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First Thing: White House butts heads with anti-mask governors

Molly Blackall
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Erin Scott/EPA</span>
Photograph: Erin Scott/EPA

Good morning.

The White House has defended Joe Biden’s searing criticism of Republican governors who ended mask-wearing mandates, after the president described it as “Neanderthal thinking”. The comments were aimed at the Mississippi governor, Tate Reeves, and Texas governor, Greg Abbott, the latter of whom hit back, telling CNBC the comment was “not the type of word a president should be using” – before in turn describing Biden’s handling of the pandemic as a “Neanderthal-type approach”.

  • Italy blocked 250,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from being exported to Australia. The move came under the EU’s controversial export authorisation scheme, which enables the country to keep supplies within Europe, despite the EU commission repeatedly saying it would not impose the ban.

Migrants in limbo at the US-Mexico border are finally allowed to cross

Blanca Urrutia, a Honduran who is seeking asylum in the US, at a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.
Blanca Urrutia, a Honduran who is seeking asylum in the US, at a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico. Photograph: Daniel Becerril/Reuters

Hundreds of people have been living in squalid makeshift camps over the border from south-east Texas, after traveling from Mexico to the US and being turned away while their immigration cases were processed under Donald Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy. One camp in Matamoros is in an area the state department advises Americans to avoid owing to high rates of crime and kidnapping, with many people sleeping on pavements and reporting bathing in a river with decomposing bodies.

But as Biden’s immigration changes come into force, people are beginning to leave the camp and cross to the US. About 25,000 of the 70,000 who crossed the border and were rejected are eligible to be processed on the US side under White House plans to create a “more fair, orderly and humane” immigration process.

A landmark US intelligence report will not be used at a trial over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Hatice Cengi, Jamal Khashoggi&#x002019;s fiancee and plaintiff, speaks to reporters after the trial of 26 Saudi nationals in Istanbul.
Hatice Cengi, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee and plaintiff, speaks to reporters after the trial of 26 Saudi nationals in Istanbul. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A court in Turkey that is trying 26 Saudi nationals for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has refused to admit a landmark US intelligence report as evidence, despite a petition from his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. The report, released last Friday, found that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had approved the murder. The petition to include the report was rejected on the basis that it would “bring nothing” to the trial.

The accused are being tried in absentia in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was killed, and the proceedings are seen as largely symbolic. However, Cengiz and the UN view the process as an “important formalised step” in the pursuit of justice. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime, moved to the US in 2017 in self-imposed exile where he wrote a column for the Washington Post. He was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate while collecting paperwork for his marriage.

  • Only “patriots” will be allowed to govern Hong Kong under China’s plans to tighten control with new vetting processes for all parliamentary candidates. It comes amid growing international concern about attacks on pro-democracy campaigners.

Could the majority of election misinformation have come from just a handful of people?

Trump supporters in Salem, Oregon, hold signs as they attend a &#x002018;stop the steal&#x002019; rally against the outcome of the presidential election, in November.
Trump supporters in Salem, Oregon, hold signs as they attend a ‘stop the steal’ rally against the outcome of the presidential election, in November. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/AP

A small number of rightwing “super-spreaders” on social media were responsible for the majority of election misinformation that circulated before the Capitol attack, according to a report. The Election Integrity Partnership analysed various platforms including Facebook and Twitter, and found that the majority of impactful misinformation campaigns could be traced to a handful of individuals, including Trump and members of his administration, his two elder sons and members of the rightwing media. Authors of the study say this highlights the need for social media sites to disable accounts of those spreading false information.

  • A QAnon supporter has been arrested for vandalising ‘America’s Stonehenge’, a stone tablet in New Hampshire that is thought to be thousands of years old. Mark Russo is believed to have carved “WWG1WGA”, the popular QAnon slogan meaning “Where we go one we go all”. He also carved “IAMMARK”, which was likely to have puzzled investigators until they released it was his Twitter handle.

In other news …

Eddie Garc&#xed;a, center, a Dallas police chief, during a press conference on the arrest and capital murder charges against fellow officer Bryan Riser.
Eddie García (center), a Dallas police chief, during a press conference on the arrest and capital murder charges against fellow officer Bryan Riser. Photograph: Lynda M González/AP
  • A Dallas police officer was arrested on two counts of murder yesterday, more than a year and a half after a man told investigators the officer had instructed him to kidnap and kill two people in 2017. The police department did not explain why it took so long for Bryan Riser to be arrested, or why he was allowed to continue patrolling while under investigation.

  • The EU will launch legal proceedings against the UK “very soon” after a British decision to delay the implementation of part of the Brexit deal about Northern Ireland. The European commission vice-president said it had come as a “very negative surprise”.

  • Numbers of butterflies in the US west are declining as a result of the climate crisis, with rising temperatures partly responsible. One species, the monarch, has lost 99% of its population in 40 years.

Stat of the day: 1,700 people have been arrested in Myanmar’s anti-coup protests, including 29 journalists

The daughter of Zwee Htet-soe, who died in the anti-coup protests, cries near the coffin of her father during his funeral in Yangon, Myanmar.
The daughter of Zwee Htet-soe, who died in the anti-coup protests, cries near the coffin of her father during his funeral in Yangon, Myanmar. Photograph: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

The country marked its bloodiest day of protests yesterday, after police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators opposing last month’s military coup and killed 38 people. More than 1,700 people have been detained for peacefully opposing the move, including 29 journalists, in a crackdown on free expression. The Guardian’s south-east Asia correspondent, Rebecca Ratcliffe, speaks to witnesses.

Don’t miss this: sororities and fraternities are helping Black Americans get vaccinated

The Arkansas state health department and historically Black sororities and fraternities are working together to reach communities without strong health infrastructure or resources and get African Americans vaccinated. The partnership has led to hundreds of people receiving a dose so far, in an integral effort against a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black Americans though fewer are getting vaccinated compared with their white counterparts.

Last Thing: French meteor enthusiasts take on an astronomical task

Amateur astronomers in France are searching for an apricot-size meteorite that fell to Earth last weekend. Having dropped so recently from space, the meteorite contains important scientific information but weighs just 150g, and its exact location is unknown. “It’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack,” admitted one searcher.

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