Nation and world news briefs

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NY judge blocks Cuomo from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio favored protest over prayer when imposing coronavirus restrictions, a federal judge in Albany ruled Friday, blocking the leaders from treating houses of worship differently than businesses.

Judge Gary Sharpe wrote that de Blasio and Cuomo cannot encourage thousands of people to take to the streets to protest racial injustice while also restricting outdoor religious gatherings.

“By acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment,” the judge wrote.

De Blasio, the judge noted, had “simultaneous pro-protest/anti-religious gathering messages” that undermined the city’s legal arguments. Cuomo similarly “applauded and encouraged protesting and discouraged others from violating the outdoor limitations.”

The judge blocked the state from enforcing any limitations on outdoor religious gatherings provided worshipers follow social-distancing requirements.

He also ruled that Cuomo and de Blasio cannot treat houses of worship differently than businesses like salons and retail stores. The city and state had allowed retail stores to operate at 50% capacity as part of its Phase 2 reopening plan while restricting houses of worship to 25% indoor capacity.

The ruling came in a suit filed by Catholic priests in the North Country and Orthodox Jewish leaders in Brooklyn, who argued the restrictions infringed on First Amendment rights.

—New York Daily News


US imposes visa restrictions on Chinese party officials

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. is imposing visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials he blamed for “eviscerating” the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens but didn’t identify those targeted.

“I am announcing visa restrictions on current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, or undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong,” Pompeo said in a statement Friday.

“Family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions,” he said. A State Department spokesperson declined further comment.

In May, President Donald Trump promised sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved” in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“Our actions will be strong. Our actions will be meaningful,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.

The move on Friday comes amid worsening ties between the world’s two biggest economies. Despite meetings that Pompeo held with his Chinese counterpart in Hawaii last week, relations remain soured over issues from China’s handling of the coronavirus to its move to enact legislation restricting Hong Kong and its treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province.

—Bloomberg News


DNC hires Bloomberg-tied tech firm Hawkfish for 2020 election

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee has hired the digital and technology firm Hawkfish, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation, bringing the Michael Bloomberg-founded company on board for the final four months of the 2020 campaign.

The DNC’s decision will be controversial among some progressives, who bristled at the idea of Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and multibillionaire, gaining influence within the party. Earlier this month, Joe Biden’s campaign opted against hiring the firm, though the DNC and Biden campaign are working hand-in-hand during the general election.

The nature of the Hawkfish’s contract with the DNC, and what work the firm will specifically do for the committee, was not entirely clear. One source with knowledge of the agreement said it was for a “small data contract.”

A DNC spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Hawkfish, which was founded in 2019, has pitched itself as an all-in-one data and digital package, identifying key voters and determining the best messages to reach them. And with Bloomberg’s money behind it, company officials have said it’s the most cost-effective option on the market.

But the agency’s inexperience has also raised concerns among some Democratic strategists that it’s not ready for the high-pressure environment of a presidential race. Hawkfish was part of Bloomberg’s failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In March, Bloomberg transferred $18 million from his defunct campaign to the DNC.

—McClatchy Washington Bureau


Iran to send Ukrainian jet’s black boxes to be read in France

PARIS — Iran will be sending the black boxes of a Ukrainian passenger jet it shot down in January to France to be deciphered, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on Friday.

All 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737 airliner died when it crashed in a field shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8.

Iran initially blamed the crash on a technical problem, but later admitted to unintentionally shooting down the airliner amid heightened tensions with U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq.

The ICAO wrote on Twitter that Iran had informed it that the boxes — the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder — would be read out in France on July 20 with the participation of all countries involved.

France’s air accident investigation body BEA confirmed that Iran had requested its technical assistance to repair the boxes and download their data.

Canada, home to almost half the passengers on the flight, had previously urged Tehran to send the boxes to France given that Iran didn’t have the technical capacity to recover the data.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it would be sending a team of investigators to participate in the download of the data.