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Fate of 2,500 Ukrainian POWs from steel plant stirs concern

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — With Russia claiming to have taken prisoner nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the besieged Mariupol steel plant, concerns grew about their fate as a Moscow-backed separatist leader vowed they would face tribunals.

Russia has declared its full control of the Azovstal steel plant, which for weeks was the last holdout in Mariupol and a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the strategic port city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 residents feared dead. The seizure gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began nearly three months ago.

As the West rallies behind Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced visit and will address the country’s parliament on Sunday, his office said.

Poland, which has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war, is a strong supporter of Ukraine’s desire to join the European Union. With Russia blocking Ukraine’s sea ports, Poland has become a major gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons going into Ukraine and has been helping Ukraine get its grain and other agricultural products to world markets.

The Russian Defense Ministry released video of Ukrainian soldiers being detained after announcing that its forces had removed the last holdouts from the Mariupol plant’s extensive underground tunnels. It said a total of 2,439 had surrendered.

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Belarusians join war seeking to free Ukraine and themselves

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — One is a restaurateur who fled Belarus when he learned he was about to be arrested for criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko. Another was given the choice of either denouncing fellow opposition activists or being jailed. And one is certain his brother was killed by the country’s security forces.

What united them is their determination to resist Lukashenko by fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine.

Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. And volunteers have answered that call, given the high stakes in a conflict which many people see as a civilizational battle pitting dictatorship against freedom.

For the Belarusians, who consider Ukrainians a brethren nation, the stakes feel especially high. Russian troops used Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine early in the war, and Lukashenko has publicly stood by longtime ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as his “big brother.” Russia, for its part, has pumped billions of dollars into shoring up Lukashenko’s Soviet-style, state-controlled economy with cheap energy and loans.

Weakening Putin, the Belarusian volunteers believe, would also weaken Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, and create an opening to topple his oppressive government and bring democratic change to the nation of nearly 10 million people.

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Biden pushes economic, security aims as he ends SKorea visit

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Joe Biden tended to both business and security interests Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first showcasing Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in the United States and later mingling with troops at a nearby military base.

Biden’s visit to Osan Air Base, where thousands of U.S. and South Korean service members monitor the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, was his final stop before he arrived in Tokyo later Sunday.

“You are the front line, right here in this room,” the president said in a command center with maps of the Korean Peninsula projected across screens on a wall.

It was a day that brought together two key messages that Biden is trying to project during his first trip to Asia as president.

At a time of high inflation and simmering dissatisfaction at home, Biden emphasized his global mission to strengthen the American economy by convincing foreign companies like Hyundai to launch new operations in the United States. And he wanted to demonstrate solidarity with nervous Asian allies who live in the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and grew skeptical of U.S. security commitments while President Donald Trump was in office.

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3 Air Force cadets who refused vaccine won’t be commissioned

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine will not be commissioned as military officers but will graduate with bachelor’s degrees, the academy said Saturday.

Academy spokesman Dean Miller said that a fourth cadet who had refused the vaccine until about a week ago, decided to be vaccinated and will graduate and become an Air Force officer.

In a statement, Miller said that while the three will get a degree “they will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated.” He added that a decision on whether to require the three to reimburse the United States for education costs in lieu of service will be made by the secretary of the Air Force.

As of Saturday, the Air Force is the only military academy, so far, where cadets are not being commissioned due to vaccine refusal. All of the more than 1,000 Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduated and were commissioned as officers earlier in the day and all were vaccinated.

The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, said Saturday that none of the Navy or Marine Corps seniors there are being prevented from commissioning due to vaccine refusals. That graduation is later this week, and the Air Force ceremony is Wednesday in Colorado. Ahead of that ceremony, the U.S. Air Force Academy Board conducted its standard review of whether this year’s class had met all graduation requirements on Friday.

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AP source: Giuliani interviewed for hours by 1/6 committee

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rudy Giuliani, who as a lawyer for then-President Donald Trump pushed bogus legal challenges to the 2020 election, met for hours with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a person familiar with the interview said Saturday.

The interview with Giuliani took place virtually and lasted for much of the day on Friday, according to the person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment.

Giuliani had been scheduled to meet with the committee earlier this month, but a spokesperson for the panel said that meeting was rescheduled.

The former New York mayor is seen as a critical aide for the committee, which has interviewed nearly 1,000 witnesses, including family members of Trump and advisers in his inner circle. The panel plans a series of hearings in June.

In January, the committee subpoenaed Giuliani and other members of the Trump legal team who sought to overturn election results in battleground states through lawsuits that made unsupported claims of vast election fraud. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, has said there were no widespread irregularities that could have affected the outcome of the race won by President Joe Biden, and judges across the country have dismissed the allegations.

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California church leaders, shooting survivors join in prayer

LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — When a gunman began shooting at a Taiwanese American church luncheon, Shoei Su said he froze.

The retired appraiser uses a walker and said he and many of the elderly congregants didn’t immediately know what was happening. He said the shooter said nothing before firing on churchgoers who were snapping photos after finishing lunch following last Sunday morning’s prayer service.

Nearly a week later, Su said he can’t sleep and is struggling to heal from the attack that killed one and wounded five in the close-knit congregation in the Southern California community of Laguna Woods, which is made up largely of retirees.

“At that time, we were not afraid,” he said. “Later, when we think about it, we’re afraid.”

His comments came as survivors, churchgoers and leaders from the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church joined in prayer Saturday and thanked community members for their support at an event on the campus of Geneva Presbyterian Church, where the Taiwanese congregation shares space.

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Vatican airs dirty laundry in trial over London property

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s sprawling financial trial may not have produced any convictions yet or any new smoking guns as prosecutors work through a first round of questioning of the 10 suspects accused of fleecing the Holy See of tens of millions of euros.

But testimony so far has provided plenty of insights into how the Vatican operates, with a cast of characters worthy of a Dan Brown thriller or a Shakespearean tragicomedy. Recent hearings showed a church bureaucracy that used espionage, allowed outsiders with unverified qualifications to gain access to the Apostolic Palace and relied on a pervasive mantra of sparing the pope responsibility — until someone’s neck was on the line.

Here are some revelations so far in this unusual airing of the Vatican’s dirty laundry:

WHAT’S THE TRIAL ABOUT?

The investigation was borne of the secretariat of state’s 350 million-euro ($370 million) investment in a London property, which was such a debacle that the Vatican sold the building this year at a cumulative loss of more than 200 million euros ($210 million).

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Bangkok votes for governor in 1st election since 2014 coup

BANGKOK (AP) — Voters in the Thai capital headed to the polls Sunday to elect a new governor in a contest delayed by a military coup that still reflects a divided country with main candidates either supported by the conservative establishment or the liberal opposition.

A record 31 candidates entered the race, but the battle being watched most closely is between two who registered as independents.

One is former Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt, a front-runner, and the other Asawin Kwanmuang, who served as the military-appointed governor since 2016. He stepped down in March to contest the election.

The candidates campaigned on issues including congestion, pollution and persistent flooding. There are 4.4 million registered voters in the city, the country’s biggest. Apart from governor, they’re also electing city council members. Bangkok’s last gubernatorial election was in 2013, a year before the military toppled a democratically elected government.

Neither the main opposition party in Parliament, Pheu Thai, nor the ruling Palang Pracharath party, associated with the military and the ruling conservative establishment, officially have candidates on the ballot.

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Early Voting holds off Epicenter to win Preakness Stakes

BALTIMORE (AP) — Maybe extra rest isn’t such a bad thing for a racehorse after all.

In the Preakness Stakes that was run without the Kentucky Derby winner because Rich Strike’s owner felt he needed more time off after his 80-1 upset, Early Voting validated a gutsy decision to skip the Derby and aim for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Early Voting held off hard-charging favorite Epicenter to win the Preakness on Saturday, rewarding trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman for their patience. Early Voting stalked the leaders for much of the race before moving into first around the final turn and finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Epicenter, who was second just like in the Derby.

“We thought he needed a little more seasoning, the extra rest would help him,” Klarman said. “He was pretty lightly raced — only three races before today. And as it turned out, that was the right call. We wanted to do right by the horse, and we’re so glad we waited.”

The initial plan in the Preakness was for Early Voting not to wait and for jockey Jose Ortiz to take him to the lead. That looked especially important on a day when the dirt track at Pimlico Race Course was favoring speed and making it hard for horses to come from behind down the stretch.

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Herschel Walker’s ties to veterans program face scrutiny

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Herschel Walker, the football legend and leading Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, often boasts of his work helping service members and veterans struggling with mental health.

In interviews and campaign appearances, the former Dallas Cowboy and Heisman Trophy winner takes credit for founding, co-founding and sometimes operating a program called Patriot Support. The program, he says, has taken him to military bases all over the world.

“About 15 years ago, I started a program called Patriot Support,” Walker said in an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt last October. “People need to know I started a military program, a military program that treats (thousands) of soldiers a year,” he told Savannah TV station WTGS in February.

But corporate documents, court records and Senate disclosures reviewed by The Associated Press tell a more complicated story. Together they present a portrait of a celebrity spokesman who overstated his role in a for-profit program that is alleged to have preyed upon veterans and service members while defrauding the government.

The revelation marks the latest example of a far more complex reality that lies beneath the carefully curated autobiography Walker has pitched to voters.