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New virus cases fall; Xi urged steps as early as Jan. 7

BEIJING (AP) — China reported Sunday a drop in new virus cases for the third straight day, as it became apparent that the country’s leadership was aware of the potential gravity of the situation well before the alarm was sounded.

In the early days of the epidemic, which has been one of the biggest political challenges of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure, Xi played a muted role. But state media published Saturday evening a speech Xi delivered Feb. 3 in which he said he gave instructions on fighting the virus as early as Jan. 7.

The disclosure indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity weeks before such dangers were made known to the public. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans and public alarm began to rise.

There are 2,009 new cases in mainland China, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 68,500, according to the country’s National Health Commission.

The fatality rate remained stable with 142 new deaths, the commission said. The death toll in mainland China from COVID-19, a disease stemming from a new form of coronavirus, now stands at 1,665. In all, 9,419 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

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Cost of China’s anti-virus fight rises with workers idle

BEIJING (AP) — Real estate agent Du Xuekun’s sales usually jump after the Lunar New Year holiday. But this year, Du has been at home for a month with no income after vast swathes of China’s economy were shut down in a sweeping effort to contain a virus outbreak.

Du, who lives in Jiaozhuo, near the central city of Zhengzhou, is one of millions of people who are bearing the soaring cost of the most extreme anti-disease measures ever imposed. Some businesses are reopening, but Beijing has told the public to stay home if possible.

“People will buy food and clothes online but for sure won’t buy an apartment without seeing it,” said Du.

Industries from auto sales to travel to retailing effectively shut down after curbs were imposed starting Jan. 23 with the suspension of most access to Wuhan, an industrial metropolis of 11 million people at the center of the outbreak.

Travel restrictions expanded to cities with more than 60 million people, while curbs on business spread nationwide. The Lunar New Year holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed. Nationwide, thousands of restaurants and cinemas have been shut to prevent crowds from gathering.

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Turkey, Russia to discuss grave situation in Syria’s Idlib

MUNICH (AP) — A Turkish delegation will travel to Russia on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria’s Idlib province amid mounting fears of a humanitarian disaster there, Turkey’s foreign minister said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Idlib province are scrambling to escape a widening, multi-front offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

“What matters is today around 1 million people from Idlib have been moving towards our border,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement Saturday after a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump in which they discussed Syria and other topics. “We are already hosting 3.5-4 million people. Unfortunately we are not in a position of accepting this another 1 million.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after meeting his German counterpart on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that 2 million people could head for Turkey’s border with Syria if no cease-fire is achieved.

He said a Turkish delegation was due to visit Moscow on Monday to talk discuss the situation in Idlib, much of which remains in rebel hands. The meeting follows previous visits by a Russian delegation to Ankara. Russia supports Assad, while Turkey backs the opposition.

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The Latest: Some who back Sanders more confident this time

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Latest on the 2020 presidential campaign (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

Some Nevada Democrats who made Bernie Sanders their first choice in the state’s early caucus voting say they think he has a better chance of being elected president now than he did in 2016.

Solana Kline of Reno says she supported Sanders last time too, but didn’t think he could win so she opted for Hillary Clinton because she was more mainstream. Kline says the whole political climate has changed since then and Sanders vs. Donald Trump would be viewed more as good vs. evil. Clinton carried Nevada in 2016, but Sanders won in Washoe County, which includes Reno and Sparks.

Brian Feeney says Sanders has more support and is better positioned to win this time around. The 42-year-old behavioral analyst who works with children with autism at the University of Nevada, Reno says he may consider the Green Party candidate if Sanders isn’t the Democratic nominee.

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‘Parasite’ shines light on South Korean basement dwellers

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Kim Da-hye, a 29-year-old South Korean, said that moving into a semi-basement apartment was her least-preferred option when she was looking for a new place to live.

But after a rigorous search and a close examination of her finances, she was forced to settle for a “banjiha,” the Korean word for a cramped basement flat.

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film “Parasite” has brought banjiha dwellers like Kim to worldwide attention, thanks to its depiction of two families — one living in a semi-basement apartment and the other in an airy mansion — and the differences in their social status.

In 2015, around 1.9% of South Koreans lived in semi-basement apartments, according to data from Statistics Korea. It’s an affordable choice for urban dwellers in Seoul, one of the most expensive cities in Asia.

The apartments, which are often cramped and sometimes squalid, generally cost between $210 and $500 a month with a hefty deposit.

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Mississippi braces for flooding amid cresting river

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency Saturday amid predictions that a river running in the area around the state capital of Jackson could burst its banks and spark widespread flooding.

Forecasters believe the Pearl River will crest at 38 feet (11.6 meters) Sunday evening to levels not seen in decades, following days of torrential rains across the Southeast. Reeves said the state should prepare for “the third worst flood” in its history.

“This is a historic, unprecedented flood,” Reeves said via Twitter.

Parts of Jackson and suburban Ridgeland were under evacuation orders, and some people had already filled trucks with furniture and other belongings to get out. Reeves said more than 2,400 homes and other structures in and near Jackson could either be inundated or isolated by the rising waters. That includes 1,925 structures in Hinds County, 461 in Rankin County and 31 in Madison County.

“I cannot stress to you how important the next 24 to 48 hours is for the people who are going to be affected,” Reeves said. He signed an emergency declaration to speed up spending for flood response and recovery. More than 96,000 sandbags had already been distributed by Saturday. The National Guard, the Highway Patrol and other high-water rescue teams were on standby, Reeves said.

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US agency to pay for 11,000 miles of fuel breaks in 6 states

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has announced plans to fund 11,000 miles (17,703 kilometers) of strategic fuel breaks in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah in an effort to help control wildfires.

The fuel breaks are intended to prop up fire mitigation efforts and help protect firefighters, communities and natural resources, The Oregonian reported Saturday.

According to the BLM, wildfires are becoming bigger and more frequent across the Great Basin states. Between 2009 and 2018, more than 13.5 million acres of BLM land burned in the project area.

“Recovering from the devastating effects of wildfires can take decades in the rugged, high-desert climate of the Great Basin. These tools will help firefighters contain fires when they break out,” said acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond in a news release. “That’s why creating fuel breaks is incredibly important to the entire basin, the people who live in these communities, and our wildland firefighters.”

Fuel breaks are intended to break up fire fuels by creating breaks in vegetation that slow a blaze’s progress. By implementing them strategically, they help firefighters control the spread of fire, and can protect homes and resources.

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14-year-old charged with Barnard College student death

NEW YORK (AP) — A 14-year-old has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of a Barnard College student in a park during a robbery in December, a crime that rattled New York City residents, authorities said Saturday.

Rashaun Weaver has been indicted by a grand jury and was taken into custody Friday night without incident, New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a news conference.

Weaver, charged with second-degree murder and robbery, is the second teenager to be charged in the attack on 18-year-old Tessa Majors in a Manhattan park.

“We are confident that we have the person in custody who stabbed her,” Shea said. “And that person will face justice in a court of law.”

The Associated Press is naming the juvenile defendant because of the seriousness of the crime and because he has been charged as an adult. Weaver’s attorney, Elsie Chandler, did not immediately return a call to Neighbor Defender Service of Harlem seeking comment.

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Warren Buffett’s son helps Colombia kick cocaine curse

TIBU, Colombia (AP) — With Colombian military snipers in position, Howard Buffett descends from a helicopter and trudges through the wet grass in steel-toe boots chewed through by his dog’s teeth.

Waiting under a tin-roofed shack is a small group of coca farmers. They’ve never heard of multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffett, but after decades of neglect by their own government they’re grateful for the outstretched hand of his eldest son, who they refer to simply as “the gringo.”

“There’s a saying here: The less you know, the better,” said Rubén Morantes, his leathery skin and calloused hands a testament to a lifetime of tillage in one of Colombia’s most-dangerous territories, where outsiders are traditionally mistrusted.

For nearly two decades Buffett has crisscrossed the world giving away part of his father’s fortune to promote food security, conflict mitigation and public safety. But his latest gamble is one of the most daunting yet: helping Colombia kick its cocaine curse.

He is focusing on Tibu, heart of the remote, notoriously lawless Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela where Buffett accompanied President Iván Duque.

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The Latest: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. wins slam dunk contest

CHICAGO (AP) — The Latest on Saturday night at NBA All-Star weekend. (all times local):

9:45 p.m.

Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. celebrated his 23rd birthday by winning the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, edging Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon in a memorable showdown that required two tiebreaker jams.

Jones and Gordon each got a perfect 50 on both of their dunks in the final. Then they got two more perfect scores on their first jam in the dunk-off.

Jones then took off from just inside the foul line and threw down a windmill jam with his left hand, drawing a 48 from the panel of five judges.