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Massive asteroids will whiz past Earth in coming weeks, including 1 nearly size of Empire State Building

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(NEW YORK) -- Several massive asteroids are expected to whiz close to Earth in the coming weeks, including one nearly the size of the Empire State Building.

Two are expected to soar near the planet on Saturday, followed by more in the coming days, according to data from NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

On Friday, Asteroid 2021 SM3, which has a diameter of up to 525 feet -- bigger than the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt -- was projected to zoom by around 3.5 million miles away from Earth, USA Today first reported based off CNEOS data.

Near-Earth objects are defined by NASA as "comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighborhood."

But fear not, though these asteroids are passing relatively close to Earth, they're still a great distance away, experts say.

"Astronomically, these are coming close to the Earth. But in human terms, they are millions of miles away and can get no closer than millions of miles away," Paul Chodas, the director of the CNEOS at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, told ABC News.

The center tracks near-Earth objects for the entire asteroid community so that when close approaches happen astronomers can know where and when and observe their movements.

One of the closest approaches is Asteroid 2021 TJ15, which will pass the Earth at the same distance at the moon, or 238,854 miles away, on Saturday.

"That asteroid has a diameter of 5.6 to 13 meters (18 to 42 feet). That's a tiny asteroid coming to about the distance of the moon. It's still a long, long way, it can't hit the Earth, there's no chance of that," Chodas said.

Asteroid 2004 UE is up to 1,246 feet, nearly the size of the Empire State Building, that will make its close approach Nov. 13 about 2.6 million miles from Earth.

"So that is the size of a small building. That's approaching a medium size. But that's 11 lunar distances approaching sequence, it cannot get any closer than 11.11 lunar distances," Chodas said.

The center has discovered and tracked over 27,000 near-Earth objects. Asteroids range in size with most being small-, medium-size asteroids ranging from 300 meters to 600 meters (984 feet to 1,968 feet) in size and large ones 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) and up in size. He said many of the asteroids that pass Earth are tiny and burn up when they enter the planet's atmosphere.

Unlike the apocalyptic plots in movies, the chances of a massive astroid striking the planet is extremely rare, Chodas said.

"It's simply the fact that there are very fewer medium- and large-size asteroids that come near the Earth to begin with," he said. "There are comparatively few large asteroids. The largest near-Earth asteroid is something like 10 kilometers. But there's only one or two of those."

The asteroids are discovered through observatories, cameras, telescopes and asteroid surveys that search the night sky for movement. After an asteroid is discovered, the center tracks their measurements and locations, and computes an orbit trajectory to predict its future movements to see if there's any chance it'll intersect with Earth.

Just how often do asteroids end up hitting Earth?

"Over the last 20 years of doing this, we've had a total of four asteroids -- tiny, tiny asteroids -- that have been observed in space and headed for the Earth, and have impacted the atmosphere and burned up. They became a bright fireball in each case," Chodas said. "In two of the cases, we've predicted where they would hit ahead of time and predicted where to find the meteorites. Expeditions have gone out and found the meteorites. So our mathematics work pretty well."

One of the most prominent was the Chelyabinsk Event in Russia in February 2013.

"That was the largest observed impact we've had in recent memory, I guess it's a 100-kind of year event. That was a 20-meter asteroid that blazed through the atmosphere over Russia, and it disintegrated. What was started off as a 20-meter asteroid ended up as a core rock that was only one meter across, and it landed in a frozen lake and made a nice round hole in the ice," Chodas said.

So far this year, the biggest asteroid to pass by Earth was Asteroid 2001 FO32, dubbed Apophis the "God of Chaos", in March which was estimated to be 1,100 feet across, NASA said.

Michael Zolensky, an astromaterial curator and researcher at NASA, told ABC News asteroids are " basically leftovers from planet formation."

"Some of them have been whacked and broken by impacts from the other asteroids and then have kind of come back together again, as sort of traveling beanbags of loose rubble," he said.

On Saturday, NASA's newest asteroid probe named Lucy took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a 12-year mission to study some asteroids known as Trojans around Jupiter.

Lucy will be the first spacecraft to visit these asteroids with the hopes of helping scientists learn more about how our solar system's planets formed and how they ended up in their current configuration, NASA said in a release.

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UK MP David Amess dies after being stabbed multiple times

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(ESSEX, England) -- David Amess, a conservative British member of Parliament, died Friday after being stabbed multiple times, officials said.

Amess, 69, represented Southend West in Essex.

He was attacked while holding his monthly “meet and greet” with voters at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, British outlet Sky News reported.

The motive behind the attack is unknown.

Essex Police were called to reports of a stabbing shortly after 12:05 p.m. local time and found a man injured.

"He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene," police said in a press release.

Police said a 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after the stabbing and a knife was recovered at the scene. Authorities are not looking for any other suspects in the incident.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Trapped in the woods: Belarus accused of using migrants as weapons

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(LIPSK, Poland) -- It was pitch black as the activists entered the forest. Even with headlamps and torches, their beams shone only small windows into the darkness, illuminating the trunks of birch trees.

The activists, from the migrants rights group, Grupa Granica, were looking for a small group of men who a short while ago had crossed the border from Belarus into a corner of northeastern Poland.

The men being sought were among hundreds of people trapped in forests where the European Union shares borders with Belarus; men caught in a worsening -- and highly unusual-- migration crisis on the bloc's eastern frontier.

For months, the border between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania has seen a surge of migrants, that European countries allege is orchestrated by Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation for their support of the pro-democracy protest movement that came close to toppling him last year.

Lukashenko -- often dubbed 'Europe's last dictator'-- is accused of luring migrants, mostly from the Middle East, to Belarus by offering easy access to Europe and then pushing them over the border into Poland and Lithuania. The number of migrants crossing has soared in recent months from what is normally a few dozen to thousands, with many headed to Germany and other Western European countries, according to Polish and Lithuanian authorities.

But in response, Poland and Lithuania have begun blocking the arrivals, deploying extra border guards, erecting fences and also allegedly pushing back many without allowing them to file for asylum, a violation of international law.

The result is that dozens -- likely hundreds -- of people are now reportedly trapped in a no-man's land throughout the dense forests between Belarus and Poland, bouncing between the countries' security forces and without food or shelter, often for weeks, according to testimonies from those trapped.

At least five migrants have died already, according to Polish and Belarusian officials, as temperatures fell close to freezing.

In Poland, activists from human rights groups and charities say they are trying to help the migrants, bringing food, clothes and assistance with asylum claims to prevent border guards from forcing people back across the border

The activists ABC News accompanied last week said they had received a call for help from three men around midnight one day last week. As the activists searched the woods, they shouted, "Don't be afraid. We are not the police," and made low whistles, a previously agreed upon signal with the men.

Eventually they found three terrified, shivering men from Yemen. One was without shoes.

"We were there fifteen days, without food, without anything," one man, Rami Olaqi told the activists as they quickly gave Olaqi and the other men snack bars and tea. "We are drinking from streams and we're eating from trees. The Belarusian army said, 'If we see you again, we will kill you,'" he said.

Olaqi, an IT engineer, said he was fleeing Yemen's civil war. They had been in the woods almost since landing in Belarus' capital, Minsk, and were from a group of 16 Yemenis, the remainder still stuck on the border's Belarusian side. They said they had tried to cross the border four times, but each time had been pushed back by Polish guards.

Back on the other side, Olaqi said Belarusian border guards had grabbed them and forced them back toward Poland. Olaqi says the guards shoved them back, and that Belarusian guards had beaten and robbed them, taking anything they wanted from the men's bags.

He said after catching them again, the Belarusian guards had thrown the men into a river.

"They don't care," he said. "It will be better for them if we die, you know. Because 'Look, Poland is killing refugees.' That's what we understand now."

It's just a way "for the Belarusian state to intimidate Europe. And using the refugees as a bullet in their war," Olaqi said.

Lukashenko has publicly threatened to flood Europe with migrants, presumably in retaliation for EU sanctions on his regime for its crackdown on the protests and for hijacking a Ryanair passenger flight in May.

"We were stopping drugs and migrants -- now you will catch them and eat them yourselves," Lukashenko said in a speech in May.

Belarus has eased visa restrictions for many countries. In July, Lukashenko issued a decree allowing citizens of 73 countries to travel to Belarus without a visa for five days. WhatsApp and Facebook groups have sprung up where smugglers offer passage to Germany and other western European countries via Belarus and many migrants said they had used travel agencies to acquire invitations to come.

At the border, several migrants told ABC News that Belarusian security forces were coordinating migrant crossings.

Boushra Al-Moallem, a teacher from Syria who said she had spent 20 days in the forest, said Belarusian guards had separated people into groups and then led them to crossing points at the border, picking the time they would cross.

"They were choosing the people who should go in each group," she said. Al-Moallem said people like her had been caught up in the conflict between Belarus and Poland. "It's a bad war -- and we are the weapons," she said.

Several migrants alleged they were robbed of their money, phones and documents by Belarusian guards before being pushed over the border into the forest. When they try to return, Belarusian police shove them back again and threaten them, they said.

Under international and European law, Poland is obligated to consider any asylum applications made on its territory. But some of the migrants and activists say Polish border guards are refusing to accept the applications and instead push people back across the border.

That meant a harrowing choice for Olaqi and other men fleeing from Yemen. The activists helped them fill out asylum papers on the forest floor. But in order to apply they would need to summon the Polish border guards -- the same guards that had repeatedly driven them back into the woods.

The activists explained said that they hoped the presence of foreign media would prevent the guards from doing so again but there was no guarantee. With no other plan, Olaqi and another man decided to risk crossing the border.

When the guards arrived they were polite and said they would take the men to a nearby border station, something the activists credited to the media cameras on-site. Poland's border service later confirmed the two men had been permitted to apply for asylum and would now be sent to a migrant center while they awaited the decision.

Such cases, though, are still the exception. Activists are responding to almost daily calls of people being pushed back from Poland, regardless of whether they claim asylum, said Kalina Czwarnog, from the immigrant rights group Fondacja Ocalenie. Czwarnog said she had witnessed young children being pushed back and that injured migrants were sometimes transported from hospitals back into the woods.

Poland's government has defended its border service's actions, arguing it is permitted to push people back to Belarus since they are not in danger there, an argument disputed by most experts in asylum law.

"We are not pushing back those people to Syria or, I don't know, Afghanistan," Poland's deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle this week. He did not deny that Polish border guards were pushing people back across the border, saying most wanted to apply for asylum in Germany, not Poland. He said the focus should be on the fact that this was an "artificial crisis, orchestrated by the Belarusian regime."

By declaring a state of emergency Poland has created a closed zone along the border, which critics say is mostly intended to prevent activists and media from documenting the treatment of migrants. Police checkpoints block access to many villages in the zone and journalists entering risk arrest. The activists are only able to help those that make it outside the zone.

Lithuania initially allowed more asylum seekers to enter the country, taking in over 4,000 and housing them at first, mainly in tent camps. As the weather grows colder, the country has moved many migrants to more permanent facilities, including a prison at Kybartai.

When ABC News visited last week nearly 700 men were housed at Kybartai, living in a former cell block. Families and more vulnerable people are kept in different centers.

But Lithuania so far has granted just one asylum request of 900 already processed, according to its interior ministry. Over 2,500 more are pending.

On Wednesday there was a possible sign that Lukashenko might be backing down. A travel agency,Anex Tour, published a notice that Belarus was no longer issuing visas on arrival at Minsk airport for citizens Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Nigeria. Belarus' foreign ministry however has not confirmed that to ABC News.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main opponent, who was forced into exile last year during the mass protests, said she was urging European countries not to lose sight that Lukashenko is the root cause of the crisis.

"I always remind them, don't forget who's guilty in this," she told ABC News in an interview last week. "Migrants are also a hostage of this regime."

She said EU countries needed to show a unified front against Lukashenko and warned that calls for Poland and Lithuania to accept all migrants arriving would play into his hands. She said Lukashenko was counting on criticism over human rights in European countries forcing them to give in before he did.

"Lukashenko knows that organizations in Europe are worrying about the situation and they can put pressure on the Polish government, Lithuanian government, but they can't put any kind of pressure to the dictator because he doesn't care," she said. "He knows the rules and misuses them. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia are being blackmailed by Lukashenko. That's why unity is crucial here."

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Several casualties reported amidst gun battles in Beirut following blast protest

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(BEIRUT) -- Casualties have been reported after hours of gun battles in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, following calls led by Hezbollah and their allies to remove the judge leading the investigation into last year's massive port blast.

At least six people have been killed and 30 wounded in ongoing clashes in the district of Tanouyeh after protesters gathered outside Beirut's Justice Palace, according to the Lebanese Red Cross, who have dispatched six teams to assist the wounded and transport them to local hospitals.

Videos circulating on social media have shown armed men clashing in the streets with assault rifles, crowds fleeing and children taking shelter in the city's schools. According to the Shiite group Hezbollah, peaceful protesters were targeted by sniper fire before the clashes broke out. The Lebanese Army has not responded to those claims.

The Lebanese Army warned citizens to go home, saying that anyone armed on the streets would be shot. The caretaker government has instructed citizens to take to basement shelters for the first time since the 1975-90 civil war.

"The deployed army units will shoot at any gunman on the roads and at anyone who shoots from anywhere else, and ask civilians to leave the streets," the army posted on its official Twitter account.

Over 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stockpiled in the port of Beirut since 2013, detonated on Aug. 4, 2020, killing at least 200 people, wounding thousands of others and causing widespread damage across the city.

Earlier this week, a legal complaint brought against Judge Tarek Bitar was dismissed, allowing him to resume his work as the head of the investigation into the Beirut blast, which survivors and activists have criticized for a lack of movement. Hezbollah and its allies have claimed that the probe has been politically biased against Shiite ministers, and the politically contentious issue has threatened to derail the current caretaker government.

The investigation had been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the complaint against Bitar.

An August report by Human Rights Watch alleged that some government officials "foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate's presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring."

The caretaker government refuted the findings.

Lebanon is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises of the modern era, according to the World Bank. Fuel shortages, hyperinflation and a creaking health system have left at least 1.5 million people in need of financial aid.

Over the weekend, the country suffered a national power outage after the two main power stations ran out of fuel, before the army stepped in with an emergency shipment of gas. As a result, most families and businesses struggle with an allocation of four hours a day of electricity, with many neighborhoods relying instead on expensive backup generators, officials said.

The outbreak of violence is the worst seen in the city since 2008, according to observers, threatening to plunge the stricken country into further turmoil.

ABC News' Leena Saidi and Nasser Atta contributed to this report.

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Prince William criticizes space tourism race, says focus should be on saving Earth

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(LONDON) -- As Prince William prepares to deliver his Earthshot Prize to people saving the planet, he aimed some criticism at billionaires sending people to space.

"We need some of the world's greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live," William, 39, said in a new BBC interview, referring to the current race for space tourism led by billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. "I think that ultimately is what sold it for me -- that really is quite crucial to be focusing on this [planet] rather than giving up and heading out into space to try and think of solutions for the future."

William's comments came just one day after actor William Shatner took a successful 10-minute trip to space on Blue Origin's New Shepard.

"Everybody in the world needs to do this," Shatner told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after he touched down in Texas Wednesday.

William said he has "absolutely no interest" in going to space and questioned the carbon cost of flights to space, according to the BBC.

On Sunday, William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, will attend the first Earthshot Awards, where five winners working to repair the planet will receive $1 million in funding.

William launched the Earthshot Prize, modeled after former U.S. President John F. Kennedy's famous moonshot challenge, last October.

Five winners will each receive $1 million each year until 2030. The goal is to create "at least 50 solutions to the world’s greatest environmental problems by 2030," Kensington Palace said about William's $50 million initiative.

William and Kate are the parents of three children, Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte.

William spoke to the BBC about how his kids motivate his work on the environment.

"I want the things that I’ve enjoyed -- the outdoor life, nature, the environment -- I want that to be there for my children, and not just my children but everyone else’s children," he said. "If we’re not careful we’re robbing from our children’s future through what we do now."

William also described his fear that Prince George, 8, the third in line to the throne, may still be talking about climate change 30 years from now, when it "will be too late."

"It shouldn't be that there's a third generation now coming along having to ramp it up even more," said William, whose father, Prince Charles, has made addressing climate change a priority of his work. "And you know, for me, it would be an absolute disaster if George is sat here talking to you or your successor, Adam [Fleming, of the BBC], you know in like 30 years’ time, whatever, still saying the same thing, because by then we will be too late."

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US pushes diplomacy, prepares sanctions as Ethiopia launches new offensive in brutal war, risking famine

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(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly a month after President Joe Biden created a new U.S. sanctions authority and threatened to impose economic penalties on Ethiopian leaders unless they halted a conflict in the country's northern province, that war is now escalating.

The worsening fighting puts millions of lives at risk amid reports of famine-like conditions already faced by up to 900,000 people and severe food insecurity impacting 6 to 7 million, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. announced Tuesday it is providing $26 million more humanitarian aid, but that will do little to stop the suffering as of now. Aid convoys into the Tigray region have been blocked and attacked throughout the conflict, with a particularly brutal blockade by the Ethiopian government for nearly 110 days now keeping resources like food, fuel and medicine out.

"Looking forward, it's pretty dark and pretty bleak without a significant change either politically or militarily -- I hate to say that, but the status quo really cannot continue. The famine is only going to start taking more lives at an accelerated pace," said David Del Conte, the former deputy director for Ethiopia at the United Nations' humanitarian agency.

Spurred by warnings like that, the U.S. seemed to kick diplomacy into a higher gear this week, too. The U.S. hosted a summit of high-level donor countries to urge humanitarian access and a halt to fighting -- openly weighing the possibility of a humanitarian airlift. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also met with the African Union's envoy trying to negotiate a ceasefire.

But once again, it is all seems to be falling on deaf ears on the ground. In the last week, the Ethiopian government launched a new major military offensive against Tigrayan forces, the country's former longtime ruling party that has been at war with the federal government since last November.

Every side in this nearly one-year-old conflict has been accused of atrocities, in some instances documented in great detail by monitors like Amnesty International and media outlets. Blinken has said the U.S. has seen reports of "ethnic cleansing" -- but increasingly, reports from the region are hard to come by because the Ethiopian government has cut cell phone and internet communications.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday the U.S. was aware of the reported offensive, adding, "Escalating fighting undermines critical efforts to keep civilians safe and the ability of international actors to deliver humanitarian relief to all those in need, and we know there are too many in need."

The Biden administration is "considering the full range of tools," including using those economic sanctions that Biden authorized last month, Price added. One source familiar with the administration's plans said those sanctions are being prepared, although Price declined to preview any announcement Tuesday.

But it's unclear what, if any, effect that will have on Ethiopian officials, up to and including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. His government declared a ceasefire in June as its military and aligned forces retreated from Tigray and Tigrayan troops retook territory. But fighting has continued, including Tigrayan offensives into neighboring regions like Amhara and Afar -- each side defying threats of sanctions from the U.S., European Union and others.

"From Abiy's perspective, this fight is existential, at least politically for him, so the idea that these sanctions are going to make him turn on a dime and reevaluate the nature of the campaign is unlikely," said Hardin Lang, vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International, an advocacy group. But, he added, it is an important "tool" that could "erode support of those around Abiy."

Abiy's blockade has created shortages of food, fuel, medicines and medical supplies, and cash in Tigray, while continued fighting threatens to heighten humanitarian crises in neighboring regions. The United Nations, aid groups and other countries, including the U.S., have increasingly sounded the alarm about the risk of a massive famine in Tigray and beyond, especially now in Amhara and Afar.

In total, more than 2 million people have fled their homes, and some 48,000 have fled across the border into neighboring Sudan as refugees, according to U.S. officials.

In response to those warnings, however, the Ethiopian government expelled U.N. officials from the country two weeks ago -- sparking more international condemnation. Ethiopia's ambassador to the U.N. accused those officials last Wednesday of falsifying data -- prompting a striking rebuttal from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Already, there are reports of people starving to death. USAID Administrator Samantha Power said today that people are going multiple days without food, left to eat leaves.

"Innocent Ethiopian lives depend upon the government of Ethiopia immediately reestablishing communications, banking and other vital services within Tigray, and fully restoring transport corridors and air linkages to Tigray," said Power, who convened Tuesday's high-level meeting of G7 countries and other major donor countries.

The countries discussed the "possibility of augmenting road operations -- which are failing to meet urgent humanitarian needs due to government obstruction -- by expanding air operations to deliver relief supplies directly to the region," she added in her statement.

That kind of airlift would still require the Ethiopian government's permission, however, and would be far less effective at bringing in supplies than convoys of trucks, according to Del Conte. One cargo aircraft would cost more than up to 100 trucks in a convoy, he said, while feeding only about as much aid as what one double-trailer truck could carry.

In addition to Power's summit, Blinken held his own high-level meetings Tuesday on Ethiopia. He met one-on-one first with the African Union's Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president now serving as special envoy for the Horn of Africa -- before they joined Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who heads the regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, along with the EU and UK's top diplomats and senior diplomats from Germany and France.

Together, they discussed the conflict and agreed to urge "the parties to the conflict to immediately end abuses, to enter into negotiations toward a ceasefire, and to lay the foundation for a broader and inclusive dialogue to restore peace in Ethiopia and preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state," Price told reporters during a briefing.

But with this new offensive, it seems clear Abiy has no interest in a dialogue -- instead hoping a communications blackout means the world will not pay attention.

"The government in Addis has shown remarkable commitment to a military solution to the conflict," said Del Conte, now the leader of Refugees International's Stop Tigray Famine campaign. "What we see out of northern Ethiopia is going to be dramatic and significant. ... I'm deeply concerned at the unwillingness to change directions in any way."

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Five dead, two injured in random bow and arrow attack in Norway

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(KONGSBERG, Norway) -- Five people were killed and two others injured in an apparently random attack in Kongsberg, Norway, late Wednesday as a man roamed the city shooting people with a bow and arrow.

Authorities said the man was taken into custody in the city center and is currently being held in the nearby city of Drammen.

Police are not searching for any other suspects.

"Based on the information we have at the present time; the apprehended man has acted alone. We will also have to look at whether this is an act of terror or not," Øyvind Aas, the city's assistant chief of police, said in a statement. "The suspect has not yet been questioned by the police, and it is therefore too early to say anything about his motivation for his actions."

The suspect was identified as a 37-year-old man who lived in Kongsberg, but is a Danish citizen. He has been charged in the crime, police said.

Kongsberg is located about an hour southwest of Oslo.

Police said the man was spotted walking around the city shooting at random around 6:30 p.m. local time and was taken into custody about 20 minutes later. Photos from the city showed arrows stuck in walls of buildings.

One of those who was injured was an off-duty police officer, authorities said.

"There has been, and there still is a major police activity in the area," Aas said. "The reason for this is that the suspect has moved over a large area, and we are now working on securing evidence and get as much information about the incident as we can."

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said, "We are aware of today's attack and extend our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families."

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US investigating reported cases of 'Havana syndrome' in Colombia ahead of Blinken visit

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(BOGOTA, Colombia) -- A "few" U.S. personnel at the embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, have reported symptoms consistent with "Havana syndrome," a source familiar with the cases confirmed to ABC News.

Colombia is now the latest country where American officials have reported incidents of the mysterious neurological affliction that has confounded the U.S. government for years now, but the reports are particularly notable because Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Bogotá this month, the Colombian Foreign Ministry announced last week.

In a similar episode in August, Vice President Kamala Harris's trip to Vietnam was delayed for a few hours after an unconfirmed case of "Havana syndrome" was reported by a staffer at the U.S. mission there.

American diplomats, spies and other officials have reported strange experiences and debilitating symptoms in several countries now, starting with Cuba in late 2016 and expanding to China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Germany, Austria and elsewhere.

Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, cognitive difficulties, tinnitus, vertigo and trouble with seeing, hearing or balancing. Many officials have suffered symptoms years after reporting an incident, while some have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

It's unclear how many U.S. officials have confirmed medical symptoms.

Leadership at the U.S. embassy in Bogotá informed staff of the reported incidents, saying they are investigating the cases and addressing them "seriously, with objectivity and with sensitivity," according to an email from Ambassador Philip Goldberg obtained by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. The source confirmed to ABC News that Goldberg has been in communication with staff, but declined to share the emails.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to comment on the report Tuesday during a department briefing, saying instead the agency is working to ensure all affected personnel get "the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes" and to protect its work force around the world.

Pressed on why the administration wasn't being more forthcoming, Price said officials had to respect personnel privacy, adding, "It's certainly not the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press -- we're speaking to our workforce."

Price also declined to confirm that Blinken is traveling to Colombia. Colombia's Foreign Ministry announced he would visit for a high-level dialogue on Oct. 20 with Foreign Minister and First Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez after the two met last week in Paris on the sidelines of the summit of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

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Nobel Prize Foundation under fire for rejecting ethnic, gender quotas

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(LONDON) -- The Nobel Prize Foundation is facing pushback after saying it would not implement gender or ethnicity quotas in selecting nominees. Only 59 women, or 6.2% of total winners, have ever received a Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901.

Göran Hansson, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and vice chairman of the board of directors for the Nobel Foundation, told the AFP in an interview published on Tuesday: “We have decided we will not have quotas for gender or ethnicity. We want every laureate [to] be accepted ... because they made the most important discovery, and not because of gender or ethnicity. And that is in line with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will.”

UN Women, the UN branch dedicated to promoting gender equality around the world, criticized Hansson, saying in a statement, “Unfortunately, the underrepresentation of women Nobel laureates over the years is just another indicator of the slow progress on gender equality.”

Historically, women have been underrepresented in the scientific categories. Only 23 women have ever won Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics and chemistry.

Over the years, the Nobel Foundation has put in place some measures to increase the representation of female scientists in the nomination process. In a 2019 interview with Nature, Hansson explained that the committee asked nominators to consider diversity of gender, geography and topic when proposing candidates. The committee also tried to increase the number of female nominators, raise nominations for up to three different discoveries and even submit several names for the same award.

“It’s sad that there are so few women Nobel laureates and it reflects the unfair conditions in society, particularly in years past but still existing. And there’s so much more to do,” Hanson said in 2019.

But since those remarks were made, Maria Ressa, the journalist who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Dimitri Mouratov, is the only female winner in all categories.

Tennis player and gender equality advocate Billie Jean King spoke out on social media to denounce the decision, saying, “Women’s accomplishments are routinely erased from the history books in which they belong. Gender equality is something we all must work toward, today & every day.”

 

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Shipwreck off Colombian coast kills three migrants, six are still missing

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(CABO TIBURON, Colombia) -- Three people are dead and six are still missing after a ship sank in Cabo Tiburon, Colombia.

Units of the Colombian Navy in coordination with Panamanian authorities are carrying out the search and rescue operation of the passengers who were transported in a ship that was wrecked in the general area of ​​Cabo Tiburon, in the municipality of Acandí, the Navy said.

The vessel was sailing with approximately 30 migrants, including Haitian, Cuban and Venezuelan citizens, they said.

The Colombian Navy said 21 people have been rescued, and the bodies of three dead women have been found. Two were Haitian and one was Cuban.

The Navy, with the support of the Panamanian authorities and fishermen in the region, continues the search and rescue of six missing migrants -- three adults and three minors -- who were on board the boat that would have set sail from a clandestine point near Necoclí.

It's unclear what caused the incident.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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Afghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 evacuated from Afghanistan

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(WASHINGTON) — An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue then Sen. Joe Biden during a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan in 2008 has been evacuated from the country, the State Department and the nonprofit that coordinated his travel confirmed to ABC News on Monday.

The interpreter and his family were among more than 200 "at-risk" people in Pakistan who have now been moved "to safety," the Human First Coalition said in a statement.

The organization, comprised of volunteers efforting evacuations, thanked Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the State Department for their help facilitating their travel. It said Blinken held late-night phone calls and helped coordinate a "path" out of Pakistan for the group. It also thanked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for welcoming the evacuees after they first got out of Afghanistan.

During his 2008 visit to Afghanistan, a helicopter carrying Biden, along with then-Sens. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, made an emergency landing because of a snowstorm. A group of U.S. service members and their Afghan partners helped rescue them over land, including a man identified as Aman Khalili by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported his story.

After Biden ended the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and withdrew all troops and personnel in August, Khalili pleaded for help getting out -- sharing this message for Biden with ABC News: "Please do not forget me and my family. Please find a way to get me out."

In a statement to ABC News on Monday, the State Department also confirmed Khalili and his family had successfully been evacuated from Afghanistan and had "initiated onward travel from Pakistan."

"They did so with extensive and high-level engagement and support from the U.S. government, and we are grateful for the many others who also supported him along the way," a spokesperson from the Department of State told ABC News.

Khalili was one of thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. military and diplomatic mission, but had not been able to get a Special Immigrant Visa for their service. It's unclear whether he was granted a visa now and where he and his family are headed.

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Human-inducted climate change may affect 85% of the global population, researchers say

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(NEW YORK) — Scientists are beginning to paint a clearer picture on just how many people will be affected by climate change if current warming trends continue.

About 85% of the world's population already lives in areas experiencing the affects of human-induced climate change, according to a study published in Nature on Tuesday.

Researchers in Berlin compiled data from more than 100,000 impact studies analyzing detectable environmental signals of human-inducted climate change, finding that the evidence for how climate change is impacting communities is continuing to grow.

"In almost every study where we have enough data, we can see, [the world] is getting hotter, and it's getting hotter in a way that is consistent," Max Callaghan, a researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin and one of the authors of the study, told ABC News.

The research also looked at how rising temperatures change precipitation patterns and affect crop yields and local ecosystems, and it found that human-attributable changes in temperature and precipitation are now occurring in 80% of the world's land area, where about 85% of the global population resides, Callaghan said.

The impacts will be felt the strongest in the least developed countries, but little is known about exactly what those effects will look like, he added, describing the lack of data as an "attribution gap" that needs to be filled.

"In high income countries, almost all of those people live in an area where there is also lots of evidence about how that warming trend affects other systems," he said. "But in low income countries... there is little evidence about how that warming trend is affecting other things."

The new research is allowing scientists to attribute with near-certainty that global temperatures are increasing because of human influence on the planet, Callaghan said. While previous studies often focus on possible scenarios by 2050 or 2100, it is clear that climate change is "already happening."

Countries will need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near future to mitigate the extremity of pending disasters, the researchers said.

"As long as we continue burning fossil fuels, things will get worse," Callaghan said. "Until we reach net-zero, things will continue to get worse."

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Afghanistan updates: US, Taliban hold first direct talks since withdrawal

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(WASHINGTON) -- It's been more than a month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden's order to leave by Aug. 31, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized control of the country.

In testimony to Congress last month, their first since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted that they had recommended to Biden that the U.S. should keep a troop presence there, appearing to contradict his assertions to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Oct 11, 11:55 am
7th Qatari evacuation flight takes off from Kabul

Another Qatari evacuation flight took off from Kabul and has landed in Doha, according to Qatari officials, the seventh and largest evacuation flight to Qatar since U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

"The flight carried 301 passengers, constituting the largest Qatari passenger evacuation flight since 31 August. Passengers onboard included Afghan citizens, Afghan MPs, UN affiliates, journalists as well as citizens from countries including the United States, Netherlands, Australia, France and Japan," said a senior Qatari government official in a statement.

The passengers who arrived on Monday will be transported to a compound facility already hosting Afghan civilians and other evacuees before departing to their final destinations.

"The State of Qatar will continue to work with international partners on efforts that ensure freedom of movement in Afghanistan, including through serving as an active mediator between various parties. We remain focused on providing humanitarian aid to the country and are dedicated to promoting a stable and peaceful Afghanistan moving forward," the statement said.

Oct 11, 10:26 am
US, Taliban hold first talks since withdrawal

While it appears the U.S. government has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as it nears economic disaster, it did not signal formal recognition of the Taliban as the country's new rulers following weekend talks in Doha, Qatar.

These were the first direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban since the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of August.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the talks "candid and professional" and said the U.S. delegation reiterated to the Taliban they will be judged on their actions, not only their words.

"The U.S. delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society. The two sides also discussed the United States’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people," Price said in a statement.

No date has been set for the resumption of talks that took place in Doha on Saturday and Sunday.

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Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov win 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

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(OSLO, Norway) -- Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is responsible for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize recipients each year, decided to award this year's prize to both Ressa, of the Philippines, and Muratov, of Russia, "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."

Along with the notoriety, they will receive gold medals and share a cash award of 10 million Swedish krona, or about $1.14 million.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Ressa and Muratov for being "representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions."

"Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines," the committee said in a statement Friday. "Dmitry Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions."

Ressa, 58, co-founded the Philippines-based online news site Rappler in 2012. As a journalist and Rappler's CEO, she "has focused critical attention" on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial policies, including his "murderous anti-drug campaign," according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

"The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population," the committee said. "Ms. Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse."

Ressa has been the target of multiple arrests and an online hate campaign after publishing articles critical of the Duterte regime. She was named a 2018 Person of the Year by TIME magazine.

In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in 2019, Lebanese-British human rights lawyer Amal Clooney described Ressa, her client, as "a Filipino journalist who stands at 5 foot 2 but stands taller than so many of us in her courage and personal sacrifice for the cause of telling the truth."

Muratov, 59, co-founded the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993. He has been the paper's editor-in-chief since 1995. Novaya Gazeta, with Muratov at its helm, "is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power," according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

"The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media," the committee said. "Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and 'troll factories' to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia."

For years, Novaya Gazeta has been one of the few national news publications in Russia to report critically on Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducting in-depth and dangerous investigations into the regime's alleged human rights abuses and corruption. In 2007, Muratov won an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists for his work as the "driving force" behind Novaya Gazeta.

Both Muratov and his Novaya Gazeta are seen as bastions of Russia's besieged free press. Since the newspaper's founding, six of its journalists have been killed, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Putin's birthday in 2006. Novaya Gazeta's journalists continue to receive threats for their coverage.

"Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper's independent policy," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. "He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov congratulated Muratov on winning the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

"He has consistently worked in accordance with his ideals, he has adhered to his ideals, he is talented and brave," Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Friday. "It's a high appraisal and we congratulate him."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said freedom of expression and freedom of information are "crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict," and that the award of the prestigious prize this year to Ressa and Muratov "is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights."

"Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda," the committee added. "Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time."

Members of the press have been Nobel Peace Prize recipients since as early as 1907, when Italian journalist Ernesto Teodoro Moneta won "for his work in the press and in peace meetings, both public and private, for an understanding between France and Italy." The prize that year was also given to French jurist Louis Renault "for his decisive influence upon the conduct and outcome of the Hague and Geneva Conferences."

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Program, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, "for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict."

Peace was the fifth and final prize category that Swedish inventor and scholar Alfred Nobel mentioned in his last will and testament. He left most of his fortune to be dedicated to the series of awards, the Nobel Prizes.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses," as described in Nobel's will.

All Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, except for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is presented in Oslo, Norway.

To date, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate is Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 years old when awarded the 2014 Peace Prize. Of the 107 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, just 17 are women.

Only one person has declined the Nobel Peace Prize: Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho, who was awarded the prize in 1973 with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for negotiating the Vietnam peace agreement.

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Maskless and unvaccinated, millions of pupils have returned to English schools

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(LONDON) -- As the debate on masking in classrooms rages in the U.S, England, as with its risky move to fully reopen society in July, is chartering its own course. Despite competing scientific advice, in September millions of mostly unvaccinated children returned to school -- with new government guidance. Masks, in the English classroom, are no longer recommended.

Part of the calculation stems from the success of the U.K.'s vaccination program -- and the belief that parents who could potentially catch the virus from their children are mostly protected from two doses, which has led to criticism from some scientists.

More than 45 million people in the U.K. have received two doses of coronavirus vaccines, which amounts to 82.5% of the population over 16, according to government data.

Children aged 12 to 17 are now eligible for a first shot of the vaccine, and all people above 18 are encouraged to get both shots.

Since July, the weekly average of daily coronavirus cases has not fallen below 20,000. However, that has not been as bad as early predictions -- Health Secretary Sajid Javid previously warned that with a full reopening cases could reach 100,000 a day, heights which have not been reached. Deaths have risen too, but the success of the vaccination rollout has prevented a return to the worst days of the pandemic, with 8,627 deaths recorded between July 1 and Oct. 1.

Yet with cases remaining high, parents have expressed concern about their children returning to school.

According to the most recent government guidance,: "As COVID-19 becomes a virus that we learn to live with, there is now an imperative to reduce the disruption to children and young people's education - particularly given that the direct clinical risks to children are extremely low." Pupils who test positive are still expected to self-isolate, but face coverings are not advised, as with other public spaces, with the emphasis instead on improved ventilation and hygiene.

However the government has not ruled out a reversal on this guidance in the case of increased outbreaks in schools. Asked by Sky News on Thursday if some of the contingency plans in case of outbreaks would include a return to mask mandates, the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, said he was considering a range of options including masking.

The risk of death in unvaccinated children, according to the U.K. government's vaccine surveillance reports, remains very low. In one study published in July by researchers from University College London, and the Universities of Liverpool, Bristol and York during the first 12 months of the pandemic, 25 under 18-year-olds died from COVID in England, which amounts to a mortality risk of 2 in a million.

However, a study in the U.S. found that masking in classrooms significantly decreases the risk of COVID outbreaks.

Experts across the U.K. disagree even on the effectiveness of masks to protect kids from getting the virus. Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, recently told BBC Radio 4 that ventilation was in fact the best measure to prevent infection.

"If I had to invest in a single activity to improve the environment both for the children and the adults, I'd be looking at improving the ventilation... improving air exchanges," he said, adding "that would be a much more effective way to reduce transmission in schools."

Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, told ABC News that too little is known about the long-term risks in children to allow high exposure to schools in COVID, and that the government's laissez-faire approach has been "reckless."

"These sort of policies are essentially fueling transmission in the name of reducing education disruption and in fact making that education disruption worse," Gurdasani said.

Many schools have continued to encourage mask-wearing, she said, despite the central policy that they are now compulsory.

"The measures are so basic and simple," Gurdasani said, adding, "it's extremely important to keep schools open. But if you want to keep them open, you cannot be anti-mitigation and anti-vaccine because that is the only way to keep them open."

Although 99.9% of U.K. state-funded schools are now open, recent reports suggest more students have missed school for COVID-related reasons in September.

Just over 2% of pupils -- 186,000 students -- across all state-funded schools were out of school on Sept. 30 because of suspected or confirmed COVID infections, according to government data.

"We have to make our own risk assessment as parents or grandparents and we have to decide if we are comfortable with our children going to school and if we're not why are we not," said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "And if it's because of the fear of getting infected ourselves, then we should get vaccinated. If it's a fear about children not wanting to wear a mask, then we should find out whether children really do or don't want to wear a mask."

According to the information currently available, Heymann said, there appears to be greater risks in areas like nightclubs, which are now fully open in the U.K., but more data is needed on transmission in schools.

"The best way to be evaluating this is to look at children in school and their families, and if you could test students once a week and test their parents once a week and see if there is any increased transmission in them as compared to the general community," he said. "Now there's lots of ways of doing this, it's just that we are so early on, it's only 18 months and we don't have all the data we need because of the lockdown of last year."

 

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