Putin appears at big rally as troops press attack in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally at a packed Moscow stadium Friday and lavished praise on his troops fighting in Ukraine, three weeks into the invasion that has led to heavier-than-expected Russian losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home.
Meanwhile, the leader of Russia’s delegation in diplomatic talks with Ukraine said the sides have narrowed their differences. The Ukrainian side said its position remained unchanged.
The invasion has touched off a burst of antiwar protests inside Russia, and the Moscow rally was surrounded by suspicions it was a Kremlin-manufactured display of patriotism. Several Telegram channels critical of the Kremlin reported that students and employees of state institutions in a number of regions were ordered by their superiors to attend rallies and concerts marking the eighth anniversary of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, which was seized from Ukraine. Those reports could not be independently verified.
Elsewhere, Russian troops continued to rain lethal fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv, and pounded an aircraft repair installation on the outskirts of Lviv, close to the Polish border. Ukrainian officials said late Friday that the besieged southern port city of Mariupol lost its access to the Azov Sea, and Russian forces were still trying to storm the city. It was unclear whether they had seized it.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces are blockading the largest cities to create a “humanitarian catastrophe” with the goal of persuading Ukrainians to cooperate. He said the Russians are preventing supplies from reaching surrounded cities in central and southeastern Ukraine.
Live updates: Zelenskyy says 9,000 leave besieged Mariupol
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces are blockading Ukraine’s largest cities to create a “humanitarian catastrophe” with the aim of persuading Ukrainians to cooperate with them.
He says Russians are preventing supplies from reaching surrounded cities in the center and southeast of the country.
“This is a totally deliberate tactic,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation, filmed outside in Kyiv, with the presidential office in the lamplight behind him.
He said more than 9,000 people were able to leave besieged Mariupol in the past day, and in all more than 180,000 people have been able to flee to safety through humanitarian corridors.
He again appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold talks with him directly. “It’s time to meet, time to speak,” he said. “I want to be heard by everyone, especially in Moscow.”
American gunmakers help Ukrainians fight back against Putin
MIAMI (AP) — Adrian Kellgren’s family-owned gun company in Florida was left holding a $200,000 shipment of semi-automatic rifles after a longtime customer in Ukraine suddenly went silent during Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the country.
Fearing the worst, Kellgren and his company KelTec decided to put those stranded 400 guns to use, sending them to Ukraine’s nascent resistance movement to help civilians fight back against a Russian military that has been repeatedly shelling their apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and hiding places.
“The American people want to do something,” said Kellgren, a former U.S. Navy pilot. “We enjoy our freedoms, we cherish those things. And when we see a group of people out there getting hammered like this, it’s heartbreaking.”
Cocoa-based KelTec’s donation is a high-profile example of Americans collecting guns, ammunition, body armor, helmets and other tactical gear in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s promise to arm his citizens. But many similar grassroots efforts have been snarled by inexperience with the complex web of regulations governing the international shipment of such equipment.
Kellgren, who has dealt with such red tape for years, managed to connect through a Ukrainian neighbor with a diplomat in the Ukrainian Embassy who helped him secure a federal arms export license in just four days. That process can often take months.
Don’t help Russia’s invasion, Biden tells China’s Xi
WASHINGTON (AP) — Face to face by video, President Joe Biden laid out to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday the stiff consequences the Chinese would face from the U.S. if they provide military or economic assistance for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There was no indication he got any assurance in return.
In fact, Xi blamed the U.S. for the crisis and insisted with a Chinese proverb that the next move was up to Biden:
“He who tied the bell to the tiger must take it off,” Xi said, according to a Chinese government readout.
More formally after the nearly two-hour conversation, China’s Foreign Ministry deplored “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest,” but assigned no blame to Russia and said nothing of next steps.
US education secretary to Florida LGBTQ kids: Got your back
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In another clash between President Joe Biden’s administration and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke with LGBTQ students to say the federal government supports them even if the governor does not.
Cardona’s call Thursday with students, parents and teachers was a response to Florida legislation opponents call the “don’t say gay” bill, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The Legislature passed the bill and DeSantis is expected to sign it.
“The goal here is not to create division. We just want these kids to be able go to school, learn, get the support that they need. All parents want that for their children,” Cardona said in a phone interview Friday. “We want to support all students, including our gay and transgender students, and they needed to hear that directly from me.”
The “don’t say gay” bill was one of several DeSantis pushed during the legislative session that many saw as a culture war he was creating to galvanize a conservative base as he considers running for president in 2024.
The bill states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Parents would be able to sue districts over violations.
Coach K guides Duke to no-fuss win over Cal State Fullerton
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Duke began retiring Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski’s final NCAA Tournament with minimal stress, beating Cal State Fullerton 78-61 on Friday night.
Freshman Paolo Banchero scored 17 points to lead the Blue Devils (29-6), who jumped to a double-digit lead in the first 4 1/2 minutes and remained in control throughout. Duke led by 10 at halftime and pushed the margin to 20 midway through the second half.
The West Region’s No. 2 seed had five players score in double figures while playing its neighboring state, backed by vocal sections of fans eager to be part of what they hope will be Krzyzewski’s six-game run to title No. 6. Next up: Michigan State or Davidson in Sunday’s second round.
Damari Milstead scored 12 points to lead 15th-seeded Titans (21-11), who missed 15 of 18 shots to open the game.
TEXAS TECH 97, MONTANA STATE 62
Rep. Don Young, longest-serving congressmember, dies at 88
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Don Young, a blunt-speaking Republican and longest-serving member of Alaska’s congressional delegation, has died. He was 88.
His office announced Young’s death in a statement Friday night.
“It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Dean of the House and revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side,” said the statement from his spokesperson, Zach Brown.
Young, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1973, was known for his brusque style. In his later years in office, his off-color comments and gaffes sometimes overshadowed his work. During his 2014 reelection bid, he described himself as intense and less-than-perfect but said he wouldn’t stop fighting for Alaska.
Born on June 9, 1933, in Meridian, California, Young grew up on a family farm. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching at Chico State College, now known as California State University, Chico, in 1958. He also served in the U.S. Army, according to his official biography.
Politicians, friends fondly recall late Alaska congressman
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Here is a sample of reactions after U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the longest-ever serving Republican member of the House, died Friday at the age of 88:
“Some of my favorite stories as Republican Whip in the House are about Don Young. Nobody represented their state better or with more determination than Don Young represented Alaska.” —U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.
“Congressman Don Young has been a great friend and colleague of mine for many years. I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of this amazing man who, in many ways, formed Alaska into the great state it is today.” — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Disney ‘regrets’ performance by visiting school drill team
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Officials at Walt Disney World said Friday that a performance by a visiting Texas high school drill team that used American Indian stereotypes, including chants of “scalp them,” doesn’t reflect the Florida resort’s values.
The performance this week in the Magic Kingdom by the “Indianettes” drill team from Port Neches-Grove High School “did not reflect our core values, and we regret it took place,” Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said in an emailed statement.
An audition tape that the school had provided in order to be selected to perform at the theme park resort was inconsistent with the actual performance, the statement said.
Wahler said new measures have been implemented to prevent that from happening again. She did not elaborate.
In a video of the performance posted on Twitter, members of the drill team are seen tapping their hands over their mouths and whooping, as a drum pounds in the background, in what is stereotypically called a “war cry.”
Syria’s Assad visits UAE, 1st trip to Arab country since war
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad was in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his office said, marking his first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.
In a statement posted on its social media pages, the office says that Assad met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai. The two discussed expanding bilateral relations between their countries, it said.
The visit sends the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with Syria’s once widely shunned president. It comes against the backdrop of the raging war in Ukraine where Assad’s main ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is pressing on with a military offensive, now in its fourth week, raining lethal fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv. Syria has supported Russia’s invasion, blaming the West for having provoked it.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after the conflict broke out 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war, which displaced half of Syria’s population. Large parts of Syria have been destroyed and reconstruction would cost tens of billions of dollars.
Arab and Western countries generally blamed Assad for the deadly crackdown on the 2011 protests that evolved into civil war, and supported the opposition in the early days of the conflict.
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