All posts by mineshparikh

WHO: Nearly 200 cases of monkeypox in more than 20 countries

LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease, but described the epidemic as “containable” and proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.

During a public briefing on Friday, the U.N. health agency said there are still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible.

“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behaviour,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Earlier this week, a top adviser to WHO said the outbreak in Europe, U.S., Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks haven’t spilled across borders.

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Although WHO said nearly 200 monkeypox cases have been reported, that seemed a likely undercount. On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including one woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had been previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.

U.K. officials added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, making Britain’s total 106, while Portugal said its caseload jumped to 74 cases. And authorities in Argentina on Friday reported a monkeypox case in a man from Buenos Aires, marking Latin America’s first infection. Officials said the man had traveled recently to Spain and now had symptoms consistent with monkeypox, including lesions and a fever.

Doctors in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere have noted that the majority of infections to date have been in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. The disease is no more likely to affect people because of their sexual orientation and scientists warn the virus could infect others if transmission isn’t curbed.

WHO’s Briand said that based on how past outbreaks of the disease in Africa have evolved, the current situation appeared “containable.”

Still, she said WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg (or) if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities,” she said.

As countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the U.S. begin evaluating how smallpox vaccines might be used to stem the outbreak, WHO said its expert group was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.

Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission. No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective.

She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of the disease, like close contacts of patients or health workers, but that monkeypox could mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continued epidemiological investigations.

Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has helped manage to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can’t afford them.

“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapeutics,” Ryan said. “So the volumes don’t necessarily need to be big, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid, and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

Shanghai lockdown: Residents demand release, and some get it

BEIJING (AP) — On a balmy Sunday night, residents of an upscale Shanghai compound took to the streets to decry lockdown restrictions imposed by their community. By the following morning, they were free to leave.

The triumphant story quickly spread on chat groups across the Chinese city this week, sparking one question in the minds of those who remained under lockdown: Shouldn’t we do the same?

By the end of the week, other groups of residents had confronted management in their complexes, and some had won at least a partial release.

While it’s unclear how widespread they are, the incidents reflect the frustration that has built up after more than seven weeks of lockdown, even as the number of new daily cases has fallen to a few hundred in a city of 25 million people.

They also are a reminder of the power of China’s neighborhood committees that the ruling Communist Party relies on to spread propaganda messages, enforce its decisions and even settle personal disputes. Such committees and the residential committees under them have become the target of complaints, especially after some in Shanghai and other cities refused to allow residents out even after official restrictions were relaxed.

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More than 21 million people in Shanghai are now in “precaution zones,” the least restrictive category. In theory, they are free to go out. In practice, the decision is up to their residential committees, resulting in a kaleidoscope of arbitrary rules.

Some are allowed out, but only for a few hours with a specially issued pass for one day or certain days of the week. Some places permit only one person per household to leave. Others forbid people to leave at all.

“We have already been given at least three different dates when we are going to reopen, and none of them were real,” said Weronika Truszczynska, a graduate student from Poland who posted vlogs about her experience.

“The residential committee told us you can wait a week, we are going to reopen probably on June 1st,” she said. “No one believed it.”

Two days after the Sunday night breakout at the upscale Huixianju compound, more than a dozen residents of Truszczynska’s complex confronted their managers on a rainy Tuesday,

The residents, who were mostly Chinese, demanded to be allowed to leave without time limits or restrictions on how many per household. After the demands were not met, some returned to protest a second day. This time, four police officers stood watch.

On Thursday afternoon, community representatives knocked on the doors of each resident with a new policy: Write their name and apartment number on a list, take a temperature check, scan a barcode — and they were free to leave.

“We got the possibility of going out just because we were brave enough to protest,” Truszczynska said of her fellow residents.

The Shanghai lockdown has also prompted resistance from people being taken away to quarantine and workers required to sleep at their workplaces. Videos on social media showed what were said to be employees of a factory operated by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer Inc. trying to force their way out of the facility in early May.

The party’s strict anti-virus campaign has been aided by an urban environment in which hundreds of millions of people in China live in gated apartment compounds or walled neighborhoods that can be easily blocked off.

The front line for enforcement are the neighborhood committees that are responsible for keeping track of every resident in every urban household nationwide and enforcing public health and sanitation rules.

Many tend to err on the side of over-enforcement, aware of the example made of public officials who are fired or criticized for failing in their pandemic prevention duties.

The importance of neighborhood committees dwindled in the 1990s as the Communist Party relaxed restrictions on the movement of citizens, but they have been undergoing a resurgence in an ongoing tightening of societal controls under President Xi Jinping.

The incident at Huixianju prompted others to speak out. In a series of videos that circulated this week, about two dozen people march toward the Western Nanjing Road Police Station, chanting “Respect the law, give me back my life.”

Residents of a compound in Jing’an district saw the gates of neighboring compounds open over the past month — yet theirs remained locked. On Wednesday, about two dozen gathered at the gate, calling out to speak with a representative.

“I want to understand what are the neighborhood leaders planning?” one woman asks in a video of the incident. Another woman chimes in: “Are you making progress?” A third resident points out that they should be free by now, since the compound has been case-free for a while. “Didn’t they say on television that things are opening up? We saw it on television,” an older man says.

The next day, the community issued one-day passes — residents were allowed out for two hours on Friday, with no word on what would happen after that.

Shanghai authorities have declared a June target for life to return to normal. But some people aren’t waiting, pushing the boundaries bit by bit.

On Thursday night, more than a dozen young people gathered for a street concert in the same district where Sunday’s protest took place. Video of the last song, “Tomorrow will be better,” was shared widely on social media.

A police car parked nearby with its flashing red and blue lights and headlights on. As the final song drew to a close, an officer wearing a face shield strode toward the group and said, “OK you’ve had enough fun. It’s time to go back.” The crowd dispersed.

Associated Press researcher Si Chen in Shanghai and writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

Ukraine fears repeat of Mariupol horrors elsewhere in Donbas

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Moscow-backed separatists pounded eastern Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region Friday, claiming to capture a railway hub, as Ukrainian officials pleaded for the sophisticated Western weapons they say they need to stop the onslaught.

The advance of Russian forces raised fears that cities in the region would undergo the same horrors inflicted on the people of the port city Mariupol in the weeks before it fell.

The fighting Friday focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas and where Russia-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years. Authorities say 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk have already died since the war’s start three months ago. Russia-backed rebels also said they’d taken the railway hub of Lyman.

The governor of Luhansk warned that Ukrainian soldiers may have to retreat from Sievierodonetsk to avoid being surrounded. But he predicted an ultimate Ukrainian victory. “The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days, as analysts predict,″ Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram on Friday. “We will have enough forces and means to defend ourselves.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnskyy also struck a defiant tone. In his nightly video address Friday, he said: “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian.”

For now, Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press that “the city is being systematically destroyed — 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”

Striuk described conditions in Sievierodonetsk reminiscent of the battle for Mariupol, located in the Donbas’ other province, Donetsk. Now in ruins, the port city was constantly barraged by Russian forces in a nearly three-month siege that ended last week when Russia claimed its capture. More than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to around 100,000 people. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, Striuk said, huddled in shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people have died there because of the war, now in its 93rd day. The figure includes people killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated diseases, a lack of medicine or being trapped under rubble, the mayor said.

In the city’s northeastern quarter, Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups tried to capture the Mir Hotel and the area around it, Striuk said.

Hints of Russia’s strategy for the Donbas can be found in Mariupol, where Moscow is consolidating its control through measures including state-controlled broadcast programming and overhauled school curricula, according to an analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

Gen. Phillip Breedlove, former head of U.S. European Command for NATO, said Friday during a panel mounted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute that Russia appears to have “once again adjusted its objectives, and fearfully now it seems that they are trying to consolidate and enforce the land that they have rather than focus on expanding it.”

That aggressive push could backfire, however, by seriously depleting Russia’s arsenal. Echoing an assessment from the British Defense Ministry, military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russia was deploying 50-year-old T-62 tanks, “which means that the second army of the world has run out of modernized equipment.”

Russia-backed rebels said Friday that they had taken over Lyman, Donetsk’s large railway hub north of two more key cities still under Ukrainian control. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych acknowledged the loss Thursday night, though a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson reported Friday that its soldiers countered Russian attempts to completely push them out.

As Ukraine’s hopes of stopping the Russian advance faded, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded with Western nations for heavy weapons, saying it was the one area in which Russia had a clear advantage.

“Without artillery, without multiple launch rocket systems we won’t be able to push them back,” he said.

The U.S. Defense Department would not confirm a CNN report that the Biden administration was preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, perhaps as early as next week. “Certainly we’re mindful and aware of Ukrainian asks, privately and publicly, for what is known as a multiple launch rocket system. And I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

Just south of Sievierodonetsk, volunteers hoped to evacuate 100 people from a smaller town. It was a painstaking process: Many of the evacuees from Bakhmut were elderly or infirm and needed to be carried out of apartment buildings in soft stretchers and wheelchairs.

Minibuses and vans zipped through the city, picking up dozens for the first leg of a long journey west.

“Bakhmut is a high-risk area right now,” said Mark Poppert, an American volunteer working with British charity RefugEase. “We’re trying to get as many people out as we can.”

To the north, neighboring Belarus — used by Russia as a staging ground before the invasion — announced Friday that it was sending troops toward the Ukrainian border.

Some European leaders sought dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin about easing the global food crisis, exacerbated by Ukraine’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products.

Moscow has sought to shift the blame for the food crisis to the West, calling upon its leaders to lift existing sanctions.

Putin told Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Friday that Ukraine should remove Black Sea mines to allow safe shipping, according to a Kremlin readout of their conversation; Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the mines near Ukraine’s ports.

Nehammer’s office said the two leaders also discussed a prisoner exchange and said Putin indicated efforts to arrange one would be “intensified.”

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Andrew Katell in New York and AP journalists around the world contributed.

This story has been edited to correct that 1,500 people have died in Sievierodonetsk alone, not the Donbas region as a whole.

UK minister: Russian meddling ‘must be stopped’ in Bosnia

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visited Bosnia’s capital Thursday to reaffirm the U.K.’s commitment to the ethnically divided Balkan country amid growing fears of what she described as malign influence from Russia.

Truss was meeting with top officials in Sarajevo to announce a deepened security and economic partnership between Bosnia and the U.K. She unveiled a U.K.-backed Western Balkans investment package aimed at providing $100 million for infrastructure and energy projects in the region by 2025.

Truss said the signs of “Russian meddling here today” threatened to take the Balkans back “those darks days” of the 1990s when interethnic conflicts following the breakup of Yugoslavia killed thousands of people.

“This must be stopped,” Truss said after meeting Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic.

“The way we go about this is not by offering compromise and appeasement to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. As Russia meddles here, Putin’s troops are committing atrocities just 700 miles away in Ukraine,” she added. “This country’s tragic history is a reminder of what happens when we fail to stand up to aggression.”

Bosnia has been divided along ethnic lines since a 1992-95 war between its Bosniak, Croat and Serb ethnic communities. The war started when Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army, tried to create ethnically pure territories with the aim of joining neighboring Serbia.

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Bosnian Serb militias conquered 60% of Bosnia’s territory in less than two months, committing horrendous atrocities against their Bosniak and Croat compatriots. More than 100,000 people were killed and 2 million — more than a half of the country’s population — were left homeless from the war.

In 1995, the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement put an end to the bloodshed in Bosnia by dividing the country into two semi-autonomous parts — one run by the Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two are linked by weak multiethnic institutions.

The postwar power-sharing system perpetuates a polarized and venomous political climate, and entrenched nationalist leaders continuously stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.

Fears of destabilization have mounted in recent months as the staunchly pro-Russia Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, increased his divisive rhetoric. Dodik has threatened to dismantle the multiethnic institutions, block Bosnia’s long-stated goal of joining NATO and to advocate for the secession of majority Serb areas.

Bosnia condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations but failed to agree on imposing sanctions because of opposition from Dodik and other Serb officials.

Russia’s ambassador has repeatedly praised to Dodik’s anti-Western stance, stating in March that if Bosnia succeeded in gaining NATO membership, Moscow “will have to react to this hostile act.”

Turkovic, Bosnia’s foreign minister, said that with the broader risks posed by the Ukraine war she hoped her country’s Western partners realize that supporting its EU and NATO membership aspirations was “of vital importance not just for us, but for many of them as well.”

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Corporate buzzwords. Technical jargon. Bold but vague pronouncements about climate change and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of CEOs and government leaders this week in Davos, the town in the Swiss Alps, may seem full of important but impersonal announcements.

So what do Davos-goers really think? Here are some voices from the meeting that ends Thursday:


NAME: Allen Blue

TITLE: Co-founder of LinkedIn

Living in Los Angeles, Blue said his family has gotten into the habit of conserving water, as much of California and the Western United States has been in a megadrought for years. They recycle, mostly eat vegetarian, and drive an electric car.

“One of the things that has slowed the world’s response to climate change is that there was a story out there that it was the behaviors of consumers that made the difference,” he said. “It’s not.”

Rather, he said consumers’ choices are limited when businesses only provide solutions or products that aren’t environmentally friendly.

NAME: Francis Suarez

TITLE: Mayor of Miami

Suarez says his family has a Tesla and is putting solar panels on the roof of their house.

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“As a public official, I feel it’s my responsibility to do what I can.”

NAME: Antonia Gawel

TITLE: The World Economic Forum’s Geneva-based head of climate change policy

Gawel’s day job is spent on environmental protection and fighting climate change. Outside of work, Gawel commutes by bike, uses public transportation and educates her two kids about the environment.

“My children are kind of the biggest advocates for these types of issues now. And the thing that I have to say that I love seeing is the schools are actually teaching them about this. My daughter, who is 8 years old, is being taught about wind power, about solar, about the challenges of fossil energy.”

Gawel says such issues were “completely not something that was on our curriculum, at least when I was growing up.”


NAME: Hassan El Houry

TITLE: CEO of Kuwait-based National Aviation Services

“The Russia-Ukraine crisis, I think, sends a strong message to the world that the world will no longer accept aggression and war to solve problems,” El Houry said.

He added that “world also has to accept that there are many aggressors around the world that have been doing what they’re doing for years and decades and have gone unpunished. And we can’t have a double standard where we only single out Russia.”

“There’s things happening in the Middle East everyday, things happening in East Asia every day in South America every day. And we need to shed the light on those as well and say ‘that needs to stop.’ I’m not picking sides. I’m just saying that we need to solve those problems as well.”

NAME: Francis Suarez

TITLE: Mayor of Miami

Suarez said the war has exposed how interconnected the world is, from the workforce to energy shocks to a looming food crisis because of dropped agricultural production from Ukraine.

“As leaders, we have the responsibility to make those connections for people, explain why what happens in one place can affect another and why we should care.”

Davos updates | Iran’s foreign minister talks war, nuke deal

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister sat before an audience of Western business executives and policymakers at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, fielding questions about why Iran has yet to condemn Russia for its invasion in Ukraine and why efforts to revive its nuclear deal have stalled.

It was a rare opportunity for many in the audience to hear directly from Hossein Amirabdollahian, who was interviewed Thursday by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

When pressed on why Iran has not condemned its ally Russia for the war in Ukraine, he said Iran has, just as it had wars “against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine.”

In Ukraine, however, he says the U.S. and NATO were involved in actions that provoked Moscow.

On stalled nuclear talks, he says some people in Iran and the U.S. are against reviving the accord for their own reasons, including members of Iran’s elected parliament.

Amirabdollahian says he thought U.S. President Joe Biden “is facing some kind of inaction. I hope that the American side will act and behave realistically.”

He added that Iran is “keeping the window of diplomacy open” and that the Trump administration’s sanctions must be lifted.

He dodged questions on whether removing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from a list of terrorist organizations was on obstacle to a deal. He hinted that the issue isn’t essential as long as Iran is guaranteed economic benefits.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has reiterated his conviction that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not win the war in Ukraine.

In a speech Thursday at the end of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Scholz said of Putin: “He has already failed to achieve all his strategic goals.”

The chancellor said that “a capture of all of Ukraine by Russia seems further away today than it did at the beginning of the war. More than ever, Ukraine is emphasizing its European future.”

In addition, Scholz said the “brutality of the Russian war” has prompted two states to move closer to NATO: “With Sweden and Finland, two close friends and partners want to join the North Atlantic alliance. They are most welcome!”

The chancellor added that Putin underestimated the unity and strength with which the Group of Seven major industrialized nations, NATO and the European Union had responded to his aggression.

The mayor of Kyiv says he’s grateful to receive calls from the leaders of other cities around the world pledging their support for rebuilding the Ukrainian capital.

Speaking Thursday at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Vitali Klitschko says the support is important but “first of all, right now, we have to stop the war. And after that, we have to rebuild all infrastructure which destroyed (by) aggressors.”

He says 300 hundred buildings in Kyiv have been destroyed, including 220 apartment towers.

Klitschko says the “main priority right now until the winter season is to rebuild, to make a reconstruction for these buildings and give these services to these people who is right now homeless.”

For that, he says around 80 million euros ($85.6 million) is needed.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany must pursue its climate goals even more resolutely because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In a speech Thursday on the last day of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Scholz said Germany’s plan to become carbon-neutral by 2045 has become “even more important” as a result of the war.

He added that while the conflict is not “the sole trigger of the turning point,” it increases the pressure to act. If the Paris climate targets were not met, he says the world would be heading for a catastrophe.

The German chancellor also mentioned how new, emerging powers in Asia, Africa and Latin America are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization. He says that “for too long, we have practically equated ‘democracy’ with the ‘West’ in the classical sense.”

To broaden multilateral cooperation, Scholz says he invited South Africa, Senegal, India, Indonesia and Argentina to the summit of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations in Elmau, Bavaria, next month.

Scholz says, “they represent countries and regions whose cooperation the world needs to move forward on global challenges in the future.”

He added that a new partnership also means showing solidarity in the face of looming hunger, commodity and inflation crises.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has sharply condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine and called for global cooperation to overcome life-threatening challenges such as climate change, hunger and dependency on fossil fuels.

Speaking Thursday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Scholz said the “invasion of Ukraine does not mark the outbreak of any conflict anywhere in Europe. Here, a nuclear-armed superpower claims to redraw borders.”

Scholz said Russian President Vladimir “Putin wants to return to a world order in which the strongest dictate what is right, in which freedom, sovereignty and self-determination are not.”

The German chancellor described Putin’s war politics as “imperialism,” which is “trying to bomb us back to a time when war was a common means of politics, when our continent and the world lacked a stable peace order.”

He says the world is no longer bipolar like during the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Instead of using the power politics of past centuries, the chancellor said it’s important all powers work together to solve threats like hunger, climate change or dependence on fossil fuels.

Scholz said: “If some want to take us back to the past of nationalism, imperialism and war, our answer is ‘not with us.’ We stand for the future.”

Journalists, press freedom advocates and human rights activists debated how governments and the private sector can safeguard a free press.

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said Thursday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos that while hundreds of journalists have been imprisoned in repressive regimes, there are also “invisible prisons, invisible bullets — journalism itself, beyond journalists, is under attack” by digital platforms and social networks.

Also speaking on a press freedom panel, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said that “social media has become a way for autocrats and others to evade that kind of journalistic accountability” provided by traditional news organizations.

Roth said powerful governments can set up “fake sites and trolls” and pump out misinformation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is wrapping up the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting with a speech in Davos.

His address Thursday comes after days of discussions about Russia’s war in Ukraine, a global food crisis, climate change and other hot-button issues.

The yearly gathering of elites that was suspended twice over the COVID-19 pandemic has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine. It’s doused moods among policymakers but not stopping advocacy groups and business leaders from trying to improve fortunes and — as forum organizers hope — the state of the world.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and an array of lawmakers, local officials and business leaders captured the spotlight in-person and virtually to drum up support for their country’s fight.

Attention is turning to Scholz’s near-finale address, mostly to see if he might try to answer two of Ukraine’s key appeals: for stronger sanctions against Russia and better weapons to help their forces fight.

Kevin Spacey charged in UK with 4 counts of sexual assault

LONDON (AP) — British prosecutors said Thursday they have charged actor Kevin Spacey with four counts of sexual assault against three men.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Spacey “has also been charged with causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent.”

The alleged incidents took place in London between March 2005 and August 2008, and one in western England in April 2013. The alleged victims are now in their 30s and 40s.

Rosemary Ainslie, head of the service’s Special Crime Division, said the charges follow a review of evidence gathered by London’s Metropolitan Police.

Spacey, a 62-year-old double Academy Award winner, was questioned by British police in 2019 about claims by several men that he had assaulted them. The former “House of Cards” star ran London’s Old Vic Theatre between 2004 and 2015.

Spacey won a best supporting actor Academy Award for the 1995 film “The Usual Suspects” and a lead actor Oscar for the 1999 movie “American Beauty.”

His celebrated career came to an abrupt halt in 2017 when actor Anthony Rapp accused the star of assaulting him at a party in the 1980s, when Rapp was a teenager. Spacey denies the allegations.

The charges were announced as Spacey was testifying in a courtroom in New York City in the civil lawsuit filed by Rapp. He was on the witness stand Thursday and not immediately available for comment.

A criminal case brought against him, an indecent assault and battery charge stemming from the alleged groping of an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket resort, was dismissed by Massachusetts prosecutors in 2019.

LONDON (AP) — The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths are still falling globally after peaking in January, the World Health Organization said.

In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said there were more than 3.7 million new infections and 9,000 deaths in the last week, drops of 3% and 11% respectively. COVID-19 cases rose in only two regions of the world: the Americas and the Western Pacific. Deaths increased by 30% in the Middle East, but were stable or decreased everywhere else.

WHO said it is tracking all omicron subvariants as “variants of concern.” It noted that countries which had a significant wave of disease caused by the omicron subvariant BA.2 appeared to be less affected by other subvariants like BA.4 and BA.5, which were responsible for the latest surge of disease in South Africa.

Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious diseases expert at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it appeared that South Africa had passed its most recent wave of COVID-19 caused by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants; the country has been on the forefront of the pandemic since first detecting the omicron variant last November.

Karim predicted that another mutated version of omicron might emerge in June, explaining that the large number of mutations in the variant meant there were more opportunities for it to evolve.

Meanwhile in Beijing, authorities in the Chinese capital ordered more workers and students to stay home and implemented additional mass testing Monday as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Numerous residential compounds in the city have restricted movement in and out, although lockdown conditions remain far less severe than in Shanghai, where millions of citizens have been under varying degrees of lockdown for two months.

China is vowing to stick to a “zero-COVID” policy despite the fact that the WHO describes the policy as “unsustainable,” given the infectious nature of omicron and its subvariants.

In a speech outlining the administration’s China policy, Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach to competing with Beijing in a race to define the 21st century’s economic and military balance.

While the U.S. sees Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as the most acute and immediate threat to international stability, Blinken said the administration believes China poses a greater danger.

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order — and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order — and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said. “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”

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Thus, Blinken laid out principles for the administration to marshal its resources, friends and allies to push back on increasing Chinese assertiveness around the world. Although he made clear that the U.S. does not seek to change China’s political system, rather it wants to offer a tested alternative.

“This is not about forcing countries to choose, it’s about giving them a choice,” he said.

However, he also acknowledged that the U.S. has limited ability to directly influence China’s intentions and ambitions and will instead focus on shaping the strategic environment around China.

“We can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory,” Blinken said in the speech, delivered at George Washington University. “So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”

The speech followed President Joe Biden’s just-concluded visits to South Korea and Japan, where China loomed large in discussions. Biden raised eyebrows during that trip when he said that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China, which regards the island as a renegade province.

The administration scrambled to insist that Biden was not changing American policy, and Blinken restated that the U.S. has not changed its position. Blinken said Washington still holds to its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.

“Our approach has been consistent across decades and administrations. The United States remains committed to our ‘One China’ policy. We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side,” he said, adding that “we do not support Taiwan independence.”

Blinken said that while U.S. policy on Taiwan has remained consistent, China’s had become increasingly belligerent.

Russia slams sanctions, seeks to blame West for food crisis

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.

Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom,” insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top U.S. diplomat blasted the “sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness” of the invasion.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war, including a Russian blockade of its ports, has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried to put the blame squarely on the sanctions.

“We accuse Western countries of taking a series of unlawful actions that has led to the blockade,” he said in a call with reporters.

Russia also is a significant grain exporter, and Peskov said the West “must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain.”

His comments appeared to be an effort to lump the blockade of Ukrainian exports with what Russia says are its difficulties in moving its own goods.

Western officials have dismissed those claims. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted last week that food, fertilizer and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure countries know the flow of those goods should not be affected.

With the war grinding into its fourth month, world leaders have ramped up calls for solutions.

“This food crisis is real, and we must find solutions,” World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

She said about 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is in storage and another 25 million tons could be harvested next month.

European countries have tried to ease the crisis by bringing grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry only a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed for the bulk of the exports.

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At the same time, the Russian Defense Ministry proposed a corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports and another to allow vessels to leave Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads Russia’s National Defense Control Center, said 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are in six ports on the Black Sea, including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv. He did not specify how many might be ready to carry food.

Ukraine expressed skepticism about the Russian proposal. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle — but that it was not sure if it could trust Russia to abide by any agreement.

The issue, he said in Davos, was “how to make sure that at night or early in the morning, Russia will not violate the agreement on the safe passage and its military vessels will not sneak into the harbor and attack Odesa.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to hold the world to ransom” by demanding some sanctions be lifted before allowing Ukrainian grain shipments to resume.

“He’s essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world,” Truss said on a visit to Sarajevo. ”What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term.”

Putin, for his part, insisted that Western attempts to isolate Russia would fail and be counterproductive, listing broken food supply chains among the economic problems the West is facing.

Speaking Thursday via video link to members of the Eurasian Economic Forum that includes several ex-Soviet nations, Putin said “it’s impossible, utterly unrealistic in the modern world” to isolate Russia, adding that “those who try to do it primarily hurt themselves.”

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged its members to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself against Putin’s “revanchist delusions.”

If Russia achieved “success” in Ukraine, “there would be more horrific reports from filtration camps, more forcibly displaced people, more summary executions, more torture, more rape, and more looting,” Carpenter said in Vienna.

On the battlefield, Russian forces continued to press their offensive in several parts of the eastern Donbas region, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military. That industrial heartland of coal mines and factories is now the focus of fighting after Russia suffered a series of setbacks and shifted to more limited goals.

Regional governors said at least four civilians were killed and seven others injured in shelling Thursday in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, while three were killed by attacks in and around the eastern city of Lysychansk, which is a key focus of fighting.

Military officials said Russian forces continued to try to gain a foothold in the area of Sievierodonetsk, which is the only part of the Luhansk region in the Donbas under Ukrainian government control.

In the ravaged port city of Mariupol, Russia began broadcasting state television news, even as a leader of the Russia-backed separatists suggested there might be more Ukrainian fighters hiding in its sprawling Azovstal steelworks that was the focus of weeks of bombardment.

The Russian military declared Azovstal and Mariupol on the whole “completely liberated” on May 20 and reported that 2,439 fighters who had been holed up at the plant had surrendered.

The leader, Denis Pushilin, said some of the fighters may have been hiding, lost or lagged behind those who came out, adding that “there are already those that have been found” and captured.

Becatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

EXPLAINER: What’s at stake for China on South Pacific visit?

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting the South Pacific with a 20-person delegation this week in a display of Beijing’s growing military and diplomatic presence in the region.

The U.S. has traditionally been the area’s major power, but China has been pursuing inroads, particularly with the Solomon Islands, a nation less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Australia. In a sign of Australia’s concern, new Foreign Minister Penny Wong is heading to Fiji less than a week after her Labor Party won national elections.

Below is a look at Wang’s tour and its likely outcomes.


Wang is due to stop in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor on a 10-day trip.

The visits emphasize China’s push for engagement with the region, which has traditionally retained close ties with Beijing’s major rivals including the United States and Australia. China has also waged a protracted struggle for influence because of Taiwan. China considers the self-governed island its own territory and opposes foreign interactions that treat Taiwan as autonomous and independent, but four South Pacific island nations are among Taiwan’s dwindling number of formal diplomatic allies.

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A more robust Chinese presence in the South Pacific could enable its naval forces to make port calls and possibly put personnel and equipment at a base in the area. That would complicate U.S. defense strategy, particularly over contingency plans for any Chinese move to take Taiwan that would likely draw in Japan and other allies.


Under leader Xi Jinping, China has been expanding its foreign economic and diplomatic clout through the Belt and Road Initiative that seeks to link East Asia with Europe and beyond through ports, railways, power plants and other infrastructure.

The results have been mixed, with client states such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan falling deeply in debt and developed nations citing national security grounds in banning Chinese government-backed companies including telecoms giant Huawei. The South Pacific, however, remains relatively open for Chinese advances at low cost and potentially high reward.

China has mostly sat on the sidelines over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its top leaders haven’t left the country in more than two years amid strict anti-COVID measures and deteriorating ties with the U.S., Canada and the EU. With Xi seeking a third five-year term as head of the ruling Communist Party, a foreign policy victory would help cement his authority and fend off criticism of his handling of the pandemic and its economic costs.


The agreement could allow China to send security forces to the Solomons at its government’s request for what are described as peacekeeping duties. It would also enable Chinese navy ships to make port calls to resupply and provide recreation for sailors, possibly leading to a permanent presence in the islands.

The United States has said it would take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands if the agreement with China poses a threat to U.S. or allied interests.


Apart from worries over Chinese expansion across the vast Pacific, under its new government, Australia has urged Beijing to lift trade sanctions if it wants to reset their bilateral relationship.

The Chinese premier’s congratulatory letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on his election victory was widely seen as a relaxation of Beijing’s two-year ban on high-level government contact with Australia. Premier Li Keqiang said China was ready to work with Australia to improve ties, which plummeted after Australia passed legislation targeting Chinese influence in its elections and political discourse.

In retaliation, China has created a series of official and unofficial trade barriers in recent years to a range of Australian exports worth billions of dollars including coal, wine, barley, beef and seafood.


According to a draft of an agreement obtained by The Associated Press, China wants 10 Pacific nations to enter into an arrangement with it covering everything from security to fisheries.

The draft shows that China wants to expand law enforcement cooperation, jointly develop a fisheries plan, increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms.

Wang is hoping the countries will endorse the pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after a May 30 meeting in Fiji with the other foreign ministers.

He made the case that the global response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine can serve as a template for dealing with China’s efforts to mold a new and unpredictable world order to replace the rules and institutions that have guided relations between states since the end of World War II.

China, Blinken said, has benefited greatly from that international order but is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.

“Rather than using its power to reinforce and revitalize the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, so other countries can benefit from them, too, Beijing is undermining it,” Blinken said. “Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”

Yet, Blinken also decried the rise in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, saying Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans have the same claim to the U.S. as any other immigrants or their descendants.

Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with stepping up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are other elements of the policy and are key to the U.S. approach, Blinken said.

In the latest manifestation of China’s push to expand its reach that has drawn concern from the U.S. and other democracies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday began an eight-nation tour of Pacific islands during which Beijing hopes to strike a sweeping agreement that covers everything from security to fisheries.

Wang opened his tour in the Solomon Islands, which last month signed a security cooperation pact with China that some fear could lead to a Chinese military presence there. The agreement was finalized shortly after the Biden administration announced it would open a U.S. embassy in the Solomons as part of its efforts to engage in the greater Indo-Pacific region.

The Biden administration has largely kept in place confrontational policies toward China adopted by its predecessor in response to Chinese actions in its western Xinjiang region, Hong Kong, Tibet and the South China Sea.

And, while the administration sees areas for working with Beijing, such as combatting climate change, it will not trade cooperation for compromising on its principles regarding human rights and rule of law, Blinken said.

War Crimes Watch: Targeting schools, Russia bombs the future

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — As she lay buried under the rubble, her legs broken and eyes blinded by blood and thick clouds of dust, all Inna Levchenko could hear was screams. It was 12:15 p.m. on March 3, and moments earlier a blast had pulverized the school where she’d taught for 30 years.

Amid relentless bombing, she’d opened School 21 in Chernihiv as a shelter to frightened families. They painted the word “children” in big, bold letters on the windows, hoping that Russian forces would see it and spare them. The bombs fell anyway.

Though she didn’t know it yet, 70 children she’d ordered to shelter in the basement would survive the blast. But at least nine people, including one of her students — a 13-year-old boy — would not.

“Why schools? I cannot comprehend their motivation,” she said. “It is painful to realize how many friends of mine died … and how many children who remained alone without parents, got traumatized. They will remember it all their life and will pass their stories to the next generation.”


This story is part of an ongoing investigation from The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” that includes the War Crimes Watch Ukraine interactive experience and an upcoming documentary.

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The Ukrainian government says Russia has shelled more than 1,000 schools, destroying 95. On May 7, a bomb flattened a school in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, which, like School No. 21 in Chernihiv, was being used a shelter. As many as 60 people were feared dead.

Intentionally attacking schools and other civilian infrastructure is a war crime. Experts say wide-scale wreckage can be used as evidence of Russian intent, and to refute claims that schools were simply collateral damage.

But the destruction of hundreds of schools is about more than toppling buildings and maiming bodies, according to experts, to teachers and to others who have survived conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in Syria and beyond. It hinders a nation’s ability to rebound after the fighting stops, injuring entire generations and dashing a country’s hope for the future.

In the nearly three months since Russia invaded Ukraine, The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” have independently verified 57 schools that were destroyed or damaged in a manner that indicates a possible war crime. The accounting likely represents just a fraction of potential war crimes committed during the conflict and the list is updated daily.

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In Chernihiv alone, the city council said only seven of the city’s 35 schools were unscathed. Three were reduced to rubble.

The International Criminal Court, prosecutors from across the globe and Ukraine’s prosecutor general are investigating more than 8,000 reports of potential war crimes in Ukraine involving 500 suspects. Many are accused of aiming deliberately at civilian structures like hospitals, shelters and residential neighborhoods.

Targeting schools — spaces designed as havens for children to grow, learn and make friends — is particularly harmful, transforming the architecture of childhood into something violent and dangerous: a place that inspires fear.

A geography teacher, Elena Kudrik, lay dead on the floor of School 50 in the eastern Ukrainian town of Gorlovka. Amid the wreckage surrounding her were books and papers, smeared in blood. In the corner, another lifeless body — Elena Ivanova, the assistant headmaster— slumped over in an office chair, a gaping wound torn into her side.

“It’s a tragedy for us … It’s a tragedy for the children,” said school director Sergey But, standing outside the brick building shortly after the attack. Shards of broken glass and rubble were sprayed across the concrete, where smiling children once flew kites and posed for photos with friends.

A few kilometers away, at the Sonechko pre-school in the city of Okhtyrka, a cluster bomb destroyed a kindergarten, killing a child. Outside the entrance, two more bodies lay in pools of blood.

Valentina Grusha teaches in Kyiv province, where she has worked for 35 years, most recently as a district administrator and foreign literature instructor. Russian troops invaded her village of Ivankiv just as school officials had begun preparations for war. On Feb. 24, Russian forces driving toward Kyiv fatally shot a child and his father there, she said.

“There was no more schooling,” she said. “We called all the leaders and stopped instruction because the war started. And then there were 36 days of occupation.”

They also shelled and destroyed schools in many nearby villages, she said. Kindergarten buildings were shattered by shrapnel and machine-gun fire.

Despite the widespread damage and destruction to educational infrastructure, war crimes experts say proving an attacking military’s intent to target individual schools is difficult. Russian officials deny targeting civilian structures, and local media reports in Russian-held Gorlovka alleged Ukrainian forces trying to recapture the area were to blame for the blast that killed the two teachers there.

But the effects of the destruction are indisputable.

“When I start talking to the directors of destroyed and robbed institutions, they are very worried, crying, telling with pain and regret,” Grusha said. “It’s part of their lives. And now the school is a ruin that stands in the center of the village and reminds of those terrible air raids and bombings.”

UNICEF communications director Toby Fricker, who is currently in Ukraine, agreed. “School is often the heart of the community in many places, and that is so central to everyday life.”

Teachers and students who have lived through other conflicts say the destruction of schools in their countries damaged an entire generation.

Syrian teacher Abdulkafi Alhamdo still thinks about the children’s drawings soaked in blood, littered across the floor of a schoolhouse in Aleppo. It had been attacked during the Civil War there in 2014. The teachers and children had been preparing for an art exhibit featuring student work depicting life during wartime.

The blast killed 19 people, including at least 10 children, the AP reported at the time. But it’s the survivors who linger in Alhamdo’s memory.

“I understood in (their) eyes that they wouldn’t go to school anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t only affect the kids who were running away, with shock and trauma. It affects all kids who heard about the massacre. How can they go back to school? You are not only targeting a school, you’re targeting a generation.”

Jasminko Halilovic was only 6 years old when Sarajevo, in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, was besieged. Now, 30 years after the Bosnian war ended, he and his peers are the ones still picking up the pieces.

Halilovic went to school in a cellar, as many Ukrainian children have done. Desperately chasing safety, the teachers and students moved from basement to basement, leaning chalkboards on chairs instead of hanging them walls.

Halilovic, now 34, founded the War Childhood Museum, which catalogs the stories and objects of children in conflict around the world. He was working in Ukraine with children displaced by Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Donbas region when the current war began. He had to evacuate his staff and leave the country.

“Once the fighting ends, the new fight will start. To rebuild cities. To rebuild schools and infrastructure, and to rebuild society. And to heal. And to heal is the most difficult,” he said.

Alhamdo said he saw firsthand how the trauma of war influenced the development of children growing up in Aleppo. Instilling fear, anger and a sense of hopelessness is part of the enemy strategy, he said. Some became withdrawn, he said, and others violent.

“When they see their school destroyed, do you know how many dreams have been destroyed? Do you think anybody would believe in peace and love and beauty when the place that taught them about these things has been destroyed?” he said.

Alhamdo stayed in Aleppo and taught children in basements, apartments, anywhere he could, for years. Continuing to teach in spite of war, he said, is an act of defiance.

“I’m not fighting on the front lines,” he said. “I’m fighting with my kids.”

After the attack on School 50 in Gorlovka, shattered glass from blown-out windows littered the classrooms and hallways and the street outside. The floors were covered in dust and debris: cracked ceiling beams, slabs of drywall, a television that crashed down from the wall. A cell phone sat on the desk next to where one of the teachers was killed.

In Ukraine, some schools still standing have become makeshift shelters for people whose homes were destroyed by shelling and mortar fire.

What often complicates war crimes prosecutions for attacks on civilian buildings is that large facilities like schools are sometimes repurposed for military use during war. If a civilian building is being used militarily, it is a legitimate wartime target, said David Bosco, a professor of international relations at Indiana University whose research focuses on war crimes and the International Criminal Court.

The key for prosecutors, then, will be to show that there was a pattern by the Russians of targeting schools and other civilian buildings nationwide as a concerted military strategy, Bosco said.

“The more you can show a pattern, then the stronger the case becomes that this was really a policy of not discriminating between military and civilian facilities,” Bosco said. “(Schools are) a place where children are supposed to feel safe, a second home. Obviously shattering that and in essence attacking the next generation. That’s very real. It has a huge impact.”

As the war grinds on, more than half of Ukraine’s children have been displaced.

In Kharkiv, which has undergone relentless shelling, children’s drawings are taped to the walls of an underground subway station that has become not only a family shelter but also a makeshift school. Primary school-age children gather around a table for history and art lessons.

“It helps to support them mentally,” said teacher Valeriy Leiko. In part thanks to the lessons, he said, “They feel that someone loves them.”

Millions of kids are continuing to go to school online. The international aid group Save the Children said it is working with the government to establish remote learning programs for students at 50 schools. UNICEF is also trying to help with online instruction.

“Educating every child is essential to preventing grave violations of their rights,” the group said in a statement to the AP.

On April 2, Grusha’s community outside Kyiv began a slow reemergence. They are still raking and sweeping debris from schools and kindergartens that were damaged but not destroyed, she said, and taking stock of what’s left. They started distance learning classes, and planned to relocate children whose schools were destroyed to others close by.

Even with war still raging, there is a return to normal life including schooling, she said.

But Levchenko, who was in Kyiv in early May to undergo surgery for her injuries, said the emotional damage done to so many children who have experienced and witnessed such immense suffering may never be fully repaired.

“It will take so much time for people and kids to recover from what they have lived,” she said. The kids, she said, are “staying underground without sun, shivering from siren sounds and anxiety.”

“It has a tremendously negative impact. Kids will remember this all their life.”

Stashevskyi reported from Kyiv, Dearen from New York and Linderman from Washington. Associated Press reporters Erika Kinetz in Chernihiv and Michael Biesecker in Washington contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: The AP and “Frontline” are gathering information from organizations including the Centre for Information Resilience, Bellingcat, the International Partnership on Human Rights, the Ukrainian Healthcare Center and Physicians for Human Rights to inform the War Crimes Watch Ukraine interactive experience.

China wants 10 Pacific nations to endorse sweeping agreement

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region.

A draft of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press shows that China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.

China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries — which would include the Pacific’s lucrative tuna catch — increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms. China also mentions the possibility of setting up a free trade area with the Pacific nations.

China’s move comes as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation begin a visit to the region this week.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed concern Wednesday about China’s intentions, saying Beijing might use the proposed accords to take advantage of the islands and destabilize the region.

“We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a rushed, nontransparent process,” Price told reporters. He warned that China “has a pattern of offering shadowy, vague deals with little transparency or regional consultation in areas related to fishing, related to resource management, development, development assistance and more recently even security practices.”

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Price added that agreements that include sending Chinese security officials to the nations “could only seek to fuel regional international tensions and increase concerns over Beijing’s expansion of its internal security apparatus to the Pacific.”

Wang is visiting seven of the countries he hopes will endorse the “Common Development Vision” — the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Wang is also holding virtual meetings with the other three potential signatories — the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia. He is hoping the countries will endorse the pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after a May 30 meeting in Fiji he is holding with the foreign ministers from each of the 10 countries.

Micronesia’s president, David Panuelo, has told leaders of the other Pacific nations his nation won’t endorse the plan, warning it would needlessly heighten geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability, according to a letter from Panuelo obtained by the AP.

Among other concerns, Panuelo said, the agreement opens the door for China to own and control the region’s fisheries and communications infrastructure. He said China could intercept emails and listen in on phone calls.

Panuelo called the Common Development Vision “the single most game-changing proposed agreement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes” and said it “threatens to bring a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.”

Panuelo declined to comment on the letter or the proposed agreement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Wednesday he didn’t know about Panuelo’s letter.

“But I don’t agree at all with the argument that cooperation between China and the South Pacific island countries will trigger a new Cold War,” he said.

Like some other countries in the Pacific, Micronesia is finding itself increasingly caught between the competing interests of Washington and Beijing.

Micronesia has close ties to the U.S. through a Compact of Free Association. But it also has what Panuelo describes in his letter as a “Great Friendship” with China that he hopes will continue despite his opposition to the agreement.

The security aspects of the agreement will be particularly troubling to many in the region and beyond, especially after China signed a separate security pact with the Solomon Islands last month.

That pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia. The Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.

The May 30 meeting will be the second between Wang and the Pacific islands’ foreign ministers after they held a virtual meeting last October.

Those who follow China’s role in the Pacific will be scrutinizing the wording of the draft agreement.

Among its provisions: “China will hold intermediate and high-level police training for Pacific Island countries.”

The agreement says the countries will strengthen “cooperation in the fields of traditional and non-traditional security” and will “expand law enforcement cooperation, jointly combat transnational crime, and establish a dialog mechanism on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation.”

The agreement would also see the nations “expand exchanges between governments, legislatures and political parties.”

The draft agreement also stipulates that the Pacific countries “firmly abide” by the one-China principle, under which Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy, is considered by Beijing to be part of China. It would also uphold the “non-interference” principle that China often cites as a deterrent to other nations speaking out about its human rights record.

The agreement says that China and the Pacific countries would jointly formulate a marine spatial plan “to optimize the layout of the marine economy, and develop and utilize marine resources rationally, so as to promote a sustainable development of blue economy.”

China also promises more investment in the region by mobilizing private capital and encouraging “more competitive and reputable Chinese enterprises to participate in direct investment in Pacific Island countries.”

China also promised to dispatch Chinese language consultants, teachers and volunteers to the islands.

The AP has also obtained a draft of a five-year action plan that’s intended to sit alongside the Common Development Vision, which outlines a number of immediate incentives that China is offering to the Pacific nations.

In the action plan, China says it will fully implement 2,500 government scholarships through 2025.

“In 2022, China will hold the first training program for young diplomats from Pacific Island countries, depending on the pandemic situation,” the draft plan states, adding that China will also hold seminars on governance and planning for the Pacific nations.

In the draft action plan, China says it will build criminal investigation laboratories as needed by the Pacific nations that can be used for fingerprint testing, forensic autopsies, and electronic forensics.

China also says it will also spend an additional $2 million and send 200 medics to the islands to help fight COVID-19 and promote health, and promises to help the countries in their efforts to combat climate change.