recommended that the city re-advertise the property and encourage its renovation in a way that preserves the historic facade.

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Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

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Skirmishes have erupted in Serbia between police and anti-government demonstrators who briefly blocked roads and bridges in the Balkan country in protest against new laws they say favor interests of foreign investors who are devastating the environment. Hundreds of people on Saturday appeared simultaneously in the capital Belgrade, the northern city of Novi Sad and other locations to block main bridges and roads for one hour in what organizers described as a warning blockade. Cordons of police deployed to block access to the demonstrators, which led to skirmishes. Organizers said a number of people have been detained.   

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A Russian court has ordered five people to remain in pre-trial detention for two months pending an investigation into a devastating blast in a coal mine in Siberia that resulted in dozens of deaths. Authorities reported 51 deaths after a methane explosion rocked the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region in southwestern Siberia on Thursday. The toll included 46 miners and five rescuers. The tragedy appears to be the deadliest in Russia since 2010. The Central District Court in the city of Kemerovo ruled Saturday to jail the mine's director, his deputy, section supervisor and two state officials. They are accused of violations that resulted in multiple deaths and face up to seven years in prison if convicted. 

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Germany’s health minister says he hopes that the sight of air force planes transferring patients across the country will act as a “wake-up call” to millions who are still holding out on getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Health Minister Jens Spahn said Saturday that there has been a welcome increase over the past week in the number of people getting their first shots, with 450,000 recorded. But he said it’s still not enough and “this figure of nearly 12 million unvaccinated adults is still far, far too high.” So far, 68.4% of the population of 83 million people is fully vaccinated, below the 75% minimum threshold eyed by the government.

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Czech President Miloš Zeman has been discharged from the capital’s military hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. The 77-year-old Zeman had already been discharged following more than a month’s treatment for an unspecified illness on Thursday. But he was readmitted only hours later after testing positive for the coronavirus. The president received monoclonal antibodies in a standard treatment for people belonging to risk groups. He is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 including a booster. The hospital said Saturday that Zeman has no symptoms of COVID-19. Zeman is a heavy smoker and drinker who has suffered from diabetes. He has trouble walking and has been using a wheelchair.

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Migrant smuggling networks organizing English Channel crossings have reaped tens of millions of euros this year. 2021 has been the busiest and deadliest ever recorded. Police and aid workers say the price per person varies depending on the network between 3,000 and 7,000 euros ($3,380 and $8,000). Experts say it's big business run by organized crime. The rubber boats sometimes leave in a flotilla. More than two dozen a day. And they're more overloaded than ever with people trying to reach Britain from France. Twenty-seven people died Wednesday in a sinking that is now being investigated by French organized crime prosecutors. 

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Worried scientists in South Africa are scrambling to combat the lightning spread across the country of the new and highly transmissible omicron COVID-19 variant as the world grapples with its emergence. The omicron variant has sent South Africa from a period of low transmission to rapid growth of new confirmed cases in the space of two weeks. The country’s numbers are still relatively low. But omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans alarms experts. What looked like a cluster infection among some university students in Pretoria ballooned into hundreds and then thousands of new cases. Scientists studying the surge identified the new variant that is likely responsible for 90% of the new cases.

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Security forces have fired tear gas at protesters throwing rocks in Burkina Faso’s capital. Tensions have risen across the conflict-riddled nation with the population angry at the government’s inability to stem violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Several hundred protesters took to the streets early Saturday morning calling for President Roch March Christian Kabore to resign. The government’s crackdown on the protesters follows a week of a mobile internet shutdown which the government said was for national security reasons. The president has vowed to increase aid to the military and investigate the deaths in the Sahel while calling on the population to maintain calm.

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Postal workers who recall packages and letters piled up in distribution hubs a year ago are gearing up for another holiday crush. The Postal Service and private shippers UPS and FedEx are bolstering their hiring by bringing in about 230,000 seasonal workers to ensure they don’t become overwhelmed by packages again. But low product inventories and port and supply chain disruptions are creating new uncertainty about getting gifts delivered on time. Despite that, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said this month: “We are ready.”

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Several members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota are working to address animal neglect on their tribal lands — and in doing so bringing their community closer to its spiritual roots. Kids are helping their elders in animal rescues, pet food and supplies are routinely distributed in the community and the first permanent veterinary clinic is one final permit away from breaking ground. Animals are central to Ojibwe beliefs and sacred origin stories. So promoting pet care reinforces the Creator’s intentions for harmony between humans and animals — a value that some say faded over the years.

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Tunisia’s Interior Ministry says a man who attempted to attack security officials in central Tunis is a known extremist. Video from the scene that circulated on social media shows a man walking down Tunis’ central thoroughfare on Friday. He was carrying a long knife and an axe before he jumps the barriers that surround the Interior Ministry. Video footage shows chaos break out as the man runs at police officers, swinging his weapons, before a volley of bullets is fired. The man was shot and taken to a hospital for treatment.

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Federal investigators say an oil tanker hit an oil platform at night off Louisiana because its Turkish operating company didn't give the ship's master time to recover from 50 hours of sleepless travel. Nobody was hurt in the crash early Oct. 17, 2020. But the National Transportation Safety Board says it did $72.9 million in damage — $72.3 million to the platform and the rest to the ship. A lawsuit filed one day after the crash by the platform's Houston owners estimated damages at $225 million, including economic losses during repairs. NTSB reports cannot be used as evidence in civil lawsuits. 

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Taiwan’s annual Golden Horse Awards kicked off Saturday with a Hong Kong drama receiving the most nominations for the Asian equivalent of the Academy Awards. This year, the Hong Kong film “Drifting” which is based on a 2012 court case involving homeless people in a working neighborhood, received 12 nominations including for Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best Cinematography. Two Taiwanese movies, titled “The Soul,” “The Falls” and “Till We Meet Again” received 11 nominations each. “Revolution of Our Times,” a documentary about the Hong Kong political unrest in 2019 by Hong Kong director Kiwi Chow, won Best Documentary Feature. Chow sold the film's copyright to a European distributor and disposed of all his footage amid a crackdown on Hong Kong opposition. 

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Algerians are voting Saturday to elect their mayors and regional leaders amid widespread worry and frustration over rising prices for basic goods. The government is hoping the election confirms support for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who won election after nationwide pro-democracy protests and the army chief ousted his predecessor. But many Algerians see Tebboune's leadership as only a cosmetic change and are deeply disillusioned by politics. Turnout appeared low at voting stations Saturday morning in Algiers. The government recently announced an end to subsidies on some basic goods, pushing up prices. 

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Macao police have detained the head of Macao’s biggest casino junket organizer and others after Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for them over accusations that they ran an illegal cross-border gambling syndicate. The arrests in the gambling enclave came after prosecutors in Wenzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang on Friday accused Suncity Group CEO Alvin Chau and another person of setting up casinos across China. Casinos and most forms of gambling are illegal in mainland China, and semi-autonomous Macao is the only Chinese city allowed to operate a casino. Mainland visitors are able to travel to Macao to gamble but are required to obtain a visa. Suncity has denied allegations it's targeting mainland Chinese with online gambling.  

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Solomon Islands police have found three bodies in a burned-out building and arrested more than 100 people in this week’s violence sparked by concerns about the Pacific nation’s increasing links with China. Australian media reported the bodies were recovered late Friday after riots and protests subsided. Authorities imposed a curfew in the capital Honiara, after a 36-hour lockdown ordered by the embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare ended Friday. Sogavare blamed outside interference for stirring up the protests calling for his resignation, with a thinly veiled reference to Taiwan and the United States.  Sogavare has been criticized by leaders of the most populous island of Malaita for a 2019 decision to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China. 

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The Indian government has asked Starlink Internet Services of Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company to comply with the country’s regulatory framework before offering its satellite-based internet services. A Communications Ministry statement late Friday said that because Starlink is not the holder of a license, the public is advised not to subscribe to Starlink services that are being advertised. The Indian government has asked Starlink Internet Services of Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company to comply with the country’s regulatory framework before offering its satellite-based internet services. Media reports say Musk’s SpaceX has been accepting preorders for the beta version of the service for a fully refundable deposit of $99. 

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Portugal’s new law on working from home has grabbed attention around the world for the way it protects staff. Under the new rules, companies can’t attempt to contact their employees outside working hours. They must also help staff pay for their home gas, electric and internet bills. And bosses are forbidden from using digital software to track what their teleworkers are doing. There’s just one problem: the law might not work. Critics say the new rules are half-baked, short on detail and unfeasible. And they may even backfire by making companies reluctant to allow working from home at all.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at his first troop review, has renewed his pledge to consider “all options,” including acquiring enemy base strike capability, and vowed to create a stronger Self-Defense Force to protect the country amid growing threats from China and North Korea. Kishida says the security situation around Japan is rapidly changing and that “the reality is severer than ever,” with North Korea continuing to test-fire ballistic missiles while advancing its capability, and China pursuing a military buildup and increasingly assertive activity in the region amid escalating tensions with Taiwan.

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Violence has receded in the capital of the Solomon Islands, but the government has shown no signs of attempting to address the underlying grievances that sparked two days of riots, including concerns of the country’s increasing links with China. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sought to deflect attention from domestic issues by blaming outside interference for stirring up the protesters, with a thinly veiled reference to Taiwan and the United States. The strife over Taiwan and China is just the latest issue in decades of rivalry between Malaita, the most populous island, and Guadalcanal, where the capital, Honiara, is located. 

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Demands by Democrats to fix the nation’s broken immigration system were wielded as a cudgel against Republicans during the 2020 campaign. Elect us, went the argument, and we’ll stop the cruel treatment of migrants at the border, and put in place lasting and humane policies that work. Action on the issue has been hard to find a year into Joe Biden's presidency, and there is growing consternation privately among some in the party that the Biden administration can’t find the right balance on immigration.  

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The world is racing to contain a new coronavirus variant that is potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled waves of infection on nearly every continent. A World Health Organization panel on Friday named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern. That's the same category that includes the delta variant. Much of the world imposed immediate travel bans on visitors from southern Africa, where the new variant was discovered. The U.S. is putting its travel limits into effect Monday. The White House says agencies and airlines need the time to put the restrictions into effect. 

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South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It’s unclear where the new variant emerged, but scientists in South Africa first alerted the World Health Organization and it has also been seen in Botswana and travelers to Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel and elsewhere. Health minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant is actually responsible. In a statement on Friday, the WHO designated it as a “variant of concern,” naming it “omicron.”

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A coronavirus variant recently identified in South Africa is leading to a new round of travel restrictions just as many had finally begun to ease. The risks of the new variant are largely unknown, but governments around the world are not waiting for scientists to better understand the variant to impose flight bans. The moves have renewed a debate over whether these travel restrictions work to prevent the spread of new variants. Some say at best the restrictions can buy time. At worst, they do little to stop the spread and give a false sense of security. 

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In 2010, the year he turned 80, Stephen Sondheim had to endure a public fuss when a Broadway theater was being renamed in his honor. At a ceremony outside the 1,055-seat auditorium on West 43rd Street, the composer looked sheepish by the time he got to the podium following gushing words from admirers. He said he was embarrassed, mostly because he hated his own name. He explained: “It just doesn't sing." The comment revealed how Sondheim’s brilliant musicality and his perfectionism went hand-in-hand. The theatrical giant, who died Friday at 91, was as complex as his lyrics, dogmatic in his rules and not generous with praise about his work.

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President Joe Biden is back at his rental home on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket after spending most of Friday downtown with his family. The president, first lady Jill Biden, their children and grandchildren went out for lunch, a post-Thanksgiving Day tradition. They browsed a favorite bookstore afterward and then Biden wandered off with some of the grandkids. He walked along cobblestone streets, popping into shops and appearing to make purchases. Biden and his family also took part in another tradition, attending Nantucket's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Biden began spending Thanksgiving on Nantucket in the mid-1970s.

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Minnesota's Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar is calling on House leaders to take “appropriate action" against Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert for using anti-Muslim language in describing a recent encounter with Omar. Boebert said Friday she has reached out to Omar and apologized “to anyone I offended in the Muslim community" with the remarks. According to a video clip posted by a Twitter account called PatriotTakes, Boebert made the remarks at a meeting with constituents this holiday break, using the term ‘jihad squad’ to refer to Omar. She also said Omar wasn't “wearing a backpack," an allusion to suicide bombers. Omar says such inflammatory remarks endanger the lives of Muslim Americans. 

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Hundreds of barges of illegal gold miners are navigating along the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon, and researchers said they pose a threat of pollution for the broader environment. The barges were spotted this week by the municipality of Autazes: Smaller gatherings are common along rivers in the region, but the latest collection drew international attention this week when Greenpeace published images of several rows of rafts and officials vowed police action. One miner told The Associated Press on Friday that about 400 barges with some 3,000 people had congregated in the area after one miner found gold there and alerted the others.

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On this year’s Black Friday, things almost seem normal. Malls and stores report decent-sized crowds, if not the floods of people that used to fight over the latest toys and electronics. Online shopping is much too common for that now, and big discounts are spread out over the weeks leading up to Christmas, on both websites and in stores. But out-of-stock items due to supply crunches, higher prices for gas and food, and labor shortages that make it more difficult to respond to customers are also causing frustrations for shoppers. 

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is alleging that his country’s intelligence service has uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d’etat in Ukraine next week that involves one of the country’s richest oligarchs. Both the oligarch and the Russian government have rejected the allegations. At a news conference in the Ukrainian capital on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had received information that a coup was being planned for next Wednesday or Thursday. He did not give many details to back up his allegation, but pointed to a suspected role of Ukraine’s richest oligarch. The Kremlin spokesman rejected the allegations, telling reporters in Moscow that: “Russia had no plans to get involved. ... Russia never does such things at all."

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Stocks sank Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly falling more than 1,000 points, as a new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe. The S&P 500 index fell 2.3%, its worst day since February and the Nasdaq composite had its worst drop in two months. The Dow closed with a loss of 905 points. Travel and energy stocks were among the biggest losers, with Royal Caribbean dropping 13%, United Airlines falling more than 9% and Exxon losing 3.5%. The price of oil fell 13% and bond yields fell sharply. 

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Climate activists have blockaded Amazon warehouses in three European countries. It's part of a global effort to pressure the ecommerce giant on one of its busiest days of the year to improve working conditions and end business practices that hurt the environment. Members of Extinction Rebellion targeted 15 Amazon fulfilment centers in the U.K, Germany and the Netherlands. At least 30 people were arrested at multiple U.K. sites. Their aim is to disrupt 50% of the company’s deliveries on Black Friday, which marks the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season. Activists blocked the entrance to Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury, east of London, with an effigy of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sitting on top of a rocket.