June 24, 2024

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First Thing: Ukraine repelling intense Russian offensive in east | US news

Good morning.

Russia has increased the intensity of its eastern offensive but has been repeatedly repelled by Ukrainian forces, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said, as western governments pledged to send more artillery, and a new deadline for surrender in Mariupol approached.

The MoD said late on Tuesday that shelling and strikes were increasing over the line of control in Donbas but that Russian forces continued to be hampered by logistical and technological problems. It also noted an “inability to stamp out resistance” in Mariupol as a sign of failure to achieve Moscow’s objectives.

The Russian defence ministry has said it will offer the besieged port city a ceasefire today to allow Ukrainian defenders holed up in the Azovstal steelworks to lay down their arms. About 1,000 civilians are reportedly hiding in underground shelters beneath the steel plant in Mariupol, according to the city council. Most of the civilians are believed to be women with children and elderly people.

  • How are Ukrainian troops faring in Mariupol? A commander for the Ukrainian marines in Mariupol said his forces were “maybe facing our last days, if not hours” and appealed for extraction, in a Facebook post published early this morning.

  • What is happening with the diplomatic effort? Western nations are preparing to stage coordinated walkouts and other diplomatic snubs in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Washington. Janet Yellen, the US treasury secretary, is planning to avoid sessions attended by Russian officials.

  • What else is happening? Here’s what we know on day 56 of the invasion.

January 6 ‘was a coup organized by the president’, says Jamie Raskin

The US Capitol building is stormed by a pro-Trump mob on 6 January 2021
The panel’s hearings will demonstrate to the American public the actions Trump and allies took to overturn the election result. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Donald Trump attempted a coup on 6 January 2021 as he tried to salvage his doomed presidency, and that will be a central focus of forthcoming public hearings of the special House panel investigating events surrounding the insurrection at the US Capitol, the congressman Jamie Raskin has said.

Raskin is a prominent Democrat on the committee and also led the House efforts when Trump was impeached for a historic second time, in 2021, accused of inciting the storming of the US Capitol by his extremist supporters who were trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

“This was a coup organized by the president against the vice-president and against the Congress in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” Raskin said in an interview with the Guardian, Reuters news agency and the Climate One radio program.

Public hearings by the bipartisan special committee investigating January 6 and related actions by Trump and his White House team and other allies, chaired by the Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, are expected next month.

Texas advocates file new legal challenge to near total abortion ban

Reproductive rights advocates in Rio Grande City, Texas
Reproductive rights advocates in Rio Grande City, Texas, earlier this month. Photograph: Jason Garza/Reuters

Reproductive rights advocates in Texas have filed a new legal challenge to halt a near total abortion ban that has been in effect for more than half a year.

Senate bill 8 bars abortion once embryonic cardiac activity is detected – typically as early as six week of pregnancy, which is before most people are aware they are pregnant – and offers no exception for rape or incest. The lawsuit, filed yesterday, asks a federal court to rule the extreme law unconstitutional. It cites public threats and legal action from anti-abortion activists against Texas abortion funds, groups that have been instrumental in helping patients travel out of state for care, arguing that this conduct has chilled their first amendment rights.

“Plaintiffs urgently need this court to stop Texas’s brazen defiance of the rule of law, uphold the federal constitutional rights of pregnant Texans, and restore the ability of abortion funds and their donors, employees and volunteers to fully serve Texas abortion patients,” the federal court filing reads.

  • Wendy Davis, a former Texas senator who famously led an 11-hour filibuster against an anti-abortion bill in 2013, said: “We are asking the courts today to stop the unconstitutional harassment of abortion funds by confirming SB 8 cannot be used to silence donors with bogus threats.”

In other news …

Prince Harry speaking to NBC’s Today Show
Prince Harry speaking to NBC’s Today Show. Photograph: NBC
  • Prince Harry has said the Queen was “on great form” during their recent meeting, and he wanted to make sure she had “the right people around her”. Speaking to NBC about his meeting with the monarch, Harry said: “Being with her it was great, it was just so nice to see her, she’s on great form.”

  • In a 59-page opinion on Monday, the US district judge Kathryn Mizelle of Tampa, Florida, overturned the federal requirement that people wear masks on planes and public transportation. She has become an instant heroine of the Republican right hailed for “courage” and “common sense”.

  • The Fantastic Beasts star Ezra Miller has been arrested on suspicion of assault in Hawaii. Miller already faces charges of harassment and disorderly conduct after an incident last month at a karaoke bar on the island.

  • A growing number of cities and states have restricted the information that local law enforcement departments can exchange with immigration authorities. But new documents reveal that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) has tapped private technology companies to skirt such sanctuary policies.

  • Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in 10 years at the start of the year and said it expects to lose even more in the spring, sending its share price crashing again yesterday. The streaming giant’s share price initially fell close to 20% on news that ​​it had lost 200,000 subscribers globally during the first quarter.

Stat of the day: most workers at large retail and food firms get less than $15 an hour – study

Fast-food workers drive though a McDonald’s restaurant demanding a for a $15 hourly minimum wage in east Los Angeles
Fast-food workers drive though a McDonald’s restaurant demanding a for a $15 hourly minimum wage in east Los Angeles last year. Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP

Some of the largest, most profitable companies in retail and food services are still paying most of their workers less than $15 an hour, and many staff still make less than $10 an hour, according to a company wage tracker developed by the Economic Policy Institute and the Shift Project. According to a 2021 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a worker needs to make at least $20.40 an hour to afford the rent of the average one-bedroom apartment in the US.

Don’t miss this: the family who endured two true crime stories

Boy watching static on TV
The Stayner family, whose devastating tragedies were both exploited by the media, get their chance to talk in a new docuseries. Photograph: Gaia Moments/Alamy

Ashley Stayner is a self-professed true crime fan. She also happens to have had a front-row seat to two true crime narratives in her own family, writes Radheyan Simonpillai. Her father is the abduction victim turned hero Steven Stayner, the subject of the two-part television movie I Know My First Name is Steven, which aired in 1989. Her uncle is Carey Stayner, the serial killer sitting on death row for the Yosemite murders, which have been covered on numerous true crime programs such as American Justice, FBI: Criminal Pursuit and more.

Climate check: Biden launches $6bn effort to save America’s distressed nuclear plants

Indian Point in New York
Indian Point in New York, which was shuttered last year. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

The Biden administration is launching a $6bn effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing, citing the need to retain nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power that helps to combat climate change. “US nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” said the energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm. “We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035.”

Last Thing: humpback whale turns on orca pod in rare encounter

A pod of orcas swim in the Salish Sea
A pod of orcas swim in the Salish Sea. Tourists in a whale-watching boat witnessed the encounter between orcas and a humpback known as Valiant. Photograph: Scott Anderson/Alamy

An aggressive humpback whale appeared to turn the tables on a pod of orcas off the Canadian coast, stalking and then ambushing the group that more usually would have been attacking it. The rare occurrence took place in the Salish Sea between British Columbia and Washington state and was witnessed by tourists on a whale-watching trip. “There’s something happening in front of us that hasn’t been seen before,” Olivia Esqueda told CHEK News. “It’s hard not to just kind of be like a kid at Disney World.”

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