Nation and world news briefs

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Florida counts another 146 people dead from COVID-19 as toll nears 13,000

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida’s coronavirus pandemic report for Tuesday shows a few setbacks after significant progress in recent days.

The state Department of Health reported the deaths of another 146 people from COVID-19 illness in recent weeks. It’s a big increase over the 36 deaths reported Monday and eight fatalities listed Sunday.

Overall, the official casualty count now stands at 12,787 Floridians and 159 nonresidents who have died in the state.

This includes nearly 5,500 deaths in South Florida, the most hard-hit area in the state. The loss of life in the region of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — now in Phase 2 of the reopening plan — exceeds that of 40 states.

New cases are up across Florida, too, with 3,116 infections reported Tuesday. That’s up from 1,736 cases a day earlier — the lowest number in over three months — and 2,423 cases on Sunday.

The daily COVID-19 testing positivity rate, for new infections only, is still in a favorable place at 4.22%. The figure had dipped to 3.86% on Monday — the lowest percentage since June 8 — a sign that that the prevalence of the virus has diminished since July when the rate topped 15%.

—Sun Sentinel

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American diplomat demands release of husband held in Belarus

An American diplomat in Ukraine is demanding that Belarus release her husband, a dual U.S.-Belarusian citizen whom she argues was detained for writing articles critical of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Heather Shkliarov’s statement, issued Tuesday, was an unusual move because it broke with precedent in which diplomats leave such statements to senior State Department officials. Both Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and his deputy, Stephen Biegun, have called for Vitali Shkliarov’s release.

“Since his detention, Vitali has been subjected to extreme psychological pressure and deprived of basic physical liberties in what he has told his lawyer is an attempt to get him to incriminate himself,” Heather Shkliarov wrote in the statement, which she said didn’t necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. She said her husband, detained in Belarus on July 29, was suffering symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as fever and chills.

Vitali Shkliarov was arrested days before a presidential election in which Lukashenko, an autocrat who has been in power since 1994, won 80% of the vote with his most prominent challengers forced off the ballot. The opposition had managed to unite behind a little-known candidate and the outcome provoked widespread demonstrations and demands for Lukashenko’s resignation.

He countered with a sweeping security crackdown. But the protest movement took on a life of its own. Foreign governments objected to the way the election was conducted and the harsh response to the rallies and demonstrations.

The crackdown led the Trump administration to drastically scale back efforts from recent years to strengthen ties with Belarus despite Lukashenko’s poor human-rights record. Pompeo became the first secretary of State in 26 years to visit the country when he traveled to Minsk in February, and the U.S. has also nominated an ambassador to Belarus after years of leaving that post vacant.

Heather Shkliarov is the deputy consul general in Kyiv. She said she had only recently taken up that post when her husband was arrested while visiting his mother with their young son.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the U.S. had repeatedly raised its concerns over Shkliarov’s detention and that U.S. consular officers have visited him four times, most recently last Friday.

—Bloomberg News

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Michael Cohen ‘sobbed’ after getting letter from Rosie O’Donnell while in prison

NEW YORK — Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, says he was moved to tears after he received a letter from talk show host Rosie O’Donnell while he was in prison.

Speaking on his new podcast Monday, Cohen said he received a “beautiful” six-page note from O’Donnell — a longtime adversary of Trump — last December during his stay at the Federal Correctional Institution near Otisville in upstate New York.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed when I read it, and so did others that were reading it with me,” said Cohen during the first episode of his “Mea Culpa” podcast.

“Here was a woman who I had helped attack and vilify on behalf of Donald J. Trump, and she reached out to me full of kindness and empathy,” Cohen, 54, continued.

In late 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years behind bars after pleading guilty to campaign and financial offenses. He is currently serving the remainder of his sentence at his home in New York.

O’Donnell was the first guest on his new podcast.

Cohen hasn’t worked for Trump since 2018 and has been outspoken against the president, including comparing him to a “cult leader” during a recent interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. Cohen recently released a tell-all book, “Disloyal: A Memoir,” that includes his experiences working for Trump.

He said on his podcast that he thought his “life was over” when he went to prison, and that the support he received from O’Donnell made a big impact on him.

“That letter was a turning point for me,” Cohen said during the 64-minute episode. “In Rosie, I saw a better way forward. A way to change, and a way to grow as a human being.”

O’Donnell, 58, also visited Cohen while he was in prison.

—New York Daily News

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Taliban leaders tell Afghan government they have no aim to seize power

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban leaders told their government counterparts at the Afghan peace talks they wouldn’t seek to seize power and that their struggle was to free the country from foreign forces and establish an Islamic system.

“Our battle is not for taking power but for the independence of our country from foreign occupation and the establishment of an Islamic system,” the group’s chief negotiator, Abdul Hakim Haqqani, told the government delegation Tuesday, according to a series of tweets by his spokesman.

The government is holding the first peace talks in 19 years with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, where the group has an office, facilitated by the U.S. Both sides are looking to end the two-decade war that has killed or wounded tens of thousands of Afghans and cost the U.S. more than $900 billion.

Hakim Haqqani said the Taliban is bound by the Feb. 29 peace agreement reached with the U.S. and urged the U.S. and its allies to live up to their obligation under the pact to pull out of the country within 14 months of signing of the agreement.

—Bloomberg News

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