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Live updates: Turkey-Syria earthquake kills thousands

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Two search and rescue units from the United States will be sent to Turkey to assist with the aftermath of the earthquake, US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake told CNN on Monday.

“There will be two teams from the US. One from Fairfax County and another from Los Angeles — what they call these heavy units, each with I think 70 personnel with search dogs as well as paramedics,” Flake said. “That’s what we are told is needed.”

Flake said that Turkey is going to need help with destroyed structures, saying that the last he knew was that 28 buildings were either down or partially damaged.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with his counterpart on Monday, the State Department said.

“Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister [Mevlüt] Çavuşoğlu discussed ways the United States and our partners could best assist. Secretary Blinken confirmed our initial assistance response was already underway and pledged to do all that we can in coordination with Türkiye to assist the victims of the earthquake in both Türkiye and Syria,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. 

In terms of getting support into Syria, Flake noted there are a number of humanitarian and church groups the US has worked in the country. He said it makes it “doubly difficult” that there is no functioning government in Syria. 

Flake suggested that Americans direct donations through the Red Cross, non-profits and church groups if they want to help.



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Everything you need to know about the suspected Chinese spy balloon | CNN Politics

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A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.



CNN
 — 

The fallout over the decision to shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean this weekend presents new logistical and diplomatic priorities for the United States.

In the immediate term, there’s the debris field to scour – across an area spread out over seven miles, according to a senior military official. There’s also the matter of a second surveillance balloon being tracked over Central and South America that bears similar technical characteristics to the one that flew over the US, a senior US administration official told CNN over the weekend.

Politically, questions surrounding the balloon – should it have been shot down earlier? was it able to collect any intelligence? what should the US response be? – loom large over President Joe Biden as he prepares for his State of the Union address Tuesday evening. The response in Washington has unfolded predictably, with Republicans calling Biden’s response delayed and Democrats rushing to defend the White House’s approach.

Beyond that, the diplomatic ramifications will be felt for some time between Washington and Beijing, as CNN’s Stephen Collinson explains.

US officials had balked at the prospect of shooting down the balloon over the US mainland due to safety considerations on the ground – and the size of the debris field revealed after Saturday’s operation provides justification for such thinking.

“The debris is in 47 feet of water, primarily – the recovery, that will make it fairly easy,” the official who briefed reporters Saturday said once the operation was carried out.

“Actually, we planned for much deeper water. So as far as the specific timeline to recovery, I can’t give you that right now,” the official added.

A balloon spotted over the skies of Latin America belongs to China and was used for flight tests, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Monday in response to CNN’s queries.

This is the first time Beijing has admitted the balloon spotted over two Latin American countries belongs to China.

The balloon “seriously deviated” from its planned course and entered the skies over Latin America and the Caribbean “by mistake” due to weather conditions and limited control ability over the craft, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a regular press briefing on Monday.

China has responded with fury over the US military action, saying on Sunday that it “reserves the right” to deal with “similar situations” going forward.

“The US used force to attack our civilian unmanned airship, which is an obvious overreaction. We express solemn protest against this move by the US side,” China’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said in a statement on Sunday afternoon local time.

China’s Foreign Ministry has accused the US of “overreacting” and “seriously violating international practice.”

“The Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after verification that the airship is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure – it was completely an accident,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday morning local time.

US officials have pushed back on China’s repeated claims the downed balloon was simply for civilian use and had made its way into American airspace by “accident.”

Tuesday. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed Biden there was a Chinese balloon floating over Montana – and that it appeared to be on a clear path into the continental United States, differentiating it from previous Chinese surveillance craft.

The president appeared inclined at that point to take the balloon down, and asked Milley and other military officials to draw up options and contingencies.

Wednesday. When options were presented to Biden, he directed his military leadership to shoot down the balloon as soon as they viewed it as a viable option, given concerns about risks to people and property on the ground.

“Shoot it down,” Biden told his military advisers, he would later recount to reporters.

But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Milley told Biden the risks of shooting the balloon down were too high while it was moving over the US, given the chance debris could endanger lives or property on the ground below.

“They said to me, ‘Let’s wait till the safest place to do it,’” Biden later told reporters.

Friday. A plan to shoot down the balloon was once again presented to Biden while he was in Wilmington, Delaware, where he approved the execution plan for Saturday.

Government officials were told Friday night “decisions would be made (Saturday) morning” on when to close down airspace, and FAA officials were told to “be by the phone” early Saturday morning and “ready to roll.”

Saturday. Austin gave his final approval for the strike shortly after noon on Saturday from a tarmac in New York, according to a defense official.

At about 1:30 p.m. ET, the FAA instituted one of the largest areas of restricted airspace in US history, more than five times the size of the restricted zone over Washington, DC, and roughly twice the size of the state of Massachusetts.

The Temporary Flight Restriction – put in place at the request of the Pentagon, the FAA said – included about 150 miles of Atlantic coastline that effectively paralyzed three commercial airports: Wilmington in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina.

US military fighter jets shot down the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard.

Read more here: CNN takes you inside Biden’s decision to “take care of” the Chinese spy balloon that triggered a diplomatic crisis.

House Republicans are weighing the passage of a resolution this week condemning the Biden administration for its handling of the suspected surveillance balloon, a source familiar with the discussions told CNN’s Melanie Zanona.

The resolution could pass as early as Tuesday, the same day Biden will deliver the State of the Union address from the US Capitol, although the source cautioned that the discussions were still ongoing and no firm plans had been made yet.

“Letting a Chinese surveillance balloon lazily drift over America is like seeing a robber on your front porch and inviting him in, showing him where you keep your safe, where you keep your guns, where your children sleep at night, and then politely asking him to leave. It makes no sense,” GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin told Fox News Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the administration’s decision to shoot the Chinese spy balloon on Saturday “too late” and said the US let China “make a mockery” of US airspace.

But Democrats aren’t rolling over. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the GOP critiques “premature” and “political.”

“Our friends are playing politics with US intelligence. We sent a clear message to China that this is not acceptable. We protected civilians. We gained more intelligence while protecting our own sensitive information. And the bottom line here is shooting down the surveillance balloon over water wasn’t just the safest option, but it was the one that maximized our intelligence payload,” he said.

A Gang of Eight briefing – with the top leaders in both chambers and key intelligence committee members – on the suspected Chinese spy balloon may occur as early as Tuesday, according to a congressional source. Schumer also announced the full Senate would receive a comprehensive briefing on China next week.

But this isn’t the first Chinese surveillance balloon Congress has been briefed on. The Pentagon briefed Congress on previous balloons during the Trump administration that flew near Texas and Florida, GOP Rep. Michael Waltz said in a statement to CNN.

“Currently, we understand there were incursions near Florida and Texas, but we don’t have clarity on what kind of systems were on these balloons or if these incursions occurred in territorial waters or overflew land,” the Florida Republican said.

The new details about previous balloons flying near Florida and Texas were confirmed by two additional sources familiar with the briefings, CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Zachary Cohen reported Sunday evening.

But the transiting of those three suspected balloons during the previous administration was only discovered after Biden took office, a senior administration official told CNN’s Natasha Bertrand on Sunday. The official said that the intelligence community is prepared to offer briefings to key Trump administration officials about the Chinese surveillance program, which the Biden administration believes has been deployed in countries across five continents over the last several years.



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Google unveils its ChatGPT rival | CNN Business

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CNN
 — 

Google on Monday unveiled a new chatbot tool dubbed “Bard” in an apparent bid to compete with the viral success of ChatGPT.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, said in a blog post that Bard will be opened up to “trusted testers” starting Monday, with plans to make it available to the public “in the coming weeks.”

Like ChatGPT, which was released publicly in late November by AI research company OpenAI, Bard is built on a large language model. These models are trained on vast troves of data online in order to generate compelling responses to user prompts.

“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our large language models,” Pichai wrote. “It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses.”

The announcement comes as Google’s core product – online search – is widely thought to be facing its most significant risk in years. In the two months since it launched to the public, ChatGPT has been used to generate essays, stories and song lyrics, and to answer some questions one might previously have searched for on Google.

The immense attention on ChatGPT has reportedly prompted Google’s management to declare a “code red” situation for its search business. In a tweet last year, Paul Buchheit, one of the creators of Gmail, forewarned that Google “may be only a year or two away from total disruption” due to the rise of AI.

Microsoft, which has confirmed plans to invest billions OpenAI, has already said it would incorporate the tool into some of its products – and it is rumored to be planning to integrate it into its search engine, Bing. Microsoft on Tuesday is set to hold a news event at its Washington headquarters, the topic of which has yet to be announced. Microsoft publicly announced the event shortly after Google’s AI news dropped on Monday.

The underlying technology that supports Bard has been around for some time, though not widely available to the public. Google unveiled its Language Model for Dialogue Applications (or LaMDA) some two years ago, and said Monday that this technology will power Bard. LaMDA made headlines late last year when a former Google engineer claimed the chatbot was “sentient.” His claims were widely criticized in the AI community.

In the post Monday, Google offered the example of a user asking Bard to explain new discoveries made by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in a way that a 9-year-old might find interesting. Bard responds with conversational bullet-points. The first one reads: “In 2023, The JWST spotted a number of galaxies nicknamed ‘green peas.’ They were given this name because they are small, round, and green, like peas.”

Bard can be used to plan a friend’s baby shower, compare two Oscar-nominated movies or get lunch ideas based on what’s in your fridge, according to the post from Google.

Pichai also said Monday that AI-powered tools will soon begin rolling out on Google’s flagship Search tool.

“Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web,” Pichai wrote, “whether that’s seeking out additional perspectives, like blogs from people who play both piano and guitar, or going deeper on a related topic, like steps to get started as a beginner.”

If Google does move more in the direction of incorporating an AI chatbot tool into search, it could come with some risks. Because these tools are trained on data online, experts have noted they have the potential to perpetuate biases and spread misinformation.

“It’s critical,” Pichai wrote in his post, “that we bring experiences rooted in these models to the world in a bold and responsible way.”



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Proposed changes to school lunches aim to reduce sugar and sodium, but flavored milk stays | CNN

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CNN
 — 

If new US Department of Agriculture school food guidelines stand as proposed, chocolate milk is in, but for the first time ever, at least some added sugars will be out – and sodium levels will be reduced gradually.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly announced the changes on Friday.

“The purpose of this is to improve the health and welfare of our children. And I think everybody who comes to this issue shares that goal and hopefully, collectively, we can make sure it happens,” Vilsack told CNN in an interview Thursday ahead of the announcement.

The federally assisted school meal program provides nutritionally balanced meals at school at low or no-cost.

More than 15.3 million kids every day get breakfast at school in the US and 29.6 million get a school lunch, Vilsack said. The numbers were higher earlier in the pandemic, when meals were offered free to all children regardless of their family’s income, but in June, Congress did not extend the Covid-19 pandemic waivers that had expanded the program.

While school meals are paid for by local and federal funding, the standards for what goes on a kids’ cafeteria tray are set by the USDA. The agency’s job is to make sure any meal served at school is nutritious and falls in line with the US Dietary Guidelines.

Flavored milk with “reasonable limits on added sugars” would be allowed under the proposal. Vilsack said school meal administrators tell the USDA that kids just won’t drink much no-fat skim milk or unflavored milk. “That’s not what they get at home,” Vilsack said. “We want to encourage kids to drink milk because there are there’s tremendous nutritional value in milk.”

However, the proposed standards would limit added sugar in certain high-sugar products like prepackaged muffins, yogurt, and cereal. Eventually, the guidelines would then limit added sugars across the weekly menu.

The standards would reduce sodium limits, but that would happen gradually over several school years.

“The [US Food and Drug Administration] provided some insight and direction by suggesting that it is easier for people to accept and adopt to reduced sodium if you do it over a period of time in small increments,” Vilsack said.

A gradual reduction would also give industry time to reformulate their products, said Dr. Lauren Au, an assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Nutrition who studies the effectiveness of school nutrition programs.

The guidelines would also place a bigger emphasis on whole grains, but still leave options open for an occasional non-whole grain product.

“Maybe a biscuit can be instituted for a little variety, or grits can be provided where that may make sense from a geographic standpoint. You are sensitive to cultural demands and needs,” Vilsack said.

The proposed rule would also strengthen the Buy American requirements encouraging schools to use more locally grown food.

The USDA will invest $100 million in the Healthy Meals Incentives initiative which offers farm-to-school grants and grants to buy equipment. In the 1980s, schools around the country tore out kitchens and bought prepackaged processed food. To make more nutritious meals, schools have had to rebuild or update kitchens.

“A lot of schools have outdated ovens, freezers, fridges, and that puts limitations on how they can prepare food, so grants that have helped with equipment have been really successful,” Au said.

The money would also reward schools that do a good job providing nutritious meals. Grants would also be aimed at small and rural districts and training.

Vilsack said the USDA created these proposed standards after the USDA received thousands of comments and held 50 listening sessions with parents, school food administrators, the food industry, public health and nutrition experts.

“Establishing these standards are difficult because you have to follow the science you have to follow the dietary guidelines, but you also have to understand that they need to be implemented in the real world which is which is which is tough,” Vilsack said in an interview with CNN.

Real world circumstances are tough already with the higher cost of food, staff shortages and supply chain problems.

Au hasn’t seen all of the proposed policies, but she said what she has seen look good.

“It’s a step forward in terms of promoting healthy nutrition in schools,” Au said. The reduction of added sugar, she added is a big deal.

“Reducing added sugars for this age range is so important,” AU said.

Megan Lott, deputy director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program Healthy Eating Research, said that the policies seem to be heading in the right direction.

“There are a couple of things we would probably like to see strengthened, but it also seems like there are plans to do that over time,” Lott said.

The sugar standard is a good start, she said, but she’d prefer the proposal instead say that no more than 10% of calories should come from added sugars across the meal plan.

“But we recognize that schools might need a little bit of time for implementation,” Lott said.

Lott had also hoped they would take flavored milk off the menu. Research shows that schools that have gotten rid of flavored milk show a drop in milk consumption for a year or two, but milk sales eventually rebound.

School food has become a proverbial hot potato.

After decades of bipartisan support for school meals, the program has been politicized in about the last 10 years Lott says, meaning there is bound to be some pushback.

Friday’s proposed changes would be the first large scale reform of school meal standards since President Barack Obama signed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law.

The law that went into effect in 2012, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, really did improve US kids’ diet, studies show. The law raised the minimum standards and required schools to serve more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and fat-free and/or low-fat milk more frequently and serve fewer starchy vegetables and foods high in trans fat and sodium.

Meals that were eaten by students – not just served to students and then tossed into garbage cans – were much healthier and had better overall nutritional quality, the study showed. Students who didn’t participate in the national program did not see an improvement in their diets.

Despite the program’s success, in 2018, the Trump administration announced a proposal to roll back many of the policies in the name of “flexibility,” including ones that involved sodium and whole grains. Trump’s policy would essentially create a loophole letting schools sell more burgers, pizza and french fries and reduce the fruit and vegetables sold. A federal court struck down the rule in April 2020.

During the pandemic, some of the polices were relaxed, like for whole grains, because it was difficult to find products, Lott said.

Studies show kids who eat meals at school ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, compared with those who ate at school less frequently.

Better nutrition can help prevent obesity. About 20% of the US population ages 2 to 19 live with obesity, which can cause kids to have high blood pressure, breathing problems and type 2 diabetes, and lead to lifelong health problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hungry kids have a hard time paying attention in class. Students who ate healthy meals at school scored better on end-of-year academic tests, studies have shown.

The new standards are just a proposal. The USDA will ask for additional feedback.

Vilsack is hopeful the standards will incentivize more schools to offer more healthy options.

“In terms of future of this program,” Vilsack said, “we want to see more and more school districts push themselves not only to meet the standards, but in some cases to exceed them.”



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Video: Ted Cruz introduces 2-term limit bill. He’s seeking a third term | CNN Politics

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Sen. Ted Cruz questioned after introducing term limit bill

Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill to limit US senators to two terms while the Texas GOP senator is running for his third term in office. CNN’s Jake Tapper and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers react.



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Ghana’s Atsu missing after Turkey earthquake

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Ghana international winger Christian Atsu is among those missing after the collapse of an apartment building following Monday’s devastating earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria.

The former Chelsea and Newcastle player scored a 97th minute winner for Turkish top-flight side Hatayspor on Sunday night as they beat Kasımpasa 1-0, but just hours later was reported missing following the 7.8 magnitude quake that brought down whole apartment blocks in several Turkish and Syrian cities.

Hatayspor spokesperson Mustafa Ozat told Turkish media that “Christian Atsu and [club sporting director] Taner Savut are still under the rubble.”

He added that at least two other Hatayspor players had been rescued and the club was working to help others. Atsu and Savut were the only two Hatayspor players or officials still unaccounted for, Ozat said.

The huge earthquake killed more than 2,700 people across a swathe of Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the thousands left injured or homeless and hampering efforts to find survivors.

The area was initially rocked by an earthquake at 4:17 a.m. local time (1:17 a.m. GMT) before a second magnitude 7.7 quake in the early afternoon.

The epicentre of the earthquake was understood to be near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 145 km (90 miles) from Antakya, where Atsu is based with Hatayspor.

Atsu, 31, played in the Premier League for Newcastle United and Everton, on loan from Chelsea, but joined Hatayspor in September.

Newcastle, who Atsu helped to promotion from the Championship in the 2016-17 campaign, tweeted they were “praying for some positive news.” Chelsea also tweeted their prayers.

Atsu was last selected to play for Ghana in 2019, but has not officially retired from international football.

“We pray for Ghana International Christian Atsu and victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria,” the Ghana Football Association tweeted. “We remain hopeful for positive news.”

Ghana Football Association spokesman Henry Asante-Twum wrote in an email to The Associated Press that they had no news of Atsu and Ghana’s international relations department was seeking information from Turkish authorities.

Having made his Ghana debut in 2012, he represented the Black Stars at the 2014 World Cup and at four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the survivors, and we pray that our fellow Ghanaian, Christian Atsu, is found safe and sound,” Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo tweeted.

Information from Reuters, The Associated Press and ESPN’s Ed Dove was included in this report.





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Diesel prices fall in Europe despite ban on Russian fuel | CNN Business

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London
CNN
 — 

Europe’s ban on Russia’s diesel arrived painlessly on Sunday.

Although the EU cut off its biggest supplier, diesel futures prices in the bloc fell 1.6% on Monday, amounting to a 20% loss over the past two weeks as demand in the region has waned, and efforts by countries to stockpile ahead of the ban have started to pay off.

The price drop will be met with relief by millions of the continent’s truckers, drivers and businesses that rely on diesel. About 96% of trucks, 91% of vans and 42% of passenger cars in the European Union run on the fuel, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

“The expectation was that, when the ban came in, diesel supply into Europe would tighten but, actually, that’s currently not materializing,” Mark Williams, a research director at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, told CNN.

The diesel ban comes two months after the bloc placed an embargo on seaborne crude oil imports from Russia, as part of a package of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia accounted for 29% of the region’s total diesel imports last year, data from Rystad Energy shows.

Countries have prepared for the latest ban by ramping up imports of Moscow’s diesel in recent months. Europe’s imports were up nearly 19% in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared with the same period the previous year, according to energy data provider Vortexa.

“Those stocks should act as a buffer against the immediate loss of Russian diesel imports,” Williams said.

Demand across the bloc is also weak.

Data from OilX, an oil analytics firm that, shows that diesel imports into Europe were down by 439,000 barrels per day between the start of November and the end of January, compared with the same period a year before.

Analysts attribute the slump partly to warmer-than-usual weather in the region, where diesel is also used as a heating fuel, and high prices. Despite recent drops, wholesale prices are still 10% above their level the same time last year.

At the pump, the average cost of a liter of diesel in the EU hit €1.80 ($1.93) on January 30, up from €1.60 ($1.72) the same time last year, data from the European Commission shows.

Neil Crosby, a senior analyst at OilX, told CNN that “persistently weak demand data” in Europe had helped it “substantially boost its gasoil stocks over the last few months.”

Still, it may take a few months for the full impact of the ban to be felt as Europe starts to import more diesel from suppliers further afield, incurring higher shipping costs.

The bloc is already importing significantly higher volumes of diesel from the United States, the Middle East and parts of Asia, according to Williams at Wood Mackenzie.

Even so, those imports will not be enough to “offset the loss of Russian barrels into Europe,” once Europe whittles down its stockpile, he said, adding that prices relative to other importing regions could start to rise from the third quarter this year.

The impact of the ban on Russia may also be underwhelming.

Moscow has managed to reroute more of its diesel to other markets since July of last year. Exports to Turkey and North Africa have soared 154% between November and January compared with the same period a year before, according to Rystad Energy.

Jorge León, a senior vice president at the firm, sees this trend continuing, he told CNN, also predicting that Russian exports to South America are likely to stay at “marginal” levels.

However, he added that the United States could redirect some of its current diesel exports to South America to Europe, with Russian diesel then “find[ing] a home” in South America.

OilX’s Crosby noted that there are “many more” potential buyers of Moscow’s diesel compared with its crude exports.

“Most Russian diesel barrels will manage to make it to global markets,” he said. “The notion that Russian diesel will have a very hard time finding new homes is beginning to lose credibility.”

— Julia Horowitz contributed reporting.



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This map shows the latest state of control in Ukraine

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Ukraine is fighting to hold on to the eastern city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday.

Communities surrounding the city, including the town of Soledar, have seen some of the fiercest fighting in the conflict in recent months.

This map shows the status of other areas Russia currently occupies in Ukraine:



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Inside Biden’s decision to ‘take care of’ the Chinese spy balloon that triggered a diplomatic crisis | CNN Politics

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Washington
CNN
 — 

When President Joe Biden learned a likely Chinese spy balloon was drifting through the stratosphere 60,000 feet above Montana, his first inclination was to take it down.

By then, however, it was both too early and too late. After flying over swaths of sparsely populated land, it was now projected to keep drifting over American cities and towns. The debris from the balloon could endanger lives on the ground, his top military brass told him.

The massive white orb, carrying aloft a payload the size of three coach buses, had already been floating in and out of American airspace for three days before it created enough concern for Biden’s top general to brief him, according to two US officials.

Its arrival had gone unnoticed by the public as it floated eastward over Alaska – where it was first detected by North American Aerospace Defense Command on January 28 – toward Canada. NORAD continued to track and assess the balloon’s path and activities, but military officials assigned little importance to the intrusion into American airspace, having often witnessed Chinese spy balloons slip into the skies above the United States. At the time, the balloon was not assessed to be an intelligence risk or physical threat, officials say.

This time, however, the balloon kept going: high over Alaska, into Canada and back toward the US, attracting little attention from anyone looking up from the ground.

“We’ve seen them and monitored them, briefed Congress on the capabilities they can bring to the table,” another US official told CNN. “But we’ve never seen something as brazen as this.”

It would take seven days from when the balloon first entered US airspace before an F-22 fighter jet fired a heat-seeking missile into the balloon on the opposite end of the country, sending its equipment and machinery tumbling into the Atlantic Ocean.

The balloon’s week-long American journey, from the remote Aleutian Islands to the Carolina coast, left a wake of shattered diplomacy, furious reprisals from Biden’s political rivals and a preview of a new era of escalating military strain between the world’s two largest economies.

It’s also raised questions about why it wasn’t shot down sooner and what information, if any, it scooped up along its path.

What was meant to be a high-profile moment of statesmanship -as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to travel to China instead transformed into a televised standoff, testing Biden’s resolve at a new moment of reckoning with China. As Navy divers and FBI investigators sort through the tangle of equipment and technology that tumbled into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, Biden and his team must also piece together what the episode means for the broader relationship with Beijing.

Minutes after the balloon was shot down at his order, a reporter asked Biden what message his decision sent to China. He looked on silently before stepping into his SUV.

Video shows moment US missile hits suspected Chinese spy balloon

On Tuesday, as Biden darted from Washington to New York City for an infrastructure event and a fundraiser, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed him there was a Chinese balloon floating over Montana.

The location was unnerving: As officials watched the balloon’s path, there was alarm at what appeared to be deliberate effort to sit over an Air Force base that maintains one of the largest silos of US intercontinental ballistic missiles.

For some administration officials, the timing also appeared intentional. The balloon floated over the US the same week Blinken was due to depart for China, a high-stakes visit viewed as the culmination of intensive diplomatic efforts launched late last year by Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a summit in Bali.

In his Tuesday briefing with the President, Milley informed Biden the balloon appeared to be on a clear path into the continental United States, differentiating it from previous Chinese surveillance craft. The President appeared inclined at that point to take the balloon down, and asked Milley and other military officials to draw up options and contingencies.

At the same time, Biden asked his national security team to take steps to prevent the balloon from being able to gather any intelligence – essentially, by making sure no sensitive military activity or unencrypted communications would be conducted in its vicinity, officials said.

That evening, Pentagon officials met to review their military options. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, traveling abroad in Asia, participated virtually. NASA was also brought in to analyze and assess the potential debris field, based on the trajectory of the balloon, weather, and estimated payload. When options were presented to Biden on Wednesday, he directed his military leadership to shoot down the balloon as soon as they viewed it as a viable option, given concerns about risks to people and property on the ground.

“Shoot it down,” Biden told his military advisers, he would later recount to reporters.

The suspected Chinese spy balloon falls to the ocean off the South Carolina coast on February 4, 2023.

But Austin and Milley told Biden the risks of shooting the balloon down were too high while it was moving over the US, given the chance debris could endanger lives or property on the ground below.

“They said to me, ‘Let’s wait till the safest place to do it,’” Biden told reporters on Saturday

Biden had another key request, though: he wanted the military to shoot down the balloon in such a way that it would maximize their ability to recover its payload, allowing the US intelligence community to sift through its components and gain insights into its capabilities, officials said. Shooting it down over water also increased the chances of being able to recover the payload intact, the officials said.

While Beijing insisted on Friday that the balloon was simply a meteorological device that had strayed off course, the US government was confident that the balloons were being used for surveillance. Both the balloon discovered over the US and another spotted transiting Latin America carried surveillance equipment not usually associated with standard meteorological activities or civilian research, officials said – specifically, both featured collection pod equipment and solar panels located on the metal truss suspended below the balloon itself. The US also observed small motors and propellers on the balloons, leading officials to believe Beijing had some control over its path.

US officials said the balloons were part of a fleet of Chinese spy balloons that have been spotted across five continents over the last several years.

For the bulk of its journey across the US, the scramble to assess, monitor and eventually debilitate the balloon was kept to a close circle of Biden’s top national security advisers.

But by the middle of the week, however, the mysterious white object floating above more populated areas of Montana was difficult to conceal. The balloon caused an hours-long grounding of commercial flights around Billings on Wednesday as the military worked to respond.

And people starting looking up.

Michael Alverson was working at the mines in Billings when he looked up and noticed a glowing orb in the sky. Realizing it couldn’t be the moon, he brought out his binoculars to take a closer look.

“Me and my coworkers were shocked,” Alverson said. “It appeared to be a weather balloon – or so we thought.”

Ashley McGowan told CNN she received a call from her neighbor wondering if she had heard jets flying about their neighborhood in Reed Point, Montana, on Wednesday. McGowan said she went outside with her dogs and saw a bright white dot in the sky.

“What’s happening?” she recalled wondering. “Is this a UFO or is it like trash or is it the star? I had somebody try to tell me it was the green comet, I’m like that’s way too close to be the comet.”

“This isn’t normal,” she remembered thinking. “There’s jets flying everywhere.”

Officials attributed the decision to publicize the balloon’s existence to several factors, including the fact “that people were just going to see the damn thing,” one official acknowledged.

As the military was fine tuning its options, a parallel effort was underway with the Chinese to assess the feasibility of Blinken making his highly anticipated visit to Beijing at a moment of fresh tension.

Heading into the visit, White House officials had been cheered by more robust communications with China following Biden’s meeting with Xi late last year. After shutting down virtually all talks following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last summit, the Chinese were finally back at the table – a critical step, in the eyes of Biden’s advisers, to maintaining stability in the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

The balloon would dash all of it.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Indonesia on July 9, 2022.

On Wednesday evening, China’s top official in Washington was summoned to the State Department, where Blinken and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman delivered “a very clear and stark message” about the discovery of the surveillance balloon, officials told CNN.

Biden himself relayed to his top national security officials that he no longer believed the time was right for Blinken to visit Beijing, in part because the balloon would likely end up dominating his talks there.

The trip was postponed hours before Blinken was due to board his plane.

“In this current environment, I think it would have significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address,” a senior State Department official said.

Republicans immediately moved to attack Biden for not shooting the balloon down immediately. The attacks, which came as Biden ignored questions on the issue throughout the day on Friday, served as an annoyance “that evolved into frustration,” inside the White House, one person familiar with the dynamic said.

tapper rubio split thumb sotu 02052023 vpx

Tapper asks Sen. Rubio about claims of spy balloons during Trump admin

“This was a decision that was made at the recommendation of the Pentagon, for public safety reasons,” the person said in describing the rationale.

Still, administration officials moved to brief key lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill. That included briefings for the staff of the top Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence panels, as well as the top four congressional leaders – a group known as the Gang of 8.

A formal briefing for the lawmakers in the Gang of 8 is scheduled to take place next week.

Still, coming just ahead of Blinken’s travel to China, it was a move that officials across the administration said made little sense on its face and required a public and private response.

US officials spoke to their Chinese counterparts throughout the week, making clear the balloon was likely to be shot down, an official said.

Biden himself would be updated regularly over the course of the week, with his national security team providing updates on their conversations with Chinese counterparts and military officials presenting updated military options.

US military and intelligence officials moved quickly to identify and close off any risks that may have extended from the balloon, though one official described them as “rather small to begin with,” given ongoing US efforts to mitigate spying threats from more sophisticated satellites.

Another official also said US assets were immediately put into motion to monitor and collect any intelligence from the balloon as it followed its path through the US – including the scrambling of military aircraft as the balloon floated high above the central part of the country.

Still, even without a direct threat to the American public, the widely held view inside the administration was that the balloon would need to be shot down, likely after it moved over open water.

Waiting to carry out the operation allowed the US to “study and scrutinize” the balloon and its equipment, a senior Defense official said.

“We have learned technical things about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities. And I suspect, if we are successful in recovering aspects of the debris, we will learn even more,” the official added.

Officials also suggested that collecting debris from the balloon could be easier if it landed in water as opposed to on land.

Government agencies worked throughout week to find the right place and right time to intercept the Chinese spy balloon, according to a government source familiar with the shoot-down plans. Earlier in the week, the Federal Aviation Administration had been told by the Pentagon to prepare options for shutting down airspace.

A plan to shoot down the balloon was once again presented to Biden on Friday night while he was in Wilmington, where he approved the execution plan for Saturday.

“We’re gonna take care of it,” Biden said later on the frigid tarmac Saturday in Syracuse, New York, where he was paying a brief visit to visit family.

Government officials were told Friday night “decisions would be made (Saturday) morning” on when to close down airspace, and FAA officials were told to “be by the phone” early Saturday morning and “ready to roll.”

Austin gave his final approval for the strike shortly after noon on Saturday from the tarmac in New York, according to a defense official. Austin had traveled north on Saturday for a funeral, but remained very engaged throughout the planning process and the operation, the official said.

At about 1:30 p.m. ET, the FAA instituted one of the largest areas of restricted airspace in US history, more than five times the size of the restricted zone over Washington, DC, and roughly twice the size of the state of Massachusetts.

The Temporary Flight Restriction – put in place at the request of the Pentagon, the FAA said – included about 150 miles of Atlantic coastline that effectively paralyzed three commercial airports: Wilmington in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina.

Biden had just taken off from Syracuse when fighter jets that had taken off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired a single missile into the balloon.

As its wreckage tumbled toward the Atlantic Ocean, Biden was on the phone with his national security team on Air Force One.



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China says it is ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of the latest US clampdown on Huawei | CNN Business

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Hong Kong
CNN
 — 

China has hit back after reports that Washington is moving to further restrict sales of American technology to Huawei.

“China is deeply concerned,” Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry, said at a press conference Tuesday.

The Financial Times reported earlier that the US Commerce Department had notified some companies that it would no longer grant licenses for any company to export American technology to Huawei, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Bloomberg also reported, citing anonymous sources, that officials were considering cutting off Huawei from all US suppliers, though it noted that a decision had not yet been made.

“We are closely following relevant developments,” Mao said.

“China firmly opposes the United States’ generalization of the concept of national security, abuse of state power, and unreasonable suppression of Chinese companies,” she told reporters, adding that such a move would “violate international economic and trade rules.”

Mao vowed that Beijing would “firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.”

Huawei declined to comment on the reports, while the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside US business hours.

Huawei’s ties to the world’s biggest economy have already been curtailed in recent years as Washington continuously clamps down on the Chinese tech giant.

In 2019, Washington added the company to the so-called “entity list,” which restricts exports to select organizations without a US government license. The following year, the US government expanded on those curbs by seeking to cut Huawei off from chip suppliers using US-made technology.

US officials have argued that Huawei poses a risk to US national security.

Huawei has vehemently denied such claims, and its founder and CEO has repeatedly said the company would never hand data over to the Chinese government. Western security experts, however, have said that China’s national security and intelligence laws require Chinese companies to comply with demands for information.

— CNN’s Brian Fung and Juliana Liu contributed to this report.



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I’m a parent with an active social media brand: Here’s what you need to check on your child’s social media right now | CNN

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CNN
 — 

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll know I wear a lot of hats: romance author, parent of funny tweenagers, part-time teacher, amateur homesteader, grumbling celiac and the wife of a seriously outdoorsy guy.

Because I’m an author with a major publisher in today’s competitive market, I’ve been tasked with stepping up my social media brand: participation, creation and all. The more transparent and likable I am online, the better my books sell. Therefore, to social media I go.

It’s rare to find someone with no social media presence these days, but there’s a marked difference between posting a few pictures for family and friends and actively creating social media content as part of your daily life.

With a whopping 95% of teens polled having access to smartphones (and 98% of teens over 15), according to an August Pew Research Center survey on teens, social media and technology, it doesn’t look like social media platforms are going away anytime soon.

Not only are they key social tools, but they also allow teens to feel more a part of things in their communities. Many teens like being online, according to a November Pew Research Center survey on teen life on social media. Eighty percent of the teens surveyed felt more connected to what is happening in their friends’ lives, while 71% felt social media allows them to showcase their creativity.

So, while posting online is work for me, it’s a way of life for the tweens and teens I see creating and publishing content online. As a parent of two middle schoolers, I know how important social media is to them, and I also know what’s out there. I see the good, the bad and the viral, and I’ve have put together some guidelines, based on what I’ve seen, for my fellow parents to watch for.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself as you check out your children’s social media accounts.

If you don’t, it’s time to start. It’s like when I had to look up the term “situationship,” I saw that ignorance is not bliss in this case. Or really any case when it comes to your children. Both of my children have smartphones, but even if your children don’t have smartphones, if they have any sort of device — phone, tablet, school laptop — it’s likely they have some sort of social media account out there. Every app our children wish to add to their smart devices comes through my husband’s and my phone notifications for approval. Before I approve any apps, I’ll read the reviews, run an internet search and text my mom friends for their experience.

Most tweens and teens use social media for socializing with local friends.

If I’m still uncertain about an app, I’ll hold off on approving it until I can sit down with my children and ask them why they want it. Sometimes just waiting and forcing a short discussion is enough to convince them they no longer want it. In our household, I avoid any apps that run social surveys, allow anonymous feedback or require the individual to use location services.

If you don’t have your family phone plan all hooked together with parental controls, I’d advise setting that up ASAP. Because different devices and apps have different ways to monitor and set up parental controls, it’s impossible to link all the options here. However, a quick search will give you exactly the coverage you are comfortable with, including apps that track your child’s text messages and changing the settings on your child’s phone to lock down at a certain time every night.

The top social media platforms teens use today are YouTube (95% of teens polled), TikTok (67%), Instagram (62%) and Snapchat (59%), according to the Pew Research Center survey on teens and social media tech. Other social media platforms teens use less frequently are Twitter, Reddit, WhatsApp and Facebook. Most notably, Facebook is seeing a significant downturn in teen users. This list isn’t exhaustive, however. I would check out your children’s devices for group chat apps (such as Slack or Discord) and also scroll through their sport or activity apps where group chat capabilities exist.

I’ve seen preteens and teens using their real names, birthdate, home address, pets’ names, locker numbers or their school baseball team. Any of that information could be used to identify your child and location in real life or using a quick Google search. All of that is an absolute “no” in our house.

I also tell my kids not to answer the fun surveys and quizzes that invite children to share their unique information and repost it for others to see. These can be useful tools for predators and people trying to steal your children’s identity.

What I do: I made the choice a long ago to withhold the names of my children and partner. It’s not an exact science, and I know some clever digging could find them. For my husband, it’s for the sake of his privacy and also the protection of his professionalism. Just because he’s married to a romance author doesn’t mean he should have to answer for my online antics, whatever they may be. For my children, I want to avoid anything embarrassing that could be traced back to them during their college application season.

Even if your children keep their social media profiles private (more on that later), their biographical information, screen name and avatar or profile picture are public information.

Do an internet search of your child’s name to see what’s out there and scroll through images to make sure there isn’t anything you wouldn’t want to be made public. In our household, I’ve asked my children to use generic items or illustrated avatars in their social media bios.

What I do: Parents who do have active social media accounts may want to do a search of their own names. When my first book was published in 2019, I did a search of my name and images and found many photos of my children that came directly from my social media pages. I hadn’t posted pictures of them, but I did use a family photo as my profile photo and those are public record. Once I deleted them, the photos disappeared.

Another “no” in our household is posting videos or photos of our home or bedrooms. Something that feels innocent and innocuous to your middle schooler may not feel that way to an adult seeking out inappropriate content.

I learned this from one of my children’s Pinterest accounts. My kid loves to create themed videos using her own photos and stock pictures, and she’s gained over 500 followers in a short period of time. She has completely followed our rules and I know, because I check and follow her myself — but it hasn’t stopped the influx of adult men following her content.

What we do: Over the holidays, I sat with her and went through each follower one by one and blocked anyone we decided was there for the wrong reasons. In the end, we blocked close to 30 adult men on her account. (I also know that some predators cleverly disguise themselves as children or teens, and we may not catch them all, but this is still a worthy exercise.)

We also talk to our children about how to protect themselves. They wouldn’t want those strangers standing in their bedroom; therefore, they don’t want to post videos of their bedroom or bathroom or classroom for strangers to view.

This is a tricky one for lots of reasons. For content creators to build their following, they need to remain public on social media. If your child is an entrepreneur or artist hoping to grab attention, locking down their account will prevent that from happening.

That said, a way around this is to have two accounts. First, a private one, locked down and only used for family and close friends, and second, a public one that lacks identifiers but showcases whatever branding the child is hoping to grow. I’ve come across some well-managed public accounts for children who have giant followings and noticed they are usually run by parents, who state that right in the profile. I like this. If your children want public profiles because they are hoping to catch the attention of a talent scout, having the accounts monitored by a responsible adult who has their best interest in mind is a healthy compromise.

This is the exception, however. Most tweens and teens today use their social media for socializing with local friends. The benefit of keeping their account as private (or as private as can be) is threefold. It allows them to screen who follows their content, thus preventing our Pinterest fiasco. It prevents strangers from accessing their content and making it viral without their permission. And it protects them from unsolicited contact with strangers.

Not all social media platforms have the option to make your account “private.” For example, YouTube has parental controls that can be adjusted at any time. TikTok and Instagram can be made private (which means users must approve followers) by making the change in the account settings. Once the account is private, a little padlock will show next to the username.

Snapchat allows users to approve followers on a case-by-case basis as well as turn off features that disclose a user’s location. Notably, Snapchat also informs users when another user takes a screenshot of their story, which is a feature other social media platforms don’t have yet.

Most group chat apps don’t have the ability to go private so much as they ask users to approve of follower requests. Take time to discuss with your children who they allow to follow them and what personal information they allow those followers to know. It’s also a great time to teach them the art of “blocking” those individuals who are unsafe or unkind.

My suggestion is to log in, scroll around and even ask your children to teach you about the platforms they use. Then, when they roll their eyes at you, go ahead and tell them about your first Hotmail email address and the way you picked the perfect emo playlist on your Myspace page … and when they’re bent over laughing, sneak a peek at their follower list. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.



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Packers’ Rodgers wins pro-am at Pebble Beach

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finally gets his name on the Wall of Champions behind the first tee at Pebble Beach, joining a long list that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Rodgers and Ben Silverman of Canada held on for a 1-shot victory Sunday in the pro-am portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The prize is their name listed on the wall, which features pro-am winners, tournament winners, USGA champions at Pebble and more.

“It’s really significant,” Rodgers said, whose Packers failed to reach the NFL playoffs for only the fourth time in his 15 years as the starter. “It’s always been on my bucket list.”

Rodgers did his share of heavy lifting. Silverman, coming off a Korn Ferry Tour win, finished at 1-over 216 and missed the cut. Rodgers, playing off a 10 handicap, said he had not played golf since training camp until last Monday.

They finished at 26-under par, 1 shot ahead of Peter Malnati and Don Colleran, the retired president and CEO of FedEx whose name already is on the wall.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Keith Mitchell were 4 behind.

“Josh Allen was telling me there’s going to be an asterisk by this win because there was only three rounds,” Rodgers said. “But I think our names are going to be up there for a long time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.





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Ex-CIA chief guesses China’s message with suspected spy balloon | CNN

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Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta discusses China’s response to a suspected spy balloon being shot down off the East Coast of the US.



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Iran pardons or commutes sentence of ‘large’ number of prisoners, state media reports | CNN

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CNN
 — 

Iran will pardon or commute the sentences of a large number of prisoners as part of an annual amnesty, state media reported Sunday, although it is unclear how this will apply to people arrested in the recent wave of protests.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has approved a proposal to “pardon or commute” the sentences of thousands of prisoners, state media reports, but with notable exceptions that will likely exclude many imprisoned protesters.

According to semi-official Tasnim, the amnesty does not apply to those sentenced or facing charges of “espionage for outsiders, direct links with the foreign intelligence services, murder or intentional injuries, as well as vandalism or arson attack on governmental, military and public sites” – all charges regularly levied against protesters and foreign nationals imprisoned in Iran.

Referring to protesters, Chief Justice Gholam​-Hossein Mohseni​-Ejei said “a number of convicts jailed following the recent riots in Iran had been deceived into wrongdoing under the influence of the enemy’s propaganda campaign” and have “asked for forgiveness,” Tasnim reported.

At least one Iranian human rights organization dismissed the move as “propaganda.”

“The #HypocriticalPardoning of protesters by Khamenei is an act of propaganda. They used their self-right to protest and their arrests and sentences are not justified. Not only should all protesters be released, but in the path of justice, the trials of the perpetrators and agents of repression is also a universal right,” Iran Human Rights said on Twitter.

A New York based NGO, the Center for Human Rights (CHRI) in Iran, described the move by Khamenei as a “PR stunt” with “no grounding in reality.”

The deputy director of the CHRI, Jasmin Ramsey, told CNN in a statement Sunday that the Iranian regime has a “documented history of making lofty declarations about releasing political prisoners and not following through.”

“What we expect is that some will be released while many others, especially prominent political prisoners who’ve been unjustly jailed for years, will remain imprisoned,” Ramsey said.

“This is a PR stunt that has no grounding in reality by a regime that has lost legitimacy amongst its people. The political repression, the imprisonments after sham “trials” led by kangaroo courts, the criminalization of dissent remain,” she continued.

Semi-official news agency Mehr claimed “tens of thousands” of prisoners could be pardoned or have their sentences commuted but provided no details.

Khamenei made the announcement ahead of the 44th anniversary of the “victory of the Islamic Revolution” marked on February 11. It is customary for Khamenei to grant amnesty to some prisoners to make this occasion.

Anti-government protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish-Iranian woman in September 2022, have resulted in tens of thousands of people being arrested through the country.

Last month, Iran executed two protesters charged with killing security personnel, causing an international outcry. Critics said the executions were a result of hasty sham trials. At least 43 people are currently facing execution in Iran, according to a CNN count, but activist group 1500Tasvir says the number could be as high as 100.



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Live updates: US shoots down Chinese spy balloon off East Coast

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A still from Joey Lopes’ video of the balloon being shot down Saturday, February 4. (Joey Lopes)

A witness who captured video of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down said he happened to see it as he was enjoying a Saturday in Myrtle Beach.

“We were at lunch, and we were kind of, like, joking around. Like, ‘What if we see it? What if it’s right here?’” said Joey Lopes, a social studies teacher from the nearby coastal city of Georgetown, South Carolina.

Lopes told CNN’s Jim Acosta Saturday afternoon that he decided to pull his phone out and began recording the scene in the sky just before a missile took the balloon out.

“We saw the fighter jets circling around. There were about three or four of them,” said Lopes. “And then after that, we heard a bang, and the balloon was gone.”

Lopes added he was concerned about the possibility of debris falling if the balloon was shot over land, but was glad that the military waited until it was out to sea.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in Myrtle Beach over the last three years. This is by far the craziest,” Lopes said.



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