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

 
 
Posted5/4/2021 7:00 AM

'Horrible' weeks ahead as India's virus catastrophe worsens

NEW DELHI -- COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis and a top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be 'œhorrible.'

 

India's official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.

The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.

Infections have surged in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.

India's top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month as to why authorities weren't better prepared. But the cost is clear: People are dying because of shortages of bottled oxygen and hospital beds or because they couldn't get a COVID-19 test.

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Mexico City metro overpass collapses onto road; 23 dead

MEXICO CITY -- An elevated section of the Mexico City metro collapsed and sent a subway car plunging toward a busy boulevard late Monday, killing at least 23 people and injuring about 70, city officials said. Rescuers searched a car left dangling from the overpass for hours for anyone who might be trapped.

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Those efforts were suspended early Tuesday, however, because of safety concerns for those working near the precariously dangling car. A crane was brought in to help shore it up.

'œWe don't know if they are alive,' Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said of the people possibly trapped inside the car following one of the deadliest accidents in the city's subway system, which is among the busiest in the world.

Earlier Sheinbaum said someone had been pulled alive from a car that was trapped on the road below. She said 49 of the injured were hospitalized, and that seven were in serious condition and undergoing surgery.

'œThere are unfortunately children among the dead,' Sheinbaum said, without specifying how many.

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Flurry of diplomatic contacts fuel Iran deal speculation

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

WASHINGTON -- A flurry of diplomatic contacts and reports of major progress suggest that indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran may be nearing an agreement. That's despite efforts by U.S. officials to play down chances of an imminent deal that would bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

With the negotiations in Vienna on hiatus, the U.S. and Britain denied Iranian reports that any agreement was at hand with Iran for a swap of American and British prisoners. Such an exchange could be a confidence-building measure to revive the nuclear deal.

A U.S. return to the deal would be the biggest and most controversial foreign policy initiative in the early months of Joe Biden's presidency. It would revive a deal that top Biden aides put together during their years in the Obama administration, only to see President Donald Trump pull out and try to prevent the U.S. from ever returning. Rejoining it - and making the concessions required to do so - would enrage Republicans and likely unsettle Israel and Gulf Arab allies.

Even as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab rejected the prisoner swap reports at a news conference Monday in London, senior American diplomats were in the Middle East meeting Gulf Arab leaders. And two of the nuclear deal's biggest proponents in Congress - Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Chris Murphy - were touring the region.

Those discussions follow a week of top-level meetings in Washington between Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; Blinken; his deputy, Wendy Sherman; special Iran envoy Rob Malley; and others with the head of Israel's spy agency and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's top national security aide.

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How companies rip off poor employees - and get away with it

Already battered by long shifts and high infection rates, essential workers struggling through the pandemic face another hazard of hard times: employers who steal their wages.

When a recession hits, U.S. companies are more likely to stiff their lowest-wage workers. These businesses often pay less than the minimum wage, make employees work off the clock, or refuse to pay overtime rates. In the most egregious cases, bosses don't pay their employees at all.

Companies that hire child care workers, gas station clerks, restaurant servers and security guards are among the businesses most likely to get caught cheating their employees, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of minimum wage and overtime violations from the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2019 alone, the agency cited about 8,500 employers for taking about $287 million from workers.

Major U.S. corporations are some of the worst offenders. They include Halliburton, G4S Wackenhut and Circle-K stores, which agency records show have collectively taken more than $22 million from their employees since 2005.

Their victims toil on the lower rungs of the workforce. People like Danielle Wynne, a $10-an-hour convenience store clerk in Florida who said her boss ordered her to work off the clock, and Ruth Palacios, a janitor from Mexico who earned less than the minimum wage to disinfect a New York City hospital at the height of the pandemic.

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Biden quadruples Trump refugee cap after delay backlash

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden formally raised the nation's cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 this year, weeks after facing bipartisan blowback for his delay in replacing the record-low ceiling set by former President Donald Trump.

Refugee resettlement agencies have waited for Biden to quadruple the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year since Feb. 12, when a presidential proposal was submitted to Congress saying he planned to do so.

But the presidential determination went unsigned until Monday. Biden said he first needed to expand the narrow eligibility criteria put in place by Trump that had kept out most refugees. He did that last month in an emergency determination. But it also stated that Trump's cap of up to 15,000 refugees this year 'œremains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest," indicating Biden intended to keep it.

That brought sharp pushback for not at least taking the symbolic step of authorizing more refugees to enter the U.S. this year. The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, called that initial limit 'œunacceptable' and within hours the White House made a quick course correction. The administration vowed to increase the historically low cap by May 15 - but the White House said it probably would not hit the 62,500 Biden had previously outlined.

In the end, Biden returned to that figure.

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Deaths at sea highlight failings in Europe migration policy

CAIRO -- As the waves pounded the gray rubber boat carrying more than 100 Africans hoping to reach Europe from Libya, those aboard dialed the number for migrants in distress frantically. In the series of calls to the Alarm Phone hotline, passengers explained that the dinghy had run out of fuel while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and was quickly filling up with water and panic.

On the other end of the line, activists tried to keep the migrants calm as they relayed the boat's GPS coordinates repeatedly to Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities and later to Frontex, the European Union's border and coast guard agency, hoping authorities would launch a rescue operation as required under international maritime law.

An analysis of logs and emails from Alarm Phone and the NGO SOS Mediterranée as well as reports by the Libyan coast guard show that the national authorities contacted responded slowly, insufficiently or not at all to the pleas for help. In all, approximately 130 people are believed to have died between April 21 and April 22 as they waited in vain for someone to save them, roughly 45 kilometers (30 miles) from the Libyan coast.

It was the deadliest wreck so far this year in the Mediterranean Sea, where more than 20,000 migrants or asylum seekers have perished since 2014, and has renewed accusations that European countries are failing to help migrant boats in trouble.

Instead, human rights groups, the U.N.'s migration and refugee agencies and international law experts say European countries too often ignore their international obligations to rescue migrants at sea and outsource operations to the Libyan coast guard despite its limited capacity, reports of its ties to human traffickers, and the fact that those intercepted, including children, are placed in squalid, overcrowded detention centers where they face abuse, torture, rape and even death.

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Refugee doctor chronicles Tigray's pain as he treats it

HAMDAYET, Sudan -- He is a surgeon and a father. Every morning, he wakes up under a plastic tarp and is reminded he's now a refugee, too.

Tewodros Tefera is one of more than 60,000 people who have fled ethnic violence in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, crossing the border into a remote corner of Sudan. Horrified by what he saw when the fighting between Ethiopian and Tigray forces began six months ago, and by the tales of new arrivals, the 44-year-old chronicles the pain even as he treats it.

'œIt's getting worse,' he says of life back home.

Ethiopia says it is 'œdeeply dismayed' by the deaths of civilians, blames the now-fugitive Tigray leaders and claims normality is returning. But Tewodros' patients tell him that killings, gang rapes and mass expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans continue as some 6 million civilians are targeted for their leaders' political past.

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Israel's Netanyahu faces midnight deadline to form coalition

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a midnight deadline on Tuesday to put together a new coalition government - or be looking at the possibility of leading his Likud party into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

Netanyahu has struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 - when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal during a four-week window.

That window was to expire at midnight, at which point the matter returns to President Reuven Rivlin in the absence of an agreement.

A failure to reach a deal would not immediately push Netanyahu out of office.

Rivlin could give him an additional two weeks to form a coalition. He could give one of Netanyahu's opponents an opportunity to form a government, or in a final move of desperation, send the matter straight to parliament.

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As Lebanese cry for justice, politics paralyzes the system

BEIRUT -- Even after she was taken off an investigation into alleged financial crimes by a money transfer company, the defiant Lebanese prosecutor charged ahead. She showed up at the company's offices outside of Beirut with a group of supporters and a metal worker, who broke open the locked gate.

Ghada Aoun obtained data from Mecattaf Holding Company that she contends will reveal the identities of people who sneaked billions of dollars out of Lebanon amid the financial meltdown that has hit the country.

The move was part of a public feud between Aoun and Lebanon's state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, who had dismissed her from the case, saying she'd overstepped with two earlier raids. Their feud has turned into scuffles between their supporters in the street.

Aoun, an investigating judge for the Mount Lebanon district, presents herself as a crusader against corruption and accuses higher-ups of trying to stop her. But to her critics, she's a tool of her backer, Lebanon's president, who they say uses her to punish his political opponents and protect his allies.

That is the problem in Lebanon: The judiciary is so deeply politicized it paralyzes the wheels of justice, mirroring how factional rivalries have paralyzed politics.

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Storms spawn twisters in Mississippi, kill 2 in Georgia

YAZOO CITY, Miss. -- Much of the South is again at risk of severe weather Tuesday, forecasters say, after tornadoes struck parts of the region Sunday night and Monday, causing heavy damage in some parts of Mississippi.

Large parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as corners of Arkansas and Georgia are at enhanced risk for the worst weather, according to the national Storm Prediction Center. That zone is home to more than 11 million people and includes the cities of Nashville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jackson, Mississippi, forecasters said.

'œWe'll see all three threats as far as hail, wind and tornadoes on Tuesday,' said Mike Edmonston, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Mississippi.

They could include wind gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph) and hail to the size of golf balls, forecasters said, noting that 'œtornadoes are likely Tuesday into Tuesday evening' in parts of Mississippi.

The risk follows heavy weather that moved across the South on Sunday and Monday, damaging homes and uprooting trees from Mississippi to West Virginia.

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