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AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EDT

| July 20, 2020 3:27 AM

Thousands to walk off job to protest racial inequality

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of a national workers strike say tens of thousands are set to walk off the job Monday in more than two dozen U.S. cities to protest systemic racism and economic inequality that has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubbed the “Strike for Black Lives,” labor unions, along with social and racial justice organizations from New York City to Los Angeles, will participate in a range of planned actions. Where work stoppages are not possible for a full day, participants will either picket during a lunch break or observe moments of silence to honor Black lives lost to police violence, organizers said.

“We are ... building a country where Black lives matter in every aspect of society — including in the workplace,” said Ash-Lee Henderson, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 150 organizations that make up the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Strike for Black Lives is a moment of reckoning for corporations that have long ignored the concerns of their Black workforce and denied them better working conditions, living wages and healthcare,” said Henderson, who is also co-executive director of the Tennessee-based Highlander Research and Education Center.

Among the strikers will be essential workers: nursing home employees, janitors and delivery men and women. Fast food, ride-share and airport workers are also expected to take part in planned events.

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Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

BRUSSELS (AP) — Weary and bleary, European Union leaders were gearing up Monday for a fourth day of fighting over an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, barely recovered from a weekend of walkouts, fists slamming into tables and insults.

With a brilliant sun warming the negotiating sundeck at the Europa summit center early Monday, there finally was a glimmer of hope that the talks to help the continent emerge from the pandemic through an unprecedented economic aid package are not doomed after all.

“It looks more hopeful than when I thought during the night: ‘It’s over,'" said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the target of much of the criticism. The meeting — one of the longest-running ever in the bloc's history — broke up temporarily and is due to resume on Monday afternoon.

“All want a solution instead of shelving the problem,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. Alluding to the infighting, he added, “It also shows: massive efforts are needed to make Europe strong again together. The corona pandemic shocked all of us."

It took a heart-tugging dinner speech by EU Council President Charles Michel about leaders not failing their union, French President Emmanuel Macron slamming his fist in anger into the table, and a new set of budgetary numbers to send this epic summit onward.

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Biden eyes GOP supporters while Trump focuses on his base

In the four months since Joe Biden effectively won the Democratic presidential nomination, he has focused on consolidating the party's divergent and often warring factions. As the closing stretch of the campaign nears, that effort will expand to include Republicans disaffected with President Donald Trump.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, has been approached and is expected to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Biden's behalf next month, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plans who requested anonymity to discuss strategy. Kasich is among a handful of high-profile Republicans likely to become more active in supporting Biden in the fall.

Trump, meanwhile, is doing virtually nothing to expand his appeal beyond his most loyal supporters. Some GOP operatives believe the suburbs are lost while a contingent of high-profile Republicans are openly questioning the president's reelection message. In an acknowledgment of the mounting challenges, Trump named a new campaign manager last week.

With about 100 days until Election Day, there's time for sudden developments that could shift the trajectory of the campaign. The Friday announcement that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's cancer has returned was a reminder of the potential volatility ahead. In 2016 Trump effectively used the prospect of Supreme Court appointments to win over conservatives who otherwise found him distasteful.

And in crucial battleground states such as Florida, some Democrats are concerned that Biden's current standing could be a high-water mark. Some polls suggest Biden’s strength comes more from voters’ displeasure with Trump than excitement over Biden himself, whose regular gaffes, long Washington record, and recent attempts to appease progressives leave him in a tougher spot than some Democrats would like to believe.

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Facing uncertain fall, schools make flexible reopening plans

MANCHESTER, Mo. (AP) — Administrators in the Parkway school district in suburban St. Louis spent the summer break crafting a flexible reopening plan, with options that include full-time classroom learning, full-time online instruction and a hybrid system.

It's a good thing because the dangers of the coronavirus are so uncertain that district officials are reluctant to make predictions about the fall semester, which begins in only five weeks. Confirmed coronavirus infections in Missouri's hardest-hit city waned in June, but they are now spiking, along with hospitalizations. Schools plan to resume classes Aug. 24.

“If you had asked me even two weeks ago, ‘Do you think we would be able to come back?' I would have said, ‘Yeah,’” Assistant Superintendent Kevin Beckner said. “Today my answer is ‘I’m not sure,’ just because of how the situation has changed so quickly.”

Schools around the U.S. face the same dilemma. With the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths still rising, districts must grapple with whether to bring students back to classrooms, and how to keep pupils and teachers safe if they do.

Pressure is mounting in many areas to reopen classrooms. President Donald Trump has urged schools to bring children back to class in the fall and has threatened to cut off federal funding if they do not.

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Families step in at Kabul COVID-19 ward to care for patients

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The intensive care unit at the Afghan capital's premier hospital for COVID-19 patients is a medical nightmare — and a stark warning how the country’s war-ravaged health care system risks collapsing.

Family members, without protective equipment and only a few wearing face masks, help care for the patients lying in hospital beds. They say they have no choice because there are not enough nurses and other medical staff.

The next-of-kin often guard their loved one’s oxygen tank, fearing it could be stolen because there is a shortage of just about everything, including oxygen cylinders.

The 100-bed Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in western Kabul is one of only two facilities for coronavirus testing and treatment in the Afghan capital. Newly graduated Afghan doctors have joined the 370-member staff after many of the hospital's experienced physicians walked out a few months ago, fearing the virus.

The 92-square-meter (1,000-square-foot) ICU ward has only 13 beds, and COVID-19 patients admitted here are in critical condition; few are hooked up to ventilators, some of the others rely on oxygen tanks.

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House leaders 'alarmed' federal officers policing protests

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Top leaders in the U.S. House said Sunday they were “alarmed” by the Trump administration’s tactics against protesters in Portland, Oregon, and other cities, including Washington, D.C., and called on federal inspectors general investigate.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency,” wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, in a letter to the inspectors general of Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

The Democratic lawmakers are seeking an investigation “into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, D.C., Portland, and other communities across the United States.”

The mayor of Oregon's largest city said Sunday the presence of federal agents is exacerbating tensions in Portland, which has seen nearly two months of nightly protests since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Speaking on CNN's ‘State of the Union,’ Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said federal officers “are not wanted here. We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”

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Roger Stone calls Black radio host 'Negro' in interview

Roger Stone, a political operative whose 40-month prison sentence was commuted this month by President Donald Trump, his longtime friend, called a Los Angeles-based Black radio host a “Negro” on the air during a contentious interview.

The exchange occurred on Saturday's Mo'Kelly Show, whose host — Morris O'Kelly — grilled Stone on his conviction for lying to Congress, tampering with witnesses and obstructing the House investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.

O’Kelly on his program's website said “Stone could have reached for any pejorative, but unfortunately went there,” adding that “Stone offered an unfiltered, unvarnished one-sentence expression of how he saw the journalist interviewing him.”

O’Kelly characterized “Negro” as the “low-calorie version of the N-Word.”

Stone's attorney on Sunday said he was unaware of the broadcast and had no immediate comment.

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Asia Today: Outbreak in northwest China spreads to 2nd city

BEIJING (AP) — China’s latest coronavirus outbreak has spread to a second city in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

One of the 17 new cases reported on Monday was in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, the regional government said on its official microblog. The remainder were in the regional capital of Urumqi, where all other cases have been reported since the outbreak that has now infected at least 47 people emerged earlier this month.

Authorities in Urumqi have tried to prevent the spread by closing off communities and imposing travel restrictions.

Xinjiang is a vast, thinly populated region of mountains and deserts and had seen little impact from the pandemic that emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and was largely contained within China in March.

Another five new cases reported Monday by the National Health Commission were imported.

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Home learning, reopening schools especially hard in Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Lessons via radio or TV. Math problems in newspapers. Classes on Zoom or WhatsApp.

The options for African students to keep studying while schools remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic seem varied, but the reality for many is that they will fall behind and possibly drop out of school forever — worsening inequality on an already unequal continent.

“I think education now is more of an emergency than the health issue,” said Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo, a literacy expert who runs a Uganda-based education nonprofit called Uwezo, noting that there have been no reported virus deaths and just over 1,000 cases in this East African country, though, as elsewhere, limited testing means those figures are likely undercounts. Children "are completely helpless at the moment.”

Although the pandemic has disrupted education across the globe, the schooling crisis is more acute in Africa, where up to 80% of students don’t have access to the internet and even electricity can be unreliable, making distance learning difficult, if not impossible. Schools also often provide a refuge to vulnerable children, offering services that their families cannot afford.

Sub-Saharan Africa already has the highest rates of children out of school anywhere in the world, with nearly one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and over one-third of youth between 12 and 14 not attending, according to the U.N. culture and education agency.

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5 things to know today

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

1. STRIKING FOR BLACK LIVES Tens of thousands of workers are set to walk off the job Monday morning in more than two dozen U.S. cities to protest systemic racism and economic inequality.

2. A TALE OF TWO CAMPAIGNS Just over 100 days before the elections, voters across the political spectrum are condemning President Trump’s erratic leadership during the pandemic fate, while Joe Biden has doubled down on an empathetic message of hope and competence.

3. STRUGGLING TO COPE IN KABUL The intensive care unit at the Afghan capital’s premier hospital for COVID-19 patients is a medical nightmare, and a stark warning that the country’s war-ravaged health care system is on the verge of collapse.

4. A MISSION FAR, FAR AWAY A United Arab Emirates spacecraft blasted off to Mars, starting the Arab world’s first interplanetary trip.