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HONG KONG (AP) — The trial of a Hong Kong newspaper publisher who was arrested in a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement was postponed Thursday after the territory’s leader asked China to effectively block him from hiring a British defense lawyer.

Jimmy Lai, 74, faces a possible life sentence if convicted under a national security law imposed by the ruling Communist Party on the former British colony. The government objected after judges on Monday approved Lai’s plan to hire Timothy Owen, a veteran human rights lawyer.

Kanis Leung, The Associated Press



LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police have sought a search warrant for the Reddit website as they try to identify the person who leaked a racism-tainted discussion between Los Angeles City Council members and a powerful labor leader, causing a scandal that has rocked the community and shaken faith in its lawmakers.

The LAPD is trying to determine the origin of the recording that appeared on the site in October, according to a Tuesday statement.

“The investigation involves interviews of persons present and any potential witnesses that have insight into this investigation. A search warrant request has been initiated to Reddit in order to identify the person responsible for posting the recording,” said the statement.

There was no immediate information on whether the request had been granted or other details of the ongoing investigation, Officer J. Chaves, an LAPD spokesperson, said Wednesday.

An email to Reddit seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

Police Chief Michel Thomas announced last month that detectives were investigating whether the recording made last year was made illegally.

The previously unknown recording was of a 2021 private meeting involving then-council president Nury Martinez and Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, as well as Ron Hererra, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

The people at the discussion, all Latino Democrats, were captured on the recording scheming to protect their political clout in the redrawing of council districts during an hourlong, closed-door meeting that was laced with bigoted comments. They used racist language to mock colleagues — as well as one councilman’s young Black son — while they planned to protect Latino political strength in council districts.

It’s not known who made the tape, or why. It was released just weeks before the November midterm elections.

Under California law, all parties must consent to the recording of a private conversation or phone call. Otherwise, the person who made the recording could face criminal and civil penalties.

Martinez resigned in disgrace but the other councilmembers have resisted widespread calls — from the White House down — for their ousting. Late last month the City Council voted to censure the trio. It represented the strongest step the council can take to publicly reprimand them.

The Associated Press



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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for a major political conference before year’s end where he’s expected to address his increasingly tense relations with Washington and Seoul over the expansion of his nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea’s state media said Thursday that Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Politburo in which members reviewed the implementation of state policies in 2022 and decided to hold a larger plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee at an unspecified time in late December.

Kim in recent years has used political conferences in late December or early January to review state affairs and reveal his most important goals in economic and foreign policy and arms development. It’s possible that those meetings are replacing the function of Kim’s New Year’s Day speeches, which he has skipped since 2020 after using them for years to issue major announcements.

During Wednesday’s meeting in capital Pyongyang, Kim insisted that the country this year overcame “unprecedented adversity” in both internal and external circumstances to achieve progress in national development and elevate the country’s “prestige and honor,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea has ramped up missile testing to a record pace this year, exploiting a divide in the United Nations Security Council worsened by Russia’s war on Ukraine to speed up weapons development and dial up pressure on Washington and Seoul.

But Kim has also been struggling to improve a dysfunctional and heavily sanctioned economy made worse by pandemic border closures in recent years, an issue he may also address during the year-end meeting.

State media reports of Kim’s comments during Wednesday’s Politburo meeting did not include specific details of what would be discussed in the party plenary. They also did not mention any critical remarks toward Washington or Seoul.

The KCNA said Kim described 2023 as a crucial year for accomplishing the goals set under a five-year plan established during a ruling party congress in January 2021, where he vowed to revamp his economy and also bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of U.S.-led sanctions and pressure. During that congress, Kim issued a long wish list of sophisticated weaponry, including more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, nuclear-powered submarines, spy satellites and tactical nuclear arms.

Noting that 2023 is a “historic year” — marking the 75th anniversary of North Korea’s founding and the 70th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War — Kim said a “decisive guarantee for the fulfillment of the five-year plan” should be laid out for the coming year, according to the KCNA.

The dozens of North Korean missile tests conducted this year have included multiple launches of ICBMs with potential range to reach the U.S. mainland and an intermediate-range missile flown over Japan. The North has also conducted a barrage of short-range launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets as it angrily reacted to the expansion of the allies’ combined military exercises, which the North insists are rehearsals for a potential invasion.

North Korea has punctuated its tests with threats of nuclear conflict with Washington and Seoul that communicated an escalatory nuclear doctrine. Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament in September passed a law that authorized preemptive nuclear attacks over a broad range of scenarios, including non-war situations, where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.

Experts say Kim’s brinkmanship is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength. South Korean officials have said North Korea might up the ante soon by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean steps to wind down its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Following the North’s latest ICBM test in November, Kim boasted that the country has acquired another “reliable and maximum-capacity” weapon to contain U.S. military threats.

Kim used that test as an occasion to publicly unveil his daughter to the outside world for the first time as his military scientists pledged to expand the country’s nuclear might to protect future generations. His daughter’s appearance was seen as underscoring his previous pledges that he would never fully surrender a nuclear arsenal he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday that personal information of more than 6,000 people in its custody was inadvertently posted to its website for about five hours.

The information included names, nationalities, detention centers where the people were held and unique numbers used to identify them in government records, according to Human Rights First, an advocacy group that discovered the leak on Monday.

All 6,252 people whose identities were exposed expressed fear of persecution if courts denied their bids to remain in the United States and were returned home, according to Human Rights First.

Eleanor Acer, the group’s senior director for refugee protection, said she worried that detainees or their families may be in danger in their home countries.

“In some countries people are targeted, retaliated against for seeking asylum,” Acer said.

ICE said an Excel spreadsheet was erroneously posted “while performing routine updates” and the agency deleted the information from its public website 11 minutes after being notified.

“Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary,” the agency said in a statement.

ICE said it was telling detainees or their attorneys of the leak, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. That will allow them to determine if it impacts the merits of their asylum claims.

The Associated Press


WINNIPEG — A 101-year-old message has been discovered by workers removing the base of a former statue in front of the Manitoba legislature.

Workers have been removing, piece by piece, the large base that held a statue of Queen Victoria. The statue was toppled last year by protesters. Its head was removed and thrown in the nearby Assiniboine River. The base is being removed to make way for a replacement.

When crews recently removed one section of the base, they found a broken bottle and a note that had been placed inside. The note was an apology of sorts, dated July 30, 1921, — an era when alcohol was outlawed.

“It says, on account of the Prohibition, we are unable to adhere to the custom of depositing a bottle of brandy under the stone, for which we are extremely sorry, I believe is what it says,” Reg Helwer, minister responsible for government services, said Wednesday as he tried to make out the wording on the worn dispatch.

The note is signed by a stonecutter, other workers and a bureaucrat — the province’s deputy minister of public works at the time.

The government is now working out how to best preserve the document and what should be done with it.

Helwer said it’s not the first time an item from Manitoba’s early days as a province has been discovered unexpectedly. 

“Apparently there are things of that nature around the legislature. As we move stones, we do discover things like this,” he said.

“To me, it’s a very neat story, especially with the age of the building, just recently celebrating a hundred years not long ago.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022

The Canadian Press



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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has won a federal judge’s approval to carry out a rare intervention to improve the precarious water system in Mississippi’s capital city, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday, months after the system’s partial failure.

The department filed the proposal for intervention on Tuesday and U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate approved it later that day in Mississippi. The move authorized the appointment of a third-party manager to oversee reforms to Jackson’s water system, which nearly collapsed in late summer and continues to struggle.

At a news conference in Washington, Garland said the proposal is necessary to “stabilize the circumstances” in Jackson as soon as possible while city, state and federal officials negotiate a court-enforced consent decree.

“We have to get something done immediately,” Garland said. “The water is a problem right now, and we can’t wait until a complaint is resolved.”

For days last August, people waited in lines for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets in Mississippi’s capital as some businesses were temporarily forced to close for lack of potable water. The partial failure of the water system that month followed flooding on the nearby Pearl River, which exacerbated longstanding problems in one of Jackson’s two water-treatment plants.

The Justice Department also filed a complaint Tuesday on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against the city of Jackson, alleging it has failed to provide drinking water that is reliably compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act. By approving the proposal, Wingate put that litigation on hold for six months.

Garland said the purpose of the complaint is to allow the Justice Department to negotiate a consent decree, which would empower a federal court to force changes to Jackson’s water system.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a news release Wednesday that the proposal, which the city and the state health department signed, was the culmination of months of collaboration.

“The agreement is another step in a long process and is a collective effort that ensures Jacksonians will not be forgotten, and that our ultimate goal of creating a sustainable water system will be realized,” Lumumba said. “We hope that this collaborative effort to repair, replace and modernize Jackson’s water infrastructure will become a national model for other U.S. cities facing similar issues.”

Lumumba also praised the selection of Ted Henifin as the interim third-party manager of the Jackson water system and Water Sewer Business Administration, the city’s water billing department. Henifin, a former public works director in Virginia, has been “instrumental” in lending his expertise to local officials, Lumumba said.

The Justice Department proposal lists 13 projects that Henifin will be in charge of implementing. The projects are meant to improve the water system’s near-term stability, according to a news release. Among the most pressing priorities is a winterization project to make the system less vulnerable. A cold snap in 2021 left tens of thousands of people in Jackson without running water after pipes froze.

Garland said the Justice Department’s involvement in the Jackson water crisis is part of the department’s strategy for achieving environmental justice in “overburdened and underserved communities.”

“The department’s founding purpose was to protect the civil rights of American citizens. Part of the reason that I wanted to be the attorney general was to work on those problems,” Garland said Wednesday. “This is an example of our using all the resources of the Justice Department on civil rights issues.”

In May, the Justice Department created an environmental justice division, following up on President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to elevate environmental justice issues in an all-of-government approach. The Justice Department said in July that it was investigating illegal dumping in Black and Latino neighborhoods in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The situation in Jackson required the Justice Department to respond with the “greatest possible urgency,” Garland said.

“We realize how horrible the circumstances are there,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine not being able to turn on a tap and get safe drinking water.”

___

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed from Washington. Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Michael Goldberg, The Associated Press





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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A historical marker dedicated Wednesday on the grounds of Illinois’ Old State Capitol commemorates the date when then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama announced his 2008 presidential bid there.

The marker standing on the southeast corner of the grounds in downtown Springfield notes the future president’s Feb. 10, 2007, announcement and Obama’s Aug. 23, 2008, introduction there of his running mate, Joe Biden, at the time a Delaware senator and now the president.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the first Black legislator to hold that position, said during the indoor ceremony that Obama “inspired so many people who had never been involved in politics before to get involved.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the marker honoring the nation’s first Black president serves as “a reminder that one of our favorite sons brought a message of hope that resonated at a crucial time to people all across the world.”

The marker’s cost of $2,961.58, was split between the Old State Capitol Foundation and Illinois State Historical Society, said Justin Blandford, the Old State Capitol site superintendent.

The Associated Press



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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Roger Coody has no legal training and his political experience until recently had been limited to registering people to vote. Now, the Oklahoma hairstylist is pushing a ballot proposal he wrote that would make abortion access a constitutional right in his deeply red state, where Republican lawmakers have banned the procedure in nearly all circumstances.

It’s part of a growing trend across the nation to put reproductive freedom to a popular vote after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide for nearly 50 years.

“I don’t ever want to see anybody else’s right stripped away from them, because you never know when it is going to be yours,” said Coody, who said women who have been instrumental in his life inspired his foray into politics. “I am just trying to do my best to change things.”

It won’t be easy. Having overcome the initial hurdle where someone can protest a petition’s legality, the Tulsa man now needs approval from the secretary of state’s office. He then will have 90 days to gather more than 173,000 signatures of registered voters who want to put abortion rights to a vote. Campaigns for ballot questions can cost millions of dollars, and each signature must be verified before the governor schedules an election.

Republican state Rep. Jim Olsen, who wrote the bill to make it a felony crime to perform an abortion in Oklahoma, said he recognizes the right of citizens to launch an initiative petition, but added that “basic morality should not be argued from a standpoint of majority vote.”

Coody’s effort comes after voters in six other states this year rejected measures to restrict abortion access or supported efforts to protect it. Those states included liberal California and Vermont, but also more conservative Kansas and Kentucky, as well as swing-state Michigan. In Montana, voters rejected a measure that would have required health providers to take steps to save the life of an infant born alive, including after an attempted abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been contacted by partners in at least a dozen states regarding similar campaigns, said Carolyn Ehrlich, a senior political strategist with the group. Such ballot initiatives can serve as a “roadmap in states where the legislature is a roadblock,” she said.

Supporters of abortion access have also started the process of trying to get measures on the ballot in New York in 2023 and South Dakota — which has an abortion ban — in 2024.

In Virginia, Democrats who control the state Senate plan to advance legislation that would start a multiyear effort to enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution. But it would almost certainly be voted down in the GOP-controlled House.

Democrats who control New Jersey’s state government have wrestled over putting a question on the ballot next year.

The Oklahoma effort is different than in many other places because Coody is looking to overturn an existing ban.

He tailored the proposal to follow state requirements while mimicking aspects of this year’s successful proposals, he said.

“If these states can get it done, then I know that we can too,” Coody said.

Citizens and advocacy groups in Oklahoma have had several successes in recent years using the initiative petition process, which is outlined in the state constitution, to bypass the Republican-controlled Legislature and put progressive ideas popular with voters on the ballot.

In one of the most surprising policy shifts in the conservative state, marijuana supporters in 2018 managed to successfully pass one of the country’s most liberal medical marijuana programs. The question was approved by 57% of voters and opened the state to a booming industry.

Other ballot measures have enshrined Medicaid expansion into the state’s constitution and reduced penalties for drug possession and low-level property crimes, in both cases circumventing the Legislature.

Any successful ballot initiative, particularly for a constitutional amendment, would be very difficult to pull off without significant financial support and a well-developed infrastructure that includes volunteers and attorneys or other experts familiar with the legal process, said Amber England, a political consultant in Oklahoma who successfully spearheaded an initiative to enshrine Medicaid expansion into the Oklahoma Constitution.

“Oklahoma’s initiative petition process is one of, if not the most difficult, in the country, specifically because they give us 90 days to collect the number of signatures necessary,” England said. “It’s a very difficult process, and it’s one of the reasons it’s been done so few times.”

England said supporters of Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma likely spent more than $5 million on the effort.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mickey Dollens, a Democrat, said timing and strategy will be important in getting fundraising and support. Dollens plans to file a resolution to put abortion access on the ballot in an effort to gain momentum for the citizen-led movement.

“Oklahoma is arguably the reddest state in the country, but the people of Oklahoma love liberal ideas,” Dollens said. “This is why the people have to pretty much do the politicians’ jobs and take measures into their own hands.”

____

Coronado reported from Austin, Texas. AP reporters Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed.

Acacia Coronado And Sean Murphy, The Associated Press



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REGINA — Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall returned to the provincial legislature today for the first time since retiring from politics four years ago.

It was to attend the unveiling of his official portrait at a ceremony that included Premier Scott Moe, former NDP premier Lorne Calvert, and other dignitaries.

The portrait was revealed to Wall and his family nearly 15 years after he sat for the photo it is based on.

Wall says he chose Phil Richards to paint his portrait shortly after he was elected as premier in 2007.

Richards is known as one of Canada’s most important portrait painters with commissions that include the official Diamond Jubilee portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

Wall was first elected as the member of the legislature for Swift Current in 1999 and served as the 14th premier of Saskatchewan for 11 years starting in 2007.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

The Canadian Press



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WINNIPEG — On a clear summer day in August, Rebecca Blake found herself standing in a cemetery outside Edmonton searching for the graves of Inuvialuit who died in the South during a tuberculosis epidemic. 

In a corner of a cemetery in St. Albert, Alta., under some trees she found a section dedicated to Indigenous peoples and a monument holding the names of 98 people buried there from Northern Canada. 

As Blake looked around the area she discovered a grim reality. 

“I realized there was not enough room for 98 people. Then I learned they were one upon the other, upon the other,” she said. 

At a different cemetery, Blake learned a woman who was taken from her community to attend a tuberculosis hospital was buried in the same grave as a local social service recipient.

Blake, who is Inuvialuit and an ordained deacon, was part of a group that included family members and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation who travelled to the Edmonton area last summer to conduct ceremonies at the burial sites of 12 individuals who were located and identified through the Nanilavut Project. The project, which translates to “let’s find them” in Inuktut, began to search for and honour the lives of those who died in TB hospitals. 

Blake helped lead the funeral ceremonies. She shared her experience this week at the second National Gathering on Unmarked Burials that was hosted by the office of the independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked burials and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. 

“The sense of reuniting was indescribable. Everything that I witnessed over those few days will stay with me for the rest of my life and has changed me,” Blake told a crowd of residential school survivors, health experts and family members. 

The event, which wrapped Wednesday, focused on promoting community well-being and addressing trauma in the search and recovery of missing children. 

Kimberly Murray, whom the federal government named as the special interlocutor in June, identified common concerns when addressing trauma. 

Murray said communities are in urgent need of resources to implement wellness programs. She said Indigenous elders and healers need to be recognized as mental health practitioners and changes are needed to federal funding agreements.

The federal government plans to spend $320 million to help Indigenous communities heal from the ongoing effects of residential schools through projects, including searching former school sites, holding ceremonies or memorializing sites.

Murray said communities have been told this funding cannot be used for legal assistance.

“When I think about the history of the Indian Act and how Indigenous people weren’t allowed to hire lawyers, it’s almost like they took that provision of the Indian Act and breathed life back into it in their terms and conditions of their funding agreements.”

Some communities have expressed difficulty accessing lands and negotiating with private landowners, which has forced them to search for legal assistance, said Murray. 

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in western Manitoba was recently denied access to search for unmarked graves on part of the grounds of the former Brandon Residential School. The area is now a private campground. 

Murray submitted a progress report to the federal government at the beginning of this month that outlined other common concerns she has heard.

They include the barriers survivors and communities face when requesting access to records. In one case a survivor was told it would take six months for them to gain access, said Murray. 

She also found there are questions about whether law reform and other measures are needed to support death investigations and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions.

Murray called for governments to immediately waive their fees for communities to be able to access death, birth or any other certificates that the statistics offices hold.

“We’ve heard at this gathering there are family members buried in cemeteries in marked graves, but they don’t know where they are,” she said. “Those death records can tell them where they’re buried … communities need to have access to that.”

When families lose a child without any answers to what happened or where they are buried, it leads to a different kind of unresolved grief, former senator and judge Murray Sinclair said during his keynote speech Monday evening.

“Trauma that we all feel as a collective of the effects that children are still in the ground and were so badly treated is a trauma that runs throughout our nations in all of us,” Sinclair said. 

Murray said she also heard this week about the importance of community solidarity when it comes to recovery work. 

“People are helping each other in the healing, and there’s power to that.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022. 

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press