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Canadians home after Huawei CFO resolves US charges

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Canadians home after Huawei CFO resolves US charges

By ROB GILLIES

TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged two Canadians who landed in Canada on Saturday following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap involving China, the U.S. and Canada.

Trudeau greeted Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their plane landed in Calgary, Alberta early Saturday. The men were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng on a U.S. extradition request. Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics.”

Live footage on CTV’s news network showed the two men being hugged by Trudeau on the tarmac in the early morning.

The two left China just after a top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies reached a deal with the U.S. Justice Department over fraud charges and flew from Canada to China.

The chain of events involving the global powers brought an abrupt end to legal and geopolitical wrangling that for the past three years has roiled relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa. The three-way deal enabled China and Canada to each bring home their own detained citizens while the U.S. wrapped up a criminal case against a prominent Chinese tech executive that for months had been mired in an extradition fight.

The first activity came Friday afternoon when Meng Wanzhou, 49, Huawei’s chief finance officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, reached an agreement with federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dismissed next year and allowed for her to return to China immediately. As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.

“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that,” Trudeau said a hastily called news conference late Friday night.

News of Meng’s pending return was a top item on the Chinese internet and on state broadcaster CCTV’s midday news report, with no mention made of the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reposted on social media a report on Meng having left Canada, adding “Welcome home.”

Video was also circulated online of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport, saying; “Thank you motherland, thank you to the people of the motherland. You have been my greatest pillar of support.”

The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to tamp down signs of public tension — even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights and trade and tariffs. Biden said in an address before the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week that he had no intention of starting a “new Cold War,” while Xi told world leaders that disputes among countries “need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation.”

“The U.S. Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision by People’s Republic of China authorities to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention. We are pleased that they are returning home to Canada,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

As part of the deal with Meng, which was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against her in December 2022 — exactly four years after her arrest — provided that she complies with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop its request that Meng be extradited to the U.S., which she had vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.

After appearing via videoconference for her New York hearing, Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where she’d been out on bail living in a multimillion-dollar mansion while the two Canadians were held in Chinese prison cells where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day.

Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience I caused.”

“Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and as a company executive. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”

Shortly afterward, Meng left on an Air China flight for Shenzhen, China, the location of Huawei’s headquarters.

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power — and a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns. Some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology.

The case against Meng stems from a January 2019 indictment from the Trump administration Justice Department that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The indictment also charged Meng herself with committing fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown against Huawei over U.S. government concerns that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese spying. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google’s music and other smartphone services, and later barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.

The Biden White House, meanwhile, has kept up a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese corporations whose technology is thought to pose national security risks.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and security concerns about its products.

Meng had long fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, with her lawyers calling the case against her flawed and alleging that she was being used as a “bargaining chip” in political gamesmanship. They cited a 2018 interview in which then-President Donald Trump said he’d be willing to intervene in the case if it would help secure a trade deal with China or aid U.S. security interests.

Last month, a Canadian judge held off on ruling whether Meng should be extradited to the U.S. after a Canadian Justice Department lawyer wrapped up his case saying there was enough evidence to show she was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the U.S.

Comfort Ero, the interim Vice President of the International Crisis Group, Kovrig’s employer, said they have been waiting for more than 1,000 days for the news.

“Michael Kovrig is free. To Beijing: We welcome this most just decision. To Ottawa: Thank you for your steadfast support for our colleague. To the United States: Thank you for your willingness to support an ally and our colleague. To the inimitable, indefatigable, and inspiring Michael Kovrig, welcome home!” Ero said in a statement.

____

Associated Press writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, Canada, contributed to this report.

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Celtics notebook: C’s at full strength, for a change

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Celtics notebook: C’s at full strength, for a change

Wednesday night’s game against Philadelphia kicked off a 12-game stretch that, peaking on Christmas in Milwaukee, promises to be the most contentious of the season.

Including a five-city western road trip that features stops in Utah, Portland, Los Angeles for the Lakers and Clippers, and Phoenix, every game will be against a playoff team.

That’s why Ime Udoka was at least momentarily appeased because, for only the sixth time in 21 games, he was able to put his full lineup on the floor against the Sixers. Now he can work on lessening the minutes load of players like Jayson Tatum and Al Horford — two Celtics, among others, who have probably played too many minutes.

“It’s a big part of it, especially with two back-to-backs on the West Coast trip,” he said of minutes management. “But we do get two days in between. As much as we’d like to shave minutes down of guys who have carried the load, it will be beneficial. In Rob (Williams‘) absence Enes (Kanter Freedom) has stepped up and that’s another guy we can rely on to shave some of those minutes down in certain situations. I feel good just to have some of the guys back, and seeing what Romeo (Langford) and some of the other young guys did as well, and feeling confident in any lineup or group we put out there. Any chance to help out with Jayson and anyone else who has carried the load, it will be beneficial for us going forward.

“We’ll still monitor Rob minute-wise with his wind,” the Celtics coach said of Rob Williams, who had missed six of the previous seven games to knee and illness concerns. “Obviously he’ll come out slow, same as we did with (Josh Richardson). Obviously (Richardson) played well so he went longer. But we have the full roster, the full complement of guys for the first time in awhile.”

Horford, for example, has averaged just under 29 minutes per game.

“He’s OK. He’s had some soreness at times, but when guys have been out he’s stepped up with some heavier minutes,” said Udoka. “It’s not ideal — we don’t want him to be the guy that takes on the brunt of minutes with Rob out. But Enes has been in there and done a good job as well. We’ve kind of done it tag-team-wise. Any chance to scale his minutes down, have less time out there, will be good going forward.”

Brown’s ramp-up

Jaylen Brown continues to experience a gradual increase in playing time as he continues to recover from a recurring hamstring strain.

“We’re still monitoring it. We’ve extended his stretches to eight-minute stretches now,” said Udoka. “Trying to cap it around the 32 number. He also has a leeway to go a little longer. Kind of went from 24 to 28, so we’ve gone from six, seven and now eight-minute stretches. But at the same time, he’s feeling much better and if need be, he’ll be out there longer if we have to and try to win a game.”

An old rivalry

Udoka, who spent a season on the Philadelphia bench during Brett Brown’s last season as head coach, got to view the Celtics/Sixers rivalry from the other side Wednesday night.

“Yeah, it’s a unique one that you don’t really realize until you’re in it,” he said. “Obviously, they swept us out of the playoffs a few years ago and just even before that, spending some time with Jayson, Jaylen, Marcus (Smart), Kemba (Walker) in China, they had talked about it, before realizing I was going to Philadelphia. So, made some jokes like we got mind control over Philly, and Philly said the same thing when I was there. It’s been something that is obviously pretty deep-seeded and has a lot of series over the last few years. It’s a unique one that’s not broadcast like the Celtics-Lakers one. But the teams are very competitive and a lot of guys have crossed paths with these two teams in light of it.” …

Udoka said he reached out to Joel Embiid, who has returned to action following a bout with COVID.

“Yeah, I just checked on him. Initially. He just checked back in when he was feeling better,” he said. “Obviously, somebody I got to spend a year with and a ton of time with before the bubble in Philadelphia with him. Got to know him a ton and consider him a friend and just happy he’s doing well.”

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

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WTA to AP: Loss of China events over Peng could go past ’22

By HOWARD FENDRICH

The suspension of all WTA tournaments in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault, could result in cancellations of those events beyond 2022, the head of the women’s professional tennis tour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“We’re hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn’t been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region,” WTA President and CEO Steve Simon said in a video call from California. “This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that’s about what’s right and wrong.”

He said the move to put a halt to the tour’s play in China, including Hong Kong, came with the backing of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors. It is the strongest public stand against China taken by a sports body — and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars.

Peng dropped out of public view after raising the allegations about former vice premier Zhang Gaoli in a Nov. 2 social media posting that was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities.

In the month since, Simon has made repeated calls for China to carry out an inquiry into the 35-year-old Peng’s accusations and to allow the WTA to communicate directly with the former No. 1-ranked doubles player and owner of titles at Wimbledon and the French Open.

“Our approach to this and our request to the authorities are consistent and they’ll stay there. We definitely would like to have our own discussion with Peng and be comfortable that she’s truly safe and free and has not been censored, intimidated or anything like that,” Simon told The AP. “We still haven’t been able to have that conversation to have the comfort that what we’re seeing isn’t being orchestrated, to date. The second element of that is that we want a full and transparent — without any level of censorship — investigation on the allegations that were made.”

China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year, including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals, which are scheduled to be held there for a decade. The nation is a source of billions of dollars in income for various sports entities based elsewhere, including the WTA (headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida), the NBA (run out of New York) and the International Olympic Committee (Lausanne, Switzerland).

Simon said the suspension, announced Wednesday via a statement from him issued by the tour, means that tournaments could still end up being staged in China if its government follows through with his requests. If not, the events could be moved to other countries, as happened this year, when the tour’s Asian swing was called off because of COVID-19 concerns; the WTA Finals, for example, were shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico, last month.

“We haven’t canceled, as of yet, but we’re prepared to get to that point,” Simon said on the video call. “And that’ll be a point of discussion at some point: Where do you get to cancellation? Is it 2022 only? Is it for the future? I mean, those are all questions that will come down the road.”

Beijing is set to host the Winter Games beginning on Feb. 4, and IOC President Thomas Bach said on Nov. 21 that he spoke with Peng — a three-time Olympian — on a 30-minute video call. The IOC did not release video or a transcript of the exchange and said only that Bach reported that she said she was well.

The IOC said in a statement that Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and said she had requested privacy. The IOC did not explain how the call was arranged, although it has worked closely with the Chinese Olympic Committee and government officials to organize the upcoming Games.

The European Union said Tuesday it wants China to offer “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe.

A number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people have disappeared in recent years after criticizing ruling Communist Party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

A statement attributed to Peng two weeks and tweeted out by the international arm of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV included a retraction of her accusations.

“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said in the release announcing the suspensions. “Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

There was little immediate reaction in China, where repeated calls to the Chinese Tennis Association and the Tennis Management Center of the government’s General Administration of Sports rang unanswered on Thursday. On Chinese social media platforms, a few apparent references to the WTA’s announcement from fans were all very oblique with no direct references to the WTA or Peng in order to avoid censorship.

The U.S. Tennis Association commended Simon and the WTA, tweeting a statement that read: “This type of leadership is courageous and what is needed to ensure the rights of all individuals are protected and all voices are heard.”

International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Heather Bowler said the ITF Board would meet Thursday to discuss the matter.

“I applaud Steve Simon and the WTA leadership for taking a strong stand on defending human rights in China and around the world,” International Tennis Hall of Fame member and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King said. “The WTA has chosen to be on the right side of history in defending the rights of our players. This is yet another reason why women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”

Concerns about the censoring of Peng’s post and her subsequent disappearance from public view turned #WhereIsPengShuai into a trending topic on social media and drew support from tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova.

But news of the first #MeToo case to reach the political realm in China has not been reported by the domestic media and online discussion of it has been highly censored.

“I can only imagine the range of emotions and feelings that Peng is likely going through right now. I hope she knows that none of this is her fault, and that we remain very proud of her extreme courage that she’s shown through this,” Simon told the AP. “But the one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

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Former Minnesota school principal sues, alleging retaliation over rainbow flag in support of LGBT students

MARSHALL, Minn. — A southwest Minnesota middle school principal who lost her job after she displayed a rainbow pride flag in a school cafeteria filed a lawsuit this week alleging the district retaliated against her for supporting LGBT students.

A complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court claims Marshall Public Schools ousted middle school principal Mary Kay Thomas earlier this year after a heated disagreement in the community about a flag she displayed in a cafeteria in early 2020 as part of an inclusiveness campaign at the school.

According to the lawsuit, a small group of “anti-LGBTQ middle-school staff, parents, students, and local clergy” pressured the school to remove the flag, which is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride. In response to the push to remove the flag, Thomas began distributing rainbow stickers at the school.

The school eventually removed the flag in August 2021, after Thomas was forced from her position, the complaint said. She had been principal for 16 years.

Thomas claims the Marshall School District targeted her with an investigation, placed her on administrative leave, suspended her without pay and eventually drove her to quit after the district removed her as principal and placed her in a “demeaning” special projects position. She also claims school staff hostile to LGBT causes played a role in her removal and that Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams told her he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down.

In a statement, Williams said Marshall Public Schools has strong policies against discrimination to protect students and staff and is committed to creating a respectful and inclusive learning environment.

“While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct,” Williams said. “The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

Thomas had a long record of good performance reviews as principal, according to the lawsuit. In 2019, former Superintendent Scott Monson called her a “Champion of Students,” particularly the underrepresented and marginalized. But after complaints from staff stemming from the flag controversy, Williams in March placed Thomas on administrative leave pending an investigation into nonspecific workplace allegations, according to the lawsuit.

The investigation was supposed to last only two or three weeks, the complaint said, but lasted into May. Thomas, who remained on leave until the summer, filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Thomas’ lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the district and to reinstate her as principal of the middle school. It comes after a group of local residents, Marshall Concerned Citizens, sued the district in April, alleging school officials unfairly targeted a group of students petitioning for the removal of the pride flag. Their complaint claimed the school violated students’ First Amendment rights by suppressing speech in an environment “invited” by school officials.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright in August dismissed the Marshall Concerned Citizens lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the group cannot bring another lawsuit in the matter.

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