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Britain says Russia seeking to replace Ukraine government

LONDON (AP) — The British government on Saturday accused Russia of seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration, and said former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev is being considered as a potential candidate.

Murayev is head of the small pro-Russian party Nashi, which currently has no seats in Ukraine’s parliament.

Britain’s Foreign Office named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links with Russian intelligence services.

It’s unclear what means Britain believes Russia might use to install a friendly government in Kyiv.

The U.K. government made the claim based on an intelligence assessment, without providing evidence to back it up. It comes amid a war of words between Moscow and the West over Russia’s designs on Ukraine.

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Russia toughens its posture amid Ukraine tensions

MOSCOW (AP) — With tens of thousands of Russian troops positioned near Ukraine, the Kremlin has kept the U.S. and its allies guessing about its next moves in the worst security crisis to emerge between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Amid fears of an imminent attack on Ukraine, Russia has further upped the ante by announcing more military drills in the region. It also has refused to rule out the possibility of military deployments to the Caribbean, and President Vladimir Putin has reached out to leaders opposed to the West.

The military muscle-flexing reflects a bold attempt by the Kremlin to halt decades of NATO expansion after the end of the Cold War. In talks with the United States, Russia demands legally binding guarantees that the alliance will not embrace Ukraine and other former Soviet nations, or place weapons there. It also wants NATO to pull back its forces from countries in Central and Eastern Europe that joined the alliance since the 1990s.

Putin has described NATO membership for Ukraine and the others as well as the alliance’s weapons deployments there as a red line for Moscow, warning that he would order unspecified “military-technical measures” if the demands aren’t met.

Putin pointed to NATO drills with the Ukrainian military, increasingly frequent visits of the alliance warships in the Black Sea and the flights of U.S. bombers near Crimea to emphasize the urgency of Russia’s security demands. He argued that by creating training centers in Ukraine, Western powers can establish a military foothold there even without its joining NATO.

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China’s success taming virus could make exit strategy harder

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The sweeping “zero-tolerance” strategy that China has used to keep COVID-19 case numbers low and its economy functioning may, paradoxically, make it harder for the country to exit the pandemic.

Most experts say the coronavirus around the world isn’t going away and believe it could eventually become, like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat if enough people gain immunity through infections and vaccines.

In countries like Britain and the U.S., which have had comparatively light restrictions against the omicron wave, there is a glimmer of hope that the process might be underway. Cases skyrocketed in recent weeks but have since dropped in Britain and may have leveled off in the U.S., perhaps because the extremely contagious variant is running out of people to infect. Some places already are talking about easing COVID-19 precautions.

China, which will be in the international spotlight when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin in two weeks, is not seeing the same dynamic.

The communist government’s practice throughout the pandemic of trying to find and isolate every infected person has largely protected hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and staved off the deaths that have engulfed most of the world.

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Bitcoin pyramid schemes wreak havoc on Brazil’s ‘New Egypt’

CABO FRIO, Brazil (AP) — In April, Brazil’s federal police stormed the helipad of a boutique seaside hotel in Rio de Janeiro state, where they busted two men and a woman loading a chopper with 7 million reais ($1.3 million) in neatly packed bills.

The detainees told police they worked for G.A.S. Consulting & Technology, a cryptocurrency investment firm founded by a former waiter-turned-multimillionaire who is the central figure in what is alleged to be one of Brazil’s biggest-ever pyramid schemes.

Police say the company owned by 38-year-old Glaidson Acácio dos Santos had total transactions worth at least $7 billion ($38 billion reais) from 2015 through mid-2021 as part of a Bitcoin-based Ponzi scheme that promised investors 10% monthly returns.

In hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Associated Press, federal and state police and prosecutors accuse dos Santos and his associates of running a sophisticated racket defrauding thousands of small-scale investors who believed they were getting rich off Bitcoin’s steep appreciation. He is now in a Rio jail awaiting trial on charges including racketeering, financial crimes and ordering the murder and attempted murder of two business competitors. He remains under investigation in the attempted murder of a third competitor.

In public statements, dos Santos has repeatedly asserted his innocence. His lawyers didn’t reply to AP requests for comment.

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Young officer slain in Harlem joined to help ‘chaotic city’

NEW YORK (AP) — The 22-year-old New York City police officer who was shot to death while responding to a call in a Harlem apartment came from an immigrant family and grew up in a community with strained police relations, but joined the force to make a difference in the “chaotic city,” he once wrote.

“I know that something as small as helping a tourist with directions, or helping a couple resolve an issue, will put a smile on someone’s face,” Jason Rivera wrote to his commanding officer in 2020 when he was a probationary police officer.

Rivera and Officer Wilbert Mora were shot Friday night while answering a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son. Mora, 27, suffered a serious head wound, police said.

The medical examiner ruled Rivera’s death a homicide on Saturday after an autopsy found he died from gunshot wounds to the head and torso.

Mora was still “fighting for his life” on Saturday, said Mayor Eric Adams. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, visited Mora and his family in the hospital and gave the wounded officer a blessing, according to a spokesman the archdiocese.

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Last straw: Fed-up Arizona Democrats censure Sen. Sinema

PHOENIX (AP) — U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is growing increasingly isolated from some of her party’s most influential officials and donors after playing a key role in scuttling voting rights legislation that many consider essential to preserving democracy.

Leaders of the Arizona Democratic Party voted Saturday to censure Sinema, citing “her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy” — namely her refusal to go along with fellow Democrats to alter a Senate rule so they could overcome Republican opposition to the bill. While the rebuke is symbolic, it is striking given that only three years ago, Sinema was heralded for bringing the Senate seat back into the Democratic fold for the first time in a generation.

Donors are threatening to walk away. Several groups are already collecting money for an eventual primary challenge, even though she’s not on the ballot until 2024. Young activists are holding a second hunger strike to draw attention to Sinema’s vote.

The moves offer a preview of the persistent opposition Sinema will likely face within her own party in the two years before she next appears on a ballot. The independent streak that has given her tremendous leverage over the agenda in Washington has enraged many Democrats back home who are intent on preventing her reelection.

“Any reservoir of goodwill that she had is gone,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who may challenge Sinema from the left.

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Video shows struggle that preceded restrained teen’s death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Surveillance video shows a Black 17-year-old struggling with staff at a Wichita juvenile center last fall before he died after he was restrained facedown for more than 30 minutes.

Sedgwick County released 18 video clips late Friday afternoon of what happened before Cedric Lofton was rushed to a hospital on Sept. 24. He died two days later.

The release of the clips followed Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett’s announcement Tuesday that the state’s “stand-your-ground” law prevented him from pressing charges because staff members were protecting themselves. He also said he struggled with whether an involuntary manslaughter charge was justified, but concluded it was not.

Sedgwick County’s webpage crashed after the video was posted, making it temporarily inaccessible. But it was back up by late Saturday afternoon. The hours of footage didn’t include audio.

One video shows several officers carrying Lofton into the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center while restrained in something called the WRAP, a device comprised of a locking shoulder harness, leg restraints and ankle straps. The sheriff’s office describes it as a way to restrain a person who is “out of control” so that they don’t hurt themselves or others.

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‘Stop Right There!’: Foley recalls epic duet with Meat Loaf

NEW YORK (AP) — “Stop Right There!” Three words of warning — and three words that Ellen Foley credits with launching her career in music.

It was Foley who belted out the words to Meat Loaf about halfway through their eight-and-a-half minute duet “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” the epic seduction song on his mega-selling 1977 “Bat Out of Hell” album.

Foley is now looking back on the singular experience of making the memorable song as she recalls Meat Loaf and a “beautiful, feisty, joyful friendship” that began in her early 20s. Meat Loaf, born Marvin Lee Aday, died on Thursday at 74.

He was the most unlikely of rock superstars, Foley says.

“I mean, that’s the wild thing,” she said in an interview Friday, when asked to explain the source of his fame. “Who would have thought that at the end of the ’70s, this 300-pound-plus guy would be a star? But that’s what it was. He was a character, you know, larger than life.”

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All 100 lab monkeys accounted for after several escape crash

DANVILLE, Pa. (AP) — The last of the escaped monkeys from the crash of a truck towing a trailer load of 100 of the animals was accounted for by late Saturday, a day after the pickup collided with a dump truck on a Pennsylvania highway, authorities said.

Several monkeys had escaped following Friday’s collision, Pennsylvania State Police said. But only one had remained unaccounted for as of Saturday morning, prompting the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other agencies to launch a search for it amid frigid weather.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email Saturday evening that all 100 of the cynomolgus macaque monkeys had since been accounted for. Three were dead after being euthanized.

The email did not elaborate on why the three were euthanized or how all came to be accounted for. But Nordlund said those euthanized were done so humanely according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.

The shipment of monkeys was en route to a CDC-approved quarantine facility after arriving Friday morning at New York’s Kennedy Airport from Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, police said. The Atlanta-based CDC said the agency was providing “technical assistance” to state police in Pennsylvania.

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McPherson FG as time expires lifts Bengals past Titans 19-16

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Maybe, just maybe, these young Cincinnati Bengals really are that good.

Especially with the way they keep ending postseason droughts. And with their latest victory putting them in the franchise’s first AFC championship game in 33 years — and a win away from the Super Bowl.

Rookie Evan McPherson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the fourth-seeded Bengals past the top-seeded Tennessee Titans 19-16 on Saturday to end the NFL’s longest active road playoff skid.

“He’s got ice in his veins,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of McPherson. “There’s not much more to be said. He’s just as cool as it gets.”

A week after snapping a 31-year playoff victory drought, the Bengals (12-7) finally won their first road game in the postseason after losing their first seven. They reached the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowls by winning on their home field.