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Human Rights And Civil Liberties

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Authorities in China’s western Xinjiang region have opened up some neighborhoods in the capital of Urumqi after residents held extraordinary late-night demonstrations against the city’s draconian “zero-COVID” lockdown that had lasted more than three months. The displays of public defiance were fanned by anger over a fire in an apartment compound that had killed 10, according to the official death toll. Emergency workers took three hours to extinguish the blaze in a delay many attributed to obstacles caused by anti-virus measures. Some Urumqi residents had their doors chained physically shut. Many in the city believe such brute-force tactics may have prevented residents from escaping in Friday’s fire and that the official death toll is an undercount.

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State-level law enforcement units created after the 2020 presidential election to investigate voter fraud are looking into scattered complaints more than two weeks after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems. That’s just what election experts had expected and led critics to suggest that the new units were more about politics than rooting out widespread abuses. Most election-related fraud cases already are investigated and prosecuted at the local level. The absence of widespread fraud is important because the lies surrounding the 2020 election spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies have penetrated deeply into the Republican Party and eroded trust in elections.

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When President Joe Biden speaks about the “scourge” of gun violence, his go-to answer is to zero in on so-called assault weapons. America has heard it many times, including this week after shootings in Colorado and Virginia, that Biden wants to sign into law a ban on high-powered guns that have the capacity to kill many people very quickly. Such a move is still far off in a closely divided Congress. But Biden and the Democrats have become increasingly emboldened in pushing for stronger gun controls, and they're doing so with no clear electoral consequences. The tough talk reflects steady progress that gun control advocates have made.

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Turkish police have broken up a rally calling for an end to violence against women and for Turkey’s return to a treaty aimed at protecting them, detaining dozens of people. The demonstrators tried to march along Istanbul’s main pedestrian street, Istiklal, to mark the Nov. 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, defying an order by authorities banning the rally on security and public order grounds. Police blocked off protesters from entering streets leading to Istiklal Friday, surrounded groups of protesters and apprehended them. An Associated Press journalist saw three busses full of detained protesters being taken to a nearby police station.

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Illinois legislators have one more chance to finalize the criminal justice overhaul known as the SAFE-T Act. Major portions take effect Jan. 1 and lawmakers have three more days in their fall session to clarify the massive plan. The main point of contention is the plan to eliminate cash bail. Advocates say poor people have to sit in jail awaiting trial because they can't make bail but affluent defendants can pay their way to pretrial release. Legislative changes must be approved by three-fifth majorities in both houses to take effect immediately. Negotiations are ongoing, though Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth hasn’t shared details.

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Fears of aggressive poll watchers sowing chaos at polling stations or conservative groups trying to intimidate votes didn't materialize on Election Day as many election officials and voting rights experts had feared. Voting proceeded smoothly across most of the U.S., with a few exceptions of scattered disruptions. There were no clear indications that new voting laws in some Republican-leaning states disenfranchised voters on a wide scale. Overall, Election Day went better than many expected. But groups focused on threats to American democracy say the biggest challenge is still ahead: the 2024 presidential race.

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A 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal and five others in Hong Kong were fined after being found guilty of failing to register a now-defunct fund meant to help people who were arrested in the widespread protests three years ago. Cardinal Joseph Zen is a retired bishop and a vocal democracy advocate of the city. He was first arrested in May on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law. At that time, his arrest sent shockwaves through the Catholic community. Principal Magistrate Ada Yim ruled that the fund is considered an organization, not purely for charity purposes. That means it's obliged to register, and all six were convicted Friday. Their fines range from about $300-$500.

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Long-time reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim has been sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister. It’s a victory for the political reformers who have been locked in a battle for days with Malay nationalists after a divisive general election produced a hung Parliament. Malaysia’s king named 75-year-old Anwar as the nation’s 10th leader, saying he was satisfied that Anwar is the candidate who is likely to have majority support. Anwar vowed at his first news conference to heal a racially divided nation, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with rising costs of living. He said his Alliance of Hope will form a unity government with two smaller blocs. Anwar said his government will call for a vote of confidence in him when Parliament reconvenes Dec. 19.

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A gun rights group, sheriff and gun store owner filed an emergency motion in federal court late Wednesday seeking to stop enforcement of one of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. The gun control measure narrowly approved by Oregon voters is set go into effect on Dec. 8. A judge on Thursday scheduled a hearing on the motion for Dec. 2. The Oregon Firearms Foundation, Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey and Adam Johnson, owner of Coat of Arms Firearms, sued the Oregon governor and attorney general on Nov. 18 saying Measure 114 is unconstitutional. Backers say banning large-capacity magazines will save lives and argue the measure will reduce suicides.

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The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted to condemn the bloody crackdown on peaceful protests in Iran and create an independent fact-finding mission to investigate alleged abuses, particularly those committed against women and children. A resolution put forward by Germany and Iceland was backed by 25 nations Thursday, including the United States and many European, Latin American, Asian and African nations. Six countries opposed the move — China, Pakistan, Cuba, Eritrea, Venezuela and Armenia — while 16 abstained. The U.N.’s top rights official had earlier appealed to Iran’s government to halt the crackdown against protesters, but Tehran’s envoy at a special Human Rights Council on the country’s “deteriorating” rights situation blasted the initiative as “politically motivated.”

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European Union Council president Charles Michel will travel to China for talks to address the economic imbalance between the two trading giants and the Asian nation’s relations with Russia and neigboring Taiwan. The one-day visit Dec. 1 will seek to find a balance between the EU’s wish for more exports to China and the need to be firm with Beijing in the defense of democracy and fundamental freedoms. Over the past years as China increased its global clout, the EU has increasingly come to see the nation as a strategic rival.

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The company that assembles Apple Inc.’s iPhones has apologized for a pay dispute that set off employee protests at a factory where anti-virus controls have slowed production. Employees complained Foxconn Technology Group changed the terms of wages offered to attract them to the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou. Foxconn is trying to rebuild its workforce after employees walked out over complaints about unsafe conditions. Foxconn blamed a “technical error” while adding new employees and promised they would receive the wages they were promised. During the protests this week, police beat and kicked employees at the factory. The dispute comes as the ruling Communist Party tries to contain a surge in infections without shutting down factories.

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Russian lawmakers have given their final approval to a bill that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country. The new bill expands a ban on what authorities call “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. That legislation, often dubbed the “gay propaganda” law, bans the depiction of homosexuality to those under the age of 18. It was adopted by the Kremlin in 2013 in an effort to promote “traditional values” in Russia. The new bill outlaws all advertising, media and online resources books, films and theater productions deemed to contain such “propaganda,” a concept loosely defined in the bill.

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China is expanding pandemic lockdowns, including in a city where factory workers clashed with police this week, as its number of COVID-19 cases hits a daily record. Across China, the number of new cases reported Thursday was 31,444, the highest since the virus was first detected in late 2019. People in parts of Zhengzhou with a total of 6.6 million residents were told to stay home for five days except to buy food, get tested or get medical treatment. The daily number of cases is increasing, though China’s caseload remains low compared to other countries. The ruling Communist Party remains committed to its “zero-COVID” strategy, aiming to isolate every case and stamp out the virus.

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Many young people in South Korea have chosen not to marry or have children, citing a change of views toward a marriage and family life and uncertainty of their future. The country's census shows the population shrank for the first time last year. Other advanced countries have similar trends, but South Korea’s demographic crisis is much worse. Some experts say a declining population could cause a massive strain on the country’s economy, the world’s 10th largest, because of a labor shortage and a greater welfare spending on older people. President Yoon Suk Yeol has recently instructed officials to work out more scientific, effective steps to raise the fertility rate to address these challenges.

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The Georgia Supreme Court has reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. The high court on Wednesday put a lower court ruling overturning the ban on hold while it considers an appeal. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney had ruled on November 15 that the state’s abortion ban was invalid, because when it was signed into law in 2019, U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Roe. v. Wade and another ruling had allowed abortion well past six weeks. The decision immediately prohibited enforcement of the abortion ban statewide. Doctors had resumed providing abortions past six weeks.

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Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni has stressed the “essential importance” of Italy’s Jewish community for the nation and Europe. She spoke during a meeting Wednesday with the head of the World Jewish Congress and Italian Jewish groups. Meloni’s office issued a readout of the meeting as the premier seeks to distance her far-right Brothers of Italy party from Italy’s anti-Jewish racial laws and the suppression of democracy under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The statement said during the meeting “there emerged full agreement in the need for a strong and more incisive common commitment to combat every form of antisemitism, a phenomenon in worrisome growth including on the web and social media.”

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Russian lawmakers have given crucial second-reading approval to a bill that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBT rights in the country. A 2013 law banned what authorities deem to be spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. The new bill extends that ban to spreading such information to people aged 18 and older. The bill must pass a third reading in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, before going to the upper house and then to President Vladimir Putin before becoming law. But the second reading in the Duma is when major amendments are approved, so Wednesday’s approval prefigures  easy passage.

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Pope Francis has named a Catholic priest from New York to succeed Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin when the conservative cleric retires, potentially next year. Tobin held a press conference Wednesday morning at the cathedral in Providence to announce the changes. The Most Reverend Richard G. Henning is the new coadjutor bishop of Providence with a right of succession. When he does take over, Henning will replace a religious leader whose conservative stance on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage had prompted backlash. Tobin turns 75 on April 1 and must submit his resignation then to Francis, who can decide to accept it or keep him on.

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The U.S. government says it will detain all imports of sugar and related products made in the Dominican Republic by the country's largest sugar producer amid allegations that it uses forced labor. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a written statement Wednesday that an investigation found Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. allegedly isolated workers, withheld wages, fostered abusive working and living conditions and pushed for excessive overtime. A spokeswoman for the company did not immediately return a message for comment. The company has long faced these types of accusations.

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The United States has imposed sanctions against three more Iranian security officials in response to the Tehran government’s continued crackdown on protests after the death of Mahsa Amini. She's the 22-year-old woman who died in September while being held by the morality police for violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code. The Treasury Department says the three officials who are being penalized allegedly assisted in spreading military control over largely Kurdish areas that have “faced a particularly severe security response” since the protests began. The Treasury says Iranians are protesting peacefully "against a regime that denies human rights and fundamental freedoms to its people, especially women and girls.”

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Myanmar’s military government, which has cracked down hard on independent media since seizing power last year, has arrested two journalists working for outlets sympathetic to it. A fellow journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared he could also be arrested, says they were both arrested after attending a news conference held by the Information Ministry last week. There has been no official report about their arrests, but the reason they were detained appeared to be related to questions they asked at the news conference. Since ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, the military government has shut down virtually all critical outlets and arrested nearly 150 journalists, publishers and media executives.

Election wins for abortion rights and Democrats could translate into abortion protections in some states. But more restrictions could still be coming elsewhere. This year's overturning of Roe v. Wade pushed abortion decisions to the states. While the majority of voters oppose total bans, the issue is playing out differently in different states. In Minnesota and Michigan, where this month's elections put Democrats in control, protections are a priority. But in Florida, where Republicans strengthened their grip on power, a tighter ban could be under consideration — though there's a question of how far it should go.

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