The AP Interview: Pope says homosexuality not a crime

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are. He called on those Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church. Speaking in an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Francis acknowledged Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community. He attributed their attitudes to cultural influences and said they need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone. Francis’ comments are the first uttered by a pope about such laws. But they are consistent with his overall approach to the LGBTQ community.

Donald Trump to be allowed back on Facebook after 2-year ban

Facebook parent Meta says it will restore former President Donald Trump’s personal account in the coming weeks, ending a two-year suspension it imposed in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The company said in a blog post Wednesday it is adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules. Trump was suspended on Jan. 7, a day after the deadly 2021 insurrection. Other social media companies also kicked him off their platforms, though he was recently reinstated on Twitter after Elon Musk took over the company. Responding to the news, Trump blasted Facebook’s original decision to suspend his account and praised Truth Social, the site he created after being blocked from Twitter.

EXPLAINER: Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials balked for months at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. That has abruptly changed. Ukraine’s desperate pleas for tanks have been answered with a sweeping, trans-Atlantic yes. The U.S. now says it will send 31 of the 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany says it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same. The dramatic reversal was the culmination of intense international pressure and diplomatic arm-twisting that played out over the last week.

Lawyer: Warnings boy had gun ignored before he shot teacher

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — An attorney says a Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student during class plans to sue the school district. Diane Toscano, a lawyer for the 25-year-old teacher, Abigail Zwerner, said Wednesday that on the day of the shooting, concerned teachers and employees warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun on him and was threatening other students, “but the administration could not be bothered.” The boy shot Zwerner on Jan. 6 as she taught class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. Later in the day, the school board voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker III of his duties effective Feb. 1 as part of a separation agreement and severance package.

UN: Myanmar opium cultivation has surged 33% amid violence

BANGKOK (AP) — The United Nations says the production of opium in Myanmar has flourished since the military’s seizure of power. The cultivation of poppies is up by a third in the past year as eradication efforts have dropped off and the faltering economy has led more people toward the drug trade. The report released Thursday by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says that in 2022, in the first full growing season since the military wrested control of the country from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, Myanmar saw a 33% increase in cultivation area to 99,090 acres.

Dems vote to give states more time on new primary calendar

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic National Committee panel has voted to give New Hampshire and Georgia more time to make changes that would allow both to be part of a revamped group of five states leading off the party’s presidential primary starting next year. But even as they voted to extend the deadline until June 3, members of the DNC rules committee complained about New Hampshire’s ongoing feud with the national party over the new calendar. The committee previously voted to replace Iowa in the leadoff spot with South Carolina, and have New Hampshire and Nevada go second, followed by Georgia and Michigan. Its latest vote Wednesday night gives New Hampshire and Georgia extra time to comply with those changes.

Afghan soldier seeking US asylum freed from immigration hold

HOUSTON (AP) — An Afghan soldier seeking U.S. asylum who was arrested while trying to cross the Mexico border has been freed and reunited with his brother after spending months in immigration detention. Attorney Zachary Fertitta said Wednesday that Abdul Wasi Safi has been released from custody in Eden, Texas, after a judge dismissed an immigration charge. Wasi Safi fled Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in August 2021, fearing reprisals from the Taliban. He was arrested in September near Eagle Pass, Texas, after crossing the Mexico border. He had hoped to join his brother, Sami-ullah Safi, who lives in Houston. Fertitta says Wasi Safi is receiving medical care at an undisclosed location.

Freed after 20 years, Hawaii man reflects on case, future

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii man who spent more than 20 years in prison for the killing and rape of a tourist has been released because of new evidence. Back home on the Big Island, Ian Schweitzer says he considers himself the victim of a flawed system. And he also wants to find justice for Dana Ireland, who was slain in 1991. It’s unclear if prosecutors will seek to try him again. Two other men were convicted in the case, including Schweitzer's younger brother Shawn. Shawn accepted a guilty plea deal to get a break on sentencing, and it's not clear what happens next for him. An attorney for the family of the third man says he will seek to have him posthumously exonerated.

Spain: 1 dead in church machete attacks, terror link probed

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s interior ministry says a machete-wielding man has killed a sexton and injured a priest in attacks at two churches in the city of Algeciras. Authorities are investigating it as a possible act of terrorism. The attacker has been arrested and is in the custody of Spain’s National Police. The ministry said that the assailant wounded a priest inside one church. He then proceeded to to a second church where he attacked a sexton, killing him outside. Spain’s National Court says a judge has opened an investigation into a possible act of terrorism over Wednesday's attack. Police are investigating the incident, the ministry said, to determine the “nature of the attack.”

Suspect in Half Moon Bay farm killings faces 7 murder counts

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — A farmworker accused of killing seven people in shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms has been charged with seven counts of murder. Prosecutors filed the charges Wednesday. A court appearance for 66-year-old Chunli Zhao was postponed until Feb. 16. His two attorneys did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Authorities say he killed four people at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay where he worked and three more at a nearby farm where he used to work. The charges include allegations that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

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