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CHICAGO (AP) — Rejon Taylor hoped the election of Joe Biden, the first U.S. president to campaign on a pledge to end the death penalty, would mean a more sympathetic look at his claims that racial bias and other trial errors landed him on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

But two years on, Justice Department attorneys under Biden are fighting the Black man’s efforts to reverse his 2008 death sentence for killing a white restaurateur as hard as they did under Donald Trump, who oversaw 13 executions in his presidency’s final months.

“Every legal means they have available they’re using to fight us,” said the 38-year-old’s lawyer, Kelley Henry. “It’s business as usual.”

Death penalty opponents expected Biden to act within weeks of taking office to fulfill his 2020 campaign promise to end capital punishment on the federal level and to work at ending it in states that still carry out executions. Instead, Biden has taken no steps toward fulfilling that promise.

But it’s not just inaction by Biden. An Associated Press review of dozens of legal filings shows Biden’s Justice Department is fighting vigorously in courts to maintain the sentences of death row inmates, even after Attorney General Merrick Garland temporarily paused executions. Lawyers for some of the over 40 death row inmates say they’ve seen no meaningful changes to the Justice Department’s approach under Biden and Trump.

“They’re fighting back as much as they ever have,” said Ruth Friedman, head of the defender unit that oversees federal death row cases. “If you say my client has an intellectual disability, the government … says, ‘No, he does not.’ If you say ‘I’d like (new evidence),’ they say, ‘You aren’t entitled to it.’”

Administration efforts to uphold death sentences for white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine Black church-goers, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are better known. Lower-profile cases, like Taylor’s, have drawn less scrutiny.

The Justice Department confirmed that since Biden’s inauguration it hasn’t agreed with a single claim of racial bias or errors that could lead to the overturning of a federal death sentence.

It’s a thorny political issue. While Americans increasingly oppose capital punishment, it is deeply entrenched. And as Biden eyes a 2024 run, it’s unlikely he’ll make capital punishment a signature issue given his silence on it as president.

In announcing the 2021 moratorium, Garland noted concerns about how capital punishment disproportionately impacts people of color and the “arbitrariness” — or lack of consistency — in its application. He hasn’t authorized a single new death penalty case and has reversed decisions by previous administrations to seek it in 27 cases.

Garland recently decided not to pursue death for Patrick Crusius, who killed nearly two dozen people in a racist attack at a Texas Walmart. His lawyers have said he had “severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities.” He could still be sentenced to death under state charges.

Garland also took the death penalty off the table for a man accused in 11 killings as part of a drug trafficking ring.

Defense lawyers say that makes it all the more jarring that Garland’s department is fighting to uphold some death sentences. In one case, Norris Holder was sentenced to death for a two-man bank robbery during which a security guard died, even though prosecutors said Holder may not have fired the fatal shot.

Prosecutors decide before trial whether or not to seek the death penalty, and current death row inmates were all tried under previous administrations. Prosecutors have less leeway after a jury’s verdict than before trial.

Court challenges after trials are also often not about whether it was appropriate to pursue the death penalty, but whether there were legal or procedural problems at trial that make the sentence invalid.

“It’s a very different analysis when a conviction has been entered, a jury has spoken,” said Nathan Williams, a former Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted Roof. “There has to be a respect for the appellate process and the legal approaches that can be taken.”

A Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors “have an obligation to enforce the law, including by defending lawfully obtained jury verdicts on appeal.” The department is working to ensure “fair and even-handed administration of the law in capital-eligible cases,” he said.

Inmate lawyers dispute that prosecutors have no choice but to dig in their heels, saying multiple mechanisms have always existed for them to fix past errors.

Justice officials announced this month that they wouldn’t pursue death in the resentencing of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., convicted of killing North Dakota student Dru Sjodin. But that only happened after a judge vacated the original death sentence.

Notably in 2021, the department agreed with lawyers for Wesley Coonce, sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate in a mental health unit, that lower courts should look again at intellectual disability questions in his case. But the Supreme Court disagreed, declining to hear his case or remand it to lower courts.

Seven federal defendants are still facing possible death sentences.

The first federal death penalty case tried under Biden ended this month. The jury was divided, meaning the life of Sayfullo Saipov, who killed eight people in a terrorist attack on a New York bike path, will be spared. Trump made the decision to seek death and Garland allowed the case to move forward.

Garland’s criteria for letting some capital cases proceed isn’t clear, though the department often consults victims’ families. Some feel strongly that suspected or convicted killers should face death.

Inmate attorneys have asked for all capital cases to get a fresh look. Garland has appeared to take one step in that direction.

The department this year restored written guidance emphasizing that staff can be proactive in fixing egregious errors in capital cases, though none has invoked that option. Garland also re-set processes in which capital defendants can, in certain circumstances, ask the department to consent to their bids for relief.

Taylor was charged with killing restaurant owner Guy Luck in 2003. His lawyers say the 18 year old “discharged his gun in a panic” as Luck tried to grab a gun inside a van in Tennessee.

The prosecution described Taylor to his almost entirely white jury as a “wolf” whom they had an “obligation” to kill. An alternate later said some jurors were determined to get Taylor, recalling: “It was like, here’s this little Black boy. Let’s send him to the chair.”

An appeals court rejected Taylor’s bias claims in 2016, though a dissenting judge said courts must be especially diligent to guard against bias when a defendant is Black and the victim white. She also said Taylor didn’t seem to be among the worst of the worst, for whom death sentences are reserved.

Taylor revived the bias claims, though the department hasn’t directly addressed them. It has rejected many of his separate claims.

As the 2024 election looms — and with the chance of someone even less sympathetic to their claims entering the Oval Office — death row inmates know the clock is ticking.

“Trump ran out of time during his killing spree,” Taylor told the AP via a prison email system. If elected again, “I don’t think he’d waste any time in continuing where he’d left off.”


Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Colleen Long in Washington contributed.

Michael Tarm And Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill aimed at transgender health care puts the state in the middle of a national fight, but with more immediate consequences as the state’s looming election offers an early test on the state-by-state assault on gender-affirming care for minors.

The veto issued Friday set off competing messages likely to be repeated until the November election — when Bluegrass State voters will decide whether to reward the Democratic governor with a second term or hand over the governor’s office to a Republican. No one seems to know yet how much weight voters will put on the transgender issue with the general election more than seven months away.

The legislation in Kentucky is part of a widespread movement, with Republican state lawmakers in other states approving extensive measures that restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people this year, from bills targeting trans athletes and drag performers to measures limiting gender-affirming care.

Beshear framed the Republican-backed bill in Kentucky as an example of government overreach into parental rights. The sweeping bill would ban gender-affirming care for minors — one of many provisions that would affect the lives of young transgender people.

“At the end of the day, this is about my belief — and, I think, the belief of the majority of Kentuckians — that parents should get to make important medical decisions about their children, not big government,” Beshear told reporters soon after his veto.

Kentucky’s GOP-dominated legislature passed the bill by lopsided margins. Lawmakers will reconvene next week for the final two days of this year’s session, when they could vote to override the veto.

Republicans took immediate aim at the governor’s veto, saying he veered too far for most Kentuckians. Republican Party of Kentucky spokesperson Sean Southard asked: “Is Andy Beshear the governor of Kentucky or California?” He predicted the governor will pay a political price for his action.

“Once this campaign is over, today may very well be remembered as the day Andy Beshear lost his bid for reelection,” Southard said Friday.

Republicans could try to capitalize on the political divide over transgender rights to motivate socially conservative voters to flock to the polls in November, when state constitutional offices are on the ballot. Several leading GOP contenders for governor were aligned in condemning Beshear’s veto.

“If the Republicans choose to make this a centerpiece of the campaign against Beshear, it’s going to hurt him,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator.

Beshear cited his own religious faith as a factor in rejecting the bill, saying: “I believe every single child is a child of God.”

Twelve candidates in all are competing for the Republican nomination for governor in the state’s May primary. Beshear’s bid for a second term is drawing national attention to see if the popular incumbent can win again in the Republican-trending state. Beshear has won praise for his responses to devastating tornadoes and flooding, as well as a series of economic development successes.

The bill’s opponents say they’ve got the public on their side and predict Beshear will benefit. They pointed to statewide polling released last month showing a majority of Kentuckians believe decisions over a transgender teen’s health care should be left with the parent, not determined by the state.

“Folks who have never been involved with politics or legislation have been activated by the Kentucky General Assembly’s all-out war on LGBTQ kids,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Kentucky-based Fairness Campaign.

Social conservatives in Kentucky were dealt a setback in last year’s general election when statewide voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion.

The transgender health care bill sparked emotional responses from opponents as it was fast-tracked to legislative passage by GOP supermajorities in mid-March. It would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. It would outlaw gender reassignment surgery for anyone under 18, as well as the use of puberty blockers and hormones, and inpatient and outpatient gender-affirming hospital services.

Doctors would have to set a timeline to “detransition” children already taking puberty blockers or undergoing hormone therapy. They could continue offering care as they taper a child’s treatments if removing them from the treatment immediately could harm the child.

The bill’s supporters say they’re trying to protect children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might regret as adults. Research shows such regret is rare. Gender-affirming medical treatments have long been available in the U.S. and are endorsed by major medical associations.

The bill would require school districts to devise bathroom policies that, “at a minimum,” would not allow transgender children to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identities. And it would allow teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use and would require schools to notify parents when lessons related to human sexuality are going to be taught.

Debates over transgender rights garnered considerable attention throughout Kentucky’s legislative session, but in Pike County in eastern Kentucky, the issue has been a non-factor, said Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones II, a Democrat who supports Beshear.

“It’s not even been an issue up here,” said Jones, a former state senator. “People are worried about inflation, they’re worried about the economy, they’re worried about jobs. Nobody’s called my office to discuss transgender issues.”

Summing up the potential political fallout from the veto, Jones said: “People who would vote because of the governor’s veto would likely not vote for him anyway.”

Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

Accra, GHANA (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris was greeted by schoolchildren, dancers and drummers as she arrived Sunday in Ghana for the start of a weeklong visit to Africa intended to deepen U.S. relationships amid global competition over the continent’s future.

“We are looking forward to this trip as a further statement of the long and enduring very important relationship and friendship between the people of the United States and those who live on this continent,” Harris said.

The children cheered and waved Ghanaian and American flags as she stepped off her plane after an overnight flight. She smiled broadly and placed a hand on her heart as she passed by the dancers.

“What an honor it is to be here in Ghana and on the continent of Africa,” Harris said. “I’m very exited about the future of Africa.” She said she wanted to promote economic growth and food security and welcomed the chance to ”witness firsthand the extraordinary innovation and creativity that is occurring on this continent.”

Ghana is one of the continent’s most stable democracies, but Harris is arriving at a time of severe challenges for the West African nation. Its economy, among the fastest growing in the world before the COVID-19 pandemic, faces a debt crisis and soaring inflation that is driving up the cost of food and other necessities.

A country of 34 million people that’s slightly smaller than Oregon, Ghana is also wary of threats from instability in the region. Burkina Faso and Mali have each endured two coups in recent years, and local offshoots of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group operate in the area known as the Sahel, which is north of Ghana. Thousands of people have been killed and millions more have been displaced.

The fighting has created an opening for the Russian mercenary outfit known as Wagner, which maintains a presence in Africa despite participating in the invasion of Ukraine as well. Mali welcomed Wagner after it pushed out French troops that were based there, and there are fears that Burkina Faso will do the same.

The economic and security challenges will likely be discussed on Monday when Harris meets with Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo. They also are expected to hold a joint news conference.

The two leaders have met twice before, both times in Washington.

During their first meeting, in September 2021, Akufo-Addo said “our big challenge — and it is a challenge of all those who want to develop democratic institutions on our continent — is to ensure and reassure our people that democratic institutions can be a vehicle for the resolution of their big problem — that is economic development as the means to eradicate poverty on the continent.”

Harris is the highest-profile member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Africa this year. After Ghana, she plans to visit Tanzania and Zambia. She returns to Washington on April 2.

The expanded outreach is intended to counter China’s influence, which has become entrenched in recent years through infrastructure initiatives, lending money and expanding telecommunications networks. Ghana, for example, reached a $2 billion deal with a Chinese company to develop roads and other projects in return for access to a key mineral for producing aluminum.

Most of Harris’ events in Ghana will focus on young people. Africa’s population has a median age of 19.

On Monday, she plans to visit a skate park and co-working space that has a recording studio for local artists. Her husband, Doug Emhoff, who is accompanying her on the trip, will hold a town hall meeting with actors from a local television show and attend a girls basketball clinic.

In the evening, they will attend a state banquet with the Ghanaian president and first lady.

On Tuesday, Harris will give a speech and visit Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were once loaded on ships bound for America.

Before leaving for Tanzania on Wednesday, Harris will meet with women entrepreneurs and Emhoff will tour a chocolate company that was founded by two sisters. The name of the company, ’57 Chocolate, is a reference to when Ghana became independent.

Cameron Hudson, an Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Ghana has been “a bright spot in the region” but “it’s facing some very stiff headwinds.”

He noted that the country’s south, where the capital of Accra is located, is primarily Christian, while the northern area is mostly Muslim, and there are fears that militants could expand their operations there.

“These terrorist groups are able to prey on existing fault lines within these societies,” he said.

Hudson said Ghanaian authorities have intercepted weapons shipments and human smugglers. Sometimes there are bursts of violence, and the number of incidents spiked last year.

Chris Megerian, The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of Tennessee Republicans began this year’s legislative session hoping to add narrow exceptions to one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, armed with the belief that most people — even in conservative Tennessee — reject extremes on the issue.

Tennessee law requires doctors to prove in court that they were saving a woman’s life when they performed an abortion. Surely, the lawmakers thought, they could win concessions that would allow doctors to use their good faith judgment about when abortion is necessary to save a woman’s life. But after a key anti-abortion group stepped in, the lawmakers had to settle for a stricter legal standard that moves the needle very little.

Like lawmakers in several GOP-led states who started the year thinking about moderating the nation’s toughest abortion laws, Tennessee’s lawmakers found no appetite among their colleagues for loosening the rules.

During the first legislative sessions in most states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, lawmakers on both sides are dug in. Republicans are moving to make abortion restrictions tougher. Democrat-dominated states are moving to protect access for their residents and, now, for the residents of other states arriving for care.

“Abortion is one of the most stark examples of the political divide between red states and blue states, even when we know that people generally favor the middle on abortion,” said Gretchen Ely, a professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee.

Last year’s overturning of the 1973 Roe decision meant that state laws banning or restricting abortion if such a ruling arrived took effect. Many were met with legal challenges. Currently, bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy are in place in 13 states and on hold in another four because of court injunctions.

Lawmakers in most states have introduced abortion-related legislation this year. Republican-backed measures include funding for counseling centers that discourage abortion, bans on medication abortions and other restrictions. Democrats’ bills include expanding insurance coverage for abortion and knocking back restrictions implemented in the past.

The legislative action comes after voters in six states — conservative, moderate and liberal — voted in referendums last year and abortion access proponents prevailed in all of them. Polling has shown the public was unhappy with the overturning of Roe even as they also support some abortion restrictions.

But Mary Ziegler, a legal historian at the University of California, Davis School of Law, said anti-abortion groups are anticipating that abortion rights support will gradually diminish.

“There’s a belief that people will be more open to more and more stringent bans the further we get away from Roe v. Wade being the law,” she said.

Kelsey Pritchard, a member of the state affairs staff at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said those ballot measure losses motivated anti-abortion groups to get their message out more strongly. “It was a wakeup call for how much work we have to do,” she said.

The ban currently implemented in Tennessee is among the most stringent. Instead of an exception for abortions to save the life of the woman, it includes an “affirmative defense” for doctors, placing the burden on them to prove an abortion was medically necessary.

Now, a scaled-back proposal is moving through the Legislature. It removes the affirmative defense language but still doesn’t grant access to abortions in the cases of “medically futile pregnancies” and lethal fetal anomalies. Doctors warned the new exemption will do little to relieve worries about being prosecuted.

Tennessee Right to Life had already revoked its endorsement of one GOP lawmaker — seen as a key tool for winning over conservative voters — after Republican Sen. Richard Briggs called for changes while admitting that he voted in favor of the state’s so-called trigger ban because he didn’t believe Roe would actually be overturned. Now the lobbying group warned that it could do the same with others who tried to weaken the ban.

“This new amended bill only allows a woman to access an abortion if she’s damn near on her deathbed,” said Democratic Sen. London Lamar, who experienced her own near-fatal pregnancy loss several years ago.

In Kentucky, a Republican bill to allow abortion in the case of pregnancies caused by rape or incest also made no headway.

Other red states are looking to tighten the bans and restrictions already in place.

Florida, which currently bans abortions after 15 weeks, is considering banning them them at six weeks’ gestation — a move backed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy for president in the coming months.

Wyoming recently adopted a ban on abortions throughout pregnancy — though its enforcement was halted last week by a judge — as well as a separate law specifically to bar medication abortions, which are the most common method of ending pregnancies in the U.S.

And South Carolina raised eyebrows when more than 20 GOP lawmakers sponsored a bill classifying abortion as homicide — opening the door for women to face the death penalty, a step no state has yet taken. The bill has since stalled in the House amid backlash, with nine sponsors removing their names as supporters. Instead, lawmakers are advancing an abortion ban with some exceptions.

In blue states, the push to protect abortion access continues.

In liberal Oregon, there are no legal restrictions on when abortions can be provided. But the Legislature is considering a sweeping measure that would allow someone to bring a civil lawsuit against a government agency for interfering with reproductive health rights and also for minors to access certain gender-affirming care services without parental involvement. Dozens of people gave emotional testimony last week on the bill.

With both chambers of the Minnesota legislature now under Democratic control, the state adopted a law to codify abortion rights that were protected under a 1995 state Supreme Court decision. Lawmakers have also pushed ahead with a measure to prohibit enforcement of laws, subpoenas, judgements or extradition requests from other states against people who get, perform or assist with abortions in Minnesota.

Several other blue states enacted similar measures last year through laws or executive orders, including Hawaii, whose governor signed one last Wednesday.

That brand of protections came largely in response to a 2021 Texas law that relies on private lawsuits to enforce abortion bans.

Ballot measures to approve or ban abortions could also go to voters this year or next in several states, including Maryland and Missouri.

But in at least one case, anti-abortion groups are playing a long game with those efforts.

In Ohio, they’re trying to keep a ballot question to guarantee the right to abortion off the ballot in November — all while trying to get another question on the ballot. That question would amend the state constitution to require ballot measures have at least 60% approval to be adopted, rather than the current standard of more than half, making it harder for abortion rights amendments in the future to pass.


Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. AP reporters James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina, Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky, and Julie Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, also contributed. Pollard is a members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Kimberlee Kruesi And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — On the one side are dozens of lawmakers on Capitol Hill issuing dire warnings about security breaches and possible Chinese surveillance.

On the other are some 150 million TikTok users in the U.S. who just want to be able to keep making and watching short, fun videos offering makeup tutorials and cooking lessons, among other things.

The disconnect illustrates the uphill battle that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle face in trying to convince the public that China could use TikTok as a weapon against the American people. But many users on the platform are more concerned about the possibility of the government taking away their favorite app.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said during a nearly six-hour congressional hearing Thursday that the platform has never turned over user data to the Chinese government, and wouldn’t do so if asked.

Nevertheless, lawmakers, the FBI and officials at other agencies continue to raise alarms that Chinese law compels Chinese companies like TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to fork over data to the government for whatever purposes it deems to involve national security. There’s also concern Beijing might try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation through the platform.

“I want to say this to all the teenagers out there, and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch and don’t know what we’re talking about, trying to take your favorite app,” said Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw during the hearing. “You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but you will be one day.”

Many TikTok users reacted to the hearing by posting videos critical of lawmakers who grilled Chew and frequently cut him off from speaking. Some called a potential TikTok ban, as some lawmakers and the Biden administration has reportedly threatened, the “biggest scam” of the year. And others blamed the surge of scrutiny on the platform on another tech rival, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

But few expressed fear of possible Chinese surveillance or security breaches that lawmakers continue to amplify as they look to rein in TikTok.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., whose district is in the heart of Silicon Valley, said he is mindful of the value that platforms like TikTok provide to young people as an outlet for creative expression and building community. “But there’s absolutely no reason that an American technology company can’t do that,” said Khanna, the top Democrat on the cyber subcommittee on House Armed Service. “America has the most innovative technology companies in the world.”

He added that Congress should move forward with a proposal that would force platform’s sale to an American company for continued access for its millions of users while “ensuring that the platform isn’t subject to Chinese propaganda or compromises people’s privacy.”

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans aged 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16% of all teens say they use it almost constantly. It’s because of TikTok’s large user base that Lindsay Gorman, a former tech adviser for the Biden administration who now works as a senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund, says the Biden administration will likely pursue every option short of a ban first. That would include the option for the app’s Chinese owners to divest, which the Biden administration is reportedly demanding from TikTok if it wants to avoid a nationwide ban.

TikTok itself has been trying to leverage its popularity. On Wednesday, it sent dozens of influencers to Congress to lobby against a ban. It has also ramped up a broader public relations campaign, plastering ads all over Washington that tout its promises of securing users’ data and privacy and creating a safe platform for its young users.

Some popular TikTokers who speak out against a ban are concerned — and angered — about how it might impact their personal lives. Many earn income from their videos and have inked brand partnerships to market products to their audiences — another stream of revenue that could be wiped away if the platform disappears. They would also lose the social capital that comes from having a large following on the trend-setting app.

Demetrius Fields, a standup comedian who amassed 2.8 million followers on TikTok from posting comedy sketches, said he spent a long time building his career and followership on the platform. He has one active deal with the fast fashion retailer Fashion Nova, which allows him to earn an income along with the videos he posts on TikTok.

If the app is taken away, he said building an audience on another platform would be challenging for him due to the competition to grab user attention.

“The financial implications for me would be pretty terrible,” Fields said. “I would probably have to go back to working a desk job.”

Sarah Pikhit, an 18-year-old student at Penn State University, said she used to use TikTok a lot, but started cutting back when she realized how much time she spent scrolling through videos on the app. She still uses it, but mostly to post her own content, which she says she can do on other platforms. She said she wouldn’t care if TikTok gets banned — but her friends would.

“They like the excessive scrolling,” Pikhit said.


Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s top security official on Sunday denounced the Kremlin’s plans to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus, saying that Russia was taking its ally as a “nuclear hostage.”

But Moscow said it was making the move in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the plan in a television interview that aired on Saturday, saying it was triggered by a U.K. decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States. He noted that Washington has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” he said.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step towards internal destabilization” of Belarus that maximized “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society. The Kremlin, Danilov added, “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.”

On Saturday, Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country again to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Both Lukashenko’s support of the war and Putin’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus has been denounced by the Belarusian opposition.

Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and a low yield compared with much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.

Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.

The U.S. said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement. So far, Washington hasn’t seen “any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

In Germany, the foreign ministry called it a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation,” German news agency dpa reported late Saturday. The ministry went on to say that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”


Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report from Berlin.

Karl Ritter, The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — As Ohio’s primary approaches, a strict new photo ID requirement is stirring concerns for military veterans and out-of-state college students, in Amish communities and among older voters.

Other Republican-led states are moving in the same direction as they respond to conservative voters unsettled by unfounded claims of widespread fraud and persistent conspiracy theories over the accuracy of U.S. elections. Critics characterize such requirements as an overreaction that could end up disenfranchising eligible voters.

Ruth Kohake is among those caught up in the confusion over Ohio’s law, which is going into effect this year. The retired nurse from Cincinnati gave up her driver’s license and her car in 2019. Now 82, she thought she might never have to step foot in another state license agency.

But Ohio now requires an unexpired photo ID in order for someone vote, and she’ll have to get that at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The law adds passports as valid ID, but eliminates nonphoto documentation such as a bank statement, government check or utility bill for registration and in-person voting. Military IDs also are no longer acceptable when registering to vote.

“I’m very, very, very concerned that people are not going to know. They’re going to come to vote and they’re not going to be able to, or they’re going to have to vote provisional,” she said. “It’s just a very upsetting time. Us old people, we have other things to worry about.”

Of 35 states that request or require a photo ID to vote, Ohio is now the ninth Republican-controlled state to move to a strict law allowing few to no alternatives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fifteen states allow other ways voters can verify their identify, such as an electric bill, bank statement or signature match.

The number of states where voters face strict photo ID requirements is poised to rise in the coming months.

Nebraska lawmakers are in the process of establishing a new photo ID program after voters approved a requirement in November. In North Carolina, a photo ID requirement declared unconstitutional just three months ago could be revived by the state Supreme Court that has a new Republican majority. Meanwhile, a new Idaho law, which prohibits students from using college IDs at the polls, drew a recent legal challenge.

Wendy Weiser, vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the new Ohio law undercuts the Republican narrative about the state having a record of clean and well-run elections.

“Ohio election officials have long been adamant that this wasn’t needed, that Ohio had a good system for vetting and rooting out any fraud and the proof was in the pudding,” she said.

Republican state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a supporter of the law, said the change will make it harder to cheat.

It already has led to frustration and confusion, in part because of the fast-approaching state primary on May 2.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered counties to begin implementing the fast-tracked law so it would be in effect for the primary, though its start date falls within the early voting period. Waiting until fall, LaRose said, “would result in a clear violation of Ohio law.”

That decision is not without complications. The free state photo IDs the law provides won’t be available until April 7, the law’s effective date, despite military and overseas voting already having begun and early, in-person voting set to start April 4.

At the same time, a legal challenge to the law by a Democratic law firm remains unresolved. The lawsuit alleges the law creates “needless discriminatory burdens,” including by requiring photo IDs, making it harder to correct minor mistakes on ballots and restricting mail balloting.

Veterans’ organizations and county recorders, particularly in the populous, Democratic-leaning counties that include Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, have been vocal about the law excluding county-issued veteran photo IDs, though it does allow military IDs, to vote. They cost less and are valid longer — 10 years — than a driver’s license.

“People find reasons to fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed,” said Larry Anderson, 85, a veteran from Columbus who has found the veteran ID card a convenience. “Veterans could come back from the wars and not have a driver’s license and not drive a car, and it just creates more problems for them.”

AMVETS Executive Director Don McCauley said the issue has been brought to lawmakers’ attention and he hopes to see it resolved before the next election.

Access issues also have arisen among the roughly 37,000 Amish in Ohio’s Holmes County, where the largely conservative voters reject being photographed and often lack other forms of government ID.

Lawmakers allowed for religious exceptions through an affidavit that the law’s supporters say will be easy to use, but Holmes County Elections Director Lisa Welch is worried that confusion and extra paperwork could add to the workloads of already stressed boards of elections.

“My biggest concern is the first time through, we get a whole bunch of provisionals (that must be processed separately later),” she said. “I’m the only full-time person in the office right now, and we can’t do everything.”

Holmes County Commissioner Joe Miller fears the new process could deter some voters.

“I want honest voting, I understand that, but a lot of the Amish don’t have the photo ID and won’t do a photo ID,” he said. “So what the Amish do usually — they’re pacifists, they don’t fight anybody — they just walk away.”

Ohio State University has advised its roughly 16,000 out-of-state students against voting in person on Election Day — for fear that obtaining the necessary state ID card could invalidate their driver’s license in their home state and disrupt their financial aid and residency status. The schools suggests such students casting Ohio ballots do so by mail.

Backers of the photo ID requirements have widely moved away from the argument that such laws prevent voter fraud, which happens only rarely. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s database lists only 26 convictions for voter impersonation fraud — the type deterred by photo ID requirements — anywhere in the U.S. between 2004 and 2022. In presidential elections alone, Americans cast more than 645 million votes during that period.

Jason Snead, executive director of the conservative group Honest Elections Project Action, told reporters in a recent policy briefing that robust voter turnout and Democrats’ unexpectedly strong performance in the 2022 midterm elections disprove the idea that election security enhancements suppress voters.

“I would submit that, actually when you look at the sort of election integrity laws that are advancing through state legislatures and actually getting passed, what is happening in conservative states is far more mainstream than than what we’re seeing happen in liberal states,” Snead said.

Liz Avore, senior adviser to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks voting legislation in the states, said voters have made the opposite choice when they’ve had a say on excessively strict photo ID laws. Arizona voters rejected an effort to enact a stricter photo ID law last fall, for instance, and Michigan voters protected the vote there from photo ID restrictions.

So far this year, photo ID proposals also have failed in Virginia and Wyoming.

“A really critical distinction to draw is, yes, it’s true that the majority of Americans are in favor of voter ID laws, and it’s also true that the majority of voter ID laws are set up to allow people who don’t have an ID available to still cast a ballot,” she said.


Associated Press coverage of democracy receives support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Ken Kunz used to know everyone in the North Side Chicago neighborhood where he’s lived for more than 40 years. But crossing paths with old friends is rare these days because longtime residents have been pushed out by new development and soaring property taxes.

When they do meet, the 64-year-old says, they exchange the same greeting: “I’m so glad you’re still here.”

Chicago has grown unaffordable for many working- and middle-class people like Kunz who have been “run over by development,” as he put it. That’s why he voted both in the February mayoral election and the upcoming runoff for Brandon Johnson, a former teacher and union organizer who has called for $800 million in new taxes on “the ultrarich.”

“It seems like he is at least willing to represent someone who makes as much money as I do,” said Kunz, who operates his own delivery business and manages the property where he lives, which helps make rent manageable. “I just want as much representation as the developer who’s building million-dollar condos around the corner from my house.”

How to balance Chicago’s steep financial challenges with residents’ concerns about the cost of living is among the many issues separating Johnson and Paul Vallas, the former schools CEO and onetime city budget director, before the April 4 runoff. The two Democrats advanced in last month’s vote, outdistancing Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Just as in many major cities, the debate over who should pay what in taxes has taken on increasing prominence post-pandemic. Some see this moment as a chance to rebuild the economy and ensure more equitable futures for residents, many of whom were struggling to get by even before COVID-19 hit. In Chicago, the task is complicated by concerns over violent crime, including homicide rates that spiked in recent years and have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Johnson is a progressive who has been endorsed and heavily funded by the Chicago Teachers Union. He has the backing of Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., along with other lawmakers and groups that have long pushed a tax-the-rich agenda.

Vallas is supported by many business leaders, including groups such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. He says he would rely on his budgeting expertise to find ways to cut spending and says Johnson’s plan would hurt not just the wealthy but also businesses that provide jobs and industries the city needs to thrive.

“He’s imposing taxes that are going to pummel the economy at a time when we could possibly be drifting into recession,” Vallas said during a recent debate.

Chicago’s fragile recovery is visible throughout the city.

Along the iconic shopping and tourist strip known as the Magnificent Mile, storefronts sit vacant, casualties of the pandemic, crime and retail trends that were moving away from in-person shopping even before COVID-19. In some areas, particularly in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods, people have left, leaving blocks with boarded-up homes and empty lots.

There are some bright spots on the economic front. Google recently bought a state-owned building in the heart of the Loop to serve as a second headquarters. A long-sought casino was approved and will bring both jobs and revenue.

But Chicago is at a crossroads, dealing with historic inflation, skyrocketing property taxes and the lingering effects of the pandemic, said Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Lavin and other business leaders credited Vallas for his plan to address crime, a major concern among businesses. The union that represents Chicago police has endorsed Vallas, who wants to hire hundreds of officers, while Johnson has been criticized over past comments in support of “defunding” police — something Johnson insists he will not do. Johnson has called for investing more in areas such as youth jobs and mental health care rather than adding more officers.

“We need to do things that are going to encourage people to come back to the office, encourage people to get out and go to shows and conventions to come here, and tourism because that’s a big piece of our economy,” Lavin said.

Johnson says Chicago needs new revenue to offset a freeze on property taxes while investing in other areas, including housing and schools.

His plan includes reinstating a $4-a-month-per-employee “head tax” on large companies, charging big airlines “for polluting the air” in Chicago and taxing financial transactions made in the city. He also wants to impose a so-called mansion tax, or real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales, and increase the hotel tax.

Johnson described the additional hotel tax as an extra $1 per room that most people wouldn’t notice. But Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said it could add up to serious damage for Chicago’s bottom line because, without “palm trees or mountains,” most of the city’s visitors come for conventions.

Jacobson that when convention planners are shopping around for host cities, an extra charge on large blocks of hotel rooms — on top of already higher-than-average lodging taxes — could mean those planners go elsewhere.

Johnson, who turns 47 on Monday, has criticized Vallas for not laying out how he would handle Chicago’s budget deficit without increasing taxes on people who cannot afford it. Johnson has called the 69-year-old Vallas, who was budget director and Chicago schools CEO under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, part of “the politics of old.”

“If he actually had a plan, he’d put forward a plan,” Johnson said. “He’s not putting forward a budget plan because he’s going to raise your property taxes.”

Vallas says he would look at the city’s entire budget to find efficiencies and “work to avoid” taxes. The one thing he definitely wouldn’t do, he said, is propose $800 million in taxes “right out of the box.”

Vallas, who also ran schools in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Bridgeport, Connecticut, says his experience makes him the better choice to handle the city’s massive budget amid tumultuous times. He criticized Johnson, who serves on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, as lacking the experience needed for the job.

“Bottom line is, Brandon has run nothing,” Vallas said.

But Kunz, the longtime North Side resident, said it’s time for Chicago to try a new way forward. While the business community may support Vallas, Kunz doesn’t think business has the best interest of the people of Chicago at heart. So, he figures, why not tax the rich?

“Who else are you going to tax, the average person making $40,000 or $50,000 a year? They’re taxed out. They simply can’t afford it,” Kunz said. “Let’s see what happens.”


Associated Press writer Claire Savage contributed to this report.

Sara Burnett, The Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — An increased number of travelers in Germany boarded trains and planes on Sunday, a day before a major one-day strike that aims to bring the country’s transportation system to a standstill.

But even advance travel was met with disruption in some places as Munich airport already shut down because of the impending strike on Monday, and technical problems affecting German airline Lufthansa in Frankfurt led to flight delays and cancellations at the country’s biggest airport.

Munich Airport, the country’s second-busiest, said that the ver.di union was hitting it with two days of strikes and it has no regular passenger or cargo flights on either Sunday or Monday. A total of around 1,500 connections were affected, and takeoffs and landings were only possible for emergency humanitarian flights, German news agency dpa reported.

German unions have called on thousands of workers across the country’s transportation system to stage a one-day strike as employees in many sectors are seeking hefty raises to reflect persistently high inflation.

Ver.di chair Frank Werneke said last week that the service workers’ union is calling for 120,000 workers to walk out. Those will include security and ground workers at all German airports except in Berlin, local transit employees in seven of Germany’s 16 states, harbor employees and workers on highways — the latter a measure that Werneke said is likely to affect some tunnels.

The EVG union, which represents many railway workers, is calling for 230,000 workers at Germany’s main railway operator, government-owned Deutsche Bahn, and others to walk out.

Ver.di is engaged in a series of pay negotiations, notably for employees of Germany’s federal and municipal governments. In that case, it is seeking a 10.5% pay raise. Employers have offered a total of 5% in two stages plus one-time payments of 2,500 euros ($2,700).

It already has staged a series of one-day walkouts at individual airports and in public services, including local transit.

EVG is seeking a raise of 12%. Deutsche Bahn also has offered a two-stage raise totaling 5% plus one-time payments.

The Associated Press

FREDERICTON — A new sculpture has been commissioned and a platform has been built — but a New Brunswick village’s oversized avian avatar has still not returned to its roost.

Standing 2.4 metres high and weighing 135 kilograms, the statue of a semipalmated sandpiper was once the pride of Dorchester.

Since 2001, Shep — named after nearby Shepody Bay — had pointed thousands of tourists and townsfolk to the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy, where the pint-sized shorebirds gather in late July in a pit stop on their flight from the Arctic to South America.

After the original wooden statue started to rot and had to be removed three years ago, local officials commissioned a $10,000 reincarnation made of steel, epoxy and fibreglass. The result is now sitting in the workshop of artist Robin Hanson in French Lake, N.B., as municipal officials try to untangle what one former official said is “red tape” grounding the bird.

A recent municipal amalgamation has stalled payment for the sculpture. “They invested in the platform, the steps and there’s no bird,” Kara Becker, the former deputy mayor of Dorchester, said with a laugh. “It actually looks terrible because, as you know, Dorchester has the prison there and it had a jail and it kind of looks like hanging gallows to me.” She said people in Dorchester are willing to raise funds for the statue.

The Dorchester village council commissioned Hanson to craft a replacement Shep, but on Jan. 1, the village was merged with Sackville and Pointe de Bute to form Tantramar. That meant Shep took a back seat.

Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, who was mayor of Dorchester and is now a councillor for Tantramar, said she is “working diligently” and is hopeful Shep will be on its perch before the community’s annual sandpiper festival in July. Tantramar Mayor Andrew Black did not return a request for comment.

The semipalmated sandpiper looks similar to a sparrow, weighing about 20 grams — less than a handful of coins — with a 30-centimetre wingspan to power its long trek. Starting in early July and peaking by mid-August, millions of these birds stop on the Fundy beaches to feed and double their weight before making the 2,500-kilometre journey to South America, said Nick Lund, a network manager for Maine Audubon.

Hanson said he is confident the problem will get resolved and Shep will take its rightful place. No stranger to oversized sculptures, he said that when making a statue that’s many times the size of the real bird, he has to be careful, because every mistake is magnified.

“Look, that’s why you measure not once, not twice, but probably about 10 times for everything you do,” he said.

Once Shep is on display, it will join a host of other larger-than-life roadside monuments in the province, including Blowhard the Bony Horse in Cardwell, Lady Potato in Grand Falls, a giant axe in Nackawic, a lobster in Shediac, and Buttercup the Cow and Daisy the Calf in Sussex.

Keith Dewar, a tourism and hospitality professor from the University of New Brunswick, said New Brunswick is sometimes called a “pass through province” leading to more popular East Coast destinations, such as the urban centre of Halifax, Anne of Green Gables’ house in Prince Edward Island or Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.

Novelty attractions are one way that smaller communities can convince travellers to pull over, Dewar said. “If you have a big sandpiper, big lobster or something else — people might stop and buy a coffee.”

Wiggins-Colwell said the area’s economy relies heavily on the tourism brought in by the sandpipers, both tiny and enormous.

After COVID-19 shut down tourism for two years, it’s all the more vital to have Shep on a platform showing tourists the way to the semipalmated sandpipers.

“We have to celebrate that,” she said. “(The statue) is a very good way of doing it. It’s kind of an icon.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2023.

The Canadian Press