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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Slovakia's populist prime minister shot in assassination attempt, shocking Europe before elections BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times and gravely wounded Wednesday, but his deputy p

Slovakia's populist prime minister shot in assassination attempt, shocking Europe before elections

BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times and gravely wounded Wednesday, but his deputy prime minister said he believed Fico would survive.

The prime minister had been greeting supporters at an event when the attempted assassination took place, shocking the small country and reverberating across Europe weeks before an election.

“I guess in the end he will survive,” Tomas Taraba told the BBC, adding: “He’s not in a life threatening situation at this moment.”

Doctors fought for Fico's life several hours after the pro-Russian leader, 59, was hit in the abdomen, Defense Minister Robert Kalina told reporters at the hospital where Fico was being treated.

Five shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of the capital, government officials said. Fico was shot while attending a meeting of his government in the town of 16,000 that was once a center of coal mining.


Biden and Trump, trading barbs, agree to 2 presidential debates, in June and September

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Wednesday agreed to hold two campaign debates — the first on June 27 hosted by CNN and the second on Sept. 10 hosted by ABC — setting the stage for their first presidential face-off to play out in just over a month.

The quick agreement on the timetable followed the Democrat's announcement that he would not participate in fall presidential debates sponsored by the nonpartisan commission that has organized them for more than three decades. Biden's campaign instead proposed that media outlets directly organize the debates between the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees.

The debate is so unusually early on the political calendar that neither Biden nor Trump will have formally accepted his party's nomination.

Hours later, Biden said he had accepted an invitation from CNN, adding, “Over to you, Donald.” Trump, who had insisted he would debate Biden anytime and anyplace, said on Truth Social he'd be there, too, adding, “Let’s get ready to Rumble!!!” Soon after that, they agreed to the second debate on ABC.

“Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation,” Biden wrote on X, working in a jab about the perks of incumbency. “I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”


Russia's Putin arrives in China for state visit in a show of unity between the authoritarian allies

BEIJING (AP) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin arrived Thursday in Beijing for a two-day state visit to China, in a show of unity between the authoritarian allies as Moscow presses forward with a new offensive in Ukraine.

An honor guard from the People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of China's ruling Communist Party, met Putin as he descended from his plane as dawn broke.

A brigade of military police on motorcycles accompanied his motorcade into the city, with meetings to follow with his counterpart Xi Jinping and other top officials expected to emphasize their commitment to the “no limits” relationship they signed in 2022, just before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, Russia has become increasingly economically dependent on China as Western sanctions cut its access to much of the international trading system.

On the eve of the visit, Putin said in an interview with Chinese media that the Kremlin is prepared to negotiate over the conflict in Ukraine. “We are open to a dialogue on Ukraine, but such negotiations must take into account the interests of all countries involved in the conflict, including ours,” Putin was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.


Supreme Court orders Louisiana to use congressional map with additional Black district in 2024 vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Louisiana to hold congressional elections in 2024 using a House map with a second mostly Black district, despite a lower-court ruling that called the map an illegal racial gerrymander.

The order allows the use of a map that has majority Black populations in two of the state’s six congressional districts, potentially boosting Democrats’ chances of gaining control of the closely divided House of Representatives in the 2024 elections.

The justices acted on emergency appeals filed by the state's top Republican elected officials and Black voters who said they needed the high court's intervention to avoid confusion as the elections approach. About a third of Louisiana is Black.

The Supreme Court's order does not deal with a lower-court ruling that found the map relied too heavily on race. Instead, it only prevents yet another new map from being drawn for this year's elections.

The Supreme Court could decide at a later date to hear arguments over the decision striking down the Louisiana map.


The jurors in Trump's hush money trial are getting a front row seat to history -- most of the time

A gag order. The House Speaker turning up outside court. Angry denouncements of the judge overseeing the case.

Some of the most explosive moments in Donald Trump's hush money trial have played out for most of the world to see — except for the people who are actually deciding his fate: the jury.

The 12-person panel is shown evidence and witness testimony so they can decide whether the former president is guilty of a scheme to buy up and bury seamy stories in an effort to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election. But it's a highly curated experience; jurors are not getting the full picture seen by those who follow along each day.

They don't even witness Trump enter or exit the courtroom. He's already there by the time they are brought into the room, and he stays until they are dismissed.

This is by design. Laws carefully govern how a criminal case is tried to ensure that a jury's decision on guilt or innocence isn’t affected by fights over evidence or other legal sparring. It's routine to hold back a jury while trial lawyers argue with the judge about what can and can’t be included for jurors to see during the trial. And attorneys often gather quietly at the judge's bench to talk about sensitive topics, out of their earshot.


Netanyahu fends off criticism at home and abroad over his lack of a postwar plan for Gaza

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday fended off criticism that he is not planning for a postwar reality in the Gaza Strip, saying it was impossible to prepare for any scenario in the embattled Palestinian enclave until Hamas is defeated.

Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure from critics at home and allies abroad, especially the United States, to present a plan for governance, security and rebuilding of Gaza.

He has indicated Israel seeks to maintain open-ended control over security affairs and rejected a role for the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. That position stands in contrast to the vision set forth by the Biden administration, which wants Palestinian governance in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to Palestinian statehood.

The debate over a postwar vision for Gaza comes as fighting has erupted again in places Israel had targeted in the early days of the war and said it had under control, as well as in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, which has sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.

For Palestinians, that displacement has renewed painful memories of mass expulsion from what is now Israel in the war surrounding the country's creation in 1948. Palestinians across the Middle East on Wednesday were marking the 76th anniversary of that event.


Reported sex assaults in the US military have dropped. That reverses what had been a growing problem

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of reported sexual assaults across the military decreased last year, and a confidential survey found a 19% drop in the number of service members who said they had experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact, according to new figures obtained by The Associated Press. Both are dramatic reversals of what has been a growing problem in recent years.

More than 29,000 active-duty service members said in the survey that they had unwanted sexual contact during the previous year, compared with nearly 36,000 in the 2021 survey, according to several defense officials. The decrease is the first in eight years.

At the same time, 8,515 sexual assaults were reported last year involving members of the U.S. military, a decrease from 8,942 in 2022. And officials said the U.S. military academies also saw fewer reported sexual assaults in the school year that ended last spring versus the previous year.

President Joe Biden hailed the improved numbers as he spoke Wednesday to his military commanders, who were gathered at the White House.

“I’m proud that for the first time in nearly a decade, rates of sexual assault and harassment are, within the active-duty forces, are down. They’re down. That’s because of your leadership,” Biden said.


Now armed with AI, America's adversaries will try to influence election, security officials warn

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's foreign adversaries will again seek to influence the upcoming U.S. elections, top security officials warned members of the Senate Wednesday, harnessing the latest innovations in artificial intelligence to spread online disinformation, mislead voters and undermine trust in democracy.

But the U.S. has greatly improved its ability to safeguard election security and identify and combat foreign disinformation campaigns since 2016, when Russia sought to influence the election, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The latest warning from security officials comes as advances in AI make it easier and cheaper than ever to create lifelike images, video and audio that can fool even the most discerning voter. Other tools of disinformation include state media, online influencers and networks of fake accounts that can quickly amplify false and misleading content.

Russia, China and Iran remain the main actors looking to interfere with the 2024 election, security officials said, but due to advances in technology other nations or even domestic groups could try and mount their own sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

Russia remains “the most active foreign threat to our elections,” Haines said, using its state media and online influencers to erode trust in democratic institutions and U.S. support for Ukraine.


Driver said he smoked pot oil, took medication before Florida crash that killed 8 Mexican workers

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A man with a long record of dangerous driving told investigators he smoked marijuana oil and took prescription drugs hours before he sideswiped a bus, killing eight Mexican farmworkers and injuring dozens more, according to an arrest report unsealed Wednesday.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence-manslaughter and remained jailed without bond for Tuesday’s crash. The Florida Highway Patrol says he drove his 2001 Ford pickup into the center line on a two-lane road and struck the bus, causing it to veer off the road, strike a tree and flip over.

The seasonal farmworkers were on their way early in the morning to harvest watermelon at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Orlando in north-central Florida’s Marion County, a rural area of rolling hills with numerous horse farms and abundant fruit and vegetable fields.

The Mexican consulate in Orlando was working to support the victims, meeting with some at a hotel in Gainesville. Many were taken to AdventHealth Ocala hospital.

Juan Sabines, the Mexican consul in Orlando, told Spanish language news media that seven workers, three of whom were in critical condition, remained hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon.


This, too, could pass: Christian group's rule keeping beaches closed on Sunday mornings may end

OCEAN GROVE, N.J. (AP) — In this seaside community that calls itself “God's Square Mile at the Jersey Shore,” all the land is owned by a religious group that has for generations enforced an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt stay off the beach on Sunday morning.

But there are signs that decades-old policy may be coming to an end as a way to resolve a court case brought by the state of New Jersey that could cost the group $25,000 a day in fines for violating state beach access laws.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which has kept beaches closed until noon on Sundays, has deleted that restriction from its website. Item 4 under “Beach Regulations” used to outline the Sunday morning closure. Now, just the number “4” remains on the site, followed by blank space.

The association and its lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for clarification Wednesday, and the state attorney general's office said it was looking into the matter.

Restricting activity on Sunday morning is central to Ocean Grove's very existence. It was founded in 1869 as a Methodist retreat, centered on an enormous hall called The Great Auditorium, where worship services are held near rows of tent cabins where summer pilgrims come to live in its shadow.

The Associated Press