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Apple, Google remove opposition app as Russian voting begins

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Apple, Google remove opposition app as Russian voting begins

MOSCOW — Facing Kremlin pressure, Apple and Google on Friday removed an opposition-created smartphone app that tells voters which candidates are likely to defeat those backed by Russian authorities, as polls opened for three days of balloting in Russia’s parliamentary election.

Unexpectedly long lines formed at some polling places, and independent media suggested this could show that state institutions and companies were forcing employees to vote. The election is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of the 2024 presidential polls, in which control of the State Duma, or parliament, will be key.

Russian authorities have sought to suppress the use of Smart Voting, a strategy designed by imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, to curb the dominance of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party.

Apple and Google have come under pressure in recent weeks, with Russian officials telling them to remove the Smart Voting app from their online stores. Failure to do so will be interpreted as interference in the election and make them subject to fines, the officials said.

Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan over the issue.

On Thursday, representatives of Apple and Google were invited to a meeting in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council. The Council’s commission on protecting state sovereignty said in a statement afterward that Apple agreed to cooperate with Russian authorities.

Apple and Google did not respond Friday to a request from The Associated Press for comment.

Google was forced to remove the app because it faced legal demands by regulators and threats of criminal prosecution in Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who also said Russian police visited Google’s Moscow offices Monday to enforce a court order to block the app. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday the presidential administration “definitely, of course” welcomes the companies’ decision, because the app was “outside the law” in Russia.

In recent months, authorities have unleashed a sweeping crackdown against Navalny’s allies and engaged in a massive effort to suppress Smart Voting.

Navalny is serving a 2½-year prison sentence for violating parole over a previous conviction he says is politically motivated. His top allies were slapped with criminal charges and many have left the country. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of regional offices have been outlawed as extremist organizations in a ruling that exposes hundreds of people associated with them to prosecution.

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Controversial St. Louis County mask mandate back in court today

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Controversial St. Louis County mask mandate back in court today

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The controversial St. Louis County mask mandate will be back in court Thursday morning for more debate.

Lawyers for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt will square off with attorneys from St. Louis County before Judge Ellen “Nellie” Ribaudo.

Schmitt filed a lawsuit alleging that the second St. Louis County mask mandate announced by County Executive Dr. Sam Page in late September violates state law. A spokesperson for Schmitt said he wants a preliminary injunction to officially stop the mandate.

The last hearing in this case happened not long after the Cole County court ruling by Judge Daniel Green. That decision says COVID-19 health orders issued by local health authorities are unconstitutional and that all existing health orders are null and void. The St. Louis County case was continued until Thursday so attorneys could review Green’s ruling.

Now, attorneys for Schmitt could come with more legal ammunition after Schmitt sent letters Tuesday to school districts and public health agencies across Missouri saying they must rescind and stop enforcing health orders like mask mandates because of Green’s decision. On Wednesday, Schmitt reached out directly to Missouri parents for help in identifying school districts that are continuing to enforce COVID-19 health orders in violation of the Cole County ruling. Schmitt wanted families to reach out to his office with information.

It’s unclear if Judge Ribaudo will make any final rulings Thursday. The hearing is set for 8:30 a.m.

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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic explains dominance vs. Pelicans: “I just did a lot of spins”

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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic explains dominance vs. Pelicans: “I just did a lot of spins”

NEW ORLEANS – Nikola Jokic picked the Pelicans apart like it was NBA2K.

Though Jokic copped to playing the wildly popular NBA game, the reigning MVP said he never plays as himself.

“Anybody else,” he said with a grin after dropping 39 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Wednesday’s dramatic overtime win over New Orleans.

Jokic served up 11 points in overtime, seizing complete control of the game and overwhelming his counterpart, Jonas Valanciunas, on numerous occasions. Among his tricks, Jokic drained floaters, finished put-backs, buried open jumpers, baited defenders and deked his opponents into the ground.

“He’s just the best big,” said JaMychal Green. “He really is. He’s so skilled. It’s just crazy.”

When pushed to describe that skill, Green hammered the point in virtual terms.

“Man, I feel like 2K gotta add him in 99 everything,” Green said.

Late in the fourth quarter, Jokic pulled off a double spin move to free himself from Valanciunas’ strength and length. The deft bucket gave the Nuggets a temporary 105-103 lead before Valanciunas’ put-back tied it once again.

“What spin move?” Jokic said. “… I just did a lot of spins.”

Never one to reveal his secrets, Jokic had little to say when asked how he processes opposing defenses and decides which vulnerability to attack.

“I don’t want to tell you that,” he said wryly.

At least Green would. The veteran big – whom Jokic adores for his energy and toughness – cited a play late in the fourth quarter where Jokic flattened out their offensive set, ran a pick-and-roll and went to work. Jokic reads opposing defenses like Broncos legend Peyton Manning, only his audibles come during live sets.

“He knows what’s coming,” Green said.

As do opposing defenses, yet they seem to have little or no chance of stopping it. Nuggets coach Michael Malone left no room for interpretation when asked about their fourth-quarter offense.

“When the game is on the line, when we need a basket, the ball is going to go to him,” Malone said. “It’s no longer going to be that equal-opportunity offense.”

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Column: Justin Fields is set to return against the Green Bay Packers — and the rookie quarterback is in search of a little respect for the Chicago Bears

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Column: Justin Fields is set to return after missing 2 games with cracked ribs — and the Chicago Bears and their rookie quarterback are in search of a little respect

Justin Fields has the same vibe that most Chicago Bears fans have come to experience.

They’re not getting any respect.

The only thing the rookie quarterback and the Bears (4-8) can do to change the narrative is to win some of their five remaining games, beginning Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Lambeau Field.

Fields this week was medically cleared to return from three cracked ribs and will start against the Packers after being knocked out of the Nov. 21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and missing the next two games.

“I just think a lot of the times teams maybe don’t respect us or don’t give us credit,” Fields said. “I mean, you can’t blame them. We messed up sometimes in the games and we’ve pretty much messed up in a lot of games. … We’re going to attack every game like it’s our last game and we’re going to play through it all.”

The Bears are not getting much respect from the oddsmakers in Las Vegas as 12½-point underdogs, but that comes with the territory in this series. The Packers have won the last five meetings and 20 of the previous 23.

Maybe the Bears can sneak up on the Packers or other remaining opponents — the Minnesota Vikings (twice), New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. The Bears figure to be favored only against the Giants.

“It feels good,” Fields said. “I like being the underdog. It just gives me an extra chip on my shoulder. I like when people doubt me. That just gives me a little extra motivation. So I love it.”

Being an underdog is new for Fields — he was 20-2 as the starter at Ohio State — but it’s all part of his maturation process in the NFL. The most important thing: He was cleared, meaning the Bears do not believe he’s at risk for more serious injury.

Fields said he’s still not certain when the injury occurred against the Ravens and didn’t believe it was on his final play. He said he normally wears protective padding on his midsection and will do so against the Packers.

“I’m going to have to be smart this upcoming game with not taking as many hits as I usually do,” he said.

“There’s pain there, but I mean, the pain’s just not unbearable. I know there’s going to be pain there, but it is what it is. As long as it’s just not crazy pain where I can’t bear it, I’m going to play and practice.”

Fields threw for 174 yards and a touchdown with one interception and four sacks when the Packers defeated the Bears 24-14 on Oct. 17 at Soldier Field. That started a five-game losing streak, and the organization has been in turmoil since.

The best way to calm the storm, if only temporarily, would be to stun the Packers, and the only chance the Bears have of rolling off some victories in the stretch run is getting their offense rolling.

“We really feel like he was improving as the games went by for him individually, our team, our offense,” coach Matt Nagy said. “There are still places where we can certainly improve. As a staff, we felt like we were really getting a good feel for where he was, and then he gets injured. So then for him to come back against a big division opponent and rival, I know that he’s excited for it.”

Meanwhile, Nagy was cryptic when describing a left hand injury that kept Andy Dalton out of practice Wednesday. Nagy declined to say whether Dalton suffered a broken hand, which a source said was the fear. The team plans to evaluate Dalton’s pain tolerance and possible swelling to determine if he or Nick Foles will serve as the No. 2 quarterback in Green Bay.

The Bears hope two weeks on the sideline gave Fields a different perspective that allowed him to get a slightly better feel for what to expect from opposing defenses — and maybe small elements of situational football that he can apply while he searches for the consistency that has been missing for the offense.

“I think he’s just, like most young players, you sometimes have got to go through some ups and downs and navigate your way through that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “But he’s a very confident guy. He’s obviously very, very talented, not only as a thrower, but he’s got the added element that you can’t account for — his ability to make the off-schedule play.

“He’s more comfortable in what they’re doing. He’s a heck of a challenge to defend.”

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