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

| June 3, 2020 3:27 PM

Prosecutors charge 3 more officers in George Floyd's death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors on Wednesday filed a tougher charge against the police officer at the center of the George Floyd case and charged three other officers, delivering a victory to protesters galvanized by a death that roused racial tensions and unleashed coast-to-coast unrest.

The most serious charge was filed against Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck and now must defend himself against an accusation of second-degree murder. The three other officers at the scene — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All four were fired last week.

The new charges were sought by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who called the protests unleashed by the death “dramatic and necessary” and said Floyd “should be here and he is not.”

“His life had value, and we will seek justice,” said Ellison, who cautioned that winning convictions would be hard and said that public pressure had no bearing on his decisions.

Hundreds of protesters were in New York City's Washington Square Park when the charges were announced.

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Esper says no military for protests amid troop confusion

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper declared on Wednesday he opposes using military troops for law enforcement in containing current street protests, tamping down threats from President Donald Trump, who had warned states he was willing to send soldiers to “dominate” their streets.

Less than 48 hours after the president threatened to use the Insurrection Act to contain protests if governors were not able to get a handle on unrest, Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked in the United States “only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He added, “We are not in one of those situations now.”

Yet Esper abruptly overturned an earlier Pentagon decision to send a couple hundred active-duty soldiers home from the Washington, D.C., region, amid growing tensions with the White House over the military response to the protests.

At Trump's encouragement, Esper had ordered about 1,300 Army personnel to military bases just outside the nation’s capital. Defense officials said some of the troops were beginning to return to their home base Wednesday, but after Esper visited the White House following a press conference, plans changed, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press.

The reversal added to confusion over the president's threat to invoke the Insurrection Act for protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. White House officials had indicated even before Esper’s comments that Trump was backing away from invoking the act, though officials said Trump was upset that Esper's statement conveyed “weakness.”

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Thousands in Europe decry racial injustice, police violence

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of people demonstrated in London on Wednesday against police violence and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has set off days of unrest in the United States.

In Athens, police fired tear gas to disperse youths who threw firebombs and stones at them outside the U.S. Embassy toward the end of an otherwise peaceful protest by about 4,000 people. No injuries or arrests were reported.

The London demonstration began in Hyde Park, with protesters chanting “Black lives matter,” before many of them later marched through the streets, blocking traffic.

Some of them converged on Parliament and the nearby Downing Street office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A few scuffles erupted between protesters and police outside the street's heavy metal gates.

Inside, Johnson told a news conference that he was “appalled and sickened” by Floyd's death on May 25 when a white Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes.

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Activists use informal tools to keep the peace at protests

When Berto Aguayo heard that Chicago protests started turning violent over the weekend, he called a few dozen people to meet in front of a colorful mural in a South Side neighborhood.

“Number one, we are here to peacefully protect small businesses,” Aguayo — co-founder of Increase the Peace, a community organizing group in the city — told the small crowd. He said the the businesses were locally owned, and residents relied on them: “That is it. If somebody is trying to loot, don’t greet them with hostility. Ask them if they want water, a, snack, engage in dialogue. If that doesn’t work, don’t put your life at risk.”

There was no formal training, just a pep talk and a short prayer. Then the group took its place in front of one street's storefronts, many of them immigrant-owned: mom-and-pop grocery stores, restaurants and a homeless youth shelter.

Aguayo, a former gang member and activist for many Chicago issues, said the group was successful in helping to maintain calm that day. It's part of several efforts around the country that aim to quell tension — and therefore potential violence — at protests, while encouraging folks to march and speak their minds about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other African Americans. With daily protests around the United States in dozens of cities — some stretching for a week and showing no sign of slowing — organizers say it's essential to de-escalate any conflict and to avoid theft, vandalism and clashes with police.

Some groups, such as Black Lives Matter, have years of experience protesting and use training and proven strategies: fluorescent vests or colored ribbons to designate legal aid, volunteer medical help or peacekeepers who can try to diffuse spats on the spot. Other people are creating more informal networks as protests pop up in new corners of their cities and states daily, with many attendees who've never protested before.

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Obama steps out as nation confronts confluence of crises

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama is taking on an increasingly public role as the nation confronts a confluence of historic crises that has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic inequalities in America and reshaped the November election.

In doing so, Obama is signaling a willingness to sharply critique his successor, President Donald Trump, and fill what many Democrats see as a national leadership void. On Wednesday, he’ll hold a virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Aides said Obama will call for turning the protests over Floyd’s death into policy change and will urge specific reforms to ensure safer policing and increased trust between communities and law enforcement.

“We’re in a political season, but our country is also at an inflection point,” said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend and adviser to Obama. “President Obama is not going to shy away from that dialogue simply because he’s not in office anymore.”

Obama was already beginning to emerge from political hibernation to endorse Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential bid when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S., killing more than 100,000 people, and the economy began to crater. The crises scrambled the Biden campaign’s plans for how to begin deploying Obama as their chief surrogate ahead of the November election, but also gave the former president a clear opening to start publicly arguing what he has signaled to friends and associates privately for the past three years: that he does not believe Trump is up for the job.

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Trump administration moves to block Chinese airlines from US

The Trump administration moved Wednesday to block Chinese airlines from flying to the U.S. in an escalation of trade and diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

The Transportation Department said it would suspend passenger flights of four Chinese airlines to and from the United States starting June 16.

The decision was in response to China's failure to let United Airlines and Delta Air Lines resume flights to China this month. The airlines suspended those flights earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic that started in China's Wuhan province.

The Transportation Department said that China was violating a 1980 agreement between the two countries covering flights by each other's airlines. The department said it would continue talking with Chinese officials to settle the dispute.

“In the meantime, we will allow Chinese carriers to operate the same number of scheduled passenger flights as the Chinese government allows ours," the Transportation Department said in a statement.

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Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer

CANNON BEACH, Ore. (AP) — As the coronavirus raced across America, this quaint seaside town did what would normally be unthinkable for a tourist destination.

Spooked by a deluge of visitors, the tiny Oregon community shooed people from its expansive beaches and shut down hundreds of hotels and vacation rentals overnight. Signs went up announcing that the vacation getaway 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Portland known for towering coastal rock formations was closed to tourists — no exceptions.

“It was unprecedented,” said Patrick Nofield, whose hospitality company Escape Lodging owns four hotels in Cannon Beach and abruptly laid off more than 400 employees in March. “We really went into survival mode.”

Now, with summer looming and coronavirus restrictions lifting, the choices facing Cannon Beach are emblematic of those confronting thousands of other small, tourist-dependent towns nationwide that are struggling to balance their residents' fears of contagion with economic survival. It's a make-or-break summer in these vacation spots — and the future is still terrifyingly unclear.

“How do you regulate people inundating your town on a day-to-day basis?” Nofield said. “One of the great things about Oregon is our beaches are free to all. We don’t want to take away people’s rights, but how do we manage it and still stay safe? That’s the thing.”

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Virginia governor to announce removal of Lee statue

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans Thursday for the removal of an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's prominent Monument Avenue, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The governor will direct the statue to be moved off its massive pedestal and put into storage while his administration seeks input on a new location, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak before the governor’s announcement.

The move comes amid turmoil across the nation and around the world over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving.

Floyd's death has sparked outrage over issues of racism and police brutality and prompted a new wave of Confederate memorial removals in which even some of their longtime defenders have decided to remove them.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. It has been the target of graffiti during protests in recent days over Floyd's death, including messages that say "end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy.”

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Pilgrim’s Pride CEO among indicted for chicken price fixing

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (AP) — The CEO of Pilgrim's Pride is one of four current and former chicken company executives indicted Wednesday on charges of price-fixing.

The U.S. Department of Justice said a federal grand jury in Colorado found that executives from Greeley, Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride and Claxton, Georgia-based Claxton Poultry Farms conspired to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chickens from at least 2012 to 2017.

Pilgrim's Pride President and CEO Jayson Penn was charged, along with former Pilgrim's Pride Vice President Roger Austin. Claxton Poultry President Mikell Fries and Vice President Scott Brady also were charged.

All four men are scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge in Denver federal court Thursday afternoon, according to court documents. The Associated Press left phone and email messages seeking comment with Pilgrim’s Pride and an attorney for Claxton Poultry.

The charges come amid questions about the high price of meat during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Malaria drug fails to prevent COVID-19 in a rigorous study

A malaria drug President Donald Trump took to try to prevent COVID-19 proved ineffective for that in the first large, high-quality study to test it in people in close contact with someone with the disease.

Results published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine show that hydroxychloroquine was no better than placebo pills at preventing illness from the coronavirus. The drug did not seem to cause serious harm, though -- about 40% on it had side effects, mostly mild stomach problems.

“We were disappointed. We would have liked for this to work,” said the study leader, Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota. “But our objective was to answer the question and to conduct a high-quality study,” because the evidence on the drug so far has been inconclusive, he said.

Hydroxychloroquine and a similar drug, chloroquine, have been the subject of much debate since Trump started promoting them in March. Hydroxychloroquine has long been used for malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but no large studies have shown it or chloroquine to be safe or effective for much sicker patients with coronavirus, and some studies have suggested the drugs may do harm.

Trump took a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, along with zinc and Vitamin D, after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19, and had no ill effects, according to results of his latest physical released by his doctor Wednesday.