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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.

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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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Republican lawmakers are accusing China of deliberately surveilling sensitive U.S. military sites with a suspected spy balloon. And they say the Biden administration has given Beijing an intelligence opening by not downing the balloon during its high-altitude drift through American airspace. Democrats are defending Biden and they note that there were similar incursions while Donald Trump was president. But the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says “clearly this was an attempt by China to gather information, to defeat our command and control of our sensitive missile defense and nuclear weapon sites.” A missile from an F-22 fighter jet downed the balloon on Saturday off the South Carolina coast.

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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.

National & World AP Stories

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Beyoncé has already won two Grammys on Sunday, bringing her a step closer in her pursuit of being the most decorated artist in the show’s history. During the Grammys pre-telecast ceremony, Beyoncé won for the first time ever in the best dance-electronic music recording category for “Break My Soul.” She also won for best traditional R&B performance for “Plastic Off the Sofa.” Viola Davis achieved the status of EGOT — a term for those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — after her win for best audio book, narration and storytelling recording. The actor gave an emotional speech and emphatically said “I just EGOT” after collecting her award.

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The 2023 Grammy Awards show is upon us. With the notoriously long red carpet rolled out, it’s time to study up on our writers’ predictions for the evening. Most of the awards will be handed out before the CBS telecast gets started, but we’ll keep you updated on the tallies from the Premiere Ceremony. The Associated Press will be hosting its own red carpet show, featuring a mix of fashion and interviews. It’ll be streamed on YouTube, Twitter and right here on apnews.com.

Soup joumou, known as “independence soup”, is a cultural staple in Haiti. It's made of all local ingredients – pumpkin, beef, carrots and cabbage – and in 2021 was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It was once eaten by French slave owners, but was claimed by Haitians after they staged one of biggest and most successful slave rebellions in 1804, gaining independence before much of the region. Today, it’s one of the few points of enduring national pride at a time of deepening crisis in the Caribbean nation.

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Ski racers Mikaela Shiffrin, Travis Ganong and the rest of the U.S. team will wear a race suit that brings awareness to climate change when they compete at the world championships in France. The mostly blue-and-white suit was designed in collaboration with apparel sponsor Kappa and the nonprofit organization Protect Our Winters. It features a design that depicts ice chunks floating in the ocean. The concept was based on a satellite photo of icebergs breaking due to high temperatures. The world championships start Monday with a women’s combined race and run through Feb. 19.

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Temperatures in many areas of the Northeast U.S. are climbing into the mid-40s Fahrenheit, a day after the region suffered through temperatures that plummeted into the negative teens. In some places Saturday it felt like minus 45 to minus 50 degrees with the wind chill. Atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the temperature rose to a relatively balmy 18 degrees on Sunday after nosediving to minus 47 a day earlier. The wind chill there was measured in excess of minus 108 degrees. There was some collateral damage from the extreme cold, including at a Boston hospital that closed its emergency department when a pipe froze and burst.

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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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Pope Francis accused some of his critics Sunday of taking advantage of retired Pope Benedict XVI’s death to score ideological points in the latest salvo in the partisan divide of the Catholic Church. During an airborne news conference returning from South Sudan, Francis was asked about the criticism that accelerated after the Dec. 31 death of Benedict, who lived in the Vatican as an emeritus pope alongside Francis for the first 10 years of his pontificate. Benedict’s longtime secretary and some conservative cardinals came out with books, interviews and memos criticizing Francis’ papacy. The commentary had the effect of pitting the recently departed former pope, who remained a point of reference for conservatives and traditionalists, against the current pope.

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Ukraine’s defense minister is expressing confidence in securing Western allies’ agreement to his country’s latest weapons request, warplanes to fight off Russian forces that invaded nearly a year ago. Oleksii Reznikov told a news conference in Kyiv on Sunday that Ukraine has already received everything from its “wish list to Santa,” except planes. He predicted confidently: “There will be planes, too.” So far, Ukraine has won support from Baltic nations and Poland in its quest to obtain Western fighter jets. But several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing warplanes could provoke the Kremlin and draw their countries deeper into the conflict. German-made tanks are on the way to Ukraine. Reznikov said his forces would begin training on Leopard tanks on Monday.