Russia keeps up attacks in Ukraine as two sides hold talks

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia and Ukraine kept a fragile diplomatic path open with a new round of talks Monday even as Moscow’s forces pounded away at Kyiv and other cities across the country in a punishing bombardment the Red Cross said has created “nothing short of a nightmare ”for civilians.

Meanwhile, a convoy of 160 civilian cars left the encircled port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported, in a rare glimmer of hope a week and a half into the lethal siege that has pulverized homes and other buildings and left people desperate for food, water, heat and medicine.

The latest negotiations, held via video conference, were the fourth round involving higher-level officials from the two countries and the first in a week. The talks ended without a breakthrough after several hours, with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the negotiators took “a technical pause” and planned to meet again Tuesday.

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The two sides had expressed some optimism in the past few days. Mykhailo Podolyak, the aide to Zelenskyy, tweeted that the negotiators would discuss “peace, ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of troops & security guarantees.”

Previous discussions, held in person in Belarus, produced no lasting humanitarian routes or agreements to end the fighting.

Once a powerful symbol in Russia, McDonald’s withdraws

Two months after the Berlin Wall fell, another powerful symbol opened its doors in the middle of Moscow: a gleaming new McDonald’s.

It was the first American fast-food restaurant to enter the Soviet Union, reflecting the new political openness of the era. For Vlad Vexler, who as a 9-year-old waited in a two-hour line to enter the restaurant near Moscow’s Pushkin Square on its opening day in January 1990, it was a gateway to the utopia he imagined the West to be.

“We thought that life there was magical and there were no problems,” Vexler said.

So it was all the more poignant for Vexler when McDonald’s announced it would temporarily close that store and nearly 850 others in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. McDonald’s Russian website on Monday read: “Due to operational, technical and logistical difficulties, McDonald’s will temporarily suspend service at its network enterprises from March 14.”

“That McDonald’s is a sign of optimism that in the end didn’t materialize,” said Vexler, a political philosopher and author who now lives in London. “Now that Russia is entering the period of contraction, isolation and impoverishment, you look back at these openings and think about what might have been.”

For kids with COVID-19, everyday life can be a struggle

WASHINGTON (AP) – Eight-year-old Brooklynn Chiles fidgets on the hospital bed as she waits for the nurse at Children’s National Hospital. The white paper beneath her crinkles as she shifts to look at the medical objects in the room. She’s had the coronavirus three times, and no one can figure out why.

Brooklynn’s lucky, sort of. Each time she has tested positive, she has suffered no obvious symptoms. But her dad, Rodney, caught the virus when she was positive back in September, and he died from it.

Her mom, Danielle, is dreading a next bout, fearing her daughter could become gravely ill even though she’s been vaccinated.

“Every time, I think: Am I going to go through this with her, too?” She said, sitting on a plastic chair wedged in the corner. “Is this the moment where I lose everyone?”

Among the puzzling outcomes of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 6 million people worldwide since it first emerged in 2019, are the symptoms suffered by children.

China battles multiple outbreaks, driven by stealth omicron

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – China banned most people from leaving a coronavirus-hit northeastern province and mobilized military reservists Monday as the fast-spreading “stealth omicron” variant fuels the country’s biggest outbreak since the start of the pandemic two years ago.

The National Health Commission reported 1,337 locally transmitted cases in the latest 24-hour period, including 895 in the industrial province of Jilin. A government notice said that police permission would be required for people to leave the area or travel from one city to another.

The hard-hit province sent 7,000 reservists to help with the response, from keeping order and registering people at testing centers to using drones to carry out aerial spraying and disinfection, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Hundreds of cases were reported in other provinces and cities along China’s east coast and inland as well. Beijing, which had six new cases, and Shanghai, with 41, locked down residential and office buildings where infected people had been found.

“Every day when I go to work, I worry that if our office building will suddenly be locked down then I won’t be able to get home, so I have bought a sleeping bag and stored some fast food in the office in advance, just in case, ”said Yimeng Li, a Shanghai resident.

As gunman targets homeless, mayors urge all to seek shelter

NEW YORK (AP) – The mayors of New York City and Washington DC appealed to the public for help Monday in an urgent search for a gunman who has been stalking homeless men asleep on their streets, killing at least two people and wounding three others in less than two weeks.

Police in the two cities released multiple surveillance photographs, including a close-up snapshot clearly showing the man’s face, and urged people who might know him to come forward.

“Our reach is far and wide, and we’re coming for you,” Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee said at a news conference in Washington, speaking directly to the gunman.

Investigators acknowledged, though, that they still knew little about the suspected killer or his motive.

Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, speaking together at the news conference, urged anyone living on the streets to go to city shelters where they might be safer.

Russian missile strike near NATO’s Poland stirs anxiety

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A Russian missile attack that killed at least 35 people in western Ukraine, some 15 miles from NATO member Poland, has stirred anxiety and spurred Poles to rush to passport offices and stockpile essentials amid fears the war could cut off supplies, or even spill over into Poland.

A long line of applicants, unseen for decades, formed Monday outside Warsaw’s main passport office on Krucza Street. Canned food, bottled water, flashlights and batteries filled shoppers’ baskets. People in the street talked of the latest news and their worries for the future.

In the street, outside the passport office, Justyna Winnicka, 44, was filling out the passport form for her 16-year-old daughter, Michalina.

“We want to have a passport because the last one expired and we want to be able to go on vacation, but also want to be able to travel abroad in case something happens here in Poland,” Winnicka told The Associated Press.

Asked if she was afraid because of the fighting just across Poland’s border, she said “Everybody is a little bit afraid today.”

Pregnant woman, baby die after Russian bombing in Mariupol

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) – A wounded pregnant woman who was taken on a stretcher from a maternity hospital that was bombed by Russia last week has died, along with her baby, The Associated Press has learned.

Images of the woman, whom the AP has not been able to identify, were seen around the world, personifying the horror of an attack on civilians.

She was one of at least three pregnant women tracked down by AP from the maternity hospital that was bombarded Wednesday in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The other two survived, along with their newborn daughters.

In video and photos shot by AP journalists after the hospital attack, the wounded woman stroked her bloodied lower left abdomen as emergency workers carried her through the rubble, her blanched face mirroring her shock at what had just happened.

It was among the most brutal moments so far in Russia’s now 19-day-old war in Ukraine.

Julian Assange denied permission to appeal by UK’s top court

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s top court on Monday refused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange permission to appeal against a decision to extradite him to the US to face spying charges.

The court said it refused because the case “didn’t raise an arguable point of law.”

Assange, 50, has sought for years to avoid a trial in the US on a series of charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of a huge trove of classified documents more than a decade ago.

The case is now expected to be formally sent to British Home Secretary Priti Patel, who will decide whether to grant the extradition.

A British district court judge had initially rejected a US extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh US prison conditions. US authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t face the severe treatment that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.

Anti-Trump Republicans lining up for 2024 shadow primary

NEW YORK (AP) – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is planning trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Is considering a rough timeline for a potential presidential announcement. And allies of Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Are openly talking up her White House prospects.

More than two years before the next presidential election, a shadow primary is already beginning to take shape among at least three fierce Republican critics of former President Donald Trump to determine who is best positioned to occupy the anti-Trump lane in 2024.

Their apparent willingness to run – even if Trump does, as is widely expected – represents a shift from previous years when “Never Trump” operatives failed to recruit any GOP officeholders to challenge the incumbent president. But with the 2024 contest almost in view, the question is no longer whether one of Trump’s prominent Republican critics will run, but how many will mount a campaign and how soon they will announce.

Those close to Cheney, Hogan and Kinzinger expect one of them, if not more, to launch a presidential bid after the 2022 midterms. While all three are nationally known to some degree, their goal would not necessarily be to win the presidency. Above all, they want to hinder Trump’s return to the White House, at least compared with 2020, when his allies cleared the field of any Republican opponents and persuaded some states to cancel primary contests altogether.

“It’s there as an option, but it’s not necessarily because this is all some big plan so I can be in the White House,” Kinzinger told The Associated Press when asked about his timeline for deciding on a presidential run. “It’s looking and saying, ‘Is there going to be a voice out there that can represent from that megaphone the importance of defending this country and democracy and what America is about?’ There certainly, I’m sure within the next year or so, will be a point at which you have to make a decision.

March Madness brings back feel of the good ol ‘days

Any hoops fan hungering for a return to normal this March might have looked at the bracket when it finally came out and wondered what ever changed.

Gonzaga is the tournament’s top seed. Kansas and Arizona are No. 1s as well. Duke and Kentucky are right up there as No. 2s and the defending champion, Baylor, is the other top seed and a force to be reckoned with again, too.

But all that sameness felt like more of a celebration when the pairings were set this Selection Sunday. The most-anticipated reveal of the year felt like a party again, even if it might have been pushed down a notch on the ticker by the unexpected return of Tom Brady to the NFL in an announcement that came just as Dick Vitale and Co., were starting to break down the 68-team draw.

“This was a really special year because we all realized what we missed,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

For the first time since 2019, the teams will scatter across the country to eight cities for 48 games over the first four-day weekend of America’s unofficial hoops holiday. Then, they will move to four cities for the Sweet 16. And they will cut down the nets in New Orleans, where the Final Four runs April 2-4.

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