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Hit-and-run crash in Florida kills New York federal judge

Hit-and-run crash in Florida kills New York federal judge

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A Florida woman who claimed she is Harry Potter fatally struck a federal judge visiting from New York and seriously injured a 6-year-old boy after swerving her car onto a sidewalk, officials said. Nastasia Snape, 23, was charged with vehicular homicide and other felonies for Friday’s crash that killed District Judge Sandra Feuerstein, 75, who served in the Eastern District of New York since 2003. The boy, Anthony Ovchinnikov, was taken to the hospital, but his condition Sunday could not be determined.

According to court records, witnesses told Boca Raton police Snape was driving erratically, going around stopped traffic, on a busy road when she drove onto the sidewalk and struck Feuerstein. Snape then drove back onto the roadway, striking the boy in a crosswalk. Police said Snape then fled into neighboring Delray Beach, where she crashed. A Delray police officer said Snape appeared to be having convulsions, but was able to get out of the car. She stared into space and would only say she was OK.

Police said that in the ambulance, Snape began screaming and fighting with medics while yelling she is Harry Potter. The medics drugged her. Police said they found in her purse the synthetic drug commonly known as “bath salts,” which can cause psychotic episodes. She remained jailed Sunday on $60,000 bond. The Palm Beach County public defender’s office was not open Sunday and has a policy of not speaking about its cases. In the Potter novels, there is a character named Snape.

Feuerstein was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush after 16 years as a New York state judge, according to Eastern District website. The court’s jurisdiction covers Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, along with Staten Island.

She had been presiding over the case of a former New York City police officer, Valerie Cincinelli, who is accused of paying her lover to kill her husband. The lover went to authorities and she was arrested. Cincinelli had been expected to plead guilty this week, according to media reports. It is unclear how Feuerstein’s death will affect the case. Her late mother, Annette Elstein, was also a judge and they were believed to be the first mother-daughter duo to be judges.

In a statement, Eugene Corcoran, the Eastern District’s executive, said Feuerstein’s “eccentric style and warm personality lit up the courtroom. She will be missed by her colleagues and litigants alike.”

Feuerstein was born in New York in 1946 and worked as a schoolteacher before earning a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 1979.

“She viewed a judge’s role as interpreting and not creating law,” Joshua Glick, who clerked for Feuerstein, told Newsday. “She was focused on writing clear and concise opinions that were easily understood. She was occasionally tough on litigants who she felt were not being fully candid with her, but she was always fair.”

More volcanic eruptions on Caribbean island of St. Vincent: Conditions worsened Sunday at a volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent as loud rumbling, lightning and heavy ashfall were observed and residents reported power cuts. The eruption Friday of La Soufrière forced many residents to evacuate their homes, though some remained in place. The rumbling was heard in the capital of Kingstown, about 20 miles south.

“I’m just here wondering when it’s going to calm down,” resident Kalique Sutherland said.

The eruption could continue for some time, said Prof. Richard Robertson, the lead scientist at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center. “It’s likely that at some point it would quiet down and hopefully we would have a break so that we could recover a little bit more, but don’t be surprised if after the break it picks up like this again,” Robertson said.

Elford Lewis, a 56-year-old farmer who evacuated his home on Sunday morning, said the ongoing eruption is worse than the last big one in 1979. “This one is more serious,’’ said Lewis, who witnessed the big eruption decades ago.

About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities with as many belongings as they could stuff into suitcases and backpacks. However, there have been no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the initial blast or those that followed.

An eruption of the 4,003-foot volcano in 1902 killed roughly 1,600 people.

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of the 32 islands that make up the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has said people should remain calm and keep trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus. He said officials were trying to figure out the best way to collect and dispose of the ash, which covered an airport runway near Kingstown, and fell as far away as Barbados, about 120 miles to the east.

About 3,200 people took refuge at 78 government-run shelters, and four empty cruise ships stood ready to take other evacuees to nearby islands, with a group of more than 130 already taken to St. Lucia. Those staying at the shelters were tested for COVID-19, with anyone testing positive being taken to an isolation center.

Nearby nations, including Antigua and Grenada, also offered to take in evacuees.

Pubs, hairdressers set to reopen as UK eases virus lockdown: Millions of people in Britain will get their first chance in months for haircuts, casual shopping and restaurant meals on Monday, as the government takes the next step on its lockdown-lifting road map.z

Nationwide restrictions have been in place in England since early January, and similar rules in the other parts of the U.K., to suppress a surge in coronavirus infections that swept the country late last year, linked to a more transmissible new variant first identified in southeast England.

Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths.

Infections, hospitalizations and deaths have all fallen thanks to the lockdown, and a mass vaccination program that has given at least one dose to more than 60% of the adult population.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson and epidemiologists have urged caution, saying that many people remain unvaccinated and relaxing social distancing rules or allowing foreign holidays this summer could bring a new spike in infections.

“The situation in the U.K. is becoming clear and is stabilizing, but people have to remember that’s not the case elsewhere,” said Peter Horby, who chairs the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Threats Advisory Group. “The pandemic is still raging globally.

“And many countries in Europe even are still seeing racing case numbers or having to reintroduce lockdowns. So it’s very hard to predict what will happen in the next couple of months,” he told Times Radio.

On Monday, nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.

The prime minister had promised to visit a pub for a pint to mark the occasion, but postponed the celebratory drink after the death of Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, on Friday.

Indoor drinking and dining won’t be allowed until May 17 at the earliest, and theaters, cinemas, nightclubs and most other venues remain closed, while indoor socializing is tightly restricted and foreign holidays remain banned.

The easing is good news for retail and hospitality businesses, which have endured several stretches of lockdown over the past year. But it’s a long way from business as usual; the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that just 40% of pubs in England have the space to reopen for outdoor service.

The rules apply in England. The other parts of the United Kingdom — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following their own, broadly similar plans.23

Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness low, official says: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost. Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses abroad while trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.

“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said. Officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines.

Gao did not respond to a phone call requesting further comment.

“The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial stage,” said the official, Wang Huaqing. He gave no timeline for possible use.

Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca vaccine.

The coronavirus pandemic, which began in central China in late 2019, marks the first time the Chinese drug industry has played a role in responding to a global health emergency.

Vaccines made by Sinovac, a private company, and Sinopharm, a state-owned firm, have made up the majority of Chinese vaccines distributed to several dozen countries including Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey.

The effectiveness of a Sinovac vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections was found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil, near the 50% threshold at which health experts say a vaccine is useful. By comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been found to be 97% effective.

Health experts say Chinese vaccines are unlikely to be sold to the United States, Western Europe and Japan due to the complexity of the approval process.

A Sinovac spokesman, Liu Peicheng, acknowledged varying levels of effectiveness have been found but said that can be due to the age of people in a study, the strain of virus and other factors.

Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China.

Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but cited mRNA as a possibility.

“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”

Gao previously questioned the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.

Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

As of April 2, some 34 million people in China have received both of the two doses required for Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.

The Sinovac spokesman, Liu, said studies find protection “may be better” if time between vaccinations is longer than the current 14 days but gave no indication that might be made standard practice.

Vaccine only adds to the trouble for EU: European Union leaders no longer meet around a common oval summit table to broker their famed compromises. Instead, each of the 27 watches the other heads of state or government with suspicion via a video screen that shows a mosaic of faraway capitals. This is what COVID-19 has wrought.

Lofty hopes that the crisis would encourage a new and tighter bloc to face a common challenge have given way to the reality of division: The pandemic has set member nation against member nation, and many capitals against the EU itself, as symbolized by the disjointed, virtual meetings the leaders now hold. Leaders fight over everything from virus passports to push tourism to the conditions for receiving pandemic aid. Perhaps worse, some attack the very structures the EU built to deal with the pandemic. Last month, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz decried how vaccine-buying in the bloc had become a “bazaar,” alleging poorer countries struck out while the rich thrived.

”Internal political cohesion and respect for European values continue to be challenged in different corners of the Union,” the European Policy Center said in a study one year after the pandemic swept from China and engulfed Europe.

In some places, there have been demands for political accountability.

In the Czech Republic on Wednesday, Prime Minster Andrej Babis fired his health minister, the third to be sacked during the pandemic in one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries. Last week, Slovakia’s government resigned over a secret deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and in Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte was forced to resign over his handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic.

But overall, political upheaval across the EU has been muted, considering that half a million people have died in the pandemic. At the EU level, there has been no serious call for the ouster of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the bloc’s chief executive, despite her acknowledgment that serious mistakes were made.

It is clear that the EU has not risen to the occasion so far — and it’s not clear if it can. The European Policy Center noted that “there is no immediate end in sight to the health crisis, not to mention the inevitable structural economic challenges.”

The EU and its countries, of course, fell victim to some events beyond their control, as other nations around the globe did. Good arguments can be made that part of the the bloc’s problems are due to delayed deliveries from Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. But some of the crisis was plainly self-inflicted.

The typical complaint is that there is no united EU health structure to tackle the pandemic and that largely health is still a national domain. But for years, the bloc has had a common drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency. And since last summer, the EU decided to pool vaccine purchases and spread them equitably among the 27 nations, big and small, richer and poorer.

But while some non-EU nations were speeding ahead with emergency use authorizations, the EMA moved more slowly, at least in part because it followed a process that was largely similar to the standard licensing procedure that would be granted to any new vaccine. The agency’s first vaccine greenlight came some three weeks after one was OK’d in the United Kingdom — the first country to authorize a rigorously tested COVID-19 shot.

The bloc never caught up. On Friday, the U.K., for example, had given 46.85% of their citizens at least one dose, compared to 14.18% in the EU.

The EU also made the mistake of overly equating securing vaccines with getting shots in the arms — and underestimating the difficulties involved in mass producing and distributing such a delicate product. While EU negotiators were focusing on liability clauses in a contract, other nations were thinking about logistics and pushing for speed and volume.

And while nations like the United States were sealing their borders to vaccine exports, the EU took the high moral ground and kept exports flowing — to the extent that over the first quarter of the year almost as many doses left the bloc for third countries as were delivered to the clamoring EU member states.

On top of missteps with the vaccine rollout, the EU will be slow to disburse money from its 750 billion-euro ($890 billion) rescue package, which will share debt and give out grants to poorer members in an unprecedented way. But bickering among leaders over some clauses and intricate rules have made it anything but a speedy process. What’s worse, the German constitutional court could still torpedo or further delay the whole initiative.

The nature of the crisis may be different from past ones, but familiar obstacles arose: onerous bureaucracy, unnecessary delays as legalistic and technical disputes overshadowed the bigger picture, and bickering politicians putting self-interest before the common good.

This past week was a case in point. The EMA reiterated its advice for all member nations to stand together — this time to keep on using the AstraZeneca jabs for all adults despite a possible link to extremely rare cases of blood clotting.

Instead, hours after the announcement, Belgium went against that recommendation, barring AstraZeneca for citizens 55 and under, and others issued or kept similar restrictions.

“If government leaders don’t trust the science, trust in vaccination is gone. If we don’t rely on (the EMA), ANY common EU approach is doomed,” said leading EU parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt, normally the staunchest of EU backers.

It is noteworthy that the EU nations insisted on delaying their vaccination drives in December specifically because they wanted to wait for the EMA’s decision. But many have repeatedly ignored the EMA advice in the months since, setting more restrictions on vaccine use than the agency has called for.

This extreme hesitancy by many countries — in addition to often seesawing advice — has become a hallmark of a vaccination rollout gone wrong. It has exacerbated the supply and issues of trust the bloc has faced.

With barely half of the doses that the EU had contracted for the first quarter delivered — 105 million instead of 195 million — the video summit last month saw EU nations squabbling over shots and a distribution system that a few thought unfair.

Now there are expectations the EU can turn it around. It is hoping for 360 million shots this quarter — that would keep the promise alive to vaccinate 70% of adults by the end of summer in the bloc of 450 million inhabitants.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron gave a glimmer of hope to millions when he said that a return to a semblance of normal life could perhaps come by mid-May when people could “reclaim our art de vivre embodied by our restaurants and our cafes that we love so much.”

By then, EU leaders might even mingle in person again at summits that go through the night.

Ukraine says 1 soldier killed in east as tensions rise: The Ukrainian military said that a soldier was killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels Sunday, as hostilities rise sharply in the country’s east.

As of the reported attack, Ukraine says 27 soldiers have been killed in the east this year, more than half the number who died in all of 2020. Attacks have intensified in recent weeks and Russia has built up troops along the Ukraine border.

Russia denies Western claims that it has sent troops into eastern Ukraine to help the rebels, but officials say the army could intervene if Ukraine tries to retake the area by force. The troops buildup has raised sharp concerns in the West.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Sunday that “if Russia acts recklessly, or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences.”

Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

Benin’s president seeks re-election after violent protests: Benin’s voters cast ballots Sunday in a presidential election that has been marred by violent demonstrations as incumbent leader Patrice Talon ran for a second term despite once pledging he would not. The opposition said the vote was going forward without a number of top challengers, including one from the party of former President Boni Yayi who was disqualified from taking part. Over the past week, protests have erupted in several cities across Benin, particularly in those favorable to the former president.

Election officials warned late Saturday that the unrest had disrupted the arrival of election materials in some localities and that voting operations would start late in affected areas in northern Benin.

As a candidate in 2016, Talon promised that five years in the presidency would be enough, but later decided to run for a second term. He faced two challengers in Sunday’s vote — international auditor Allasane Soumanou and civil administrator Corentin Kohou.

“Today will be another great day. At the end, we will see that the intimidation and fear have not worked,” Talon said after casting his ballot.

On Thursday, the army dispersed a demonstration in Save in the center of the country. Two people were killed and half a dozen injured. Similarly, another violent protest was dispersed in Bante, located about 170 miles north of Cotonou. Residents reached by telephone said that hundreds of people had fled the city for fear of reprisals by the army.

Several dozen people were arrested in various parts of the small West African country, including the opposition politicians who had accused of instigating the violent demonstrations and disturbing public order.

In early March, failed opposition candidate Reckya Madougou was jailed on charges of “financing acts of violence with the aim of disrupting the presidential election.”

The political tensions have prompted concern from the international community.

In a joint statement Friday, the embassies of Germany, the United States, France, the Netherlands and the European Union delegation said they regretted the acts of violence ahead of the vote.

“They call for an end to the violence and a return to calm, and hope that the election can be held in a free, peaceful and transparent manner,” the statement said.

Talon, who made his fortune in Benin’s main export of cotton, went into exile in France after being accused of taking part in a failed 2012 plot to poison the then-president Yayi with several others. Talon denied the allegations and later returned to Benin, where he won the 2016 election runoff to succeed Yayi.

Chadians vote as Deby seeks to extend 3-decade presidency: Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was widely expected to win re-election Sunday, extending his three-decade-long rule in this central African nation after three top opposition politicians chose not to take part in the vote. Some polling stations opened later than expected in the capital of N’Djamena, where streets are lined with giant portraits of Deby. A constitutional referendum approved several years ago means he can now serve two more terms, potentially staying in power until 2033.

“I invite all Chadians to go to the polls to choose the candidate of their choice,” the longtime president said after casting his ballot Sunday alongside his wife. “I have seen since yesterday that the boycott order has not been respected, so people must go out to perform their civic duties.”

While running for a sixth time in this oil-producing country, Deby has campaigned on promises of building schools, paving roads and improving living conditions in this country that remains one of the least developed in the world. The top opposition candidate remaining in the race is Albert Pahimi Padacke, a one-time Deby ally who served as prime minister from 2016 to 2018. Five other lesser known candidates are also taking part, including one that has publicly accused Deby’s party — the Patriotic Salvation Movement, or MPS, of using state resources to campaign.

Human rights groups also say Chadian authorities have stepped up restrictions in the lead-up to the vote, including long internet shutdowns and arbitrary arrests.

“I decided not to vote this year. We already know the results, because the MPS will win and there is no point in wasting time,” said Jean Luc Madjilem, a N’Djamena resident.

Others, though, said they were turning out despite the opposition concerns about the fairness of the vote.

”It is useless to respect the boycott order. We have to fulfill this duty and we will see what the result of this presidential election will be,” said Ali Mahamat , a voter in the 2nd district of the capital.

Deby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses at an international tribunal in Senegal. Deby has continued to win re-election over the years, last drawing 61.5% of the vote in the last 2016 election.

The landlocked nation of Chad is home to nearly half a million refugees from neighboring Sudan, Nigeria and Central African Republic. Another 330,000 Chadians are internally displaced, the majority in the volatile Lake Chad region where Boko Haram militants are active.

The military base for France’s Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region is also based in Chad, a French colony until 1960. And the country has been a major contributor the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, accounting for many of the casualties because of attacks by Islamic extremists.

———

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

Kyrgyzstan approves constitution boosting president’s power: Kyrgyzstan’s national elections commission says voters have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that substantially increases the president’s powers. The commission said results from 90% of the polling places showed 79% approval of the constitution in Sunday’s referendum. The referendum came three months after Sadyr Zhaparov was elected president, following the ouster of the previous president amid protests, the third time in 15 years that a leader of Kyrgyzstan had been driven from office in a popular uprising.

The new constitution reduces the size of the country’s parliament by 25% to 90 seats and gives the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies. It also calls for creating an advisory council that critics say could essentially become a shadow parliament or an instrument for the president to exert pressure.

Zhaparov last year was serving a prison sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute over a gold mine when he was freed by demonstrators who contested the results of the October parliamentary election.

Immediately after his release, Zhaparov mobilized stone-hurling supporters to evict President Sooronbai Jeenbekov from office and then took the helm as the nation’s interim leader.

Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 6.5 million people that borders China, is a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances. It hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s economic support.

— Associated Press

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