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Updated: 41 min ago

Local officials say 26 killed, 28 injured in China bus fire

1 hour 47 min ago
BEIJING - Local authorities say 26 people have been killed and 28 injured after a tour bus caught fire on a highway in central China’s Hunan province. The provincial spokesman’s office said Saturday that five of those injured were in critical condition. The incident occurred at around 7:15 p.m. (1115 GMT) Friday along a stretch of Hanshou County in the city of Changde. Aboard were 56 people, including 53 passengers, a tour guide and two drivers, both of whom have been detained as authorities investigate the cause of the accident. Changde authorities put the number of injured at 30. Photos from the scene show the 59-seater bus’s interior completely charred, possibly indicating the fire started with materials on board. Industrial and transport safety remain major problems in China. The Associated Press

Republicans ask to stay order blocking lame-duck laws

1 hour 55 min ago
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Republicans asked an appeals court Friday to immediately reinstate GOP-backed laws limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, sparking a flurry of legal manoeuvring as both sides jockeyed for position before the court makes a decision. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued an injunction Thursday blocking the laws, which GOP legislators quickly approved in December before Evers replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker. On Friday, an attorney for the Republican lawmakers asked the 3rd District Court of Appeals for an immediate stay blocking Niess’ order and reinstating the statutes. The court gave everyone involved until 4 p.m. Monday to file briefs, ensuring no decision will come until at least then. The Republicans’ attorney, Misha Tseytlin, told the appellate court in a filing Friday morning that Niess’ injunction was already causing confusion for military and overseas voters, noting a state Supreme Court election is only days away. Tseytlin added that Neiss’ ruling jeopardizes the validity of thousands of other laws passed during so-called extraordinary sessions, which are unscheduled floor periods convened by majority party leaders. He also questioned whether scores of Walker’s appointees still have jobs. Lawmakers confirmed 82 of Walker’s appointees during the December session, ensuring Evers couldn’t remove them when he took office. Empowered by Niess’ ruling, the governor rescinded the appointments late Friday afternoon. His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said the positions are now vacant. Some of the higher-profile appointees included two University of Wisconsin System regents and state Public Service Commission Chairwoman Ellen Nowak. Baldauff said the governor will fill the spots as quickly as possible to minimize disruption. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a statement saying he feels the appointees were confirmed legally and called Evers’ move “irresponsible.” The laws approved during the December lame-duck legislative session prohibit Evers from withdrawing the state from lawsuits without legislative approval. The move was designed to prevent him from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act, but Evers quickly started the process Thursday following Niess’ order. The laws also require Kaul to seek legislative approval before settling any case and to deposit settlement winnings in the state general fund rather than in state Department of Justice accounts. The laws also rework voting regulations, restricting early in-person voting to the two weeks preceding an election and loosening requirements for military and overseas voters. Their witnesses no longer have to be U.S. citizens, and they can use email to receive and transmit ballots. A coalition of liberal-leaning groups led by the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation in January. The groups argued that the Legislature can’t meet unless the time is specified in a law passed every two years or the governor calls it into session. Extraordinary sessions aren’t scheduled as part of that law. The majority party calls them when it sees fit. Niess agreed with the coalition Thursday, saying there was no statutory basis for extraordinary sessions. Hours after Niess issued the injunction, Evers ordered Kaul to move to withdraw Wisconsin from the ACA lawsuit. Evers didn’t immediately make any other moves with his restored powers, saying he needed time to digest the injunction. The governor and the coalition sent letters to the appellate court Friday asking to be heard before it makes a decision on a stay. Evers’ attorney, Tamara Packard, insisted Tseytlin was “grossly misstating” the injunction’s effects. Both Evers and the coaltion argued the case belongs in the 4th District Court of Appeals. The judges on that court include Gary Sherman, a former Democratic legislator; JoAnne Kloppenburg, a liberal-leaning former state Supreme Court candidate; and Brian Blanchard, a former Democratic prosecutor. In another twist Friday, Kaul reversed himself and now wants to get into the lawsuit. The coalition has technically named Evers as a defendant. But Kaul said in January he wouldn’t defend the governor, explaining would face a conflict of interest since the laws affect the state Department of Justice’s authority. But Kaul sent a letter to the 3rd District Court of Appeals on Friday saying that he now wants to be heard ahead of any stay decision. The laws’ impact on DOJ gives him a “unique perspective” on the facts, he said, and statutes allow the attorney general to be heard whenever a law is found unconstitutional. Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said he feels he can’t represent others in the case because the laws affect DOJ but he can represent his own agency without any conflict. The court issued an order late Friday afternoon allowing Kaul to participate. ___ Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1 Todd Richmond, The Associated Press

Michigan deal bars LGBT discrimination in state adoptions

2 hours 4 min ago
LANSING, Mich. - Faith-based adoption agencies that are paid by the state of Michigan will no longer be able to turn away LGBT couples or individuals because of religious objections under a legal settlement announced Friday. The agreement was reached between Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state in 2017 on behalf of two lesbian couples and a woman who was in foster care in her teens. “Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” Nessel, who pursued settlement talks after taking office in January, said in a statement. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.” Michigan, like most states, contracts with private agencies to place children from troubled homes with new families. The lawsuit alleged that the same-sex couples were turned away by Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services because they are gay. A 2015 Republican-enacted law says child-placement agencies are not required to provide any services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. But the definition of services does not include those provided under a contract with the state Department of Health and Human Services, according to the suit and resulting settlement . The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which intervened in the case on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities and others, accused Nessel and the ACLU of trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies. “The result of that will be tragic,” said attorney Lori Windham. “Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve. This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies.” But two plaintiffs, Kristy and Dana Dumont of Dimondale near Lansing, issued a statement saying they were “so happy” for same-sex couples who are interested in fostering or adopting children. “We are hopeful that this will mean more families for children, especially those who have been waiting years for a family to adopt them,” they said. “And we can’t wait to welcome one of those children into our family.” The ACLU, which called the settlement a “victory” for nearly 12,000 children in foster care, has said the suit was filed after the office of former GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette declined to speak to it about possible discrimination. Nessel, who is gay, has criticized the law. As a private attorney, she successfully fought to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. As of February, Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent were responsible for more than 1,600, or 12 per cent, of the state’s 13,000-plus foster care and adoption cases, said state spokeswoman Bob Wheaton. Under the settlement, the state must enforce non-discrimination provisions in its contracts in cases where agencies accept referrals but refuse to work with LGBT people interested in fostering or adopting any children they have accepted. Turning away otherwise potentially qualified LGBT individuals would be prohibited, as would refusal to provide orientation or training, perform a home study or process applications. In a 2017 court filing, St. Vincent Catholic Charities said it recruited more new families than seven of the eight other adoption agencies in the capital region, and seven of those agencies were willing to work with unmarried or same-sex couples. The agency said it would be unable to keep its adoption and foster programs going without the state contract. The settlement drew both praise and criticism. The liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan called it a “great step toward a more welcoming and inclusive Michigan.” But a top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said he was “deeply saddened and outraged,” and accused Nessel of furthering her “personal political agenda.” “Nessel’s apparent disregard for the laws of our state, the Constitution and the well-being of thousands of children is an affront to all citizens,” he said. Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney countered that the attorney general “strongly supports” giving every child who is a ward of the state a “forever home. That is the compassionate agenda of a mom.” ___ Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 David Eggert, The Associated Press

‘Brace ourselves’: Cyclone death toll tops 600 in Africa

2 hours 57 min ago
BEIRA, Mozambique - With the flooding easing in parts of cyclone-stricken Mozambique on Friday, fears are rising that the waters could yield up many more bodies. The confirmed number of people killed in Mozambique and neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi climbed past 600. Eight days after Cyclone Idai struck southeast Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, touching off some of the worst flooding in decades, the homeless, hungry and injured slowly made their way from devastated inland areas to the port city of Beira, which was heavily damaged itself but has emerged as the nerve centre for rescue efforts. “Some were wounded. Some were bleeding,” said Julia Castigo, a Beira resident who watched them arrive. “Some had feet white like flour for being in the water for so long.” Aid workers are seeing many children who have been separated from their parents in the chaos or orphaned. Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the relief efforts so far “are nowhere near the scale and magnitude of the problem,” and the humanitarian needs are likely to grow in the coming weeks and months. “We should brace ourselves,” he said. Helicopters set off into the rain for another day of efforts to find people clinging to rooftops and trees. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for stepped up support for victims of Idai saying the U.N. and its humanitarian partners are scaling up the response but “far greater international support is needed.” The U.N. chief said in a statement that “with crops destroyed in the breadbasket of Mozambique more people are at risk of food insecurity in all three countries.” With water and sanitation systems largely destroyed, waterborne diseases are also a growing concern. “The situation is simply horrendous. There is no other way to describe it,” As Sy said after touring camps for the growing number of displaced. “Three thousand people who are living in a school that has 15 classrooms and six, only six, toilets. You can imagine how much we are sitting on a water and sanitation ticking bomb.” The death toll in Mozambique rose to 293, with an untold number of people missing and the mortuary at Beira’s central hospital already reported full. Deaths could soar beyond the 1,000 predicted by the country’s president earlier this week, As Sy said. The number of dead was put at 259 in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi. Thousands made the trek from inland Mozambique toward Beira, some walking along roads carved away by the raging waters. Hundreds of others arrived by boat, ferried by fishermen who plucked stranded people from patches of land that had been turned into islands. Many of the arrivals were children. In Beira, people salvaged the metal strips of roofs that had been peeled away like the skin of a fruit. Downed trees littered the streets. And yet there were flashes of life as it used to be. White wedding dresses stood pristine behind a shop window that hadn’t shattered. A downtown sidewalk was Marta Ben’s new home. The 30-year-old mother of five clutched a teary child to her hip as she described the sudden horror of the storm that destroyed their home in Beira. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, barefoot, a cooking pot bubbling nearby. “We were not warned. Suddenly the roof flew away.” She and others now homeless begged passers-by for help, saying they had received nothing from the government or aid groups, not even bread. In Zimbabwe, where roads began to open and some basic communications were set up, a fuller picture of the extent of the damage began to emerge. The victims included a mother buried in the same grave with her child; headmasters missing together with dozens of students; illegal gold and diamond miners swept away by raging rivers; and police officers washed away with their prisoners. In the city of Mutare, Maina Chisiriirwa said she buried her son-in-law, who had gone to the diamond fields to mine illegally. “There are no jobs and all he wanted was to feed his family. He was with his colleagues. They thought it would be easier to mine since the rains would keep the guards and the police away from patrolling,” Chisiriirwa said. His colleagues survived, but her son-in-law was swept away, she said. ___ Farai Mutsaka reported from Mutare, Zimbabwe. Cara Anna And Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

Appeal Court to decide on B.C. pipeline law that would impact Trans Mountain

3 hours 5 min ago
VANCOUVER - A British Columbia Court of Appeal hearing on proposed provincial legislation that would impact the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has concluded and a panel of five judges has reserved its decision. B.C. filed the reference case to ask the court whether it can create a permitting system for companies that wish to increase the amount of heavy oil they are transporting through the province. The system would allow a provincial public servant to impose conditions on permits, which B.C. says would help it protect its environment and ensure that companies agree to pay for accident cleanup. Canada says the proposed amendments to B.C.’s Environmental Management Act are unconstitutional because Ottawa - not the provinces - has jurisdiction over inter-provincial infrastructure. Federal government lawyer Jan Brongers told court the amendments are clearly intended to impede additional oil shipments through B.C. because they only target heavy-oil transporters that want to increase capacity. Joseph Arvay, lawyer for B.C., said in his reply on Friday that the goal of the legislation is not to block Trans Mountain and the court should not presume the law would be used inappropriately in the future. “There’s no evidence to support that theory at all,” he said. Arvay added B.C. already has environmental assessment legislation that applies to inter-provincial projects, and a ruling that found the proposed amendments interfere with federal jurisdiction would also mean that law doesn’t apply. The Canadian government has purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline and related assets for $4.5 billion. The expansion would triple the capacity of the line that runs from the Edmonton area to Metro Vancouver and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet seven-fold. B.C. Premier John Horgan campaigned in 2017, while in opposition, on a promise to use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the expansion. But after his minority NDP government took power, it received legal advice that it cannot stop the project but it could impose conditions upon it, court heard. This is a “distinction without a difference,” given that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional, said William Kaplan, representing a consortium of energy producers including Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd., Husky Oil Operations Ltd. and Cenovus Energy Inc. When Horgan announced the proposed permitting regime last year, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley accused him of breaking the rules of Confederation and announced a ban on B.C. wines, which she later reversed. A lawyer for Alberta told the Appeal Court that the permitting scheme is a “vague, amorphous” process that gives wide-ranging discretionary powers to a government official. Peter Gall said B.C. believes the only way to protect its environment is to stop the pipeline expansion. Trans Mountain ULC also said the legislation is targeting the project and will “directly and significantly” impact it. Justice Harvey Groberman questioned lawyers who argued the goal of the legislation was to stop the project, asking why such a declaration was necessary if the argument that it impedes federal jurisdiction holds up. The National Energy Board conducted a years-long review involving dozens of interveners before recommending the federal government approve the project with 157 conditions. After the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval last summer because the board failed to consider marine shipping impacts, the board recently looked at the topic and added another 16 conditions. However, Arvay said the energy board has been found to do inadequate followup with companies to ensure that conditions are being met. He added that B.C.’s proposed regime and that of the NEB are “complementary and interlocking” and can be harmonious. The government of Saskatchewan, several First Nations, Enbridge Inc., the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Railway Association of Canada also delivered arguments opposing B.C.’s proposed rules at the five-day hearing this week. The cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, environmental group Ecojustice, the Assembly of First Nations and the Heiltsuk Nation presented cases in support of B.C., with the Indigenous groups asserting that First Nations governments have the right to make these types of rules in their communities as well. Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Michigan deal bars LGBT discrimination in state adoptions

3 hours 15 min ago
LANSING, Mich. - Faith-based adoption agencies that are paid by the state of Michigan will no longer be able to turn away LGBT couples or individuals because of religious objections under a legal settlement announced Friday. The agreement was reached between Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties, which sued the state in 2017 on behalf of two lesbian couples and a woman who was in foster care in her teens. “Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” Nessel, who pursued settlement talks after taking office in January, said in a statement. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.” Michigan, like most states, contracts with private agencies to place children from troubled homes with new families. The lawsuit alleged that the same-sex couples were turned away by Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services because they are gay. A 2015 Republican-enacted law says child-placement agencies are not required to provide any services that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. But the definition of services does not include those provided under a contract with the state Department of Health and Human Services, according to the suit and resulting settlement . The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which intervened in the case on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities and others, accused Nessel and the ACLU of trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies. “The result of that will be tragic,” said attorney Lori Windham. “Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve. This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies.” But two plaintiffs, Kristy and Dana Dumont of Dimondale near Lansing, issued a statement saying they were “so happy” for same-sex couples who are interested in fostering or adopting children. “We are hopeful that this will mean more families for children, especially those who have been waiting years for a family to adopt them,” they said. “And we can’t wait to welcome one of those children into our family.” The ACLU, which called the settlement a “victory” for nearly 12,000 children in foster care, has said the suit was filed after the office of former GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette declined to speak to it about possible discrimination. Nessel, who is gay, has criticized the law. As a private attorney, she successfully fought to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. As of February, Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent were responsible for more than 1,600, or 12 per cent, of the state’s 13,000-plus foster care and adoption cases, said state spokeswoman Bob Wheaton. Under the settlement, the state must enforce non-discrimination provisions in its contracts in cases where agencies accept referrals but refuse to work with LGBT people interested in fostering or adopting any children they have accepted. Turning away otherwise potentially qualified LGBT individuals would be prohibited, as would refusal to provide orientation or training, perform a home study or process applications. In a 2017 court filing, St. Vincent Catholic Charities said it recruited more new families than seven of the eight other adoption agencies in the capital region, and seven of those agencies were willing to work with unmarried or same-sex couples. The agency said it would be unable to keep its adoption and foster programs going without the state contract. The settlement drew both praise and criticism. The liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan called it a “great step toward a more welcoming and inclusive Michigan.” But a top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said he was “deeply saddened and outraged,” and accused Nessel of furthering her “personal political agenda.” “Nessel’s apparent disregard for the laws of our state, the Constitution and the well-being of thousands of children is an affront to all citizens,” he said. Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney countered that the attorney general “strong supports” giving every child who is a ward of the state a “forever home. That is the compassionate agenda of a mom.” ___ Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 David Eggert, The Associated Press

A look at Russians who became mixed up in Trump probe

3 hours 22 min ago
MOSCOW - An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into an elaborate Russian operation that sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and try to help Donald Trump win the White House has cast a spotlight on more than a dozen Russian nationals, including billionaires, an elusive linguist, an ambassador and a pop star. A look at some of the cast of characters: PUTIN’S CHEF Yevgeny Prigozhin, 57, earned the nickname of “Putin’s chef” for hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign dignitaries at his restaurant and catering important Kremlin events. A former convict, he now runs companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, thanks to his willingness to do favours for Putin that others would find too risky. Prigozhin was indicted in the U.S. last year in an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 election. The indictment said he funded the Internet Research Agency, a “troll factory” in Russia’s St. Petersburg that used social media accounts to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.” But he also is the suspected mastermind of a company called Wagner that has been sending private military contractors to fight in Syria, Ukraine and African countries. Putin has dismissed charges against the St. Petersburg native and his employees as “ridiculous,” mocking the West for falling “so low” to be suspecting “a restaurateur from Russia” of influencing the U.S. election. THE ELUSIVE LINGUIST Konstantin Kilimnik worked for Paul Manafort starting in the early 2000s. He is described as a fixer, translator or office manager and helped the political consultant formulate his pitches to clients in Russia and Ukraine. The FBI says Kilimnik has ties to Russian military intelligence, but he has denied that. U.S. officials regarded Kilimnik as Manafort’s key aide during their work on behalf of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, who became the president of Ukraine in 2010. Born in what was then Soviet Ukraine, Kilimnik got a degree in linguistics from a military university and in 1995 began working as a translator for the International Republican Institute in Moscow, a U.S.-government-funded non-profit that promotes democracy. Court documents filed by attorneys with Mueller’s office showed Manafort shared polling data from the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. The two also discussed a Russia-Ukraine peace plan several times including during an August 2016 meeting at a cigar bar in New York. A Mueller prosecutor has said that meeting goes to the “heart” of the Russia investigation, but additional details have been blacked out in court documents. Even after Manafort lost his campaign job and was indicted by Mueller on charges related to his foreign lobbying work, U.S. prosecutors alleged, Kilimnik helped ghost-write an op-ed defending Manafort. Kilimnik was indicted alongside Manafort on witness tampering charges. He reportedly lives in Russia, where he keeps a low profile and refuses to talk to reporters. THE AMBASSADOR Career diplomat Sergey Kislyak was Russia’s ambassador in Washington from 2008 until 2017, when he was called home amid scrutiny of his recurrent meetings with the Trump campaign staff as the Mueller probe gained speed. The low-key official with 40 years of diplomatic service was thrust into the limelight in December 2016 when Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s national security adviser, held conversations with Kislyak and asked him not to escalate a diplomatic fight with the U.S. over punishment levied by the Obama administration on Moscow. Kislyak also had conversations with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at Trump Tower that year and also met with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, later Trump’s attorney general. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. The 68-year-old Kislyak, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, has vehemently denied that he or any embassy staff tried to disrupt the 2016 election. He currently sits in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. THE PROPERTY DEVELOPER & THE POP STAR Property developer Aras Agalarov, 63, and his 39-year-old pop singer son, Emin, have had a relationship with Trump dating to their bid to host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. The elder Agalarov told AP in 2017 that he first met Trump in the U.S. when he and Emin flew in to negotiate the rights to hold the pageant. They hit it off and have had a friendly relationship ever since. Agalarov told the Russian edition of Forbes that his company spent about $20 million on the pageant. Agalarov also said that he offered the future U.S. president a site for a Trump tower in Moscow, but “it didn’t come to signing any deals.” The Agalarovs maintained ties with Trump, and it was Emin who, through his British publicist, helped arrange a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian government-connected lawyer who was purported to have documents that could “incriminate” candidate Hillary Clinton in support of the Trump campaign. The meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr., along with Manafort and Kushner. The American participants would later say the meeting was a bust in terms of gathering derogatory information on Clinton, consumed by a lengthy discussion of Russian adoption and U.S. sanctions. The younger Agalarov last month cancelled his upcoming shows in the U.S., citing “circumstances beyond my control.” His father continues to operate a successful real estate and construction business. Neither father nor son is accused of any wrongdoing. THE LAWYER Moscow lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was thrust into the Russia probe when it emerged that she attended the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Leaked documents suggested that the 43-year-old Veselnitskaya went to the meeting as part of efforts to help her clients try to overturn U.S. sanctions - one of the Kremlin’s strategic goals. While Veselnitskaya has denied acting on behalf of Russian officials, scores of emails and documents shared with the AP show she served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior Interior Ministry personnel. In January, Veselnitskaya was indicted by federal prosecutors in New York on one count of obstruction of justice in an unrelated tax fraud case that alleged she teamed up with a senior Russian prosecutor and submitted deceptive declarations in a civil proceeding. THE ALUMINUM MOGUL Oleg Deripaska made his billions in the aluminum industry in the rags-to-riches privatization era that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and was involved in infrastructure development for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, one of Putin’s pet projects. Deripaska once hired Manafort as a consultant, and prosecutors disclosed he provided a Manafort company with a $10 million loan around 2010. Manafort offered to provide Deripaska with private briefings during the 2016 election campaign, but there is no evidence such briefings ever occurred. The 51-year-old was trained as a physicist in the late years of the Soviet Union and became a major player on the Russian metals market even before his 30th birthday. Even among Russian billionaires, Deripaska is notable for his closeness to Putin. Deripaska and his companies were hit with crippling U.S. sanctions last year over Russia’s “malign activity” including Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. But the U.S. Treasury last month lifted sanctions on three Russian companies owned by Deripaska, reversing a move that wreaked havoc on global aluminum markets, after the oligarch restructured the companies and reduced his share in them. THE OLIGARCH AT THE INAUGURATION Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg has long ties to the U.S. including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. The 61-year-old Ukrainian-born businessman, estimated to be worth $13 billion, heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets. Vekselberg built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era. As of mid-February, a company controlled by Vekselberg and a group of partners owned 22.5 per cent in Deripaska’s Rusal, a metals company that was hit with the U.S. sanctions, according to a letter sent by Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Mark Warner to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Deripaska subsequently agreed to cede control of Rusal in exchange for the sanctions relief. As a rich and powerful Russian, Vekselberg is presumed to operate with Putin’s tacit approval. He has used his wealth to exert influence in the U.S., including the Skolkovo Foundation, a Russian government-backed non-profit aimed at winning U.S. and Western tech investment in Russia. Vekselberg has worked closely with his American cousin, Andrew Intrater, who heads the New York investment management firm Columbus Nova. Media attention zeroed in on Vekselberg and Intrater when the attorney for the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels released a memo claiming the cousins routed about $500,000 through Columbus Nova to a shell company set up by Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen. Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg played any role in its payments to Cohen. Several days before Trump’s inauguration, Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen at Trump Tower, one of several meetings between Trump intimates and high-level Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition. Vekselberg also was targeted with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions, which cited his ties to Putin, after he was questioned by Mueller’s staff on a visit to the U.S. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the U.S. are frozen and U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with him and his entities. Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Associated Press

Montreal concert by former Haitian president Martelly cancelled: promoter

3 hours 24 min ago
MONTREAL - A controversial concert scheduled for Friday night in Montreal by former Haitian president Michel Martelly has been called off at the last minute. The show’s promoter, Carl-Edward Osias, confirmed the cancellation to The Canadian Press. Osias did not want to explain the reasons behind the move, saying he would leave that to Martelly. Critics of Martelly, who performs as Sweet Micky, had called on municipal and federal authorities to block the show, citing what they say are his misogynistic comments and his alleged complicity in corruption scandals. Martelly had a singing career before entering politics. He served as president of Haiti from 2011-16. Osias said earlier this week that protests against the concert were being fuelled by Martelly’s political opponents and those who don’t understand that Sweet Micky is a stage persona. The Canadian Press

Sterling scores hat trick, England beats Czech Republic 5-0

3 hours 45 min ago
LONDON - Raheem Sterling scored his first England hat trick in a 5-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the start of 2020 European Championship qualifying on Friday. Harry Kane also netted a penalty and Tomas Kalas compounded the visitors’ miserable night by scoring an own goal at Wembley Stadium as England made an emphatic start to its bid to qualify for a tournament it is largely hosting. Although Euro 2020 is being played across 12 countries, Wembley is staging seven games including the semifinals and final. In Group A, England next plays on Monday against Montenegro, which drew 1-1 with Bulgaria on Friday. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press

The Latest: Texas AG sues company over chemical plant fire

3 hours 45 min ago
HOUSTON - The Latest on a fire that had been burning at a Texas petrochemical storage facility (all times local): 5:30 p.m. The Texas Attorney General’s office has sued the company that operates a Houston-area chemical plant where a fire burned for several days, leading to health and environmental concerns. Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Friday that the state would hold Intercontinental Terminals Company “accountable for the damage it has done to our environment.” The lawsuit demands civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day for unauthorized air pollution, outdoor burning of chemicals and emissions of dark plumes that spread for miles. It was filed in state district court in Travis County. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. ___ 5:15 p.m. The company that operates a Houston-area chemical plant says a new fire has been extinguished about an hour after it began. Intercontinental Terminals Company spokesman Dale Samuelsen said Friday that the blaze was put out around 5 p.m., though video taken from overhead showed crews still spraying areas that were emitting smoke. The flames ignited on the west side of the tank farm, which holds potentially hazardous chemicals including benzene. Earlier, a breach in a dike on the property led to a spill that forced the closure of the adjacent Houston Ship Channel, a key commercial artery. ___ 4:15 p.m. A fire has reignited at the Houston-area tank farm where an earlier blaze sent plumes of black smoke over the Houston area for several days. Harris County’s emergency management centre says multiple tanks were on fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company plant east of Houston. It’s unclear how large or serious the fire is. Several calls to the company’s incident centre went unanswered Friday afternoon. Earlier Friday, a breach of a containment dike at the plant forced the closure of part of the Houston Ship Channel. Crews were trying to drain one tank considered to be structurally unsound. There are still significant health and environmental concerns at the site. Among the chemicals stored there include benzene, a highly flammable liquid that can cause headaches, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms. ___ 3:15 p.m. The U.S. Coast Guard has closed part of the Houston Ship Channel due to chemicals spilling from a petrochemical tank farm after a dayslong fire, affecting commerce on one of the nation’s most important commercial waterways. The Coast Guard said Friday that it was closing the channel near the Intercontinental Terminals Company plant east of Houston. The company said earlier that a dike wall breached near a damaged tank where crews were trying to drain potentially hazardous liquids. Coast Guard spokesman Kelly Parker says that caused a mix of chemicals, firefighting foam, and soot from the fire to enter the channel. By closing the channel, the Coast Guard hopes to limit the spread of those liquids into the nearby bay. The ship channel connects the Port of Houston to Galveston Bay and is a key waterway for refineries and industrial sites. ___ 1:45 p.m. The company that operates a petrochemical tank farm near Houston says there’s been a partial breach of a dike wall containing potentially hazardous liquids. The breach occurred near a damaged tank that crews were working Friday to drain of chemicals that include benzene. The cleanup efforts came after a dayslong fire at the facility was put out on Wednesday. Intercontinental Terminals Company spokesman Dale Samuelsen said the breach occurred shortly before 12:30 p.m.. He says the company has asked industrial neighbours and people at a nearby historical site to shelter in place. The surrounding town of Deer Park has not been told to shelter in place. Samuelsen said workers didn’t know what was in the liquids or how it would affect the ongoing process to pump liquid out of the tank. ___ 12 p.m. The company that operates a petrochemical tank farm near Houston where a dayslong fire damaged several tanks says it’s working to remove flammable product without allowing dangerous emissions to again escape into the air. Brent Weber with Intercontinental Terminals Company said during a news conference Friday that crews are pumping about 20,000 barrels of liquid out of a damaged tank. He says foam will be repeatedly sprayed over the tank to avoid benzene from seeping into the air. The tanks contained components of gasoline and materials used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner. People living near the plant in Deer Park were told Thursday to remain indoors after air monitors detected elevated levels of benzene. The order was lifted later Thursday. The fire began Sunday and was extinguished Wednesday. The Associated Press

Treasury grants further relief on IRS withholding penalties

3 hours 47 min ago
WASHINGTON - The Treasury Department announced Friday that it is expanding again the relief it grants taxpayers who had too little in income taxes withheld from their paychecks in the first year of a sweeping tax overhaul. Treasury said that taxpayers will be able to avoid penalties for paying too little in taxes as long as they paid at least 80 per cent of what they owed the government. That represents a reduction from the regular threshold to avoid penalties of paying 90 per cent of what is owed. Treasury had earlier this year reduced the normal 90 per cent threshold to 85 per cent. In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department was making the move “to help those who attempted in good faith to meet their withholding obligations.” Mnuchin had been urged by a number of lawmakers during appearances before Congress last week to make the move. Before this filing season, taxpayers could avoid penalties for underpayment if they had paid 90 per cent of the taxes owed for the current year. In January, the IRS lowered that 90 per cent threshold to 85 per cent in an effort to deal with issues raised by the transition to the tax cut law approved by Congress in December 2017. Treasury has said that around 80 per cent of taxpayers will see a decrease in their tax bill this year, while about 15 per cent will owe roughly the same amount. Fewer people are expected to receive a refund this year. Officials point out that doesn’t reflect rising or falling tax liability. There has been confusion around the size of refunds, which have varied more than usual this year because of the new Republican-written tax law. After showing declines earlier in the filing season, the average size of refunds now is about the same as last year at $2,957, according to IRS data. Democratic lawmakers had sharply criticized the Trump administration for under-withholding from workers’ paychecks, suggesting officials may have schemed to inflate paychecks with the new withholding tables for the tax law - bringing negative surprises in refunds this spring. The Democrats endorsed Friday’s move by Treasury. “The Trump administration is taking a step to undo the harm the Republican tax law inflicted on millions of families whose taxes were under-withheld through no fault of their own,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had proposed legislation to reduce the penalty threshold to 80 per cent. “As tax filing season is in full swing, Treasury’s action will relieve the financial anxiety facing worried taxpayers across the country,” Chu said Friday. Democrats had uniformly opposed the tax law, which was pushed by President Donald Trump and hustled through Congress in late 2017 to take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. They maintained the sweeping overhaul of the tax code benefits mostly big corporations and the rich. __ AP Business Writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report. Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press

Canada’s team: Buffalo Bulls women’s squad wins March Madness opener

3 hours 49 min ago
The team with the most Canadian representation at March Madness is moving on after an upset victory on Friday. The No. 10-seeded Buffalo Bulls women’s team, featuring five Canadians, pulled away late for a 82-71 win over the No. 7 Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Storrs, Conn. Starting guard Hanna Hall of Hamilton had 12 points and eight assists for the Bulls, while starting forward Adedola Adeyeye of Brampton, Ont., chipped in with four points and five rebounds. The Bulls’ other three Canadians - Oceane Kounkou of Gatineau, Que., Ayoleka Sodade of Windsor, Ont., and Keowa Walters of Toronto - did not play. Buffalo is trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. WINNING START It was a slow start for Canadians on the second full day of March Madness, but a couple of Canuck starters enjoyed victories in their tournament kickoffs on Friday afternoon. Tennessee senior forward Kyle Alexander of Milton, Ont., had two points and five rebounds as the second-seeded Volunteers withstood a Colgate rally to beat the No. 15 Raiders 77-70 in Columbus, Ohio. While he didn’t have a huge day, at least Alexander erased memories of being sidelined with a hip injury in Tennessee’s second-round loss to upstart Loyola-Chicago last year. The Ramblers went all the way to the Final Four after that win. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s Hailey Brown had six points and two rebounds as the No. 8-seeded Michigan Wolverines women’s team beat the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats 84-54 in Louisville, Ky. Another Canadian starter experienced a different result, though. Montreal’s Luguentz Dort was held to 12 points by Buffalo in the Bulls’ 91-74 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tulsa, Okla. Dort, who had 21 points in Arizona State’s play-in win over St. John’s on Wednesday, shot 4 of 12 from the field against Buffalo and had three rebounds, two assists and four fouls. LOOKING AHEAD A couple of Canadian versus Canadian matchups are part of Saturday’s men’s schedule. Ignas Brazdeikis of Oakville, Ont., and his No. 2 Michigan Wolverines square off with Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., and the No. 10 Florida Gators in Des Moines, Iowa. Later, Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke takes to the floor with the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs for a contest with the No. 10 Baylor Bears, who have Devonte Bandoo of Brampton, Ont., on their roster, in Salt Lake City. Mfiondu Kabengele of Burlington, Ont., fresh off a double-double in Florida State’s tournament-opening win, also returns to action as the No. 4 Seminoles face the No. 12 Murray State Racers in Hartford, Conn. “I think with our team, obviously our quality of our depth, our length, but more especially our intelligence. I feel like we’re one of the smarter teams in this conference,” Kabengele said. “I feel that goes underrated, and I feel like our decision-making and our game plan preparation is very excellent.” On the women’s side, top Canadian Bridget Carleton plays her first game of the tournament with Iowa State as the No. 3 Cyclones play host to the No. 14 New Mexico State Aggies. Carleton was 13th in the country in scoring this season. Shay Colley of Brampton, Ont., also one of the top Canadian women in the NCAA ranks, begins her tournament with the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans against the No. 8 Central Michigan Chippewas in South Bend, Ind. Other Canadian women in action include Alyssa Jerome (Stanford, Toronto) and Aislinn Konig (North Carolina State, Surrey, B.C. The Canadian Press

Navajo Nation company ends bid to buy power plant, mine

3 hours 50 min ago
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the West will close this year as planned after a Navajo Nation company ended its long-shot bid Friday to acquire it. The Navajo Generating Station has operated for decades in northeastern Arizona near the Utah border, providing a hefty chunk of revenue to the Navajo Nation. Both the Navajo and the neighbouring Hopi Tribe benefit from the Kayenta Mine, which feeds the 2,250-megawatt power plant, transporting the coal on a rail line. Navajo leaders asked the Navajo Transitional Energy Company last year to look into acquiring the power plant and the coal mine as a way to save the revenue and hundreds of jobs held by tribal members. Negotiations with the power plant owners came to a halt recently over who ultimately would be responsible for cleanup. The owners wanted the energy company to take on any known or unknown liabilities for the plant, but the Navajo Nation declined. With that and a decision Thursday from a Navajo Nation Council committee not to support the acquisition, the energy company called it quits. SRP expects to award contracts for decommissioning as early as next month. The news is tough for families who have relied on the jobs for generations, company spokesman Erny Zah said. “A decade-long process would have definitely helped explore some newer opportunities that would have created economic stability for northeastern Arizona,” Zah said. “And, now, we are going to do our best to see what we can do to help.” The Hopi Tribe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Environmentalists have urged the Navajo Nation to ditch coal in favour of renewable energy projects. When the plant closes in December, the Navajo Nation will have access to a portion of the transmission lines under the existing lease agreement. “Everyone else around the Navajo Nation is moving forward,” said Percy Deal, who lives near the coal mine at Big Mountain. “We just need to go forward and start rebuilding the community around the mine and the plant. We’re looking for recovery, and I’m glad it started today.” The power plant owners cited cheaper prices for natural gas in deciding to close the power plant. An earlier bid by two companies to own and operate the plant fell through because they couldn’t get anyone to commit to buying the power. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company had outlined a plan to operate the power plant for 10 more years, running two of the units and using the third for research of clean coal and other technology, Zah said. It would sell the energy at a price that would be competitive with natural gas and have a lesser tax burden because it’s a tribal entity, Zah said. So far, about 280 Navajo Generating Station employees have accepted new jobs, retired or declined to relocate within the Salt River Project, the power plant’s majority owner and operator, SRP spokeswoman Patty Likens said. She said SRP has ensured that all of the plant’s employees will have a job if they are willing to be moved and placed in a new role. There are about 265 contractors at the plant, Likens added. Peabody Energy, which runs the Kayenta Mine, laid off 40 employees in late February and is sending its last shipment of coal to the power plant before the end of September, company spokeswoman Charlene Murdock said. About 300 workers are at the mine. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company plans to hold a job fair for mine workers later this year, Zah said. Peabody applauds those who worked to protect the jobs and preserve the energy source “even though these efforts ultimately couldn’t prevent premature closure of NGS,” Murdock said. The Navajo Generating Station initially was built to move Colorado River water through a series of canals to Arizona’s major metropolitan areas. But the operators of the canal said they, too, could find cheaper energy. Felicia Fonseca, The Associated Press

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu beats Kenin to advance to third round in Miami

3 hours 50 min ago
MIAMI - Canada’s Bianca Andreescu has exacted revenge on one of the three women to beat her in the 2019 season. The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., won her ninth consecutive match on Friday, beating No. 32 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States 6-3, 6-3 in a second-round contest at the Miami Open. Kenin was the last player to beat the 24th-ranked Andreescu, prevailing in a three-set semifinal in Acapulco, Mexico on March 1. Since then, Andreescu has captured the BNP Paribas Open title in Indian Wells, Calif., and won two more matches in Miami. She is now 30-3 during the 2019 season. “I got a sense of how she plays. Obviously, I was expecting the right things,” Andreescu said of the rematch with Kenin. “I definitely played a lot better than in Acapulco.” Andreescu will next face No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany on Saturday night in a rematch of the Indian Wells final. Friday’s match lacked the drama of Andreescu’s previous three outings - all of which were three-set, two-plus-hour contests. She was coming off a thrilling win on Thursday over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu in which Andreescu trailed 6-3, 5-1. “I’m actually really happy with how my body’s holding up. The only thing that’s a problem is now my shoulder is pretty tight,” said Andreescu, who had her right arm taped for Friday’s match. “I’ve been seeking treatment. It’s not too bad.” Andreescu and Kenin both struggled with their first serves, with the Canadian breaking the American three times in the first set to win it. Andreescu recorded another three breaks in the second set. Kenin double-faulted on the final point of the match, Andreescu’s third match point. Andreescu got in 55 per cent of her first serves, as compared to just 40 per cent for Kenin. Both players had six double-faults. Andreescu said she’s trying not to focus on her winning streak. “I try not to overthink about what happened last week. I know I just won a really big tournament, now I’m here in Miami,” she said. “The only pressure I think is the pressure I put on myself.” Kenin is familiar to Canadian tennis fans after her earlier win over Andreescu, along with a run to the ASB Classic doubles title with Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., in New Zealand in January. On the men’s side in Miami, 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal also is heading to the third round. Auger-Aliassime beat No. 29 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. The Canadian bounced back after blowing a 4-2 lead in the second set. Auger-Aliassime had a solid edge in terms of getting his first serve in, doing it 67 per cent of the time as compared to 52 per cent for his opponent. The Canadian recorded six aces and six breaks. Meanwhile, Milos Raonic has advanced to the third round without playing a single point. The No. 12 seed from Thornhill, Ont., won by walkover against Maximilian Marterer on Friday as the German retired before the second-round match. Raonic received a first-round bye as a seeded player. The Canadian will play No. 19 seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the third round. Edmund beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 on Friday. No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., is slated to face Daniel Evans of Great Britain in a second-round match, likely on Saturday.   The Canadian Press

Canada’s team: Buffalo Bulls women’s squad wins March Madness opener

3 hours 52 min ago
The team with the most Canadian representation at March Madness is moving on after an upset victory on Friday. The No. 10-seeded Buffalo Bulls women’s team, featuring five Canadians, pulled away late for a 82-71 win over the No. 7 Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Storrs, Conn. Starting guard Hanna Hall of Hamilton had 12 points and eight assists for the Bulls, while starting forward Adedola Adeyeye of Brampton, Ont., chipped in with four points and five rebounds. The Bulls’ other three Canadians - Oceane Kounkou of Gatineau, Que., Ayoleka Sodade of Windsor, Ont., and Keowa Walters of Toronto - did not play. Buffalo is trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. WINNING START It was a slow start for Canadians on the second full day of March Madness, but a couple of Canuck starters enjoyed victories in their tournament kickoffs on Friday afternoon. Tennessee senior forward Kyle Alexander of Milton, Ont., had two points and five rebounds as the second-seeded Volunteers withstood a Colgate rally to beat the No. 15 Raiders 77-70 in Columbus, Ohio. While he didn’t have a huge day, at least Alexander erased memories of being sidelined with a hip injury in Tennessee’s second-round loss to upstart Loyola-Chicago last year. The Ramblers went all the way to the Final Four after that win. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s Hailey Brown had six points and two rebounds as the No. 8-seeded Michigan Wolverines women’s team beat the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats 84-54 in Louisville, Ky. Another Canadian starter experienced a different result, though. Montreal’s Luguentz Dort was held to 12 points by Buffalo in the Bulls’ 91-74 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tulsa, Okla. Dort, who had 21 points in Arizona State’s play-in win over St. John’s on Wednesday, shot 4 of 12 from the field against Buffalo and had three rebounds, two assists and four fouls. LOOKING AHEAD A couple of Canadian versus Canadian matchups are part of Saturday’s men’s schedule. Ignas Brazdeikis of Oakville, Ont., and his No. 2 Michigan Wolverines square off with Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., and the No. 10 Florida Gators in Des Moines, Iowa. Later, Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke takes to the floor with the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs for a contest with the No. 10 Baylor Bears, who have Devonte Bandoo of Brampton, Ont., on their roster, in Salt Lake City. Mfiondu Kabengele of Burlington, Ont., fresh off a double-double in Florida State’s tournament-opening win, also returns to action as the No. 4 Seminoles face the No. 12 Murray State Racers in Hartford, Conn. “I think with our team, obviously our quality of our depth, our length, but more especially our intelligence. I feel like we’re one of the smarter teams in this conference,” Kabengele said. “I feel that goes underrated, and I feel like our decision-making and our game plan preparation is very excellent.” On the women’s side, top Canadian Bridget Carleton plays her first game of the tournament with Iowa State as the No. 3 Cyclones play host to the No. 14 New Mexico State Aggies. Carleton was 13th in the country in scoring this season. Shay Colley of Brampton, Ont., also one of the top Canadian women in the NCAA ranks, begins her tournament with the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans against the No. 8 Central Michigan Chippewas in South Bend, Ind. Other Canadian women in action include Alyssa Jerome (Stanford, Toronto) and Aislinn Konig (North Carolina State, Surrey, B.C. The Canadian Press

Papa John’s scores Shaq to help revive its image

3 hours 52 min ago
NEW YORK - Papa John’s is getting “Shaq-ified.” The pizza chain said Friday that basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal will be its new pitchman, appearing in TV commercials and promoting Papa John’s in other ways. The company hopes O’Neal can repair its image and revive its sales after the company’s founder and namesake, John Schnatter, made racially insensitive remarks. Besides being a spokesman, O’Neal will also join the company’s board of directors and invest in nine of its restaurants in the Atlanta area. “If you want to enjoy great pizza and feel loved by the people that serve the pizza, you can come back home now,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press. “‘The Daddy’ is here.” The problems at Papa John’s started in 2017, when Schnatter criticized the NFL’s leadership and blamed protests by football players for falling pizza sales. Last year it was revealed that he used a racial slur during a media training session. Schnatter apologized for the slur and the company scrubbed his face from the company’s logo and pizza boxes. He is still the Louisville, Kentucky-based company’s biggest shareholder. O’Neal said Schnatter’s comments were “not acceptable,” and said he told the company’s executives that it needed more diversity in its leadership. He says he’s the first African-American to join Papa John’s board. “We want to create a culture to let everybody know that they’re loved, accepted and wanted,” O’Neal said. Papa John’s International Inc. said it will pay O’Neal more than $8 million in cash and company stock for the three-year endorsement deal. Wall Street seems to think it’s a winning partnership. Shares of Papa John’s soared more than 6 per cent Friday. Joseph Pisani And Gary Gerard Hamilton, The Associated Press

A look at Russians who became mixed up in Trump probe

4 hours 3 min ago
MOSCOW - An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into an elaborate Russian operation that sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and try to help Donald Trump win the White House has cast a spotlight on more than a dozen Russian nationals, including billionaires, an elusive linguist, an ambassador and a pop star. A look at some of the cast of characters: PUTIN’S CHEF Yevgeny Prigozhin, 57, earned the nickname of “Putin’s chef” for hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign dignitaries at his restaurant and catering important Kremlin events. A former convict, he now runs companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, thanks to his willingness to do favours for Putin that others would find too risky. Prigozhin was indicted in the U.S. last year in an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 election. The indictment said he funded the Internet Research Agency, a “troll factory” in Russia’s St. Petersburg that used social media accounts to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.” But he also is the suspected mastermind of a company called Wagner that has been sending private military contractors to fight in Syria, Ukraine and African countries. Putin has dismissed charges against the St. Petersburg native and his employees as “ridiculous,” mocking the West for falling “so low” to be suspecting “a restaurateur from Russia” of influencing the U.S. election. THE ELUSIVE LINGUIST Konstantin Kilimnik worked for Paul Manafort starting in the early 2000s. He is described as a fixer, translator or office manager and helped the political consultant formulate his pitches to clients in Russia and Ukraine. The FBI says Kilimnik has ties to Russian military intelligence, but he has denied that. U.S. officials regarded Kilimnik as Manafort’s key aide during their work on behalf of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, who became the president of Ukraine in 2010. Born in what was then Soviet Ukraine, Kilimnik got a degree in linguistics from a military university and in 1995 began working as a translator for the International Republican Institute in Moscow, a U.S.-government-funded non-profit that promotes democracy. Court documents filed by attorneys with Mueller’s office showed Manafort shared polling data from the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. The two also discussed a Russia-Ukraine peace plan several times including during an August 2016 meeting at a cigar bar in New York. A Mueller prosecutor has said that meeting goes to the “heart” of the Russia investigation, but additional details have been blacked out in court documents. Even after Manafort lost his campaign job and was indicted by Mueller on charges related to his foreign lobbying work, U.S. prosecutors alleged, Kilimnik helped ghost-write an op-ed defending Manafort. Kilimnik was indicted alongside Manafort on witness tampering charges. He reportedly lives in Russia, where he keeps a low profile and refuses to talk to reporters. THE AMBASSADOR Career diplomat Sergey Kislyak was Russia’s ambassador in Washington from 2008 until 2017, when he was called home amid scrutiny of his recurrent meetings with the Trump campaign staff as the Mueller probe gained speed. The low-key official with 40 years of diplomatic service was thrust into the limelight in December 2016 when Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s national security adviser, held conversations with Kislyak and asked him not to escalate a diplomatic fight with the U.S. over punishment levied by the Obama administration on Moscow. Kislyak also had conversations with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at Trump Tower that year and also met with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, later Trump’s attorney general. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. The 68-year-old Kislyak, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, has vehemently denied that he or any embassy staff tried to disrupt the 2016 election. He currently sits in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. THE PROPERTY DEVELOPER & THE POP STAR Property developer Aras Agalarov, 63, and his 39-year-old pop singer son, Emin, have had a relationship with Trump dating to their bid to host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. The elder Agalarov told AP in 2017 that he first met Trump in the U.S. when he and Emin flew in to negotiate the rights to hold the pageant. They hit it off and have had a friendly relationship ever since. Agalarov told the Russian edition of Forbes that his company spent about $20 million on the pageant. Agalarov also said that he offered the future U.S. president a site for a Trump tower in Moscow, but “it didn’t come to signing any deals.” The Agalarovs maintained ties with Trump, and it was Emin who, through his British publicist, helped arrange a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian government-connected lawyer who was purported to have documents that could “incriminate” candidate Hillary Clinton in support of the Trump campaign. The meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr., along with Manafort and Kushner. The American participants would later say the meeting was a bust in terms of gathering derogatory information on Clinton, consumed by a lengthy discussion of Russian adoption and U.S. sanctions. The younger Agalarov last month cancelled his upcoming shows in the U.S., citing “circumstances beyond my control.” His father continues to operate a successful real estate and construction business. Neither father nor son is accused of any wrongdoing. THE LAWYER Moscow lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was thrust into the Russia probe when it emerged that she attended the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Leaked documents suggested that the 43-year-old Veselnitskaya went to the meeting as part of efforts to help her clients try to overturn U.S. sanctions - one of the Kremlin’s strategic goals. While Veselnitskaya has denied acting on behalf of Russian officials, scores of emails and documents shared with the AP show she served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior Interior Ministry personnel. In January, Veselnitskaya was indicted by federal prosecutors in New York on one count of obstruction of justice in an unrelated tax fraud case that alleged she teamed up with a senior Russian prosecutor and submitted deceptive declarations in a civil proceeding. THE ALUMINUM MOGUL Oleg Deripaska made his billions in the aluminum industry in the rags-to-riches privatization era that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and was involved in infrastructure development for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, one of Putin’s pet projects. Deripaska once hired Manafort as a consultant, and prosecutors disclosed he provided a Manafort company with a $10 million loan around 2010. Manafort offered to provide Deripaska with private briefings during the 2016 election campaign, but there is no evidence such briefings ever occurred. The 51-year-old was trained as a physicist in the late years of the Soviet Union and became a major player on the Russian metals market even before his 30th birthday. Even among Russian billionaires, Deripaska is notable for his closeness to Putin. Deripaska and his companies were hit with crippling U.S. sanctions last year over Russia’s “malign activity” including Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. But the U.S. Treasury last month lifted sanctions on three Russian companies owned by Deripaska, reversing a move that wreaked havoc on global aluminum markets, after the oligarch restructured the companies and reduced his share in them. THE OLIGARCH AT THE INAUGURATION Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg has long ties to the U.S. including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut. The 61-year-old Ukrainian-born businessman, estimated to be worth $13 billion, heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets. Vekselberg built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era. As of mid-February, a company controlled by Vekselberg and a group of partners owned 22.5 per cent in Deripaska’s Rusal, a metals company that was hit with the U.S. sanctions, according to a letter sent by Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Mark Warner to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Deripaska subsequently agreed to cede control of Rusal in exchange for the sanctions relief. As a rich and powerful Russian, Vekselberg is presumed to operate with Putin’s tacit approval. He has used his wealth to exert influence in the U.S., including the Skolkovo Foundation, a Russian government-backed non-profit aimed at winning U.S. and Western tech investment in Russia. Vekselberg has worked closely with his American cousin, Andrew Intrater, who heads the New York investment management firm Columbus Nova. Media attention zeroed in on Vekselberg and Intrater when the attorney for the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels released a memo claiming the cousins routed about $500,000 through Columbus Nova to a shell company set up by Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen. Columbus Nova denied that Vekselberg played any role in its payments to Cohen. Several days before Trump’s inauguration, Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen at Trump Tower, one of several meetings between Trump intimates and high-level Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition. Vekselberg also was targeted with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions, which cited his ties to Putin, after he was questioned by Mueller’s staff on a visit to the U.S. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the U.S. are frozen and U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with him and his entities. Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Associated Press

Republicans ask to stay order blocking lame-duck laws

4 hours 29 min ago
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Republicans asked an appeals court Friday to immediately reinstate GOP-backed laws limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued an injunction Thursday blocking the laws, which GOP legislators quickly approved in December before Evers replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker. On Friday, an attorney for the Republican lawmakers asked the 3rd District Court of Appeals for an immediate stay blocking Niess’ order and reinstating the statutes. The court gave all the parties involved until 4 p.m. Monday to file briefs, ensuring no decision will come until at least then. The Republicans’ attorney, Misha Tseytlin, told the appellate court in a filing Friday morning that Niess’ injunction was already causing confusion for military and overseas voters, noting a state Supreme Court election is only days away. Tseytlin added that Neiss’ ruling jeopardizes the validity of thousands of other laws passed during so-called extraordinary sessions, which are unscheduled floor periods convened by majority party leaders. He also questioned whether scores of Walker’s appointees still have jobs. Lawmakers confirmed 82 of Walker’s appointees during the December session, ensuring Evers couldn’t remove them when he took office. Empowered by Niess’ ruling, the governor rescinded the appointments late Friday afternoon. His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said the positions are now vacant. Some of the higher-profile appointees included two University of Wisconsin System regents and state Public Service Commission Chairwoman Ellen Nowak. Baldauff said the governor will fill the spots as quickly as possible to minimize disruption. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a statement saying he feels the appointees were confirmed legally and called Evers’ move “irresponsible.” The laws approved during the December lame-duck legislative session prohibit Evers from withdrawing the state from lawsuits without legislative approval. The move was designed to prevent him from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act, but Evers quickly started the process Thursday following Niess’ order. The laws also require Kaul to seek legislative approval before settling any case and to deposit settlement winnings in the state general fund rather than in state Department of Justice accounts. The laws also rework voting regulations, restricting early in-person voting to the two weeks preceding an election and loosening requirements for military and overseas voters. Their witnesses no longer have to be U.S. citizens, and they can use email to receive and transmit ballots. A coalition of liberal-leaning groups led by the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation in January. The groups argued that the Legislature can’t meet unless the time is specified in a law passed every two years or the governor calls it into session. Extraordinary sessions aren’t scheduled as part of that law. The majority party calls them when it sees fit. Niess agreed with the coalition Thursday, saying there was no statutory basis for extraordinary sessions. Hours after Niess issued the injunction, Evers ordered Kaul to move to withdraw Wisconsin from the ACA lawsuit. Evers didn’t immediately make any other moves with his restored powers, saying he needed time to digest the injunction. The governor and the coalition sent letters to the appellate court Friday asking to be heard before it makes a decision on a stay. Evers’ attorney, Tamara Packard, insisted Tseytlin was “grossly misstating” the injunction’s effects. Both Evers and the coaltion argued the case belongs in the 4th District Court of Appeals. The judges on that court include Gary Sherman, a former Democratic legislator; JoAnne Kloppenburg, a liberal-leaning former state Supreme Court candidate; and Brian Blanchard, a former Democratic prosecutor. In another twist Friday, Kaul reversed himself and now wants to get into the lawsuit. The coalition has technically named Evers as a defendant. But Kaul said in January he wouldn’t defend the governor, explaining would face a conflict of interest since the laws affect the state Department of Justice’s authority. But Kaul sent a letter to the 3rd District Court of Appeals on Friday saying that he now wants to be heard ahead of any stay decision. The laws’ impact on DOJ gives him a “unique perspective” on the facts, he said, and statutes allow the attorney general to be heard whenever a law is found unconstitutional. ___ Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1 Todd Richmond, The Associated Press

Questions about who qualifies surround journalism supports in federal budget

4 hours 38 min ago
OTTAWA - Concerns are being raised about limits to who might qualify for aid under a section of this week’s federal budget geared toward supporting journalism, and whether the money will, in the long run, save a sector of Canada’s media industry that has been in financial freefall for a decade. Tuesday's federal budget disclosed new details about the distribution of $595 million that had been earmarked in the fall economic statement for promoting Canadian journalism. Qualifying criteria would see money directed at journalistic organizations primarily involved in the production of original news, with an emphasis placed on coverage of democratic institutions and processes. The budget also revealed an “independent panel of experts from the Canadian journalism sector” would be created to help figure out which news will be eligible to receive money or tax credits over a five-year period. The Opposition Conservatives have dismissed the measures, accusing the Liberals of buying off the media in advance of the October election, at taxpayer expense. The independent panel is key to ensuring the government itself isn’t perceived to have a hand in deciding who gets money, and who doesn’t, says Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. “We must protect journalistic independence and that's why an independent experts panel will define eligibility to these new investments,” the minister told The Canadian Press in an email. “We are going to the root of the problem and creating concrete measures to support Canadian newspapers, big and small.” But that specificity - that the government means to support newspapers in particular - is what draws criticism. A 2017 report by the Public Policy Forum, called “Shattered Mirror,” indicated that about one-third of journalism jobs in Canada were lost between 2010 and 2017 as advertising revenue for newspapers, TV and radio stations shrank dramatically. Much of the revenues media outlets depend on have been siphoned off by online platforms such as Google and Facebook. The result has been not only layoffs throughout the industry but the outright closure of many local papers. “Canadian written press has taken (the biggest) hit as they’ve lost half of their jobs since 2010,” Rodriguez notes. The government, in announcing plans to help the industry, has cited the findings of the Public Policy Forum, which has warned that fewer journalists reporting on public affairs will ultimately harm democracy. The budget proposed refundable tax credits to help media organizations cover up to a quarter of their labour costs, but the credits would only be made available to what are deemed “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” and would exclude entities “carrying on a broadcasting undertaking.” The Canadian Association of Broadcasters calls that unfair. “If the government is truly committed to recognizing the vital role media plays in helping citizens make informed decisions, it must find a way to include radio and television news outlets in this tax-credit regime,” the association’s board chair Lenore Gibson, a lawyer for Bell Media Inc., said in a statement. Magazine publishers also would not qualify for the tax credits if they already receive aid through the Canadian Periodical Fund. Media union CWA Canada welcomed the budget measures but worried that the rules could allow a traditional media giant such as Postmedia Network Inc. to benefit without necessarily helping journalism. “We need to know there will be rules to ensure that a company like Postmedia can’t simply take millions of dollars in labour tax credits and pass that on to the debt-holders who control it or to pay huge executive salaries or bonuses,” CWA Canada president Martin O’Hanlon said. He represents journalists at Postmedia papers in Ottawa, Regina and Montreal, among others, and at the CBC and The Canadian Press. A qualified organization would have to be set up as a corporation, partnership or trust. If it is a public corporation, it must be listed on a Canadian stock exchange and not be controlled by non-Canadian citizens. If it’s a private corporation, it must be at least 75 per cent Canadian-owned. Postmedia, which operates dozens of weekly and daily publications, including the National Post, along with several websites and magazines, is a publicly traded company. Its executive chairman Paul Godfrey has been a vocal proponent of government support of the country’s news industry and called the tax-credit scheme “a turning point in the plight of newspapers” when it was announced in the fall. A spokeswoman for Postmedia said the guidelines unveiled by the Trudeau government so far indicate the company would qualify for the labour tax credits, but added that it’s too soon to say for certain. News Media Canada, which represents 800 publications throughout Canada, also said Friday it was unclear whether the country’s biggest media firms would qualify for the tax credits. A spokesman, however, said some community newspapers had already indicated they planned to hire more journalists based on details provided in Tuesday’s budget. April Lindgren, who operates Ryerson University’s local-news research project, questioned whether the measures will result in more journalists being hired to cover local news. “I don’t think it’s going to spark a whole bunch of new hires of journalists,” Lindgren said. Regardless, under the parameters set out in the budget, most of the aid money would be funnelled to struggling mainstream players, said Chris Waddell, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism who questions the logic behind the move. “We’re in a situation where, in fact, government is subsidizing the least likely people to succeed in the current format,” said Waddell. “My question is why? To what end?” Nearly 270 local news outlets have either closed or merged in 194 communities across Canada since 2008, according to Ryerson’s latest tracking data, published last month. In that same timeframe, 108 new or merged outlets have been launched in 78 communities. The bulk of the journalism funding proposed in the budget - $360 million over five years - is attached to the labour tax credits. Once the budget is approved, the credits would apply retroactively to the beginning of this year and cover 25 per cent of the costs of journalists working a minimum of 26 hours per week for 40 consecutive weeks. Qualifying organizations would also be required to employ at least two journalists who spend at least three-quarters of their time “engaged in the production of news content, including by researching, collecting information, verifying facts, photographing, writing, editing, designing and otherwise preparing content.” And news content would be defined as “matters of general interest and reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes.” Outlets primarily focused on a particular topic such as sports, arts, entertainment or other industry-specific news would not meet that test. The budget also includes tax credits of 15 per cent on subscriptions to digital news websites, allowing Canadians to claim up to $500 worth of subscriptions per year to qualify for a maximum $75 non-refundable tax credit. But that credit won’t be available until 2020 - after the next federal election. Such a tax credit is doomed because there is so much free content online, and the public cannot differentiate between quality and commodity news, said Waddell. “People are not refusing to buy online subscriptions because they’re $15 per month rather than $13 a month,” he said. “They’re refusing to buy because they see the alternative is zero dollars a month.” As well, the budget proposes allowing registered journalism organizations to qualify as charities through the Canada Revenue Agency, so they can issue charitable tax receipts to people or registered charities who donate money to them. Among the restrictions being imposed for charitable status qualification, news organizations must have a board of directors operating at arm’s length from each other, must not be “factually controlled by a person” and must not receive money from any one donor that represents more than 20 per cent of total annual revenues. Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version gave an incorrect title for Paul Godfrey, the executive chairman of Postmedia. He is no longer the CEO.

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

4 hours 38 min ago
MELFORT, Sask. - A judge called for an end to “carnage on our highways” as she sent a truck driver to prison on Friday for causing a fatal crash involving a Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s bus. Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years for causing the collision last April that killed 16 people and injured 13 on the Humboldt Broncos bus. Sidhu, an inexperienced truck driver, blew through a stop sign and into the path of the bus at a rural intersection. “It should not take an event such as this to make people realize that operating a motor vehicle requires the full attention of the driver,” Cardinal said in her decision. She said sentences for dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm must send a strong message of deterrence to everyone operating large vehicles. Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey said outside court in Melfort, Sask., that he believes the prison sentence does that. “That message is that criminal driving will not be tolerated,” he said. Toby Boulet, whose son Logan was killed in the crash, said that although Sidhu apologized, he needed to be held to a higher standard as a professional driver. “You need to follow those standards,” he said. “In this case remorse is one thing … but the bottom line is he was negligent.” Many of the parents affected, including Chris Joseph, have been pushing for changes to the trucking industry. The former NHL player lost his son in the crash. “We’re not getting Jaxon back, so we want to create change,” he said. “(Cardinal) was very firm and she did speak about how her sentencing today is going to help promote some change, so for that we’re grateful.” Some differences have already been made. Saskatchewan brought in mandatory training for commercial truck drivers last week and Alberta made the move March 1. Canada’s transportation ministers have agreed to develop an entry-level national training standard for semi-truck drivers. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said it will be in place by next January. The Saskatchewan government announced in its budget this week that it plans to spend $65 million over the next five years to improve safety at intersections with new rumble strips, lighting and road signs. - With files from Bill Graveland Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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