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AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EST

A complicated relationship: Biden and Xi prepare for meeting

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping have slurped noodles together in Beijing. They’ve shared deep thoughts about the meaning of America during an exchange on the Tibetan plateau. They’ve gushed to U.S. business leaders about developing a sincere respect for each other.

The American president has held up his relationship with Xi as evidence of his heartfelt belief that good foreign policy starts with building strong personal relationships.

But as the two leaders prepare to hold their first presidential meeting on Monday, the troubled U.S.-China relationship is demonstrating that the power of one of Biden’s greatest professed strengths as a politician – the ability to connect – has its limits.

‘When it comes to U.S.-China relations, the gaps are so big and the trend lines are so problematic that the personal touch can only go so far,’ said Matthew Goodman, who served as an Asia adviser on the National Security Council in the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

White House officials have set low expectations for Monday’s virtual meeting: No major announcements are expected and there’s no plan for the customary joint statement by the two countries at the end, according to administration officials.




Biden’s $1T infrastructure bill historic, not transformative

WASHINGTON — The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signs into law represents a historic achievement at a time of deeply fractured politics. But the compromises needed to bridge the political divide suggest that the spending might not be as transformative as Biden has promised for the U.S. economy.

Faced with flagging support as the U.S. continues to slog through a pandemic and rising inflation, the president has treated infrastructure as proof that government can function again. Ahead of Monday’s signing ceremony, he instructed his Cabinet on Friday to rigorously police the coming investments in roads, bridges, water systems, broadband, ports, electric vehicles and the power grid to ensure they pay off.

‘It’s hard, but we can still come together to get something big done for the American people,’ Biden said. ‘It will create millions of new jobs. It will grow the economy. And we’ll win the world economic competition that we’re engaged in in the second quarter of the 21st century with China and many other countries around the world.’

Biden held off on signing the hard-fought infrastructure deal after it passed on Nov. 5 until legislators would be back from a congressional recess and could join in a splashy bipartisan event. The gathering Monday on the White House lawn will include governors and mayors of both parties and labor and business leaders. On Sunday night before the signing, the White House announced Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor, would coordinate the implementation of the infrastructure spending.



The president began the process of selling it to the broader public with a trip last week to the Port of Baltimore. He’ll go to New Hampshire on Tuesday to visit a bridge on the state’s ‘red list’ for repair and to Detroit on Wednesday for a stop at General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant.


US journalist freed from Myanmar jail with ex-diplomat’s aid

BANGKOK — American journalist Danny Fenster, sentenced only days ago to 11 years hard labor in Myanmar, has been freed and is on his way home, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson said Monday.

Richardson said in a statement that Fenster had been handed over to him in Myanmar and would return to the U.S. via Qatar over the next day and a half.

‘This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,’ Richardson said in a statement emailed from his office. ‘We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time, against immense odds.’

Richardson said he negotiated Fenster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar when he held face-to-face meetings with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military ruler.

Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations.


‘You can’t even cry loudly’: Counting Ethiopia’s war dead

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — The man who counts the dead sees them everywhere.

They’re in the handwritten lists of names smuggled out of a region cut off from the world by war. They’re in the images of people shot and tossed off a cliff, tortured and pushed into a river, left unburied for days. They’re announced by grieving families in social media posts.

They are the first thing he sees in the morning when he checks his messages. They are the last thing he sees at night, when they enter his dreams.

He has been living with the dead for a year, since war erupted last November in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Tigrayans, a minority of some 6 million, were encircled as a falling-out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, turned deadly. It became an ethnic clash when Amhara fighters from a neighboring region allied with Ethiopia’s government poured in.

Many Tigrayans joined the fight. But the man who counts the dead is in Sweden and could not.


EU moves to add airlines, others to Belarus sanctions list

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Monday ratcheted up pressure on Belarus by agreeing to slap new sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime and others accused of helping him wage a ‘hybrid attack’ against the bloc using migrants.

The 27-country EU has already imposed four sets of sanctions on the Belarus authorities and senior officials over the disputed election in August last year that returned Lukashenko to office and the security crackdown on peaceful protesters that followed.

But as tensions mount on the Belarus border with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, the bloc’s foreign ministers extended those measures to add airlines, travel agents and others accused of helping to bring migrants to Minsk.

‘Today’s decision reflects the determination by the European Union to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice,’ EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

EU headquarters said the bloc ‘will now be able to target individuals and entities organizing or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders.’ A list of those to be hit by the asset freezes and travel bans is expected to be finalized in coming days.


After final word from attorneys, Rittenhouse jury takes over

KENOSHA, Wis. — Attorneys were set to make closing arguments Monday at Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial in the shootings of three men during street unrest in Wisconsin, the last word before a jury begins deliberating in a case that underscored Americans’ bitter divisions on issues of guns, protests and policing.

Rittenhouse, 18, of Antioch, Illinois, faces charges ranging from intentional homicide – punishable by life in prison – to an underage weapons charge that could mean a few months in jail if convicted.

Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, traveled the few miles from his home across the state border to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, as the city was in the throes of damaging protests that followed a white police officer’s shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, after a call to a domestic disturbance.

Bystander video captured the critical minutes when Rittenhouse, with a Smith and Wesson AR-style semiautomatic rifle, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.

Rittenhouse is white, as are the three men he shot. The case raised questions about racial justice, policing, firearms and white privilege that polarized people far outside Kenosha.


9-year-old Dallas boy dies after Astroworld festival crush

HOUSTON — A 9-year-old Dallas boy has become the youngest person to die from injuries sustained during a crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston.

Ezra Blount of Dallas died Sunday at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, family attorney Ben Crump said.

Ezra was placed in a medically induced coma after suffering serious injuries in the Nov. 5 crush of fans during a performance by the festival’s headliner, rapper Travis Scott.

He is the 10th person who attended the festival to die.

‘The Blount family tonight is grieving the incomprehensible loss of their precious young son,’ Crump said in a news release Sunday night. ‘This should not have been the outcome of taking their son to a concert, what should have been a joyful celebration.’


New outbreak prompts China to lock down university campus

BEIJING — China has confined nearly 1,500 university students to their dormitories and hotels following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the northeastern city of Dalian.

The order was issued Sunday after several dozen cases were reported at Zhuanghe University City and hundreds of students were transferred to hotels for observation.

Students were attending class remotely and having their meals delivered to their rooms.

The lockdown is the latest example of China’s zero-tolerance approach to the outbreak, which has brought considerable disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods.

Quarantines, obligatory testing and travel restrictions have become the new normal for those even remotely caught up in outbreaks. The country’s vaccination rate is among the world’s highest and authorities have begun administering booster shots as winter descends.


Critics: Greece criminalizes migration, prosecutes helpers

CHIOS, Greece — Among the prison inmates of the Greek island of Chios, three young men from Afghanistan and Somalia are serving dramatically long sentences: 50 years for two of them, a staggering 142 for the third.

But these are not violent criminals, even according to their trial verdicts. They were convicted for steering inflatable dinghies carrying them and other migrants after they say smugglers abandoned them in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

‘I didn’t think saving people is a crime,’ said Hanad Abdi Mohammad, 28, a soft-spoken Somali charged as a smuggler after arriving in Greece last December and sentenced to 142 years.

Mohammad told journalists and European Parliament lawmakers visiting the three in prison last week that he had no choice but to drive the boat. The smuggler forced him to take over, hitting him in the face and threatening him with a gun before abandoning the dinghy in rough seas. And people’s lives were at stake. Even with hindsight, he said, ‘I would do it again, as long as I am saving lives.’

Critics say the men’s cases, as well as prosecutions or threats of criminal proceedings against aid workers, illustrate the expanding arsenal of techniques authorities in Greece and other countries are using to deter asylum-seekers.


AP Exclusive: ‘Sesame Street’ debuts Asian American muppet

What’s in a name? Well, for Ji-Young, the newest muppet resident of ‘Sesame Street,’ her name is a sign she was meant to live there.

‘So, in Korean traditionally the two syllables they each mean something different and Ji means, like, smart or wise. And Young means, like, brave or courageous and strong,’ Ji-Young explained during a recent interview. ‘But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.’

At only 7 years old, Ji-Young is making history as the first Asian American muppet in the ‘Sesame Street’ canon. She is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electric guitar and skateboarding. The children’s TV program, which first aired 52 years ago this month, gave The Associated Press a first look at its adorable new occupant.

Ji-Young will formally be introduced in ‘See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special.’ Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka are among the celebrities appearing in the special, which will drop Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max, ‘Sesame Street’ social media platforms and on local PBS stations.

Some of Ji-Young’s personality comes from her puppeteer. Kathleen Kim, 41 and Korean American, got into puppetry in her 30s. In 2014, she was accepted into a ‘Sesame Street’ workshop. That evolved into a mentorship and becoming part of the team the following year. Being a puppeteer on a show Kim watched growing up was a dream come true. But helping shape an original muppet is a whole other feat.


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