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WHO: Limited surveillance hampers bird flu risk assessment

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Library of Congress awards prize for American fiction to James McBride

NEW YORK — The Library of Congress has awarded a lifetime achievement prize to James McBride, whose acclaimed novels include The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, Deacon King Kong and The Good Lord Bird. 

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Thursday that McBride, whose story lines have ranged from the crusades of abolitionist John Brown to a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, is this year’s winner of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. The award, previously given to Marilynne Robinson and Don DeLillo among others, is given to an American author who excels as a prose stylist and creative thinker. 

“I’m honored to bestow the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction on a writer as imaginative and knowing as James McBride,” Hayden said in a statement. “McBride knows the American soul deeply, reflecting our struggles and triumphs in his fiction, which so many readers have intimately connected with. I, also, am one of his enthusiastic readers.” 

McBride, 66, said in a statement that he wished his mother were alive to hear of his prize. He then joked, “Does it mean I can use the Library? If so, I’m double thrilled.” 

McBride has been among the country’s most honored authors in recent years, winning a National Book Award for Good Lord Bird, the Kirkus Prize for The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store and the Carnegie Medal for Deacon King Kong, which Oprah Winfrey chose for her book club. In 2016, he was given a National Humanities Medal. 

On August 24, he will discuss The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., a gathering hosted by the Library of Congress. 

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New sports minister promotes South African car ‘spinning’

South Africa’s newly-appointed minister of sports – a self-described former gangster – wants to promote a sport that has associations with South African gangster culture. The sport of “spinning” involves fast-moving cars and dangerous stunts, and as Kate Bartlett reports from Johannesburg, the way it’s conducted is not always legal.

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EU accepts Apple plan to open iPhone tap-to-pay to rivals

Brussels — The EU on Thursday approved Apple’s offer to allow rivals access to the iPhone’s ability to tap-to-pay within the bloc, ending a lengthy probe and sparing it a heavy fine.

The case dates back to 2022 when Brussels first accused Apple of blocking rivals from its popular iPhone tap payment system in a breach of EU competition law.

“Apple has committed to allow rivals to access the ‘tap and go’ technology of iPhones. Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“From now on, competitors will be able to effectively compete with Apple Pay for mobile payments with the iPhone in shops. So consumers will have a wider range of safe and innovative mobile wallets to choose from,” she said.

The EU previously found that Apple enjoyed a dominant position by restricting access to “tap-as-you-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices to interconnect within a very short range, to favor its own system.

Now competitors will have access to the standard technology behind contactless payments to offer alternative tap-to-pay tools to iPhone users in the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Only customers with an Apple ID registered in the EEA would be able to make use of these outside apps, the European Commission said in a statement.

The changes must remain in force for 10 years and a “monitoring trustee” must be chosen by Apple to report to the commission during that period on their implementation.

Apple had risked a fine of up to 10% of its total worldwide annual turnover. Apple’s total revenue in the year to September 2023 stood at $383 billion.

“Apple Pay and Apple Wallet will continue to be available in the EEA for users and developers, and will continue to provide an easy, secure and private way to pay, as well as present passes seamlessly from Apple Wallet,” the company said in a statement.

The probe’s conclusion comes at a particularly difficult moment in relations between the EU and Apple, especially over the bloc’s new competition rules for big tech.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) seeks to ensure tech titans do not privilege their own services over rivals, but the iPhone maker says it puts users’ privacy at risk.

One of the DMA’s main objectives is to give consumers more choice in the web browsers, app marketplaces, search engines and other digital services they use.

The EU in June accused Apple of breaching the DMA by preventing developers from freely pointing consumers to alternative channels for offers and content outside of its proprietary App Store.

It also kickstarted another probe under the DMA into Apple’s new fees for app developers.

The company could face heavy fines if the DMA violations are confirmed.

In March, the EU slapped a $1.9 billion fine on Apple in a different antitrust case but the company has appealed the penalty in an EU court.

Brussels also forced Apple last year to scrap its Lightning port on new iPhone models, in a change that was introduced worldwide and not just in Europe.

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Colombia beats Uruguay, will face Messi and Argentina in Copa America final

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Colombia is headed to the Copa America championship game for the first time in 23 years after a contentious win over Uruguay in which it played the second half a man short and players brawled with fans in the stands following the final whistle.

Jefferson Lerma scored in the 39th minute for a 1-0 win Wednesday night and a matchup with Lionel Messi and defending champion Argentina on Sunday.

“Until you overcome your weaknesses you cannot grow,” Colombia coach Nester Lorenzo said through a interpreter. “And when you overcome those obstacles, you can grow.”

Daniel Muñoz was ejected in first-half stoppage time for an elbow that led to his second yellow card. Despite Uruguay having 61.9% possession, Colombia held on to reach the championship for the first time since winning its only Copa title as host in 2001.

Colombia extended its unbeaten streak to a team record 28 games, one more than from 1992-94 and the longest current streak in men’s international football.

“They are very hungry as players and very eager and they really add many elements to their game beyond the tactical side,” Lorenzo said.

In a match that included seven yellow cards in addition to the red, players from both teams pushed and shoved in a scrum on the field at the final whistle. Darwin Núñez and about a dozen Uruguay teammates went into the stands as fans brawled.

A video showed Núñez hitting a fan in Colombian team colors.

CONMEBOL released a statement after the game saying that it strongly condemns any act of violence that affects the game.

“Our work is based on the conviction that soccer connects and unites us through its positive values,” the organization said. “There is no place for intolerance and violence on and off the field. We invite everyone in the remaining days to pour all of their passion into cheering on their national teams and having an unforgettable party.”

Defending champion Argentina and Colombia meet at Miami Gardens, Florida, in the tournament finale. The Albiceleste are seeking a record 16th Copa title and are looking to join Spain from 2008-12 as the only countries to win three straight major championships.

Uruguay stays in Charlotte to meet Canada in Saturday night’s third-place match.

Before an overwhelmingly pro-Colombia crowd of 70,644 that filled Bank of America Stadium with yellow jerseys and flags, Uruguay fell behind for the first time in the tournament.

James Rodríguez’s corner kick was headed in from short range by Lerma, who outjumped José María Giménez for his third international goal and second of the tournament. Rodríguez has six assists in the tournament — triple the total of any other player.

Muñoz received his first yellow card from Mexican referee César Ramos in the 31st minute for a reckless slide tackle on Maximiliano Araújo and his second for elbowing Manuel Ugarte in the stomach.

Rodríguez was given a yellow card in the 55th minute for arguing with Ramos when the referee failed to stop play after Richard Ríos was kicked on a shin by Darwin Núñez.

Ríos was removed on a stretcher, re-entered the match, then went down in another challenge and was substituted in the 62nd minute. Rodríguez was removed at the same time to keep him eligible for the final.

Colombia goalkeeper Camilo Vargas didn’t have to make his first save until he stopped Nicolás de la Cruz in the 68th minute.

Luis Suárez, Uruguay’s career leader with 68 goals, entered in the 66th minute and hit the outside of a post with a shot in the 71st. He grasped his head in his hands in disgust.

“The moments in which we could unbalance the game, we did not succeed,” Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa said. “We should have generated more goal situations than we did.”

Colombia’s Mateus Uribe, another second-half sub, put an open shot wide in the 88th, and Uribe’s open shot in the fourth minute of stoppage time ricocheted off the body of sliding goalkeeper Sergio Rochet and then the crossbar.

Uruguay moved Rochet up to the attacking half of the field in the final minute, desperate for a goal.

The match was played in 90-degree heat on a surface that was converted from artificial turf to grass in the weeks leading up the game.

Players on the NFL’s Carolina Panthers have been outspoken about football teams having the luxury of playing on grass on their home field. Players say NFL games on artificial turf leave them more susceptible to injuries.

With two games left, attendance of 1.48 million is just 1,663 shy of the total for the 2016 tournament in the United States.

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Las Vegas hits record of fifth consecutive day of 46.1 Celsius or greater

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas baked Wednesday in its record fifth consecutive day of temperatures sizzling at 46.1 Celsius or greater amid a lengthening hot spell that is expected to broil much of the U.S. into the weekend.

The temperature climbed to 46.1 shortly after 1 p.m. at Harry Reid International Airport, breaking the old mark of four consecutive days set in July 2005. And the record could be extended, or even doubled, by the weekend.

Even by desert standards, the prolonged baking that Nevada’s largest city is experiencing is nearly unprecedented, with forecasters calling it “the most extreme heat wave” since the National Weather Service began keeping records in Las Vegas in 1937.

Already the city has broken 16 heat records since June 1, well before the official start of summer, “and we’re not even halfway through July yet,” meteorologist Morgan Stessman said Wednesday. That includes an all-time high of 48.8 C set on Sunday, which beat the previous 47.2 C record.

Alyse Sobosan said this July has felt the hottest in the 15 years she has lived in Las Vegas. She said she doesn’t step outside during the day if she can help it.

“It’s oppressively hot,” she said. “It’s like you can’t really live your life.”

It’s also dangerously hot, health officials have emphasized. There have been at least nine heat-related deaths this year in Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, according to the county coroner’s office. Officials say the toll is likely higher.

“Even people of average age who are seemingly healthy can suffer heat illness when it’s so hot it’s hard for your body to cool down,” said Alexis Brignola, an epidemiologist at the Southern Nevada Health District.

For homeless residents and others without access to safe environments, officials have set up emergency cooling centers at community centers across southern Nevada.

The Las Vegas area has been under an excessive heat warning on three separate occasions this summer, totaling about 12 days of dangerous heat with little relief even after the sun goes down, Stessman said.

Keith Bailey and Lee Doss met early Wednesday morning at a Las Vegas park to beat the heat and exercise their dogs, Breakie, Ollie and Stanley.

“If I don’t get out by 8:30 in the morning, then it’s not going to happen that day,” Bailey said, wearing a sunhat while the dogs played in the grass.

More than 142 million people around the U.S. were under heat alerts Wednesday, especially in Western states, where dozens of locations tied or broke heat records over the weekend and are expected to keep doing so all week.

Oregon has seen record daily high temperatures, with Portland reaching 39.4 C and Salem and Eugene hitting 40.5 C on Tuesday. The number of potentially heat-related deaths in Oregon has risen to 10, according to the state medical examiner’s office. The latest two deaths involved a 54-year-old man in Jackson County and a 27-year-old man in Klamath County.

On the other side of the nation, the National Weather Service warned of major-to-extreme heat risk over portions of the East Coast.

An excessive heat warning remained in place Wednesday for the Philadelphia area, northern Delaware and nearly all of New Jersey. Temperatures were around 32.2 C for most of the region, and forecasters warned the heat index could soar as high as 42.2 C. The warning was due to expire at 8 p.m. Wednesday, though forecasters said there may be a need to extend it.

The heat was blamed for a motorcyclist’s death over the weekend in Death Valley National Park. At Death Valley on Tuesday, tourists queued for photos in front of a giant thermometer that was reading 48.9 C.

Simon Pell and Lisa Gregory from London left their air-conditioned RV to experience a midday blast of heat that would be unthinkable back home.

“I wanted to experience what it would feel like,” Pell said. “It’s an incredible experience.”

At the Grand Canyon, the National Park Service was investigating the third hiker death in recent weeks. Temperatures on parts of some trails can reach 49 C in the shade.

An excessive heat warning continued Wednesday in many parts of southern and central Arizona. Forecasters said the high in Phoenix was expected to reach 45.5 C after it hit 46.6 C Tuesday, tying the previous record for the date set in 1958.

Authorities were investigating the death of a 2-year-old who was left alone in a hot vehicle Tuesday afternoon in Marana, near Tucson, police said. At Lake Havasu, a 4-month-old died from heat-related complications Friday, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department said.

The U.S. heat wave came as the global temperature in June was a record warm for the 13th straight month and marked the 12th straight month that the world was 1.5 degrees Celsius  warmer than pre-industrial times, the European climate service Copernicus said. Most of this heat, trapped by human-caused climate change, is from long-term warming from greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, scientists say.

Firefighters in Henderson, Nevada, last week became the first in the region to deploy what city spokesperson Madeleine Skains called “polar pods,” devices filled with water and ice to cool a person exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke or a related medical emergency.

Extreme heat in the West has also dried out vegetation that fuels wildfires.

A blaze burning in northern Oregon, about 178 kilometers east of Portland, blew up to 28 square kilometers by Wednesday afternoon due to hot temperatures, gusty wind and low humidity, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal. The Larch Creek Fire closed Highway 197 and forced evacuations for remote homes.

In California, firefighters were battling least 19 wildfires Wednesday, including a 117-square-kilometer blaze that prompted evacuation orders for about 200 homes in the mountains of Santa Barbara County.

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In ‘Rust’ trial, Alec Baldwin accused of breaking gun rules; defense blames experts

SANTA FE, New Mexico — A New Mexico prosecutor on Wednesday said Alec Baldwin broke “cardinal rules” of gun safety in the 2021 killing of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while his lawyer said he was failed by firearms experts. 

The 66-year-old Baldwin, on trial in Hollywood’s first on-set shooting fatality in three decades, took notes at the defense table and listened calmly to opening statements in his involuntary manslaughter trial. The trial is largely unprecedented in U.S. history, holding an actor criminally responsible for a gun death during filming. 

A New Mexico jury of 12 and four alternates — 11 women and five men — heard prosecutor Erlinda Johnson outline arguments that Baldwin disregarded safety during filming of the low-budget movie before pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal, cocking it and pulling the trigger as they set up a camera shot on a set southwest of Santa Fe. 

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Johnson said. 

Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Baldwin sat in the second row of the public gallery, his brother Stephen Baldwin in front of her. 

His lawyer Alex Spiro pointed to “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez — head of gun safety — and first assistant director Dave Halls — responsible for overall set safety. Both have been convicted in the shooting, and Spiro said they did not check the rounds in the gun to ensure it was safe for Baldwin to use.  

“There were people responsible for firearms safety but actor Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” said Spiro. 

Hutchins was killed, and director Joel Souza wounded when Baldwin’s reproduction 1873 Single Action Army revolver fired a live round, inadvertently loaded by Gutierrez. 

Since a police interview on Oct. 21, 2021, the day of the shooting, Baldwin has argued the gun just “went off.”  

In an ABC News interview two months later, Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger. A 2022 FBI test found the gun was in normal working condition and would not fire from full cock without the trigger being pulled. 

Spiro said during his opening arguments that no one saw Baldwin “intentionally pull the trigger,” but that it was the responsibility of firearms safety experts to ensure a firearm was safe for an actor “to wave it, to point it, to pull the trigger, like actors do.”  

State prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in January 2022. They dropped charges three months later after Baldwin’s lawyers presented photographic evidence the gun was modified, arguing it would fire more easily, bolstering the actor’s accidental discharge argument. 

Prosecutors called a grand jury to reinstate the charge in January after an independent firearms expert confirmed the 2022 FBI study. 

FBI testing broke the gun, and Baldwin’s lawyers will tell jurors that destruction of the weapon prevented them from proving the gun was modified. 

Armorer Gutierrez, whose job on the set of “Rust” included managing firearms safely, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March for loading the live round.

Prosecutors will have to persuade jurors Baldwin is also guilty of willful and reckless criminal negligence.

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Astronauts confident Boeing space capsule can safely return to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Two astronauts who should have been back on Earth weeks ago said Wednesday that they’re confident that Boeing’s space capsule can return them safely, despite breakdowns.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams launched aboard Boeing’s new Starliner capsule early last month, the first people to ride it. Leaks and thruster failures almost derailed their arrival at the International Space Station and have kept them there much longer than planned.

In their first news conference from orbit, they said they expect to return once thruster testing is complete on Earth. They said they’re not complaining about getting extra time in orbit and are enjoying helping the station crew.

“I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” Williams told reporters.

The two rocketed into orbit on June 5 on the test flight, which was originally supposed to last eight days.

NASA ordered the Starliner and SpaceX Dragon capsules a decade ago for astronaut flights to and from the space station, paying each company billions of dollars. SpaceX’s first taxi flight with astronauts was in 2020. Boeing’s first crew flight was repeatedly delayed because of software and other issues.

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British-born guitarist revels in Ghanian sounds

John Collins visited Ghana as a child with his father. But life brought him back years later, and the musician never left. VOA’s Isaac Kaledzi met him in Accra and Anthony Labruto narrates.

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Russian election meddlers hurting Biden, helping Trump, US intelligence warns

WASHINGTON — Russia is turning to a familiar playbook in its attempt to sway the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, looking for ways to boost the candidacy of former President Donald Trump by disparaging the campaign of incumbent President Joe Biden, according to American intelligence officials. 

A new assessment of threats to the November election, shared Tuesday, does not mention either candidate by name. But an intelligence official told reporters that the Kremlin view of the U.S. political landscape has not changed from previous election cycles.

“We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections,” the official told reporters, agreeing to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity.

The official said that preference has been further cemented by “the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.”

The caution from U.S. intelligence officials comes nearly four years after it issued a similar warning about the 2020 presidential elections, which pitted then-President Trump against Biden.

Moscow was using “a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” William Evanina, the then-head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at the time.

“Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” he added. 

A declassified post-election assessment, released in March 2021, reaffirmed the initial findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized “influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party” while offering support for Trump, the report said. 

U.S. intelligence officials said they have been in contact with both presidential campaigns and the candidates but declined to share what sort of information may have been shared.

Trump pushback

The Trump campaign Tuesday rejected the U.S. intelligence assessment as backward.

“Vladimir Putin endorsed Joe Biden for President because he knows Biden is weak and can easily be bullied, as evidenced by Putin’s years-long invasion of Ukraine,” national press secretary Karoline Leavitt told VOA in an email.

“When President Trump was in the Oval Office, Russia and all of America’s adversaries were deterred, because they feared how the United States would respond,” she said.

“The only people in America who don’t see this clear contrast between Biden’s ineffective weakness versus Trump’s effective peace through strength approach are the left-wing stenographers in the mainstream media who write false narratives about Donald Trump for a living,” she added.

The Biden campaign has so far not responded to questions from VOA about the new U.S. assessment.

Russian sophistication

Russian officials also have not yet responded to requests for comment on the latest allegations, which accuse the Kremlin of using a “whole of government” approach to see Trump and other American candidates perceived as favorable to Moscow win in November.

“Moscow is using a variety of approaches to bolster its messaging and lend an air of authenticity to its efforts,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “This includes outsourcing its efforts to commercial firms to hide its hand and laundering narratives through influential U.S. voices.”

Russia’s efforts also appear focused on targeting U.S. voters in so-called swing states, states most likely to impact the outcome of the presidential election, officials said.

Some of those efforts have already come to light.

Russia and AI

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the seizure of two internet domains and of another 968 accounts on the X social media platform, part of what officials described an artificial intelligence-driven venture by Russian intelligence and Russia’s state-run RT news network.

A Justice Department statement said Russian intelligence and RT used specific AI software to create authentic-looking social media accounts to mimic U.S. individuals, “which the operators then used to promote messages in support of Russian government objectives.”

A joint advisory, issued simultaneously by the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, warned Russia was in the process of expanding the AI-fueled influence operation to other social media platforms.

The U.S. intelligence official who spoke to reporters Tuesday described such use of AI as a “malign influence accelerant,” and warned the technology had already been deployed, likely by China, in the run-up to Taiwan’s elections this past January.

China waiting

For now, though, U.S. intelligence officials see few indications Beijing is seeking to interfere in U.S. elections, as it did in 2020 and 2022. 

China “sees little gain in choosing between two parties that are perceived as both seeking to contain Beijing,” said the U.S. intelligence official, noting things could change.

“The PRC is seeking to expand its ability to collect and monitor data on U.S. social media platforms, probably to better understand and eventually manipulate public opinion,” the official said. “In addition, we are watching for whether China might seek to influence select down-ballot races as it did in the 2022 midterm elections.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, which has denied previous U.S. allegations, responded by calling the U.S. “the biggest disseminator of disinformation.”

“China has no intention and will not interfere in the US election, and we hope that the US side will not make an issue of China in the election,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email.

‘Chaos agent’

The new U.S. election threat assessment warns that in addition to concerns about Russia and China, there is growing evidence Iran is seeking to play the role of a “chaos agent” in the upcoming U.S. vote.

“Iran seeks to stoke social divisions and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions around the elections,” according to an unclassified version of the assessment. 

It also warned that Tehran “has demonstrated a long-standing interest in exploiting U.S. political and societal tensions through various means, including social media.”

As an example, officials Tuesday pointed to newly declassified intelligence showing Iran trying to exploit pro-Gaza protests across the U.S.

“We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters,” said National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.

Haines cautioned, though, that Americans who interacted with the Iranian actors “may not be aware that they are interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government.”

Iranian officials have not yet responded to VOA’s request for comment.

 

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Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket successfully launches for first time

Kourou, France — Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket successfully blasted off for the first time on Tuesday, releasing satellites into orbit and restoring the continent’s independent access to space.

European space efforts have suffered a series of blows, including four years of delays on Ariane 6, that have robbed the continent of its own way to launch missions into space for the past year. 

But with the successful inaugural flight of Europe’s most powerful rocket yet, European space chiefs were keen to move on from recent setbacks. 

“It’s a historic day for Europe,” European Space Agency head Josef Aschbacher said.  

“Europe is back,” announced Philippe Baptiste, head of France’s CNES space agency. 

Surrounded by jungle on the South American coast, the rocket launched from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 4 p.m. local time (1900 GMT). 

The crew in the Jupiter control room, located 17 kilometers from the launch site, portrayed calm. 

Then head of operations Raymond Boyce announced, “propulsion nominal,” meaning that the launch was going as planned. 

Applause rang out in the room. 

Even louder applause came a little over an hour later, when the rocket successfully delivered microsatellites into orbit. 

NASA chief Bill Nelson on X welcomed the “giant leap forward” for the ESA. 

But Martin Sion, the CEO of the rocket’s manufacturer ArianeGroup, emphasized that “the mission is not yet complete.” 

It will only be fully completed when the reusable Vinci engine in the rocket’s upper stage has fallen back into Earth’s atmosphere. 

This is expected around three hours after liftoff. 

Since the last flight of its workhorse predecessor, Ariane 5, a year ago, Europe has had to rely on rivals such as Elon Musk’s U.S. firm SpaceX. 

Ariane 6 will be able to place satellites in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers (22,369.36 miles) above Earth, as well as satellite constellations a few hundreds of kilometers up. 

The first flight was carrying a payload of university microsatellites, various experiments and two atmospheric re-entry capsules that will be jettisoned near the end of the mission. 

The last of three ignitions of the Vinci engine will be to shoot the Vinci engine back down into the Pacific Ocean, so it does not contribute to the space debris cluttering Earth’s orbit. 

After months of analyzing the rocket’s inaugural launch, a first commercial flight is expected before the end of the year. 

The next challenge will be to “successfully ramp up” the number of flights, ESA space transportation director Toni Tolker-Nielsen said. 

Six launches are scheduled for next year, and eight for 2026. 

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Purdue Pharma secures litigation freeze after US Supreme Court ruling

New York — Purdue Pharma on Tuesday received U.S. court approval for a 60-day freeze on lawsuits against its owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — in its first court appearance since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling upended its bankruptcy settlement.  

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane granted an injunction at a court hearing in White Plains, New York, saying that a litigation cease-fire will give Purdue a chance to renegotiate a comprehensive settlement of lawsuits alleging that its painkiller OxyContin spurred an opioid addiction crisis in the U.S.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 27 that Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement cannot shield the Sacklers, who did not file for bankruptcy themselves, over their role in the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic. 

The ruling sent Purdue back to the drawing board after nearly five years in bankruptcy and imperils billions of dollars in funding that the company and the Sacklers had promised to pay toward addressing the harms from the crisis. 

Lawsuits against Purdue and Sackler family members by state and local governments, as well as by individual plaintiffs, have accused them of fueling the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing of its pain medication. The company pleaded guilty to misbranding and fraud charges related to its marketing of OxyContin in 2007 and 2020.  

Purdue’s bankruptcy has stopped the opioid lawsuits from proceeding against the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker since 2019, and Purdue has extended that legal protection to the Sacklers, as well. 

Purdue’s attorney, Marshall Huebner, said the company will engage in “a high-speed, high-stakes mediation” with the Sacklers, state and local governments and other stakeholders. Protecting the Sacklers during a “modest” 60-day negotiating period will give Purdue a real chance to negotiate a new bankruptcy settlement and put money toward stopping opioid overdoses and treating addiction, Huebner said. 

“Every single day of delay continues to come at a tragic, tragic cost,” Huebner said. 

Several stakeholders expressed hope for a settlement but said mediation should not be extended beyond the 60-day schedule proposed by Purdue. 

“It is essential to all parties in this case that we bring this five-year Chapter 11 case to a conclusion,” said Kenneth Eckstein, an attorney representing a coalition of state and local governments.  

During the hearing, Lane also appointed two mediators to aid settlement talks, including retired bankruptcy judge Shelley Chapman, who brokered a previous deal under which the Sacklers agreed to pay up to $6 billion to settle the opioid lawsuits. Eric Green will serve as the other mediator.  

If mediation fails, Purdue has said a court-appointed committee representing its creditors should be allowed to sue the Sacklers over claims they drained more thabn $11 billion from the company and that their conduct made Purdue liable for other lawsuits. 

The Sacklers have said the creditors’ proposed litigation is counterproductive and based on “factual errors.” Members of the family have denied wrongdoing and would fiercely oppose any litigation if the settlement talks break down, their attorneys said.  

“No one is assured of a recovery in this court or any other court,” said Gerard Uzzi, an attorney representing members of the Sackler family.  

Purdue’s previous bankruptcy settlement was supported by attorneys general from all 50 states, local governments and most of the individual opioid victims who voted on it.  

But it has also had detractors such as Carrie McGaha, who has had repeated overdoses and said Tuesday that individuals have been placed at the “bottom of the heap” throughout Purdue’s bankruptcy.  

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WADA made reasonable decision in China doping case, probe says

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Former US Senator Inhofe, defense hawk and climate change skeptic, dies at 89

OKLAHOMA CITY, oklahoma — Former Senator Jim Inhofe, a conservative known for his strong support of defense spending and his denial that human activity is responsible for the bulk of climate change, has died. He was 89. 

Inhofe, a powerful fixture in Oklahoma politics for more than six decades, died Tuesday morning after suffering a stroke during the July Fourth holiday, his family said in a statement. 

Inhofe, a Republican who underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2013 before being elected to a fourth term, was elected to a fifth Senate term in 2020, before stepping down in early 2023. 

‘The greatest hoax’

Inhofe frequently criticized the mainstream science that human activity contributed to changes in the Earth’s climate, once calling it “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” 

In February 2015, with temperatures in the nation’s capital below freezing, Inhofe brought a snowball on to the Senate floor. He tossed it before claiming that environmentalists focus attention on global warming as it kept getting cold. 

As Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator, Inhofe was a staunch supporter of the state’s five military installations and a vocal fan of congressional earmarks. The Army veteran and licensed pilot, who would fly himself to and from Washington, secured the federal money to fund local road and bridge projects, and criticized House Republicans who wanted a one-year moratorium on such pet projects in 2010. 

“Defeating an earmark doesn’t save a nickel,” Inhofe told the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce that August. “It merely means that within the budget process, it goes right back to the bureaucracy.” 

He was a strong backer of President Donald Trump, who praised him for his “incredible support of our #MAGA agenda” while endorsing the senator’s 2020 reelection bid. During the Trump administration, Inhofe served as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee following the death of Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. 

Closer to home, Inhofe helped secure millions of dollars to clean up a former mining hub in northeast Oklahoma that spent decades on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list. In a massive buyout program, the federal government purchased homes and businesses within the 104-square-kilometer region of Tar Creek, where children consistently tested for dangerous levels of lead in their blood. 

Republican U.S. Representative Frank Lucas, the senior member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation, called Inhofe a true public servant. 

“His long career in the United States House and Senate serves as a testament to his strong moral compass and innate desire to better his home state,” Lucas said in a statement 

In 2021, Inhofe defied some in his party by voting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, saying that to do otherwise would be a violation of his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution. He voted against convicting Trump at both of his impeachment trials. 

Worked in business, public service

Born James Mountain Inhofe on Nov. 17, 1934, in Des Moines, Iowa, Inhofe grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa in 1959. He served in the Army between 1956 and 1958 and was a businessman for three decades. 

He was elected to the state House in 1966 and two years later to the state Senate, where he remained during unsuccessful runs for governor in 1974 and for the U.S. House in 1976. He then won three terms as Tulsa mayor starting in 1978. 

Inhofe went on to win two terms in the U.S. House in the 1980s, before throwing his hat into a bitter U.S. Senate race when longtime Senator David Boren resigned in 1994 to become president of the University of Oklahoma. Inhofe beat then-U.S. Representive Dave McCurdy in a special election to serve the final two years of Boren’s term and was reelected five times. 

Boren, a Democrat, said he and Inhofe worked together in a bipartisan manner when both were in the state Legislature. He later defeated Inhofe in a race for governor. 

“While we ran against each other for governor, we were opponents but never enemies and remained friends,” Boren said in a statement. “I hope we can rebuild that spirit in American politics.” 

Frequent flyer

Inhofe was a commercial-rated pilot and flight instructor with more than 50 years of flying experience. 

He made an emergency landing in Claremore in 1999, after his plane lost a propeller, an incident later blamed on an installation error. In 2006, his plane spun out of control upon landing in Tulsa; he and an aide escaped injury, though the plane was badly damaged. 

In 2010, Inhofe landed his small plane on a closed runway at a rural South Texas airport while flying himself and others to South Padre Island. Runway workers scrambled, and Inhofe agreed to complete a remedial training program rather than face possible legal action. 

He later sponsored legislation that expanded the rights of pilots when dealing with Federal Aviation Administration disciplinary proceedings. 

Inhofe is survived by his wife, Kay, three children and several grandchildren. A son, Dr. Perry Dyson Inhofe II, died in November 2013, at the age of 51, when the twin-engine aircraft he was flying crashed a few miles north of Tulsa International Airport. 

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Vatican sets in-depth review of women’s church leadership roles

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LogOn: Unfired earth blocks surpass modern building codes

 A new homebuilding method with ancient roots in adobe offers protection from wildfires, earthquakes, high winds and floods, while being climate friendly and sustainable. The secret ingredient: compressed earth blocks made from mud. Shelley Schlender has the story in this week’s episode of LogOn from Superior, Colorado.

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Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial begins with jury selection

SANTA FE, N.M. — Alec Baldwin’s trial in the shooting of a cinematographer is set to begin Tuesday with the selection of jurors who will be tasked with deciding whether the actor is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Getting chosen to serve in a trial of such a major star accused of such a major crime would be unusual even in Los Angeles or Baldwin’s hometown of New York. But it will be essentially an unheard-of experience for those who are picked as jurors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, though the state has increasingly become a hub of Hollywood production in recent years.

Baldwin and his wife Hilaria arrived at the courthouse Tuesday with at least one of their youngest children. The couple have several children, with the youngest set to turn 2 in September.

Baldwin, 66, could get up to 18 months in prison if jurors unanimously decide he committed the felony when a revolver he was pointing at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza during a rehearsal for the Western film “Rust” in October 2021 at Bonanza Creek Ranch, some 18 miles (29 kilometers) from where the trial is being held.

Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware the gun contained a live round, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

The star of “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” made his first appearance in the courtroom on Monday, when Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, in a significant victory for the defense, ruled at a pretrial hearing that Baldwin’s role as a co-producer on “Rust” isn’t relevant to the trial.

The judge has said that the special circumstances of a celebrity trial shouldn’t keep jury selection from moving quickly, and that opening statements should begin Wednesday.

“I’m not worried about being able to pick a jury in one day,” Marlowe Summer said. “I think we’re going to pick a jury by the afternoon.” 

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, however, was dubious that Baldwin’s lawyers, with whom she has clashed in the run-up to the trial, would make that possible.

“It is my guess that with this group of defense attorneys, that’s not gonna happen,” Morrissey said at the hearing.

Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro replied, “I’ve never not picked a jury in one day. I can’t imagine that this would be the first time.”

Dozens of prospective jurors will be brought into the courtroom for questioning Tuesday morning. Cameras that will carry the rest of the proceedings will be turned off to protect their privacy. Jurors are expected to get the case after a nine-day trial.

Attorneys will be able to request they be dismissed for conflicts or other causes. The defense under state law can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, the prosecution three. More challenges will be allowed when four expected alternates are chosen.

Before Marlowe Sommer’s ruling Monday, prosecutors had hoped to highlight Baldwin’s safety obligations on the set as co-producer to bolster an alternative theory of guilt beyond his alleged negligent use of a firearm. They aimed to link Baldwin’s behavior to “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others” under the involuntary manslaughter law.

But the prosecution managed other wins Monday. They successfully argued for the exclusion of summary findings from a state workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on the film’s assistant director, shifting fault away from Baldwin.

And the judge ruled that they could show graphic images from Hutchins’ autopsy, and from police lapel cameras during the treatment of her injuries.

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Nigeria’s bushmeat consumption comes under scrutiny

Abuja — In Nigeria, bushmeat is more than just food, it’s a culinary tradition and a trade. Despite the risk of zoonotic diseases like Ebola and Lassa fever, 45% of the country consumes bushmeat regularly, and now discussions to raise awareness are taking center stage.

Following last week’s World Zoonoses Day celebrations, Nigeria’s bush meat consumption comes under scrutiny due to the associated health risks.

Abuja-based civil servant Barnabas Bagudu among the 45% of Nigerians who consume bushmeat frequently, despite being aware of the potential risks. His personal favorites include antelope, rabbit, grasscutter, and alligator.

Bagudu emphasizes bushmeat’s unique taste and cultural significance.

“I like bushmeat so much that if I see it anywhere, I like to eat it, mostly antelope and rabbit. Since it is from bush, it’s blessed by God naturally, more than the one that we trained at home,” he said.

Bushmeat is also a thriving trade for many, like Evelyn Agbo, a seller of various types of bushmeat for over a decade.

She draws a huge patronage across Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, with antelope being her bestseller.

Agbo explains the preparation process.

“When I get the bushmeat, I dress it with salt and heat over fire with firewood until it is dried. I could do this for two days because if it’s not dry, flies will perch on it and attract diseases,” she said. 

The World Health Organization states that about 60% of all infectious diseases are zoonotic, passing from animals to humans.

Nigeria has a high prevalence of zoonotic pathogens like Ebola, tuberculosis, and Lassa fever.

Abuja-based public health expert Ejike Orij warns about bushmeat consumption amid a fragile healthcare system.

“So, if for any reason that animal is infected and then it is now killed and served to humans in bats and in restaurant, that’s how the transmission starts,” he said.

The theme of the 2024 World Zoonoses Day was awareness and prevention of zoonotic diseases.

In Nigeria, efforts to promote safer bushmeat consumption practices remain low.

Orji stresses the need to ramp up awareness.

“There has been a lot of public education and community engagement by government on the issue of bushmeat, especially when there was an epidemic of lassa fever…it’s just to spread the awareness especially to the people who prepare it,” he said.

While bushmeat is a top delicacy in Nigeria, the need for safer consumption practices is urgent.

Public health experts urge Nigerians to explore domestic protein sources like chicken and to increase public awareness to mitigate risks.

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