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Two local robotics teams received honors at the recent FIRST Tech Challenge competition hosted by Pitt County Schools. Held Jan. 28 at Hope Middle School, the competition drew two dozen teams from across the state.

Local Events

Hena Khan was raised in the Washington suburbs, the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, and she describes the experience this way: “When I was growing up, it was really more about feeling invisible and not thinking my culture mattered. Nobody at school knew anything about being a Muslim, b…

The two most common themes of MAGA sorehead emails I received last year were the inevitability of an anti-Biden landslide in 2022, and the certainty of Hillary Clinton’s prosecution by “independent counsel” John Durham, supposedly for falsifying evidence against Donald Trump during the “Russ…

Q I live in Boston, and the news here seems to be fixated on a brand-new COVID-19 variant. Omicron was all everyone talked about for a long time. Does this mean the new variant we are hearing about is worse? What are we supposed to do to protect ourselves?

State AP Stories

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China is threatening what it calls “further actions” after an American fighter jet shot down a suspected spy balloon off the East Coast of the United States on Saturday. The U.S. says the massive balloon was a surveillance craft that spent days crossing over sensitive military sites in North America. The White House says President Joe Biden approved the downing, and followed the advice of military officials by waiting to bring down the craft over water rather than risk debris falling on populated areas. But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists again that the craft was civilian and its flight an accident. It is criticizing the U.S. for what it terms “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”

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Eyes were locked on the Carolina skies Saturday as a suspected Chinese spy balloon ended a weeklong traverse over the U.S., drifted over the Atlantic Ocean and was shot down by a fighter jet. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina people lined a boardwalk and cheered as a missile from an F-22 fighter struck the balloon and it plummeted into the water. As the balloon came over Myrtle Beach, software consultant Haley Walsh says she saw it floating in the clear blue sky. She felt and heard a boom and ran outside where she saw the balloon tumbling down.

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The car owned by a missing 74-year-old Florida Lyft driver has been found in North Carolina and the man who was driving it is wanted in connection with a homicide last week in southwest Florida. Authorities said Friday that Gary Levin has been missing since Monday, when his family believes he picked up a customer in Palm Beach County, Florida. His red 2022 Kia Stinger was spotted in Miami that day and later in north Florida. The vehicle was then seen Thursday evening in North Carolina and driver Matthew Flores was arrested following a police chase. Flores is a suspect in a slaying that occurred nearly a week before Levin went missing.

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North Carolina’s newly seated Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether people convicted of felonies should be permitted to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The justices listened Thursday to their first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. They didn’t immediately rule. The case stems from 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restoring voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” Roughly 56,000 people could be affected by the outcome.

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Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent. The bill would require schools to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. Several mental and behavioral health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee on Thursday that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for students without affirming home environments. The proposal now heads to the Senate rules committee.

Some North Carolina senators want tougher punishments for intentionally damaging utility equipment in light of the December attacks on two Duke Energy substations in Moore County that left 45,000 customers without power. The legislators filed a bill on Wednesday that would make it a high-grade felony to intentionally destroy or damage any “energy facility.” Current state law only makes it a misdemeanor to vandalize equipment that interrupts the transmission of electricity. A perpetrator also would face a $250,000 fine and potential lawsuits. Someone also fired at an electric cooperative's substation in Randolph County two weeks ago, causing damages but no outages. No arrests have been in either attack.

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A bill advancing in North Carolina’s Senate would prohibit instruction about sexuality and gender identity in K-4 public school classes. The proposal approved Wednesday by the Senate education committee would require schools in most circumstances to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronoun used for their child. The measure defies the recommendations of parents, educators and LGBTQ youths who testified against it. The bill now heads to the Senate health care committee. A version passed the state Senate last year but did not get a vote in the House.

National & World AP Stories

Officials say five people have been injured in Russian rocket attacks in the central area of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said Sunday four people were injured when a Russian S-300 missile fell near an apartment block and another was hurt when a missile hit a higher-education building. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, one of four regions that Russia illegally annexed even though its forces do not fully control the region. Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said five civilians were wounded in rocket attacks during the night in the city of Druzhkivka and that the town of Avdiivka and its outskirts were also fired on.

The European Union is launching its ban on imports of Russian diesel fuel. Starting Sunday, the 27-country EU is taking the step to further slash its energy dependency on Moscow. The measure also aims to crimp the Kremlin’s fossil fuel earnings as punishment for invading Ukraine. The ban comes along with a price cap agreed by the Group of Seven allied democracies. The goal is allowing Russian diesel to keep flowing to countries like China and India and avoiding a sudden price rise that would hurt consumers worldwide, while reducing the profits funding the war. Europe will have to find new supplies of the diesel fuel from the U.S., Middle East and India.

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Europe is cutting more energy ties with Russia. A ban on Russian refined oil products like diesel fuel and a Western price cap take effect Sunday. The goal is to stop feeding Russia's war chest with energy payments while avoiding shortages from a loss of its global supply. Diesel prices have already jumped since the war started on Feb. 24, and there’s uncertainty about how the EU embargo and price cap by the Group of Seven major democracies will affect the market for a fuel crucial to the global economy. If the cap works as intended, flows of diesel could reshuffle. But markets will have to adjust, and there could be a brief spike in prices.

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South Korean coast guard vessels and aircraft are searching  for nine fishermen who disappeared after their boat capsized off the country's southwestern coast. The coast guard from the southwestern port city of Mokpo says three crew members were rescued by a nearby commercial vessel following the accident late Saturday in waters near Daebichi Island. Survivors said the boat’s engine room had quickly filled with water before the 24-ton vessel tipped over, according to the coast guard. More than 30 coast guard vessels and at least eight coast guard and military aircraft were searching the area on Sunday afternoon.

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Officials say Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup and later led a reluctant Pakistan into aiding the U.S. war in Afghanistan, has died. He was 79 years old. They made the announcement Sunday. The general ruled Pakistan after his 1999 coup through tensions with India, an atomic proliferation scandal and an Islamic extremist insurgency until ultimately stepping down in 2008 while facing a possible impeachment. His later life saw him live in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid criminal charges, despite attempting a political comeback in 2012. Shazia Siraj, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai, confirmed his death and said diplomats were providing support to his family. The military also paid tribute to him.

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Pope Francis has made a final appeal for peace in South Sudan. He celebrated Mass before an estimated 100,000 people to close out an unusual mission by Christian religious leaders to nudge forward the country’s recovery from civil war. In his homily Sunday, Francis begged for South Sudanese people to lay down their weapons and forgive one another. His message aimed to revive hopes in the world’s youngest country, which gained independence from the majority Muslim Sudan in 2011 but has been beset by civil war and conflict. The pope has departed the country after being seen off by the president.

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A former Israeli prime minister who served briefly as a mediator at the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine says he drew a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became an unlikely intermediary in the war’s first weeks, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet President Vladimir Putin in a snap trip to Moscow. Bennett’s mediation efforts appear to have done little to end the bloodshed that continues until today. But, his remarks, in an interview posted online late Saturday, shed light on the backroom diplomacy and urgent efforts that were underway to try to bring the conflict to a speedy conclusion in its early days.

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Many refugees and asylum-seekers are literally left out in the cold for months as the European Union fails to get its migration system working properly. And most talk is about building fences and repatriation instead of working to improve a warm embrace for people fleeing nations like Afghanistan where the Taliban has taken over.  It leaves an Afghan army captain like Shinwari despondent as he is counting the days out in a flimsy tent in the rain and often freezing nights of Brussels. He hopes to get asylum since he is convinced the Taliban will kill him if he is ever to go home to his family.