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

US military making plans in case Pelosi travels to Taiwan

SYDNEY (AP) – U.S.officials say they have little fear that China would attack Nancy Pelosi´s plane if she flies to Taiwan. But the U.S. House speaker would be entering one of the world´s hottest spots, where a mishap, misstep or misunderstanding could endanger her safety. So the Pentagon is developing plans for any contingency.

Officials told The Associated Press that if Pelosi goes to Taiwan – still an uncertainty – the military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region. They declined to provide details, but said that fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for her flight to Taiwan and any time on the ground there.

Any foreign travel by a senior U.S.leader requires additional security. But officials said this week that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi – she would be the highest-ranking U.S. elected official to visit Taiwan since 1997 – would go beyond the usual safety precautions for trips to less risky destinations.

Asked about planned military steps to protect Pelosi in the event of a visit, U.S.Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that discussion of any specific travel is premature. But, he added, « if there´s a decision made that Speaker Pelosi or anyone else is going to travel and they asked for military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure a safe conduct of their visit. And I´ll just leave it at that. »

China considers self-ruling Taiwan its own territory and has raised the prospect of annexing it by force.The U.S. maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even as it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.

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Biden, Xi to hold talks amid new tensions over Taiwan

WASHINGTON (AP) – Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will speak Thursday, slot online according to a U.S.official, their first conversation in four months coming amid new tension between Washington and Beijing over China’s claims on Taiwan.

The planned talks between the two leaders – the fifth in a series of regular check-ins – have been in the works for weeks.But the possibility of a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat and second in line of succession to the presidency, has added fresh strain to the complicated relationship.

Beijing is warning that it will take « forceful measures » should Pelosi visit the self-ruled island of Taiwan that China claims as part of its territory.

The U.S.official declined to be identified ahead of the public announcement. The schedule was first reported by Bloomberg.

Pelosi hasn’t confirmed plans to visit Taiwan, but Biden last week told reporters that U.S. military officials believed it was « not a good idea » for the speaker to visit the island at the moment.Biden’s comments came after the Financial Times reported last week that Pelosi planned to visit Taiwan in August, a trip she had originally planned to make in April but postponed after she tested positive for COVID-19.

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Risks, mined waters slow rush to extract grains from Ukraine

Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea.That is because explosive mines are drifting in the waters, ship owners are assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold.

The complexities of the agreement have set off a slow, cautious start, but it’s only good for 120 days – and the clock began ticking last week.

The goal over the next four months is to get some 20 million tons of grain out of three Ukrainian sea ports blocked since Russia’s Feb.24 invasion. That provides time for about four to five large bulk carriers per day to transport grain from the ports to millions of impoverished people worldwide who are facing hunger.

It also provides ample time for things to go awry. Only hours after the signing Friday, Russian missiles struck Ukraine´s port of Odesa – one of those included in the agreement.

Another key element of the deal offers assurances that shipping and insurers carrying Russian grain and fertilizer will not get caught in the wider net of Western sanctions.But the agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. is running up against the reality of how difficult and risky the pact will be to carry out.

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The AP Interview: Japan minister says women ‘underestimated’

TOKYO (AP) – Japan´s minister for gender equality and children’s issues called the country´s record low births and plunging population a national crisis and blamed « indifference and ignorance » in the male-dominated Japanese parliament.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Seiko Noda said the steadily dwindling number of children born in Japan was an existential threat, saying the nation won´t have enough troops, police or firefighters in coming decades if it continues.The number of newborns last year was a record low 810,000, down from 2.7 million just after the end of World War II, she said.

« People say that children are a national treasure. … They say that women are important for gender equality. But they are just talking, » Noda, 61, told the AP in a Cabinet office in downtown Tokyo´s government complex. »The politics of Japan will not move unless (the problems of children and women) are made visible. »

She said there are a variety of reasons for the low birthrate, persistent gender bias and population decline in Japan, « but being in the parliament, I especially feel that there is indifference and ignorance. »

Japan is the world´s third biggest economy, a powerful democracy and a major U.S.ally, but the government has struggled to make society more inclusive for children, women and minorities. There are deep concerns, both within Japan and abroad, about how the country will reverse what critics call a deep-seated history of male chauvinism that has contributed to the low birthrate.

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Cameroon becomes a go-to country for foreign fishing vessels

DOUALA, Cameroon (AP) – Off the coast of West Africa, the Trondheim is a familiar sight: a soccer field-sized ship, plying the waters from Nigeria to Mauritania as it pulls in tons of mackerel and sardines – and flying the red, yellow and green flag of Cameroon.

But aside from the flag, there is almost nothing about the Trondheim that is Cameroonian.

Once, it operated under the name of the King Fisher and sailed under the flag of the Caribbean nation St.Vincent and the Grenadines. Then it switched to Georgia, the former Soviet republic. It was only in 2019 that it began flying the banner of Cameroon.

The Trondheim is one of several vessels reflagged under Cameroon´s growing fishing fleet that have changed names and been accused of illicit activities at sea.Currently, an investigation by The Associated Press found, 14 of these vessels are owned or managed by companies based in European Union member states: Belgium, Malta, Latvia and Cyprus.

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Hawley, Cruz escape Jan. 6 probe, have no regrets over role

WASHINGTON (AP) – The week before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S.Capitol, Missouri’s Josh Hawley became the first Republican senator to announce he would object to the certification of the 2020 election.

Texas’ Ted Cruz came next, dashing off his own plan on a flight from Houston to Washington days before the joint session of Congress to certify the election results.

In all, a dozen GOP senators initially planned to challenge Joe Biden’s victory.But unlike their House GOP counterparts who have been subpoenaed for testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, the Republican senators have largely escaped the reach of the investigation.

While the committee did share highlights about the senators, including Hawley’s raised-fist salute to the rioters that day – an image seared in history, and now on coffee mugs the senator sells – it has made the surprising, if pragmatic, decision not to call the senators for testimony.One dramatic video showed Hawley sprinting from the Senate chamber later that day as rioters swarmed.

Amid wider public scrutiny of Jan. 6, the senators have been left to explain their actions on their own terms, and have often done so defiantly.

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AP Exclusive: Philippines scraps Russian chopper deal

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine government has scrapped a deal to purchase 16 Russian military transport helicopters due to fears of possible U.S.sanctions, Philippine officials said.

Former Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday night he canceled the 12.7-billion-peso ($227 million) deal to acquire the Mi-17 helicopters in a decision last month that was approved by then-President Rodrigo Duterte before their terms in office ended on June 30.

« We could face sanctions, » Lorenzana told The Associated Press, describing ways Washington could express its displeasure if the Philippines proceeded with the deal due to America´s worsening conflict with Russia.

American security officials were aware of Manila´s decision and could offer similar heavy-lift helicopters for Philippine military use, he said.

After serving as defense chief under Duterte, Lorenzana has been appointed by new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.to head a government agency in charge of transforming former military bases into business hubs.

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Amnesty: Taliban crackdown on rights is ‘suffocating’ women

ISLAMABAD (AP) – The lives of Afghan women and girls are being destroyed by a « suffocating » crackdown by the Taliban since they took power nearly a year ago, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.

After they captured the capital, Kabul, in August 2021 and ousted the internationally backed government, the Taliban presented themselves as having moderated since their first time in power, in the 1990s.Initially, Taliban officials spoke of allowing women to continue to work and girls to continue their education.

Instead, they formed an all-male government stacked with veterans of their hard-line rule that has banned girls from attending school from seventh grade, imposed all-covering dress that leaves only the eyes visible and restricted women’s access to work.

Amnesty said the Taliban have also decimated protections for those facing domestic violence, detained women and girls for minor violations and contributed to a surge in child marriages.The report also documented the torture and abuse of women arrested by the Taliban for protesting against restrictions.

« Taken together, these policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives, » the report said. »This suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan´s female population is increasing day by day. »

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No one wins U.S. Mega Millions, jackpot now over $1B

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A giant Mega Millions lottery jackpot ballooned to $1.02 billion after no one matched all six numbers Tuesday night and won the top prize.

The new estimated jackpot will be the nation´s fourth-largest lottery prize.

The jackpot has grown so large because no one has matched the game´s six selected numbers since April 15.That´s 29 consecutive drawings without a big winner.

Tuesday´s numbers were: 07-29-60-63-66, Mega Ball: 15.

The $1.02 billion prize is for winners who choose the annuity option, paid annually over 30 years. Most winners opt for the cash option, which for the next drawing Friday night is an estimated $602.5 million.

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Argentines yearn for Evita, 70 years after her death

BUENOS AIRES (AP) – María Eva Noble says she is carrying out the legacy of her namesake as she labors in a soup kitchen in a working class neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

She was named after iconic Argentine former first lady María Eva Duarte de Perón, better known as Eva Perón, or Evita, who died 70 years ago Tuesday.The soup kitchen where Noble does volunteer duty in the Flores district gives daily lunches to about 200 people and is run by an organization that also carries the name of the late leader.

Though not related to Eva Perón, Noble says, « I carry Evita in my DNA. » And she is hardly the only one who feels this way.

Seven decades after her death, Evita continues to awaken passions in Argentina as her followers believe her image as a champion of the poor is more relevant than ever at a time when inequality and poverty are rising as the economy remains stagnated amid galloping inflation.

Evita has been the subject of countless books, movies, TV shows and even a Broadway musical but for some of her oldest, most ardent followers the connection with the actress turned political leader is much more personal.