WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Australia's prime minister said he's “thrilled and relieved” after Iran released in a prisoner swap a 33-year-old academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges, but added it would take time for Kylie Moore-Gilbert to process her “horrible” ordeal. Iran first announced on state television that it had freed the British-Australian scholar in exchange for three Iranians held abroad. The report was scant on detail, saying only that the Iranians had been imprisoned for trying to bypass sanctions on Iran. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australia's Network Nine he had confirmed Wednesday night that Moore-Gilbert was coming home, and spoke with her on Thursday. “The tone of her voice was very uplifting, particularly given what she has been through,” he said. Asked about the swap, Morrison said he “wouldn't go into those details, confirm them one way or the other” but said he could assure Australians there had been nothing done to prejudice their safety and no prisoners were released in Australia. In a statement, Moore-Gilbert thanked Australia’s government and diplomats for securing her release, as well as supporters who campaigned for her freedom. Despite her ordeal, Moore-Gilbert said she had “nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.” Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018. She was sent to Tehran's notorious Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years. She had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence. She was one of several Westerners held in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges that activists and U.N. investigators believe is a systematic effort to leverage their imprisonment for money or influence in negotiations with the West. Tehran denies it. Moore-Gilbert wrote in letters to Morrison that she had been imprisoned "to extort” the Australian government. Moore-Gilbert's detention had strained relations between Iran and the West at a time of already escalating tensions, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad and retaliatory Iranian strikes on a U.S. military base. Iran state TV aired footage showing her clad in a gray hijab sitting at what appeared to be a greeting room at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran. She was later seen getting on an Australian-flagged white aircraft, shown to her seat by a man in a suit. The TV report did not elaborate on the Iranians it described as “economic activists” freed in exchange for Moore-Gilbert. They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, black baseball caps pulled down over their eyes and surgical masks, outfits apparently designed to conceal their identities. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, welcomed the three Iranians at the airport. International pressure has been building on Iran to release Moore-Gilbert. She has gone on repeated hunger strikes and her health has deteriorated during long stretches in solitary confinement. Over the summer, she was transferred to the remote Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, as fears escalated over the spread of the coronavirus in the country's notoriously crowded prisons. Moore-Gilbert had appealed to the Australian government to work harder for her release. In her letters to the prime minister, she wrote that she had been subjected to “grievous violations” of her rights, including psychological torture. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Moore-Gilbert's release had been an “absolute priority” for the government since she was first detained. “The Australian government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr. Moore-Gilbert," Payne said in a statement. "We continue to do so.” She said the release was achieved through “diplomatic engagement” with the Iranian government and was done in consultation with Moore-Gilbert’s family. In her statement, Moore-Gilbert said she had arrived in Iran "as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened." Payne said she wished Moore-Gilbert well on her return to Australia. “No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention,” she said. Friends and colleagues said they were delighted Moore-Gilbert had been released. “An innocent woman is finally free," they said in a statement. "Today is a very bright day in Australia indeed.” ___ Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Isabel DeBre and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. Nick Perry, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, ending a yearslong prosecution in the Russia investigation that saw Flynn twice plead guilty to lying to the FBI and then reverse himself before the Justice Department stepped in to dismiss his case. “It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon," Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” The pardon, coming in the waning weeks of Trump's single term, is part of a broader effort by the president to undo the results of a Russia investigation that shadowed his administration and yielded criminal charges against a half dozen associates. It comes just months after the president commuted the sentence of another associate, Roger Stone, days before he was to report to prison. A Justice Department official said the department was not consulted on the pardon and learned Wednesday of the plan. But the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, noted that the president has the legal power to pardon Flynn. The move is likely to energize supporters who have taken up Flynn as a cause celebre and rallied around the retired Army lieutenant general as the victim of what they assert is an unfair prosecution, even though Flynn twice admitted guilt. Trump has repeatedly spoken warmly about Flynn and, in an indication of his personal interest in his fate, asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 to end a criminal investigation into the national security adviser. In a statement, Flynn’s family thanked Trump “for answering our prayers and the prayers of a nation” by issuing the pardon. Democrats lambasted the pardon as undeserved and unprincipled. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power," while Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said a “pardon by Trump does not erase” the truth of Flynn's guilty plea, “no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise.” “The President’s enablers have constructed an elaborate narrative in which Trump and Flynn are victims and the Constitution is subject to the whims of the president," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said in a statement. “Americans soundly rejected this nonsense when they voted out President Trump. ” The pardon is the final step in a case defined by twists and turns. The most dramatic came in May when the Justice Department abruptly moved to dismiss the case, insisting that Flynn should not have been interviewed by the FBI in the first place, only to have U.S. District Justice Emmet Sullivan resist the request and appoint a former judge to argue against the federal government's position and to evaluate whether Flynn should be held in criminal contempt for perjury. That former judge, John Gleeson, called the Justice Department's dismissal request an abuse of power and said its grounds for dropping the case were ever-evolving and “patently pretextual.” As Sullivan declined to immediately dismiss the prosecution, Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell sought to bypass the judge by asking a federal appeals court to direct him to drop the matter. A three-judge panel did exactly that, but the full court overturned that decision and sent case back to Sullivan. At a hearing in September, Powell told Sullivan that she had discussed Flynn's case with Trump but also said she did not want a pardon — presumably because she wanted him to be vindicated in the courts. Powell emerged separately in recent weeks as a public face of the Trump's efforts to overturn the results of his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, but the Trump legal team distanced itself from her after she advanced a series of uncorroborated conspiracy claims. The pardon spares Flynn the possibility of any prison sentence, which Sullivan could potentially have imposed had he ultimately rejected the Justice Department's dismissal request. That request was made after a review of the case by a federal prosecutor from St. Louis who had been specially appointed by Attorney General William Barr. At issue in the prosecution was an FBI interview of Flynn, days after Trump's inauguration, about a conversation he had during the presidential transition period with the then-Russian ambassador. Flynn acknowledged lying during that interview by saying he had not discussed with the diplomat, Sergey Kislyak, sanctions that had just been imposed on Russia for election interference by the outgoing Obama administration. During that conversation, Flynn urged Kislyak for Russia to be “even-keeled” in response to the punitive measures, and assured him “we can have a better conversation” about relations between the countries after Trump became president. The conversation alarmed the FBI, which at the time was investigating whether the Trump campaign and Russia had co-ordinated to sway the election. In addition, White House officials were stating publicly that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed sanctions, which the FBI knew was untrue. Flynn was ousted from his position in February 2017 after news broke that Obama administration officials had warned the White House that Flynn had indeed discussed sanctions with Kislyak and was vulnerable to being blackmailed. He pleaded guilty months later to a false statement charge. But last May, after years of defending the prosecution, the Justice Department abruptly reversed its position. It asserted the FBI had no basis to interview Flynn about Kislyak and that any statements he made during the interview were not material to the FBI's broader counterintelligence probe. The department also pointed to internal FBI notes showing agents had planned to close out the investigation weeks before interviewing Kislyak. Flynn, of Middletown, Rhode Island, was among the first people charged in Mueller's investigation and provided such extensive co-operation that prosecutors did not recommend any prison time, leaving open the possibility of probation. But the morning he was to have been sentenced, after a stern rebuke about his behaviour from Sullivan, Flynn asked for the hearing to be cut short so that he could continue co-operating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence. After that, he hired new attorneys — including Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller's investigation — who took a far more confrontational stance to the government and had tried to withdraw his guilty plea. Eric Tucker, The Associated Press
The most heated wrangling over the title of soccer’s greatest player could be found between Diego Maradona and Pelé themselves.So often, their squabbling would descend into acrimonious barbs and taunts launched between the finest to play the game.It was a feud in which FIFA did not want to takes sides when it came to naming the top player of the 20th century. Pelé was the pick of experts. Maradona was the people’s choice as the winner of an online vote. So they shared the award and continued to bicker in public.“He thinks it’s him,” Pelé once said. “But we all really know who was the best.”Being born 20 years apart meant the duo never settled their rivalry on the pitch.Interviewed once by Pelé, Maradona playfully asked the Brazilian three-time World Cup winner how he accumulated an apparent goal total of 1,281.“Who did you score them against?” Maradona asked. “Your nephews in the backyard?”But behind the enmity, there was a mutual admiration that was evident through the grief as Pele paid tribute to Maradona, who died Wednesday at the age of 60.“I have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a legend,” the 80-year-old Pelé said. “One day, I hope, we will play football together in the sky.”The sadness across Argentina was articulated by one of the few players who comes close to matching Maradona’s artistry with the ball.“He leaves us,” Argentine forward Lionel Messi said, “but he is not gone because Diego is eternal.”The 33-year-old Messi still strives to emulate his hero by winning a World Cup with Argentina, a triumph that could settle the 21st century’s version of the Maradona-Pelé debate as he duels with Cristiano Ronaldo for soccer greatness.Ronaldo, who has won five FIFA player of the year awards to Messi’s six, remembered Maradona as an “eternal genius.”“One of the best ever,” the Portugal and Juventus forward said. “An unrivaled magician. He departs too soon but leaves a legacy with no limits and an emptiness that will never be filled.”Maradona was undoubtedly a flawed genius, who reveled in the darker side of his character. Beyond the bans for drugs — including being sent home from the 1994 World Cup — there was a sense of pride at outwitting the referee by punching the ball into the net as Argentina beat England before going on to win the 1986 FIFA tournament.He also mesmorized with his feet minutes later in the quarterfinal, picking up the ball around the halfway line before using dribbles and feints to breeze past Englishmen to score one the greatest-ever individuals goals.But it was the moment of infamy, four years after Britain reclaimed the Falkland Islands following a 1982 invasion by Argentina, that was recalled by former England striker Gary Lineker.“By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time,” said Lineker, the top scorer at the 1986 World Cup who followed Maradona in joining Barcelona. “After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God.”As Argentines gathered in the streets, weeping and singing, three days of national mourning were declared by the nation’s president.“There’s not a single Argentinian that doesn’t have a tear dropping for what this kid has done for this country,” said Oscar Ruggeri, who played at three World Cups with Maradona.Maradona was last seen attending a match on Oct. 30 — his 60th birthday — at Gimnasia La Plata, the Buenos Aires team he coached until last year. The following week he required emergency surgery for bleeding on the brain.Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that the pope had been praying for Maradona in recent days and now “thinks back fondly to the times they met in these years.”In the southern Italian city of Naples, thousands poured into the streets to honour the player who inspired Napoli to its only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990, even though gatherings are banned due to the coronavirus pandemic. Candles were lit near huge murals of the superstar that cover the sides of buildings.The mayor proposed that the city’s San Paolo Stadium be renamed for Maradona — and ordered the stadium’s lights be turned on all night.Across Europe, the eight Champions League games were preceded by a minute’s silence.“He made world football better,” Pep Guardiola, a former Barcelona player and coach, said after leading Manchester City to victory at Olympiakos. “I was little boy with my dad and sometimes coming to Barcelona to see Maradona play and that was incredible.”FIFA President Gianni Infantino, 50, said Maradona helped him fall in love with the game.“Diego may be eternal now, but for forever, Diego will also have a most prominent place in the incredible story of all football fairytales,” Infantino said.Maradona’s death resonated beyond soccer.“It was one of the thrills of my life when I got to meet him,” Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of him hugging Maradona.Mike Tyson recalled becoming heavyweight boxing champion in 1986 months after Maradona also became a world champion.“They use to compare the two of us,” Tyson tweeted. “He was one of my heroes and a friend.”It was Maradona’s humble upbringing remembered by George Weah, the 1995 world player of the year who is now president of Liberia.“His extraordinary story as a kid who unshackled himself from the yoke of poverty and used his mastery of football to bring joy, inspired millions,” said Weah, a title winner with AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.___More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports___Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Mauricio Savarese in São Paulo, Andrew Dampf in Rome and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.Rob Harris, The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded more than 500 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the first time in about eight months as health authorities struggle to contain a third surge of infections. The Asian nation has been experiencing a spike in cases since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules last month. To deal with the latest surge, the country on Tuesday re-imposed tough distancing guidelines in Seoul and some other areas. South Korea’s cases initially peaked last February and March, with officials reporting hundreds of fresh cases daily, mostly tied to a religious sect. Its second major outbreak came during the summer, and was mostly tied to the greater Seoul area. Officials say the latest outbreak is worrisome because there are many cluster infections tied to a variety of sources. ___ HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK: — EXPLAINER: China’s claims of coronavirus on frozen foods — Restaurant employees out of work again as coronavirus surges anew — A migrant’s odyssey from boat to COVID-19 nursing job in Spain — Christmas traditions axed as pandemic sweeps rural Kansas — Germany set to extend partial shutdown well into December ___ Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak ___ HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: BEIJING — China is reporting nine new coronavirus cases in the vast Inner Mongolia region, where authorities have closed schools, suspended flights, shuttered public venues and banned banquets and other gatherings. The cluster has been centred on Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000 people on the border with Russia. Authorities ordered testing of all residents to detect new cases after the country’s latest local outbreak first emerged late last week. Ground transport to and from the city has been largely cut off and movement around the city restricted. Elsewhere in China, local infections have also been reported lately in the financial hub of Shanghai and the northern port of Tianjin, although the government’s pandemic update Thursday listed no new cases in those cities. ___ KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas are cracking down on restaurants that violate rules designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Kansas City’s authorities found two dozen bars and restaurants in violation of the city’s new pandemic restrictions after a weekend sweep of 185 establishments. Previously, the city relied primarily on complaints to enforce the rules. The new rules limit bars and restaurants to 50% capacity and require closing by 10 p.m.. Meanwhile, officials in St. Louis County have sent certified letters to three dozen bars and businesses ordering them to cease indoor service or face lawsuits or criminal charges. ___ ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Officials in Anchorage, Alaska, are imposing new pandemic restrictions for December that will prohibit bars and restaurants from offering indoor service, require employers to allow people to work from home if possible and limit many businesses to 25% capacity. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said Wednesday that the rules are needed to deal with increasing coronavirus infections in Anchorage, which is Alaska’s biggest city. The rules take effect Tuesday and run through Jan. 1. As of Wednesday, the city has recorded 15,100 coronavirus cases. Of those, 2,115 were reported in the last week. The city has had 66 deaths from COVID.19. ___ NEW YORK — A new government report says the U.S. is still missing nearly eight coronavirus infections for every one counted. By the end of September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that as many as 53 million Americans had been infected. That is just under eight times the confirmed cases reported at the time. Previously, the CDC estimated that one of every 10 infections were being missed. The latest CDC calculation is meant to give a more accurate picture of how many people actually have caught the virus since the pandemic began. Of the 53 million estimated infections, the CDC says about 45 million were sick at some point and about 2.4 million were hospitalized. ___ SALEM, Oregon — Oregon’s governor says bars and restaurants can reopen for limited outdoor service next week but many restrictions will remain in place until a vaccine against the coronavirus is widely available. In making the announcement Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown urged Oregonians to stay safe during the Thanksgiving holiday and protect others by not ignoring safety protocols, like wearing masks and limiting personal contacts. The revamped pandemic restrictions take effect when the current two-week “freeze” expires Dec. 3. Currently, only take-out restaurant service is allowed. The restaurant industry pushed hard against the restrictions as several eateries closed for good and others were at risk of doing so. ___ CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says he has tested positive for the coronavirus, but has only minor symptoms. Gordon said Wednesday that he plans to continue working remotely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who test positive for the virus isolate themselves for 10 days. Gordon said on Nov. 13 that Wyoming residents need to be more responsible about preventing the spread of the coronavirus. In his words, “We’ve relied on people to be responsible, and they’re being irresponsible,” Gordon joins nearly 26,700 Wyoming residents who have tested positive. ___ OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Wednesday that public schools will be allowed to offer in-school quarantines for students exposed to the virus. Schools in Mustang became the first in the state to adopt the policy, the department said. Effective from Nov. 30 through Dec. 23, the policy would allow students to quarantine in school. Interim State Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor said students who tested positive for COVID-19 and students who had interactions with the infected student would have previously moved to distance learning for 14 days. Under the new policy, students who are quarantined will be allowed to go to school to take part in virtual classes, but will be kept out of individual classrooms in buildings such as gyms or an auditorium where they would be socially distanced and must wear masks. ___ SAN JOSE, Calif. — Officials in Santa Clara County said they will ramp up enforcement of state health orders during the holiday weekend to make sure businesses follow the permitted capacity, employees and customers wear masks at all times and social distance guidelines are being followed. With Thanksgiving week kicking off the holiday shopping season, compliance officers will fan out throughout the Silicon Valley county starting Thursday and at least through Sunday with the help of firefighters who normally enforce capacity issues for fire codes. They will be able to issue fines on the spot starting at $250. Until now, most California counties have taken an education approach, issuing warnings instead of fines. But the county recorded its highest individual new case count for a day and has only 68 available ICU beds, testing officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said Wednesday, surpassing any levels hit during the peak of the summer surge. “We are really, really concerned,” Fenstersheib said. “All of the metrics that we have been following, that have done well in previous months, are now going up very steeply.” ___ SALT LAKE CITY — Physicians in Utah are warning that Thanksgiving could become a major super spreader event for COVID-19 transmission if people don’t follow public health guidelines. An increased number of hospitalizations across the state has prompted doctors and public health officials to advise against attending Thanksgiving gatherings with people outside their immediate households. On Wednesday, an infectious disease specialist said COVID-19 cases could further overwhelm a strained healthcare system if people do not follow this guidance. His pleas comes just days after Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he would not extend his previous order requiring people to limit social gatherings to people in their home. In Utah, 1 in 136 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week and the state is ranked tenth in the country for new cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins. There have been over 182,000 reported virus cases in Utah and more than 800 known deaths related to the virus, according to state data. ___ HELENA, Mont. — Montana schools will receive nearly $13 million in additional coronavirus relief funds before Dec. 30. Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday that more than 180 schools across the state were approved for additional funding after they submitted requests in October. The new funding includes about $5.7 million in unspent funding from the $75 million allocated to K-12 schools in July. Bullock called on Congress to pass additional relief for the coming calendar year. State health officials reported over 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday. That brings the total number of Montana confirmed cases since the pandemic began to more than 58,000. ___ ANKARA, Turkey — The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Turkey has jumped to above 28,000 after, in a surprise development, the government resumed publishing all positive cases and not just the number of patients being treated for symptoms of the coronavirus. The government was accused of hiding the full extent of the virus spread in Turkey, after it was revealed that the number of asymptomatic cases were not being included in data published since July 29. The Health Ministry was under pressure to resume publishing the total number of cases. In a news conference Wednesday following a weekly scientific advisory council meeting, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced 28,351 new infections in the past 24 hours, emphasizing that the data represented “all people whose PCR tests are positive whether they display symptoms or not.” Koca on Wednesday, also announced 168 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours. Turkey had previously been reporting around 6,000 daily new patients The total number of cases since the outbreak started now stands at 467,730, with 12,840 fatalities. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says a Turkish-developed vaccine against COVID-19 could be ready for use by April. The vaccine, ERUCOV-VAC, is being developed by Erciyes University, in the central Turkish province of Kayseri, and is currently undergoing phase 1 of testing. ___ NEWARK, N.J. — In New Jersey’s largest city, officials are urging residents to shelter in place for the next 10 days to quell a resurgence of the new coronavirus. The test positivity rate has soared to around 40% in Newark’s Ironbound, the epicenter of the city’s nightlife and the heart of the Spanish and Portuguese community. That has prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to impose a curfew and use police checkpoints to restrict access to residents and those conducting essential business. Citywide, where the positivity rate is around 20 per cent, double the statewide rate, non-essential businesses are being asked to close at 8 p.m. ___ LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles has begun to require travellers arriving to by airplane or train to sign a form acknowledging California’s recommended two-week self-quarantine in response to surging coronavirus cases. Anyone over the age of 16 coming from another state or country must submit the form online before or upon arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport or Union Station. City officials said those who don’t submit the form may face a fine of up to $500. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the requirement on Monday as he warned the virus was “threatening to spiral out of control” in Los Angeles. ___ PORTLAND, Ore. - A federal judge has declined to bar or alter Gov. Kate Brown’s two-week freeze that prohibits indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants and bars in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut on Tuesday denied a temporary restraining order sought by the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association and Restaurant Law Center. Immergut issued her ruling after hearing nearly an hour of argument. It marked the latest rejection by a judge in Oregon of a challenge to the governor’s coronavirus restrictions. ___ ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister has ruled out imposing another virus lockdown, despite a steady increase in fatalities from COVID-19. Imran Khan says his government doesn’t want people to die because of hunger while trying to save them from the pandemic. Khan spoke to journalists Wednesday in the eastern city of Lahore hours after authorities reported one of the highest COVID-19 death tallies in a 24-hour period yet at 59, and over 3,000 new cases. Pakistan is experiencing a second wave of the virus and hospitals are being flooded with patients. Khan urged people to strictly adhere to social distancing rules and said wearing face masks is the easiest way to contain the spread of the virus. Khan said he did not want to shut down factories, shops and shopping malls as it could affect country’s economy. Pakistan has recorded 382,892 confirmed cases, including 7,803 deaths, since February when the country reported its first case. Pakistan imposed a nationwide lockdown in March but eased restrictions in May. ___ ROME — Italy registered a slightly higher new daily caseload of coronavirus infections, but significantly more swab tests were conducted compared to the previous day. That's according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday. With the addition of 25,853 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, Italy’s known total in the pandemic rose to 1.480,874. The number of persons hospitalized with symptoms in regular care beds declined by 264 since Tuesday, but the number of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients rose by 32 on Monday. In the same 24-hour period, 722 deaths were registered, bringing to 52,028 the number of known dead in the pandemic. Later this week, the government must decide whether to extend nationwide restrictions, including an overnight curfew, as well as determine which regions should stay “red zones” due to worrisome factors like high rates of contagion and pressure on local hospital systems. The “Red zone” designation means only essential shops, like food stores and pharmacies, can open, while restaurants and cafes can only do take-out or delivery service, and residents can’t leave their towns, except for reasons like work or medical care. Businesses are pressing the government to lift or ease restrictions to salvage the upcoming holiday shopping and travel season. ___ HONOLULU — A Honolulu city councilman has called on the city’s police chief to reinstate its coronavirus enforcement unit. The unit was suspended after allegations that officers abused overtime hour submissions. Councilman and Legal Affairs Committee chair Ron Menor proposed this week that Police Chief Susan Ballard should only ban officers currently under investigation for wrongdoing. He says that the rest of the officers should continue to enforce coronavirus restrictions around the city, especially with the upcoming holiday season fast approaching. The job of ensuring that Honolulu’s residents and tourists are following coronavirus guidelines is now conducted by on-duty patrol officers. They take assignments based on their availability. ___ LIHUE, Hawaii — The first coronavirus death on the island of Kauai has been reported. Mayor Derek Kawakami announced in a statement this week that an elderly resident of the island with no travel history had died from the coronavirus, which has killed 232 others in Hawaii. The Garden Island reports that a Kauai resident died in Arizona earlier this year. The island reported four newly confirmed virus cases Monday, including one adult resident and three adult visitors. Kauai currently has 117 confirmed virus cases since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. The Associated Press
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A Republican candidate saw her vote lead dwindle to single digits Wednesday in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District as a dramatic recount moved toward a conclusion in a race that will help determine the size of Democrats' majority in the House of Representatives. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks held a lead of eight votes over Democrat Rita Hart out of more than 394,400 cast, with recount boards in all but one of the district’s 24 counties reporting their results. Miller-Meeks is trying to flip a second congressional seat in Iowa for Republicans this cycle. Hart cut into Miller-Meeks' lead, which began Wednesday at 35 votes, but couldn't quite erase it. She netted 26 votes in Scott County after the recount board adjourned without addressing a discrepancy in the number of absentee ballots recorded. On Wednesday night, her campaign picked up one more vote in Jasper County after a machine recount of absentee ballots reduced a nine-vote net the campaign had earlier claimed. Only Clinton County — where Hart lives on a Wheatland farm and served as an educator and state senator — is yet to report. Clinton’s recount board has already reviewed most of its ballots, with Hart so far netting a single vote, said county auditor Eric Van Lancker. The board will return Saturday morning to finish recounting the last 5,000 to 6,000 absentee ballots, he said. A state canvassing board is expected to meet Monday, the legal deadline, to certify the results of the race. The trailing candidate is likely to file legal action to contest the recount outcome, which would set in motion a proceeding run by a judicial panel. If the candidates tie, state law would require that a winner’s name be drawn from a hat, bowl or some other receptacle. The candidates are vying to replace Democrat Rep. Dave Loebsack, who is retiring after seven terms. Hart requested a districtwide recount after counties' initial certifications showed her trailing by 47 votes, following an election in which reporting errors flipped the lead back and forth between the candidates. The recount has been slow but drama-filled as the race has tightened. After the swings on Wednesday, Miller-Meeks unofficially has 196,958 votes while Hart has 196,950. Scott County, the most populous in the district, had been set to certify the 26-vote swing that would help Hart erase most of Miller-Meeks’ lead. But the county board postponed the meeting late Tuesday after the auditor discovered the recount recorded 131 more absentee ballots than the earlier canvass. The county’s recount board reconvened Wednesday morning to determine whether and how to address the discrepancy, which could be the result of a machine or math error, mistakenly counting a box twice, or inadvertently discovering ballots that weren't tabulated on election night. The board ultimately voted 2-1 to adjourn, rejecting the Miller-Meeks designee's request for a fresh machine recount of absentee ballots. “The recount of absentee ballots in Scott County was unreliable,” said Miller-Meeks campaign attorney Alan Ostergren. Hart campaign manger Zach Meunier said the “careful, thorough, bipartisan recount dramatically shrank the gap between the candidates.” Compared to the county's earlier canvass, Hart added 105 votes and Miller-Meeks added 79. Miller-Meeks’ campaign has already argued that the process used in Scott County to recount the votes was illegal. It entailed using a machine to recount the ballots, and then examining by hand those that the machine could not read to determine voter intent. Miller-Meeks' representatives argue Iowa law requires recounts to be either done by machine or hand, not a combination of the two. Hart’s campaign notes that the process has been approved by the recount board, which includes representatives of both campaigns and one neutral person, and is backed by a Scott County legal opinion. In Jasper County, a ballot tabulating machine broke down during the recount and had to be repaired, said county auditor Dennis Parrott. Miller-Meeks’ campaign alleged that, once repaired, the machine could not reliably read ballots and disputed the count after Hart gained nine votes. The recount board brought in a new tabulating machine Wednesday afternoon to recount 10,999 absentee ballots that were in question, Parrott said. The recount resulted in Miller-Meeks losing a vote in the county and Hart's total staying the same. It turns out the motherboard of the 6-year-old tabulating machine used previously was not reading the ballots correctly after technicians changed its cameras, he said. Now the district's attention turns to Clinton, where the auditor said the recount board will convene Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and work for hours. “To draw a U.S. congressperson out of a coffee cup, I don’t know about that one, right? But we have these rules. If we come up with a tie, we’ve got the tiebreaker,” Van Lancker said. “I’m confident because of the processes that we have, we’re going to get to a result that we can be confident in.” Ryan J. Foley, The Associated Press
WILMINGTON, Del. — On a day of grace and grievance, President-elect Joe Biden summoned Americans on Wednesday to join in common purpose against the coronavirus pandemic and their political divisions while the man he will replace stoked the fading embers of his campaign to “turn the election over.” Biden, in a Thanksgiving-eve address to the nation, put the surging pandemic front and centre, pledging to tap the “vast powers” of the federal government and to “change the course of the disease” once in office. But for that to work, he said, Americans must step up for their own safety and that of their fellow citizens. “I know the country has grown weary of the fight,” Biden said. "We need to remember we're at war with the virus, not with one another. Not with each other.” President Donald Trump, who has scarcely mentioned the pandemic in recent days even as it has achieved record heights, remained fixated on his election defeat. He sent his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other members of his legal team to meet Pennsylvania Republican state senators in Gettysburg. Inside a hotel near the hallowed battlefields of civil war, they again aired complaints about the election and repeated allegations of Democratic malfeasance that have already disintegrated under examination by courts. “We have to turn the election over,” Trump said from the Oval Office, where he joined the meeting by speakerphone. “This was an election that we won easily,” he said. “We won it by a lot.” In fact, the election gave Biden a clear mandate, and no systemic fraud has been uncovered. Judge after judge has dismissed the Trump campaign’s accusations as baseless, and the transition to Biden’s presidency is fully underway. Nevertheless, Trump repeated: “This election has to be turned around.” Trump had been expected to appear in person in Gettysburg, but did not after another member of his legal team tested positive for the coronavirus. Few at the meeting wore masks. Altogether, the forum heard — and cheered — yet another declaration from a U.S. president seeking to reverse a democratic election and the voters’ will because he wants to stay in power. The setting was about a mile from the scene of Pickett’s Charge, where Union troops repelled a desperate Confederate attack in July 1863 and helped turn the tide of the Civil War. The president followed up by pardoning former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the second Trump associate convicted in the Russia probe to be granted clemency by Trump. The pardon was part of a broader effort to undo the results of an investigation that for years has shadowed Trump’s administration and yielded criminal charges against a half dozen associates. The pardon voids the criminal case against Flynn just as a federal judge was deciding whether to grant a Justice Department request to dismiss the prosecution despite Flynn’s own guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts. For his part, Biden has largely projected serenity as the necessary elements of a presidential transition — money, access to office space and more — were held at bay for nearly three weeks by Trump’s machinations and a delayed ascertainment by the General Services Administration that he had won the election. On Wednesday, he addressed Trump’s raw tactics only in passing. “Our democracy was tested this year,” Biden said, “but the people of this nation are up to the task.” “In America, we have full and fair and free elections, and then we honour the results,” he said. “The people of this nation and the laws of the land won’t stand for anything else.” And he offered an optimistic vision, calling on Americans to “dream again” and predicting that “the 21st century is going to be an American century.” Biden pledged more virus testing, more protective gear and clearer guidance for businesses and schools to reopen when he becomes president. Until vaccines are distributed, he said, masks, social distancing and limits in the size of gatherings “are our most effective tools to combat the virus.” Biden’s remarks came as COVID-19 cases are surging nationwide. Hospitalizations, deaths and the testing positivity rate were also up sharply as the nation headed into Thanksgiving, and public health experts have warned that the large family gatherings expected for the holiday are likely to extend and exacerbate the surge. He has formed a coronavirus advisory board of scientists, doctors and public health experts, and plans to establish a COVID-19 co-ordinator in the White House to lead his administration’s response. This week, however, Biden focused beyond the crisis stateside and unveiled his national security team on Tuesday, including his nominees for secretary of state, director of national intelligence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Drawing implicit contrasts with Trump, Biden said the team “reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.” He’s also expected to name Janet Yellen as treasury secretary in the coming weeks. In urging Americans to be vigilant in their Thanksgiving plans, Biden said Wednesday he was taking precautions of his own, eschewing his traditional large family gathering and spending the holiday instead with just his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He’s travelling with his wife, Jill, to Rehoboth Beach, the small Delaware beach town where the two have a vacation home. That’s where they’ll host their family for Thanksgiving dinner. Biden is expected to stay through the weekend in Rehoboth before returning to Wilmington for further work on the transition. Trump will forgo his usual plans to celebrate Thanksgiving at his private club in Florida and will instead remain at the White House. ___ Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo contributed to this report from Harrisburg, Pa. Alexandra Jaffe And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press
Mexico captured a gang leader accused of being the mastermind behind the massacre of nine women and children of U.S.-Mexican origin, authorities confirmed on Wednesday, a move that Washington hailed as a victory for bilateral cooperation. Suspected drug cartel hitmen shot dead the three women and six children from families of Mormon origin in the northern Mexican border state of Sonora in broad daylight on Nov. 4, 2019, sparking outrage in Mexico and the United States. On Monday, security forces detained Roberto Gonzalez, known as "the 32," in the northern state of Chihuahua, along with two other alleged members of the criminal organization, "La Linea," the federal attorney general's office said on Wednesday.
Asian shares dipped slightly on Thursday as the hot run up in global markets took a breather, with investors switching their focus from vaccine hopes to disappointing U.S. jobs data and new COVID-19 lockdowns. Traders turned to riskier assets, including some funded in other currencies, following positive news about COVID-19 vaccines and a seemingly normal U.S. transition of power earlier this week.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Trump administration on Wednesday effectively killed a contentious proposed mine in Alaska, a gold and copper prospect once envisioned to be nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon and could produce enough waste to fill an NFL stadium nearly 3,900 times — all near the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. The Army Corps of Engineers “concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest” and denied a permit to build the Pebble Mine under both the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act, the agency said in a statement. The rejection was a surprise. It's at odds with President Donald Trump’s efforts to encourage energy development in Alaska, including opening up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and other moves nationwide to roll back environmental protections that would benefit oil and gas and other industries. The Corps of Engineers also seemed to signal just a few months ago that after almost two decades of political wrangling, Pebble Mine was on a fast track to approval, a reversal from what many had expected under the Obama administration. But unlike drilling elsewhere in Alaska, the mine proposed for the southwestern Bristol Bay region could have negatively affected the state's billion-dollar fishing industry. Conservationists and even Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., sounded the alarm on the project before the administration changed course again. The CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, the mine’s developers, said he was dismayed by the decision, especially after the corps had indicated in an environmental impact statement in July that the mine and fishery could coexist. “One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area,” CEO John Shively said in a statement. The environmental review “clearly describes those benefits, and now a politically driven decision has taken away the hope that many had for a better life. This is also a lost opportunity for the state’s future economy.” He said they are considering their next steps, which could include an appeal of the corps’ decision. “Today Bristol Bay’s residents and fishermen celebrate the news that Pebble’s permit has been denied; tomorrow we get back to work,” said Katherine Carscallen, executive director of the group Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. The group wants Congress to pass laws protecting the region. “We’ve learned the hard way over the last decade that Pebble is not truly dead until protections are finalized,” Carscallen said. In July, the Corps of Engineers released an environmental review that the mine developer saw as laying the groundwork for key federal approvals. The review said that under normal operations, Pebble Mine “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.” However, in August, the corps said it had determined that discharges at the mine site would cause “unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources” and laid out required steps to reduce those effects. Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns Pebble Limited Partnership, said it had submitted a mitigation plan on Nov. 16. Even if the corps had approved the project, there was still no guarantee it would have been built. It would have needed state approval, and President-elect Joe Biden has expressed opposition to the project. Critics saw Pebble Mine as getting a lifeline under the Trump administration. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew restrictions on development that were proposed — but never finalized — under the Obama administration and said it planned to work with the corps to address concerns. However, Trump’s eldest son was among those who voiced opposition earlier this year. After senior Trump campaign adviser Nick Ayers tweeted in August that he hoped the president would direct the EPA to block Pebble Mine, Trump Jr. responded: “As a sportsman who has spent plenty of time in the area I agree 100%. The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with.” The president later said he would “listen to both sides.” “The credit for this victory belongs not to any politician but to Alaskans and Bristol Bay’s Indigenous peoples, as well as to hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts from all across the country who spoke out in opposition to this dangerous and ill-conceived project," said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. Alaska’s two Republican U.S. senators, who support oil and gas development and mining, hailed the rejection of the Pebble Mine permit. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the decision affirmed her position that it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place. “It will help ensure the continued protection of an irreplaceable resource — Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery,” she said. Sen. Dan Sullivan said he would remain an advocate for good-paying jobs derived from resource development. “However, given the special nature of the Bristol Bay watershed and the fisheries and subsistence resources downstream, Pebble had to meet a high bar so that we do not trade one resource for another,” he said. “Pebble did not meet that bar.” ___ Associated Press journalist Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed to this report. Mark Thiessen, The Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Bars and restaurants in Anchorage will be closed for indoor service, employers must allow people to work from home if possible and many businesses will be limited to 25% capacity for the month of December as Alaska’s largest city tries to stem the increase in coronavirus cases, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said Wednesday. The new rules go into effect Tuesday and don’t end until Jan. 1, she said during a teleconference. “Today, we find ourselves in a situation that nobody wants to be in. There are no easy answers, but we must act because continuing on this path is the worst of all bad options,” she said. The director of the Anchorage Health Department, Heather Harris, says the agency “has been waving red flags for weeks as we have experienced record-breaking case counts.” As of Wednesday, a total of 15,100 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Anchorage since the pandemic began; of those, 2,115 were reported in the last week. There are 82 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the city, and 66 residents have died. Only 22 ICU beds are available. If infections increase, it could put a burden on the city's health care system, which most of the rest of Alaska also relies on. Dr. Tom Hennessy, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the spread of the disease has to be reduced and kept at a low level. “If we do that, we can reduce daily COVID cases, we can reduce the demand on our hospitals, we can reopen schools, we can reopen the economy,” he said. “What we’re doing right now isn’t working,” Hennessy said, adding that the new restrictions are needed to reduce the number of cases. Under the rules, people must limit outings and contact to those in their household. Indoor gatherings are limited to six people. That number rises to 10 for outdoor activities. There will be no indoor sports competitions, and indoor gyms are limited to 25% capacity. Bars and restaurants can still offer outdoor service, takeout or delivery. Like other businesses, salons and other personal care services are also limited to 25% capacity. Any service that requires removing a person's mask is prohibited. “Our goal with this order is to drive down transmission as much and as quickly as possible to a level that protects hospital and health care worker capacity, prevents unnecessary deaths and gives schools a real shot at reopening safely,” Quinn-Davidson said. She said she realizes the restrictions may be incredibly difficult for some businesses that have been struggling since an initial lockdown was in effect last spring. “You are the heart of our community, you give our neighbourhoods character, you contribute to the economy and provide jobs to many in our community,” she said. “What happens to you next matters to all of us." Quinn-Davison said the city has about $15 million in federal relief funds left and that she will ask the Anchorage Assembly to distribute it where it’s needed most: rent and mortgage assistance. The current relief program expires in December and grants to hospitality businesses and other small businesses “need it to survive,” the acting mayor said. She also called on Congress to pass stimulus relief for businesses and individuals in Anchorage and across the country. “I am calling on our congressional delegation to put politics aside and pass another round of economic stimulus,” she said. “There is no legitimate reason that they have not done this.” Mark Thiessen, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday baselessly claimed anew that he had won the election and uttered repeated falsehoods when he called into an event held by Pennsylvania Republicans to investigate unproven allegations of voter fraud. “This was an election that we won easily. We won it by a lot," Trump declared to the group gathered at a hotel in Gettysburg. Trump, in fact, lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden. Biden won Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes and the state certified him as the winner on Tuesday. The Pennsylvania event was the latest attempt by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, to try to cast doubt on the results of the democratic election, even as the formal transition process has begun and a growing number of Republicans are recognizing Biden as president-elect. State election officials across the county and international observers have said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and Trump's legal team has lost repeatedly in court, in addition to making numerous elementary errors. Wednesday's event, hastily organized by Republican state lawmakers, including Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, an outspoken Trump supporter, came with trappings of an official hearing — flags, a gavel, and unsworn “witnesses” who “testified” in person and by phone. Among them was a special guest — the president — who at one point had been expected to attend in person, but did not after another member of his legal team announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday morning. Trump spoke for about 11 minutes via a phone held up to a microphone by his lawyer Jenna Ellis and insisted again that the election had been “rigged" for Biden. “This election has to be turned around," he stated. It was yet another stunning declaration from an American president advocating overturning a democratic election and the voters' will because he wants to stay in power. The hotel where the Senate Majority Policy Committee met is about a mile from the scene of Pickett’s Charge, where Union troops repelled a desperate Confederate attack in July 1863. It helped turn the tide of the American Civil War against the slave-owning South. The Trump campaign on Wednesday asked the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals for the chance for Giuliani to give oral arguments in its appeal over the vote count in Pennsylvania. The court has not yet said if it will hear arguments. Trump campaign aide Boris Epshteyn, who has been working with his legal team, is the latest person in Trump’s orbit to contract the coronavirus. He had attended a press conference with Giuliani in Washington last week during which Giuliani continued to lob meritless accusations of mass voter fraud, despite no evidence to support his claims. Also in attendance was Giuliani’s son, who works at the White House and announced a day later that he had tested positive. Giuliani wore a mask as he arrived at the hearing, but has not isolated, despite his exposure. ___ Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pa. ___ This story has been corrected to say that Biden won Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes. Jill Colvin And Mark Scolforo, The Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer great who scored the “Hand of God” goal in 1986 and led his country to that year's World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, has died. He was 60.Maradona's spokesman, Sebastián Sanchi, said he died Wednesday of a heart attack, two weeks after being released from a hospital in Buenos Aires following brain surgery.The office of Argentina's president said it will decree three days of national mourning, and the Argentine soccer association expressed its sorrow on Twitter.One of the most famous moments in the history of the sport, the “Hand of God” goal, came when the diminutive Maradona punched the ball into England’s net during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals. England said the ball went in off of Maradona’s hand, not his head. Maradona himself gave conflicting accounts of what had happened over the years, at one point attributing the goal to divine intervention, to “the hand of God.”Ahead of his 60th birthday in October, Maradona told France Football magazine that it was his dream to “score another goal against the English, this time with the right hand.”Maradona also captivated fans around the world over a two-decade career with a bewitching style of play that was all his own.Although his reputation was tarnished by his addictions and an ill-fated spell in charge of the national team, he remained idolized in soccer-mad Argentina as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”“You took us to the top of the world,” Argentine President Alfredo Fernández said on social media. “You made us incredibly happy. You were the greatest of all.”The No. 10 he wore on his jersey became synonymous with him, as it also had with Pelé, the Brazilian great with whom Maradona was regularly paired as the best of all time.The Brazilian said in a statement he had lost “a dear friend.”“There is much more to say, but for now may God give his family strength,” Pelé said. "One day, I hope, we will play soccer together in the sky.”Bold, fast and utterly unpredictable, Maradona was a master of attack, juggling the ball easily from one foot to the other as he raced upfield. Dodging and weaving with his low centre of gravity, he shrugged off countless rivals and often scored with a devastating left foot, his most powerful weapon.“Everything he was thinking in his head, he made it happen with his feet,” said Salvatore Bagni, who played with Maradona at Italian club Napoli.A ballooning waistline slowed Maradona’s explosive speed later in his career and by 1991 he was snared in his first doping scandal when he admitted to a cocaine habit that haunted him until he retired in 1997, at 37.Hospitalized near death in 2000 and again in ’04 for heart problems blamed on cocaine, he later said he overcame the drug problem. Cocaine, he once said famously, had proven to be his “toughest rival.”But more health problems followed, despite a 2005 gastric bypass that greatly trimmed his weight. Maradona was hospitalized in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed on excessive drinking and eating.He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed Argentina coach, but after a quarterfinal exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted — ultimately picking up another coaching job with the United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl.Maradona was the fifth of eight children who grew up in a poor, gritty barrio on the Buenos Aires outskirts where he played a kind of dirt-patch soccer that launched many Argentines to international stardom.None of them approached Maradona’s fame. In 2001, FIFA named Maradona one of the two greatest in the sport’s history, alongside Pelé.“Maradona inspires us,” said then-Argentina striker Carlos Tevez, explaining his country’s everyman fascination with Maradona at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. “He’s our idol, and an idol for the people.”Maradona reaped titles at home and abroad, playing in the early 1980s for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors before moving on to Spanish and Italian clubs. His crowning achievement came at the 1986 World Cup, captaining Argentina in its 3-2 win over West Germany in the final and decisive in a 2-1 victory against England in a feisty quarterfinal match.Over the protests of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the referee let stand a goal by Maradona in which, as he admitted years later, he intentionally hit the ball with his hand in “a bit of mischief.”But Maradona’s impact wouldn’t be confined to cheating. Four minutes later, he spectacularly weaved past four opponents from midfield to beat Shilton for what FIFA later declared the greatest goal in World Cup history.Many Argentines saw the match as revenge for their country’s loss to Britain in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands, which Argentines still claim as “Las Malvinas.”“It was our way of recovering ‘Las Malvinas,’” Maradona wrote in his 2000 autobiography “I am Diego.”“It was more than trying to win a game. We said the game had nothing to do with the war. But we knew that Argentines had died there, that they had killed them like birds. And this was our revenge. It was something bigger than us: We were defending our flag.”It also was vindication for Maradona, who in what he later called “the greatest tragedy” of his career was cut from the squad of the 1978 World Cup — which Argentina won at home — because he was only 17.Maradona said he was given a soccer ball soon after he could run.“I was 3 years old and I slept hugging that ball all night,” he said.At 10, Maradona gained fame by performing at halftime of professional matches, wowing crowds by keeping the ball airborne for minutes with his feet, chest and head. He also made his playing debut with the Argentinos Juniors youth team, leading a squad of mostly 14-year-olds through 136 unbeaten matches.“To see him play was pure bliss, true stardom,” teammate Carlos Beltran said.Maradona played from 1976-81 for first division club Argentinos Juniors, then went to Boca Juniors for a year before heading to Barcelona for a world-record $8 million.In 1984, Barcelona sold him to Napoli, in Italy. He remade its fortunes almost single-handedly, taking it to the 1987 Italian league championship for its first title in 60 years.A year after losing the 1990 World Cup final to West Germany, Maradona moved to Spanish club Sevilla, but his career was on the decline. He played five matches at Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys in 1994 before returning to Boca from 1995-97 — his final club and closest to his heart.Drug problems overshadowed his final playing years.Maradona failed a doping test in 1991 and was banned for 15 months, acknowledging his longtime cocaine addiction. He failed another doping test for stimulants and was thrown out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.In retirement, Maradona frequented Boca matches as a raucous one-man cheering section and took part in worldwide charity, sporting and exhibition events. But the already stocky forward quickly gained weight and was clearly short of breath as he huffed through friendly matches.In 2000, in what doctors said was a brush with death, he was hospitalized in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este with a heart that doctors said was pumping at less than half its capacity. Blood and urine samples turned up traces of cocaine.After another emergency hospitalization in 2004, Maradona was counselled for drug abuse and in September of that year travelled to Cuba for treatment at Havana’s Center for Mental Health. There he was visited by his friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro.In Cuba, Maradona took to playing golf and smoking cigars. He frequently praised Castro and Argentine-born revolutionary “Che” Guevara, who fought with Castro in the Cuban revolution — even sporting a tattoo of Guevara on his right arm.Maradona said he got clean from drugs there and started a new chapter.In 2005, he underwent gastric bypass in Colombia, shedding nearly 50 kilograms (more than 100 pounds) before appearing as host of a wildly popular Argentine television talk show. On “10’s Night,” Maradona headed around a ball with Pelé, interviewed boxer Mike Tyson and Hollywood celebrities, and taped a lengthy conversation with Castro in Cuba.In retirement, Maradona also became more outspoken. He sniped frequently at former coaches, players — including Pelé — and the pope. He joined a left-wing protest train outside the Summit of the Americas in 2005, standing alongside Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to denounce the presence of then-President George W. Bush.His outsider status made it all the more surprising when he was chosen as Argentina coach following Alfio Basile’s resignation.He won his first three matches but his tactics, selection and attention to detail were all questioned after a 6-1 loss to Bolivia in World Cup qualifying equaled Argentina’s worst-ever margin of defeat.Victor Hugo Morales, Argentina’s most popular soccer broadcaster, said Maradona will ultimately be remembered for a thrilling style of play that has never been duplicated.“He has been one of the great artists of my time. Like great masters of music and painting, he has defied our intellect and enriched the human spirit,” Morales said. “Nobody has thrilled me more and left me in such awe as Diego."___More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_SportsDebora Rey, The Associated Press