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The World Briefly: Pope says homosexuality not a crime

Your look at some of the top headlines from around the globe

Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis said during an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis’ comments, which were hailed by gay rights advocates as a milestone, are the first uttered by a pope about such laws. But they are also consistent with his overall approach to LGBTQ people and belief that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and not discriminate.

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US economy likely slowed but still posted solid growth in Q4

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy likely rolled out of 2022 with momentum, registering decent growth in the face of painful inflation, high interest rates and rising concern that a recession may be months away.

Economists have estimated that the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — grew at a 2.3% annual pace from October through December, according to a survey of forecasters by the data firm FactSet.

The Commerce Department will issue its first of three estimates of fourth-quarter GDP growth at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.

Despite a likely second straight quarter of expansion, the economy is widely expected to slow and then slide into a recession sometime in the coming months as increasingly high interest rates, engineered by the Federal Reserve, take a toll. The Fed’s rate hikes have inflated borrowing costs for consumers and businesses, from mortgages to auto loans to corporate credit.

The housing market, which is especially vulnerable to higher loan rates, has been badly bruised: Sales of existing homes have dropped for 11 straight months. Investment in housing plunged at a 27% annual rate from July through September.

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

Facebook parent Meta said Wednesday 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 it is adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules, even if they are political candidates or world leaders.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” wrote Nick Clegg, Meta’s vice president of global affairs.

Clegg added that when there is a “clear risk” to real-world harm, Meta will intervene.

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” he wrote. Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, 2021, for praising people engaged in violent acts at the Capitol a day earlier. But the company had resisted earlier calls — including from its own employees — to remove Trump’s account.

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EXPLAINER: Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — For months, U.S. officials balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair.

On Wednesday, that abruptly changed. Ukraine’s desperate pleas for tanks were answered with a sweeping, trans-Atlantic yes.

The dramatic reversal was the culmination of intense international pressure and diplomatic arm-twisting that played out over the last week. And it resulted in in a quick succession of announcements: The U.S. said it will send 31 of the 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany announced it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same.

A look at the massive battle weapon, why it is important to Ukraine’s war with Russia, and what drove the Biden administration’s tank turnabout.

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Dems vote to give states more time on new primary calendar

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic National Committee panel voted Wednesday 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 25-0 to extend the compliance deadline until June 3, members of the DNC rules committee complained about New Hampshire’s ongoing feud with the national party because the new calendar would cost it the chance to hold the nation’s first primary.

The fight underscores how the effort to shake up the Democratic presidential primary could turn increasingly bitter, even at a time when the party will be counting on staying unified as it tries to hold the White House and Senate in 2024.

The DNC rules committee voted last month to approve a plan championed by President Joe Biden that would strip Iowa’s caucus of its traditional post leading off the primary and replace it with South Carolina, which would open primary voting on Feb. 3. New Hampshire and Nevada would hold primaries together three days later, with Georgia’s primary coming Feb. 13 and Michigan’s two weeks later. Most of the rest of the country would subsequently vote on Super Tuesday in early March.

The Democrats’ proposed shakeup comes after Iowa’s 2020 caucus was marred by technical problems. Biden says the new proposed calendar better reflects his party’s deeply diverse electoral base, which relies heavily on African American voters.

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

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A machete-wielding man killed a sexton and injured a priest at two Catholic churches in the city of Algeciras on Wednesday before being arrested, Spain’s interior ministry said. Authorities are investigating the attacks as a possible act of terrorism.

The suspect is in the custody of Spain’s National Police. The ministry did not identify him.

Algeciras is near the southern tip of Spain, resting across from a bay from Gibraltar. It is home to an important port with ferry connections to northern Africa.

The attack started around 7 p.m., when an armed man went into the church of Maria Auxiliadora y San Isidro and assaulted a priest, who was seriously injured, the ministry said.

The assailant then went to a second church, Nuestra Senora de La Palma, a five-minute walk away, where he attacked the sexton. The sexton, whose job it is to take care of the church, fled outside to a public square, where the attacker dealt him mortal wounds, the ministry said.

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Lawyer: Warnings boy had gun ignored before he shot teacher

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Concerned staff warned administrators at a Virginia elementary school three times that a 6-year-old boy had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours before he shot and wounded a teacher, but the administration “was paralyzed by apathy” and didn’t call police, remove the boy from class or lock down the school, the wounded teacher’s lawyer said Wednesday.

Later in the day, the school board voted to fire school district superintendent George Parker III as part of a separation agreement that will pay Parker a little over $502,000 in severance — two years of his current base salary of $251,000. Parker has been sharply criticized by parents and teachers since the Jan. 6 shooting.

Diane Toscano, an attorney for Abigail Zwerner, said during a news conference that she has notified the school board in Newport News that the 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School plans to sue the school district over the shooting, which left Zwerner with serious injuries.

“On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people. But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said.

She said that Zwerner first went to an administrator at around 11:15 a.m. on the day of the shooting and said the boy had threatened to beat up another child, but no action was taken.

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UN: Myanmar opium cultivation has surged 33% amid violence

BANGKOK (AP) — The production of opium in Myanmar has flourished since the military’s seizure of power, with the cultivation of poppies 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, according to a United Nations report released Thursday.

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 40,100 hectares (99,090 acres), according to the report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

“Economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the military takeover of February 2021 have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas in northern Shan and border states have had little option but to move back to opium,” said the U.N. office’s regional representative Jeremy Douglas.

The overall value of the Myanmar opiate economy, based on U.N. estimates, ranges between $660 million and $2 billion, depending on how much was sold locally, and how much of the raw opium was processed into heroin or other drugs.

“Virtually all the heroin reported in East and Southeast Asia and Australia originates in Myanmar, and the country remains the second-largest opium and heroin producer in the world after Afghanistan,” Douglas said. “There is no comparing the two at this point as Afghanistan still produces far more, but the expansion underway in Myanmar should not be dismissed and needs attention as it will likely continue — it is directly tied to the security and economic situation we see unfolding today.”

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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, his attorney said Wednesday.

Abdul Wasi Safi’s release from custody in a detention center in Eden, Texas, came after a judge dropped an immigration charge against him at the request of federal prosecutors.

Wasi Safi, an intelligence officer for the Afghan National Security Forces, fled Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in August 2021, fearing reprisals from the Taliban because he had provided U.S. forces with information on terrorists. In the summer of 2022, he began a treacherous journey from Brazil to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he was arrested in September near Eagle Pass, Texas. He had hoped to join his brother, who lives in Houston.

Prosecutors filed a motion asking a federal judge in Del Rio, Texas, to dismiss the immigration charge “in the interest of justice” and on Monday the judge granted that request.

Zachary Fertitta, one of his criminal defense attorneys, said Wednesday that Wasi Safi is receiving medical care at an undisclosed location but that he plans to speak at a news conference on Friday in Houston.

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

HONOLULU (AP) — On Ian Schweitzer’s first morning of freedom Wednesday, he woke up in a hotel room, looked over the balcony at the ocean and took in the beauty of the island he had been away from for over 20 years while imprisoned for a 1991 killing and rape he has always maintained he didn’t commit.

In an interview with The Associated Press from the Big Island, he reflected on a range of emotions, from his faith in God that kept him positive to his complicated feelings about police and the criminal justice system to a quest to help solve who really killed Dana Ireland.

“We want justice for Dana,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer said he considers himself a victim of the same crimes he was convicted of: “I feel like they murdered 25 years of my life. I feel like they kidnapped me away from my family. I feel like they raped me of being a son.”

A judge ordered his release Tuesday after hours of expert testimony on new evidence showing Schweitzer wasn’t responsible for the death of Ireland, 23, a tourist from Virginia. She was visiting a remote part of the Big Island when she was found along a fishing trail, raped and beaten and barely alive. She died later at a hospital.

—THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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