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US, Iran recommit to indirect talks after sabotage attack on nuclear site

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(WASHINGTON) -- An attack on one of Iran's most sensitive nuclear facilities has threatened to unravel President Joe Biden's diplomatic efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal -- and to inflame tensions in a region already on edge.

The sabotage on Iran's underground site Natanz was first reported by Iranian state media Sunday, with its nuclear chief calling it an act of "nuclear terrorism." While the full details are unknown, Natanz was reported to have experienced a blackout, allegedly the result of a cyber attack on its electrical grid.

The White House said Monday that the U.S. was not involved in the incident at all. Suspicions have instead fallen on Israel, especially after several Israeli media outlets first reported Sunday that an Israeli attack and ensuing explosion took entire sections of the nuclear site offline.

The blackout comes just days after Iran and the U.S. began indirect negotiations over both countries re-entering the 2015 nuclear deal, possibly imperiling those talks if Iran sees growing pressure on its nuclear program as a reason to push it further.

But both the U.S. and Iran signaled full-steam ahead on Monday with their indirect negotiations, while Iran's foreign minister accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government of trying to derail those talks.

"This act of sabotage damaged not only Natanz, but also the Biden administration's plan to return to compliance with the nuclear deal," said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, a Washington think tank. "The United States and Iran mustn't let this attack derail the progress being made in Vienna."

Those talks in Austria's capital are set to resume Wednesday, with the U.S. meeting European parties still in the nuclear deal, while Iran meets all the remaining parties, including Russia and China.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, re-imposing strict sanctions and pushing to destroy the agreement. One year later, Iran began taking steps in violation of its commitments -- enriching more uranium at higher levels using more centrifuges and more advanced ones than what is allowed.

While Biden has called for both sides returning to the deal -- and then pursuing a "longer and stronger" follow-on agreement -- talks only started last week through intermediaries, as Iran refuses to meet the U.S. face-to-face so far. While officials described some progress, there remains a large gap over who should take the first step. Iran insists that the U.S. must lift all Trump-era sanctions first, but the U.S. has said there will not be sanctions relief until Iran restores the limits on its nuclear program -- proposing a mutual return instead.

Natanz has been at the heart of those restrictions.

Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Israel on Sunday, prompting speculation that Israel gave the U.S. advanced notice or was somehow involved. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the U.S. was "not involved in any manner."

So far, there has been no change in plans for Wednesday's meetings.

"Our focus is of course on the diplomatic path forward. We have not been given any indication that attendance at the discussions... has changed," Psaki said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif vowed "revenge against the Zionists," a reference to Israel, but said the incident would not affect talks over the nuclear deal.

"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions," he said, according to state television. "We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks."

But if talks continue, there could be an escalation in the region. Netanyahu warned last week that agreements with Iran "are worthless" and that Israel will do whatever is necessary "to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans."

There have been a series of attacks on Iran's nuclear program in the last year that have been traced back to Israel -- a signal that the country is willing to escalate and act boldly to dismantle Iran's nuclear program. Last July, there was a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge production plant, while in November, Iran accused Israel of assassinating a nuclear scientist who launched its military nuclear program years ago.

The two countries have also been engaged in a shadow war at sea. Last Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship was hit by an explosion, which Tehran blamed Israel for as well. The ship was said to be a floating base for Iranian forces engaged in Yemen's war.

With the director of Mossad, Israel's spy service, at his side on Sunday, Netanyahu urged Israeli forces to "continue in this direction" and praised their strength against foreign threats.

While that may put him at odds with Biden and his push for nuclear diplomacy, Austin and Netanyahu tried to project close ties, with Austin offering his "personal pledge to strengthening Israel's security."

But Netanyahu repeatedly warned of the threat from the "fanatical regime in Iran" and said Israel will "continue to defend itself against Iran's aggression and terrorism" -- while Austin made no mention of Iran in his brief remarks.

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Record-setting biggest rabbit in the world stolen from home as police hunt for culprit

West Mercia Police

(LONDON) -- Police in England have found themselves with an unusual case on their hands after the world’s largest rabbit suddenly disappeared from his home over the weekend.

Darius, a Continental Giant rabbit who holds the Guinness world record for being the biggest rabbit in the world at 4 feet and 3 inches long (129 centimeters), vanished from his enclosure in Stoulton, Worcestershire, and police have issued an urgent appeal for the return of the prize-winning bunny.

“It is believed the Continental Giant rabbit was stolen from its enclosure in the garden of the property of its owners overnight on Saturday (10 April - 11 April),” the West Mercia Police in western England said in a statement. “The rabbit is quite unique in the fact it is 4ft in size and has been awarded a Guinness Record for being the biggest rabbit in the world.”

Annette Edwards, Darius’ owner, issued a plea on social media offering up £1,000 ($1,375) for anybody who can help return the giant leporine.

“A very sad day. Guinness world record Darius has been stolen from his home. The police are doing there [sic] best to find out who has taken him. There is a reward of a £1,000. Darius is to [sic] old to breed now. So please bring him back,” Edwards said in her statement.

Darius has held the record for being the largest rabbit in the world for over 11 years after the Guinness Book of World Records gave him his title of April 6, 2010.

“The longest rabbit is Darius, a Flemish giant rabbit owned by Annette Edwards (UK), who was found to be 4 ft 3 in (129 cm) long when measured for an article in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper on 6 April 2010.,” says the Guinness world record entry.

For now, however, Darius remains missing and anybody with any information on his whereabouts is asked to contact the West Mercia Police.

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Prince Harry returns to UK for Prince Philip's funeral in first visit since leaving royal role

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(LONDON) -- Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, has flown from California to the United Kingdom after the death of his grandfather, Prince Philip.

Harry's arrival in England marks the first time he has returned home in more than a year, since he and his wife, Duchess Meghan, stepped down last March from their roles as working members of the royal family.

The prince's trip also comes just weeks after he and Meghan gave a bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey, in which they claimed to have experienced racism during their time as senior royals, said they were cut off financially by Harry's father, Prince Charles, and alleged that Meghan was denied mental health help.

Harry traveled to London alone as Meghan is pregnant with the couple's second child and was advised by her doctor against traveling overseas.

Harry is staying at Frogmore Cottage, his and Meghan's home in Windsor, and is following COVID-19 protocols after traveling from the United States.

Even amid the divisions in the royal family, Harry and Meghan remained close to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and stayed in touch through Zoom calls when the Sussexes and their son Archie moved to California.

"If there’s one thing that has remained constant throughout all of the turbulence of the past year it’s Harry and Meghan’s close relationship with the queen and Prince Philip," said ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie. "Although Meghan isn’t here, she is of course supporting Harry. Her mind is very much on the situation over here."

Harry is expected to join his family members, including Prince William and Prince Charles, in walking in Philip's funeral procession. The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh will be remembered in a private funeral service on April 17 at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Though Harry will come face-to-face with his family for the first time since airing their grievances publicly in the Winfrey interview, royal experts say they expect the family to stay focused on remembering Philip and supporting Queen Elizabeth, who lost her husband of more than seven decades.

"This trip is very much Harry coming here to support his grandmother at a very difficult time," said Scobie, the author of "Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family." "Every family member at the moment is really on the same page, in that they’re here for one reason only, so any problems between family members, that’s going to be left very much outside of this situation. Harry hasn’t come over here with an ulterior motive other than to remember his grandfather."

Robert Jobson, ABC News royal contributor and the author of "Prince Philip’s Century: The Extraordinary Life of the Duke of Edinburgh," also echoed that sentiment, saying, "Funerals are difficult times, at the best of times for any family, but I think they’re going to have to focus really on mending that relationship at another time. This is absolutely focused on grief and mourning their grandfather."

Harry and William each issued separate statements Monday remembering their grandfather, Prince Philip.

"My grandfather’s century of life was defined by service -- to his country and Commonwealth, to his wife and Queen, and to our family," William said. "I feel lucky to have not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence well into my own adult life -- both through good times and the hardest days."

"I will always be grateful that my wife had so many years to get to know my grandfather and for the kindness he showed her. I will never take for granted the special memories my children will always have of their great-grandpa coming to collect them in his carriage and seeing for themselves his infectious sense of adventure as well as his mischievous sense of humor!" William said, referring to his wife, Duchess Kate, and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

"My grandfather was an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation. Catherine and I will continue to do what he would have wanted and will support The Queen in the years ahead," he said. "I will miss my Grandpa, but I know he would want us to get on with the job."

Prince Harry remembered Prince Philip for his "seriously sharp wit," his barbecue skills and his service and dedication.

“My grandfather was a man of service, honour and great humor. He was authentically himself, with a seriously sharp wit, and could hold the attention of any room due to his charm -- and also because you never knew what he might say next," Harry said. “He will be remembered as the longest reigning consort to the Monarch, a decorated serviceman, a Prince and a Duke. But to me, like many of you who have lost a loved one or grandparent over the pain of this past year, he was my grandpa: master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right ‘til the end."

He went on, “He has been a rock for Her Majesty The Queen with unparalleled devotion, by her side for 73 years of marriage, and while I could go on, I know that right now he would say to all of us, beer in hand, ‘Oh do get on with it!' So, on that note, Grandpa, thank you for your service, your dedication to Granny, and for always being yourself. You will be sorely missed, but always remembered -- by the nation and the world. Meghan, Archie, and I (as well as your future great-granddaughter) will always hold a special place for you in our hearts."

Harry ended his statement with, "‘Per Mare, Per Terram,'" the motto of the Royal Marines.

Harry took over Prince Philip’s role as Captain General of the Royal Marines in 2017, when Philip retired from official royal duties at the age of 96.

Harry, a veteran of the British Army, had to give up the role earlier this year when it was confirmed by Buckingham Palace that he and Meghan would not return as working members of the royal family.

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Vaccine passports are being trialed in the UK: Why are they so controversial?

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(LONDON) -- The U.K.’s cautious approach to returning life to normal entered a new phase on Monday with non-essential shops and outdoor seating for restaurants and bars in England opening for the first time in over three months of lockdown.

But one measure that could prove essential to making sure society stays open is proving highly controversial.

Vaccine passports, or “COVID Status Certificates” as they are officially known, are being trialed at major sporting events this month, with the hope that mass events can open as safely as possible, and could provide a model for the future. Similar schemes are being piloted in countries around the world with private companies in the U.S. now piloting schemes in several areas. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said these will not be federally mandated.

But in Britain, a fiery debate between civil liberties advocates and the government is raging in a country that has administered the most successful vaccination program in Europe so far, as the plans raise fears around data privacy and vaccine inequality.

What are the plans?

News that several major sporting events held this month would be the laboratory for the “COVID Status Certificate” scheme sparked instant debate in the U.K. when the story broke in the Daily Telegraph. Aside from that report, the news of exactly where else the scheme, which “could potentially play a role in settings such as theatres, nightclubs, and mass events” according to an interim report, is being trialed. The most likely form they will come in is a smartphone app that will provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, told Sky News this month that trialing the vaccine passports was “the right thing to do.”

The Cabinet Office, the branch of government heading up the review into the use of vaccine passports, said in a statement to ABC News that they would be presenting their findings to the U.K.’s Parliament later this month. The trial highlights a more cautious approach to the last time England exited a major lockdown in the summer of 2020, in which pubs, bars, restaurants and shops all opened on a July date dubbed “Super Saturday.”

The current plans will see indoor dining areas in England open on May 17 at the earliest, and no social restrictions at all on June 21. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all on their own similar paths, but despite the celebratory mood, the government has warned caution is needed to make the changes “irreversible.”

“The Government expects that COVID-status certification could be demonstrated by: an up-to-date vaccine status; a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken at a test site on the same day or the day before their admission to a venue; or by proof of natural immunity, such as through a previous positive PCR for a time limit of 180 days from the date of the positive test and following completion of the self-isolation period,” an interim report published by the Cabinet Office said.

The government has also announced a significant increase in the availability of rapid testing alongside the potential plans.

‘Political tidal wave’

The plans have been met with an instant backlash by politicians across the spectrum and civil liberties organizations.

More than 70 lawmakers and several privacy groups signed an open letter opposing the government’s plans, and Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that he instinctively felt the certificates to be “un-British” in a recent newspaper interview.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties campaign group which co-signed the letter, told ABC News that the plans had sparked a “political tidal wave.”

“We have given up an awful lot over the last year,” she said. “People have made enormous sacrifices. But don't tell us that we made all these sacrifices to enter this version of a new normal. Absolutely not. We made those sacrifices to make sure that everyone can be healthy, safe and free, and we are not going to be in any sensible sense free, if we are living under this kind of medical segregation in a check point society.”

“These events are either safe to open or they're not safe to open, I think that's the bottom line,” she said.

The plans have been met with a mixed reaction from businesses, too. Leaders of the U.K.’s major soccer leagues have indicated that certification may be necessary to get fans back into stadiums, while pub and restaurant business leaders have warned the plans could prevent “visiting the pub for months, unless they get themselves tested in advance.”

A vaccine passport tracker compiled by the Ada Lovelace Institute, an independent research organization based in the U.K., has aggregated information on potential vaccine passport plans in 41 countries, the European Union, the African Union and among private companies. According to a poll from YouGov, 58% of Britons are in favor of vaccine passports, with 34% opposed, while the vaccine rollout is still ongoing.

The World Health Organization has not yet formally advocated for the use of vaccine passports for international travel, let alone domestic settings. While countries have introduced their own measures of quarantine and proof of negative tests during the pandemic, under the International Health Regulations, yellow fever is the only disease for which countries can require proof of vaccination for international travelers.

Part of the reason they have not advocated their use so far is incomplete though promising data that vaccinated individuals will not transmit the virus, as well as ongoing debates about the ethical and economic impact, according to WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris.

“Now generally with a good vaccine you do see a reduction in transmission,” she told ABC News. “And we're seeing some early data which suggests that this may well be happening, but we haven't got the proof yet. So to put something in place [like a vaccine passport] that says yes, you’ve got this, you can't transmit. We're not there yet.”

The immediate debate, however, is what the “new normal” will look like in the domestic setting, and Carlo is convinced the plans could lead to a long-term, “illiberal” change to British society.

“As the saying goes, nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program,” she said.

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Here's why COVID cases are surging in Toronto despite early lockdown

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(NEW YORK) -- Despite locking down in March 2020 and enacting strict social-distancing measures, Toronto is seeing hospitals and intensive care units near capacity as the city battles its worse COVID-19 wave yet.

"Sick Kids, our main children's hospital, has had to open up ICU beds for adults," said Toronto physician Dr. Kayla Wolofsky.

As of Thursday, strict stay-at-home orders -- people can leave home only for essential reasons -- were back in place for at least 28 days.

This third surge is likely due to new virus variants, pandemic fatigue, community spread as schools and stores reopen, as well as a comparatively slower vaccine rollout because of a lack of manufacturing capacity.

While more than a third of all Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, only about half as many (15%) Canadians have, according to public health statistics from both countries.

"The combination of a slow vaccine rollout and the rise of variants has placed an incredible amount of pressure on Ontario health systems, and has unfortunately left public health departments with few options to control spread," said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

According to epidemiologist Dr. Ashleigh Tuite at the University of Toronto, there are several variants causing concern. The majority of cases in Ontario right now are from the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) strain, but there have been some reported cases of the P.1 (Brazil/Japan) and B.1351 (South Africa) strains.

"In terms of what is happening in Ontario," Tuite said, "the variants of concern have become predominant -- at this point about 70% of reported cases have been identified as being a variant of concern."

Dr. Hiren Patel, an emergency doctor in Toronto, added: "Increasing vaccinations and maintaining strict lockdown guidelines may be the only way to prevent this wave from getting worse."

Toronto residents have expressed frustration over the vaccine rollout and its effect on their social lives, as have business owners with some restaurants, gyms, salons and other non-essential services now closed for more than 300 straight days.

"Toronto has experienced some of the most intense infection-control measures of any city on the planet," Brownstein said. "While lockdowns are ultimately a last resort when other measures fail, and health care is stretched beyond capacity, we can't ignore the sweeping collateral economic and health impacts."

Some of those health impacts include Toronto residents' mental health.

Elizabeth Whelan, a Toronto native, said that "in terms of high schools, all extracurriculars have essentially been canceled, and children are instead playing games or doing exercises with their teams on Zoom to try and maintain some human connection."

Many believe this latest lockdown could have been avoided if the vaccine had been available sooner or rolled out differently, perhaps prioritizing more younger essential workers instead of only the elderly.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making efforts to provide additional funding to help with testing and contact tracing and has vouched for a $19 billion stimulus to restart the economy and provide continued support to Canadians.

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St. Vincent covered in ash as volcano activity continues

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(PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad) -- Much of St. Vincent remains covered in ash following eruptions Friday at the island's La Soufriere volcano.

The volcano has been inactive for nearly 42 years.

"There have been three explosive events that occurred during the day," University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center director Dr. Erouscilla Joseph said in a statement on the center's Facebook page.

The ash plume reached as high as 6 miles into the air, with wind taking it as far as 25,000 feet east of St. Vincent, according to official estimates.

Volcano activity continued into the weekend, with Vincentians reporting that rumblings could be heard coming from La Soufriere at night.

"We have had more or less an almost continued period of the venting of many ash up into the atmosphere," Richard Robertson, the UWI Seismic Research Center's lead scientist monitoring the volcano, said Saturday during a national radio address.

On Sunday, the country's national disaster management agency, NEMO, described the day as "dreary" and said everything looked like a "battle zone."

The volcano set off tremors over the weekend, with some lasting as long as 20 minutes, according to the UWI Seismic Research Center.

Explosions and accompanying ashfall are likely to continue over the next few days, the research center said.

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said the government is looking to see if any properties were damaged by the ash. Officials are also trying to figure out how to remove the ash.

Nadia Slater, a spokesperson for the office of the prime minister, told ABC News that as of Sunday afternoon 18,000 residents have been evacuated from St. Vincent's red zones. No one has been evacuated off the island yet, according to Slater.

Around 4,000 people have moved into the 72 shelters that have been set up by residents, and three cruise ships will be used as temporary shelters, Slater said.

Power was fully restored Sunday afternoon and the south of the country is still considered to be safe, according to the spokesperson.

Gonsalves announced plans Saturday to mount a cleanup operation, beginning in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent, and the Grenadines.

"It's a complicated business, you can't leave it," Gonsalves said. "But, in the disposal of it, you have challenges."

Officials were looking into using street sweepers and water from fire trucks.

Due to low visibility and heavy ashfall, Grantley Adams International Airport will remain closed until noon on Monday, officials said.

The ash has also affected at least one of the island's neighbors.

The government of Barbados is advising residents to use dust masks, wear long protective clothing that helps prevent direct contact with ash and avoid using air conditioning so that indoor air quality is not compromised.

Friday's eruptions came less than 24 hours after Gonsalves gave the order for people living closest to the volcano -- an area declared as the "red zone" -- to evacuate their homes.

Shelters have been set up to house evacuees, while the government has also booked hotel rooms for people to take shelter. Over 3,200 people have opted to use shelters.

Gonsalves said there may be delays in getting food supplies to evacuees in shelters, with numbers constantly changing.

Those impacted by the volcano's eruption are being told to be patient and remain calm, with "additional supplies" coming, according to Gonsalves.

Some countries have also publicly pledged to send supplies or even personnel to aid St. Vincent with recovery efforts. Gonsalves said the United States is among the countries he's been speaking with.

A number of neighboring Caribbean countries have offered to take in evacuees. Several cruise ship companies have also offered to send ships to transport evacuees to other islands.

"Those countries are not going to take you unless you are vaccinated, which is understandable in the time of the pandemic," Gonsalves said.

The last time St. Vincent's La Soufriere volcano erupted was on April 13, 1979.

Dr. Erouscilla Joseph, director of the UWI Seismic Research Centre, told reporters Sunday that previous eruptions lasted six months to a year, and if a "worst-case scenario" were to materialize, it would be in the next few weeks.

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United Arab Emirates names 1st Arab female astronaut

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(NEW YORK) — The United Arab Emirates named mechanical engineering graduate Nora AlMatrooshi as the first Arab female astronaut, a selection that she described as an "unforgettable moment."

AlMatrooshi was picked from more than 4,000 candidates to be part of the UAE's ambitious space program, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the country's prime minister, said on Twitter.

"We announce the first Arab female astronaut, among two new astronauts … to be trained with NASA for future space exploration missions," he said.

AlMatrooshi and Mohammad AlMulla, who was also selected in the UAE's Astronaut Program, will head to Texas to undergo training at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre said space has been AlMatrooshi's "passion since childhood." The 27-year-old, who holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, currently works at the UAE's National Petroleum Construction Company.

"The nation gave me unforgettable moments today. I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people," an elated AlMatrooshi said on Twitter.

She also said she drew inspiration from Hazzaa Al-Mansoori, who became the UAE's first astronaut in 2019, spending eight days on the International Space Station.

In February, the UAE became the first Arab country and the fifth in the world to reach Mars after launching its "Hope Probe" spacecraft into the orbit of the red planet.

The country also set ambitious targets to land on the moon in 2024 and establish human settlement in Mars by 2117.

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Prince Philip's funeral service to be held April 17 with limited guests, palace announces

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(LONDON) -- The funeral for Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will be held April 17 and limited to 30 guests, Buckingham Palace announced.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who died Friday at the age of 99, will be given a ceremonial royal funeral and will not lie in state, palace officials said during a press briefing Saturday.

"The plans for the funeral are very much in line with the Duke of Edinburgh's own wishes," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.

The funeral service will begin at 3 p.m. local time at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England, starting with a national minute of silence.

Funeral guests will be limited to 30 people, excluding clergy and pallbearers, and include royal family members and Prince Philip's private secretary.

According to a royal source, Prince Harry will attend his grandfather's funeral, though his wife, Megan Markle, who is currently pregnant with their second child, has been advised by her doctor not to travel.

The final guest list is expected to be provided in a briefing on Thursday.

Prince Charles paid tribute to his father, Prince Philip in a video posted on Twitter. He called his father "dear Papa" and a "very special person who, I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him."

Prince Philip's coffin, which is currently at Windsor Castle, will be carried to the chapel in a specially modified Land Rover that the duke himself had a hand in designing, a palace spokesperson said.

Funeral guests will follow the route during the royal procession. Arrangements for the Queen in the procession also will be confirmed next week.

Following the service, the coffin will be interred in the royal vault.

Coronavirus measures will be observed for both the procession and funeral service, officials said. England is in its third national lockdown during the pandemic, enacted earlier this year after the discovery of a more transmissible COVID-19 variant.

The funeral service will be broadcast "to enable as many people as possible to be part of the occasion, to mourn with us and celebrate a truly extraordinary life," a palace spokesperson said.

“While there is sadness that the public will not be able to physically be part of events to commemorate the life of the duke, the royal family ask that anyone wishing to express their condolences do so in the safest way possible and not by visiting Windsor or any other royal palaces to pay their respects," the spokesperson said.

A period of national mourning is being observed leading up to the funeral. The royal family and members of the household are also observing two weeks of mourning and wearing mourning bands when appropriate.

On Saturday, military teams across the U.K. fired 41-gun salutes to mark the death of the former naval officer.

ABC News' Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

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Volcanic eruption in Caribbean forces thousands of evacuations

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(NEW YORK) — The La Soufriere Volcano, located on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of over 16,000 people from nearby homes.

Scientists had been monitoring the volcano’s activity for years and were able to alert the islands that make up the Grenadines island chain on Thursday that a major eruption would occur imminently via the National Emergency Management Organization of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Heavy ashfall and high plumes of smoke created low visibility and reportedly disrupted evacuation efforts in some surrounding communities, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference on Friday.

He added that nearby islands Grenada, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda would be ready to receive people from St. Vincent by Monday.

Nearby cruise lines were alerted of the eruption and agreed to send four large cruise ships to support humanitarian efforts and evacuate residents, according to a statement released by Carnival Cruise Line.

Ahead of the eruption, Royal Caribbean announced on Twitter Thursday that it was also sending ships.

Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are sending ships to St. Vincent in the Caribbean to evacuate residents currently at risk from a potential eruption of the island’s La Soufriere volcano which has seen increasing activity in recent days,” a statement said. “Both cruise lines are working closely with St. Vincent authorities to assist residents most at risk.”

Gonsalves said only vaccinated residents who have been checked and identified by Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chief medical officer, will be allowed to board the ships out of an abundance of caution.

Each ship will accommodate up to 1,500 residents, who will be taken to neighboring islands that have agreed to receive the evacuees, according to Carnival Cruise Line.

Thousands of people who have not yet been vaccinated remained on land on Friday and are staying at local hotels in safe zones, Gonsalves said.

Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center said during a press conference Friday that eruptions may continue for the next few days or weeks, and that experts will continue to monitor the situation.

The State Department said it is “not aware of any U.S. citizens affected at this time” by the volcanic activity, a spokesperson told ABC News.

The local U.S. Embassy issued an “alert” for the “red zones” of St. Vincent Thursday, but it does not have a figure for the number of U.S. citizens in the country right now.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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Britain's Prince Philip dies at age 99

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(LONDON) -- Britain's Prince Philip, a stalwart supporter of his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, for over seven decades, died Friday. He was 99.

"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," Buckingham Palace said in a statement Friday. "His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."

The Duke of Edinburgh was known as one of the hardest-working members of the royal family during his tenure alongside the country's longest-reigning monarch. Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and fulfilled thousands of royal duties.

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know," Queen Elizabeth said in 1997, paying tribute to her husband on their golden wedding anniversary, celebrating 50 years together.

At age 96 in August 2017, Prince Philip retired from official royal duties with the "full support of the queen," according to Buckingham Palace.

He completed 22,219 solo engagements since 1952, gave 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, Buckingham Palace said.

In his customary good humor, Philip joked to a well-wisher who said he was sorry the Duke of Edinburgh was standing down shortly after the retirement announcement, saying, "Standing down? I can barely stand up these days."

Even after his official retirement, Prince Philip still appeared at Queen Elizabeth's side for events like Remembrance Sunday, but took a step back and spent more time at Windsor Castle and Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate to enjoy painting, carriage riding and his other hobbies.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth married in 1947 and marked their 73rd wedding anniversary on Nov. 20, 2020.

A traveling prince

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born June 10, 1921, in a villa on the Greek island of Corfu. His parents were Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Philip was their youngest child and only son.

His father, Prince Andrew, was a younger son of a Danish prince who had been chosen to become King George I of Greece and Queen Olga, a Russian princess. Princess Alice, a minor German princess, was a great-granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria.

Despite their notable backgrounds, one year after Philip's birth, Andrew and Alice found themselves refugees after a coup in Greece that chased out the royal family.

Philip first grew up in Paris and was later sent to prep school in England. He then attended Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school where he would send his own sons.

When Philip's parents separated during his childhood, his father spent most of his time in the South of France; his mother, after suffering from bouts of mental illness, was committed to a sanatorium for several years before returning to Greece.

With his four older sisters all married into the German aristocracy, Philip no longer had a family home.

He began spending more time with his mother's brother, George, Marquis of Milford Haven. When the marquis died of cancer in 1938, Philip found a new mentor in his mother's other brother, Louis Mountbatten, the future Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Mountbatten was the younger son of Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and joined the British Royal Navy, rising to become admiral of the fleet and first sea lord. He lost that position during World War I when Britons became suspicious of anyone with German blood and the Battenbergs found it prudent to anglicize their name to Mountbatten.

Following in his grandfather's footsteps, the young Prince Philip was sent to the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth and joined the British navy. While Philip served with distinction in an illustrious naval career, including service during World War II, his Mountbatten uncle devised plans for an introduction to then-Princess Elizabeth.

Love and marriage

Philip met Princess Elizabeth for the first time in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Elizabeth was not the heir apparent at the time but became so two years later after her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated so that he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the two met several times. A very young Princess Elizabeth became smitten with the blond, blue-eyed Philip. Her governess recorded that Philip's "Viking good looks" made quite an impression on the princess.

The couple exchanged letters and, in 1946, Philip, then in his mid-20s, was given permission by King George VI to marry his daughter, on the condition that they wait until Elizabeth was 21.

Her father's courtiers, however, were less impressed. There were reservations about Prince Philip's lack of financial resources and foreign roots. King George VI was also reportedly concerned about his daughter's young age and whether Philip would remain faithful to his daughter. But Elizabeth was determined and, on Nov. 20, 1947, she married Philip in Westminster Abbey.

Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the anglicized surname of his mother's family, calling himself Lt. Philip Mountbatten. His new father-in-law granted him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.

For a while, Philip and Elizabeth lived a relatively normal life. He continued to serve in the navy, and the couple soon had two children, Charles, the future Prince of Wales, and Anne.

Then, everything changed. King George VI died on Feb. 6, 1952, and Philip's wife became Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 26 while touring Kenya.

'Nothing but a bloody amoeba'

Philip had risen to the rank of commander in the Royal Navy, but he gave up his career on his wife's accession. He eventually became patron or president of about 800 organizations, with particular emphasis on the areas of scientific and technical research and sports.

Elizabeth did not give her husband the formal title of "prince consort," as Victoria had done for her beloved Albert, but in 1957 the Duke of Edinburgh was declared a prince of the United Kingdom.

For Prince Philip's 90th birthday in 2011, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Lord High Admiral.

On their 70th wedding anniversary in November 2017, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Philip to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order for his services to the sovereign.

Philip and Elizabeth had two more children, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

But Philip had reportedly been angry to learn, after his wife's accession, that his children would never bear his last name, according to a 2012 biography of the queen by author Sally Bedell Smith.

"I'm nothing but a bloody amoeba," a resentful Philip reportedly said. "I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."

Although they didn't bear his surname, Philip took a very active role in his children's upbringing. At his insistence, all three of his sons went to Gordonstoun, his old boarding school, which Charles is said to have loathed.

Philip was very protective of both his family and the family business into which he married. He reportedly wrote stern letters to his daughters-in-law, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, when he felt their actions embarrassed the monarchy.

He also had the reputation for being particularly candid with members of his own family. His eldest son, Prince Charles, said in a biography that his father pushed him into marriage. Philip also sent Diana letters as her marriage to Prince Charles fell apart, hoping to calm tensions and mediate the differences between them.

"We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her. I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla. Such a prospect never even entered our heads," wrote Philip in one letter.

The sympathetic letters to Diana were often signed "with fondest love, Pa," and also expressed exasperation at how the couple's problems had been made public and embarrassed the monarchy.

When Diana was killed in a 1997 car crash, Philip took the reins of the family and was a stalwart force for Queen Elizabeth. She was criticized for remaining at Balmoral with Diana and Charles's children, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Philip's only concern was protecting his grandsons from the intense scrutiny by the press and allowing them to grieve for their mother in the aftermath of her tragic death.

When Downing Street officials suggested that William and Harry might walk behind their mother's coffin, an anguished Philip reportedly bellowed into the phone, "F--- off. We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother."

Philip ultimately put aside his personal feelings and told young William and Harry, "I'll walk if you walk."

Royal controversy

Over the years, Prince Philip has also seen his share of controversy.

In January 2019, the 97-year-old prince made headlines after he was involved in a serious car crash near the queen's Sandringham estate.

Prince Philip collided with another car carrying two women and a 9-month-old baby. No one was seriously injured but questions were raised as to whether the prince should still be driving at his age. The matter was compounded when two days after the accident, Philip was back behind the wheel without a seat belt on the Queen's private estate, an offense punishable by a fine under UK law. The prince was criticized for his lack of sensitivity and apparent disregard for the law.

He was also well known for his royal gaffes. The British and Canadian press equally denounced him for a blunt comment in Canada in 1976, where he said, "We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

Health issues

Prince Philip has been hospitalized a number of times over the last few decades.

In October 2007, it was revealed that the prince had been suffering from a heart condition since 1992. In April 2008, he was hospitalized for a chest infection but recovered quickly.

In December 2011, the prince suffered chest pains and had minor surgery to open a blocked artery.

During Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012, he was hospitalized for a bladder infection just before his 91st birthday, and Buckingham Palace announced in August he was readmitted to the hospital while on his annual Scottish summer at Balmoral.

A year later, the royal household said Prince Philip had once again been admitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery after his doctors revealed that it was necessary following "abdominal investigations." The surgery was conducted under general anesthesia and the palace later said he was progressing satisfactorily, but would remain in the hospital for approximately two weeks.

In June 2017, Buckingham Palace was forced to announce Prince Philip had been hospitalized again as the reason he was going to miss the state opening of Parliament, which he attended annually with Queen Elizabeth.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London last night, as a precautionary measure, for treatment of an infection arising from a pre-existing condition."

In April 2018, Buckingham Palace announced Prince Philip was to be hospitalized again, this time for hip surgery at the age of 96, after missing a number of events due to discomfort.

"His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London this afternoon, for planned surgery on his hip, which will take place tomorrow," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

Queen Elizabeth's mother, the Queen Mother, also underwent hip surgery at the age of 97, so although the surgery carried risks due to his advanced age, doctors wanted to ensure Philip would be in less pain. His beloved grandson, Harry, was set to marry American-born Meghan Markle in May 2018 and Philip wanted to recover in time for his grandson's wedding.

Prince Philip was seen carriage driving on the grounds of Windsor Castle shortly after his 97th birthday in June 2018, just months after his hip replacement surgery.

Philip was later hospitalized in December 2019, when he was taken to King Edward VII Hospital for "observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition," the palace said in a statement at the time.

He was admitted again to King Edward VII Hospital in February 2021 as "a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness’s Doctor, after feeling unwell," according to a Buckingham Palace statement.

The duke later underwent a "successful procedure" at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in east London for a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.

Philip was transferred back to King Edward VII Hospital and then discharged from the hospital on March, 16, 2021, after "treatment for an infection and a successful procedure for a pre-existing condition," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

Both the duke and Queen Elizabeth received COVID-19 vaccinations in January 2021, soon after the vaccines became available in the United Kingdom.

Family man

The outspoken prince was an avid sportsman, and he played polo regularly until 1971 and helped develop the country's interest in carriage driving.

Despite his somewhat prickly nature, Prince Philip could also be very supportive, especially toward his wife and family. He was particularly proud of his daughter, Anne.

Rarely missing any royal occasions, the prince has always been by his wife's side. The British public revered Prince Philip for his no-nonsense style, his unwavering public service and devotion to Queen Elizabeth. The Queen acknowledged Prince Philip's commitment in front of Parliament in 2012.

"During these years as your queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure," the queen said. "Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind. But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide."

Later, during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with Philip once again in the hospital, Prince Charles paid tribute to his father: "As a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud to be British."

In addition to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip is survived by his three sons: Charles, the Prince of Wales; Andrew, the Duke of York; and Edward, the Earl of Wessex; one daughter, Princess Anne; and eight grandchildren, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry of Wales; Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York; Peter and Zara Phillips, as well as Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

He also has 10 great-grandchildren: Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, the children of Prince William and Duchess Kate; Archie, the son of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan; along with a great-grandson from Prince Andrew's daughter Eugenie, two great-grandchildren from Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, and three great-grandchildren from Anne's daughter, Zara Tindall, an Olympic equestrian.

Philip's title is expected to pass to his youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Royal family members, world leaders react to Prince Philip's death at 99

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(LONDON) -- Prince Philip's death Friday at the age of 99 marked the end of an era in Britain's royal family.

Philip was a steadfast supporter of his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth, and a consistent presence in public life.

When he officially retired from royal duties in 2017 at age 96, Philip had completed more than 22,000 solo engagements since 1952, given 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, according to Buckingham Palace.

Philip was also a constant presence in the life of his family. In addition to Queen Elizabeth, the duke is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Upon his death, leaders from around the world reflected on Philip's 99 years of life and the legacy he leaves behind.

Buckingham Palace announced Philip's death with a statement that read, in part, "The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."

The statement was shared on the royal family's website, as well as the social media accounts of royal family members, including Philip's grandson, Prince William, and his wife, Duchess Kate.

Members of the royal family are not expected to issue further public comments as they continue their period of mourning.

Following tradition, Buckingham Palace also placed an announcement of Prince Philip’s death on the gates of the palace. Flags at the palace will be flown at half-mast from today until the morning of the day after the funeral service for Philip.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about Philip's life and legacy in comments delivered Friday outside 10 Downing Street in London.

"Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world," Johnson said. "Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the Royal Family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life."

Former U.S. president George W. Bush said in a statement, “Laura and I are saddened to learn the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and remarkable life, he devoted himself to worthy causes and to others. He represented the United Kingdom with dignity and brought boundless strength and support to the sovereign. Laura and I are fortunate to enjoyed the charm and wit of his company and we know how much he will be missed. We join those around the world offering heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the entire Royal Family.”

https://t.co/2dSvZhXPw1 pic.twitter.com/ylBSJAofHX

— British Army (@BritishArmy) April 9, 2021 ">The British Army also shared news of the death of Philip, whose military career included service in the British Navy during World War II.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a statement reflecting on Philip's service to Australia, a Commonwealth nation.

"Prince Philip was no stranger to Australia, having visited our country on more than 20 occasions," Morrison said in the statement. "Through his service to the Commonwealth he presided as patron or president of nearly 50 organizations in Australia. Given his own service, Prince Philip also had a strong connection with the Australian Defense Force."

"For 65 years, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme has encouraged over 775,000 young Australians to explore their leadership potential. Forty thousand young Australians are currently participating in the program," he said. "Australians send our love and deepest condolences to her Majesty and all the Royal family. The Commonwealth family joins together in sorrow and thanksgiving for the loss and life of Prince Philip. God bless from all here in Australia."

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf remembered Philip as a "great friend" of his family.

“The Queen & I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh," he said in a statement. "Prince Philip has been a great friend of our family for many years, a relation we have deeply valued. His service to his country will remain an inspiration to us all. We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty The Queen, The Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom."

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Philip's legacy of community service.

"My thoughts are with the British people and the Royal Family on the passing away of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," he said in a statement. "He had a distinguished career in the military and was at the forefront of many community service initiatives. May his soul rest in peace.“

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neytanyahu said Philip will be missed "in Israel and across the world."

"I express my deepest condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, the Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom on the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh," he said. "Prince Philip was the consummate public servant and will be much missed in Israel and across the world."

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

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3,000-year-old 'Lost Golden City' unearthed in Egypt's Luxor

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(LUXOR, Egypt) -- Egypt announced on Thursday the discovery of what it termed the "Lost Golden City" in the southern province of Luxor, with one U.S.-based egyptologist describing the find as the biggest archaeological discovery since Tutankhamun's tomb nearly a century ago.

A mission led by Egypt's former antiquities chief Zahi Hawass unearthed "several areas or neighborhoods" of the 3,000-year-old city after seven months of excavation.

The mission's original target was to find a mortuary temple of King Tut, whose tomb was discovered in Luxor's Valley of the Kings in 1922, but they instead excavated parts of an entire city.

The city, which Hawass also called "The Rise of Aten," dates back to the era of 18th-dynasty king Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt from 1391 till 1353 B.C.

"The excavation started in September 2020 and within weeks, to the team's great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions," Egypt's antiquities ministry said in a statement.

"What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life."

The southern part of the city includes a bakery, ovens and storage pottery while the northern part, most of which remain under the sands, comprises administrative and residential districts, the ministry added.

"It was the largest administrative and industrial settlement in the era of the Egyptian empire on the western bank of Luxor," Hawass said.

"The city's streets are flanked by houses," with some walls up to 3 meter high, Hawass also said.

Hawass said the city was still active during Amenhotep III's co-regency with his son, Akhenaten, but that the latter eventually abandoned it when he took the throne. Akhenaten then founded Amarna, a new capital in the modern-day province of Minya, some 250 km south of Cairo and 400 km north of Luxor.

Betsy Brian, professor of egyptology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the finding's importance is only second to the earth-shattering discovery of King Tut's tomb.

"The discovery of the Lost City, not only will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the Empire was at its wealthiest but will help us shed light on one of history's greatest mystery: why did Akhenaten and Nefertiti decide to move to Amarna," Brian added.

Egypt has made a string of major discoveries over the past few years as it hopes to revive its vital tourism industry, which was badly hit by two uprisings and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country held a glitzy parade to move 22 mummies to a newly inaugurated museum in Cairo on Saturday and is preparing to open the Grand Egyptian Museum near the Giza Pyramids later this year.

Egypt says GEM will be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization.

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Biden admin to 'surge' aid to Central America, offer 'legal paths' to stem historic migration

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is working "to surge humanitarian assistance to" Central American countries and to offer new "legal paths" for migration, according to U.S. officials, as it tries to manage a historic jump in the number of migrants reaching the southern U.S. border.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Mexico's president Wednesday as she takes the lead for the new administration in addressing what has become a critical security, foreign policy, and political challenge.

After speaking to Harris last week, Guatemala's president told ABC News Wednesday that the U.S. must work with his country, El Salvador and Honduras "to build walls of prosperity" that encourage migrants to stay home and to increase cooperation on trade and law enforcement against human smugglers.

"We need the United States to see us as their front yard, as their partner," said President Alejandro Giammattei. "Because we are partners in the same problems -- they don't want illegal people there, and I don't want them to leave. So we have a common problem. Let's solve it together."

But a staggering number of people have made that journey in recent months, as the three countries, known collectively as the "Northern Triangle," reel from the coronavirus pandemic, two back-to-back deadly hurricanes in November, and systemic issues like corruption, gang violence and drug trafficking.

President Joe Biden has said he wants to boost U.S. investment in the region by $4 billion over several years, assigning Harris the same task he was given by former President Barack Obama to deal with irregular migration.

While the White House has said its message is clear, Biden's messages of compassion for immigrants have been misused by human smugglers, according to Giammattei.

"They used his message and turned it around to tell people, 'Now is the time. They will receive you. Let's go.' The message is confusing," Giammattei told ABC News' John Quinones in his first U.S. television interview.

After calling Giammattei last week, Harris spoke to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Wednesday. Both calls focused on cooperating to improve economic opportunities and reduce corruption, key drivers of migration, according to spokesperson Symone Sanders.

It's unclear if and when she'll call Honduras' president, who has faced allegations of narcotrafficking and accepting bribes in U.S. federal court, or El Salvador's president, who has tightened his grip on power in increasingly authoritarian ways and skirmished with a U.S. lawmaker this week on Twitter.

To kick start its efforts, Sanders said Tuesday, the administration has also implemented a "surge in humanitarian assistance." But so far, the White House has not announced any new funding. To date, the U.S. has provided $112 million in response to November's Hurricanes Eta and Iota, as well as $85 million for fiscal year 2020, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

But that pales in comparison to Biden's $4 billion plan during his 2020 presidential campaign, and the administration has yet to put forth a proposal for Congress to request any funds.

Instead, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it has launched a disaster assistance response team, or DART, to deploy to the region. The new team is assessing conditions in all three countries and "working to mitigate the impact" of challenges like "recurrent drought, severe food insecurity, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic" and Hurricanes Eta and Iota, Price told ABC News Wednesday.

The immediate response may help stem the march of migrants, according to Sanders, by "helping the people of the region where they are."

But Giammattei said what is really needed is long-term investment -- and help from the U.S. government in fostering ties with the private sector. The Guatemalan president told ABC News' John Quinones that the U.S. should loosen import restrictions in order to boost Guatemalan businesses, including avocados and berries, clothing and personal protective equipment.

He also called for increased cooperation on law enforcement, requested the U.S. make human smuggling a federal crime and suggested expanding Guatemala's extradition treaty with the U.S. to prosecute so-called "coyotes" in America.

The U.S. must also increase legal paths to enter the country, Giammattei added, like expanding temporary work visas and providing children legal status to be reunited with parents already in the U.S. -- something the Biden administration has already said it is working on.

"We are here to also discuss the need and the efforts of the White House to create legal paths for migration, so that people don't have to use irregular and very dangerous paths," Ricardo Zúñiga, U.S. special envoy for the Northern Triangle, said Tuesday after meeting government officials and civil society leaders in the capital of Guatemala City.

Standing with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo, Zúñiga praised the country's officials for an "impressive ... spirit of cooperation."

The State Department has not yet said what kinds of "paths" he was referring to, with spokesperson Price referring questions to the White House. The White House declined to comment.

But Biden told ABC News last month that his administration is working to set up a process for asylum seekers to apply from home.

"Make your case. We'll have people there to determine whether or not you are able to meet the requirement to qualify for asylum. That's the best way to do this," Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Asylum is a legal status that can only be claimed when someone reaches another country's territory and has their case adjudicated to see if they face a credible threat back home -- as opposed to refugee status, where one flees one's home country, applies from a third country, is vetted, and can be approved for resettlement.

The administration hopes that allowing folks to apply for asylum status in their home country may discourage some would-be travelers from trying to cross the southern U.S. border. But some experts counter that most asylum applicants are urgently fleeing violence or threats and would still make the journey north, instead of waiting through an application process.

"If the processes are made easier, we could have, instead of illegal migrant children, children who have permission to be reunited with their families -- before they put themselves at risk," Giammattei told ABC News.

The Biden administration has announced the resumption of a program to do that. Created by the Obama administration, the Central American Minors program grants legal status to children 18 and younger who have a parent already legally in the U.S.

The program was shut down by the Trump administration, which ultimately lost a federal lawsuit for its actions and was forced to accept over 2,000 applicants who had been in the pipeline. While those applicants continue to be processed, there's still no word on when the U.S. will begin taking new applications again.

In the meantime, "The Border of the United States is closed," Zúñiga reiterated Tuesday. He left Guatemala for El Salvador Wednesday, but he and his delegation will not visit Honduras. The State Department said it is not meant as a signal to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been named as a "co-conspirator" in a narco-trafficking and bribery trial in New York, but has not been indicted.

"There will be a meeting, I expect, with the Honduran foreign minister, who will be visiting the United States upon their return. As we've said before, we are deeply concerned about the challenges that the people of Honduras are facing right now," Price told ABC News on Monday, declining to say whether Hernandez himself is one of those challenges.

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Sustainable crop, timber production can reduce extinction of species by 40%: Study

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(NEW YORK) -- Transforming crop and timber production to a sustainable model could reduce the extinction of species by mitigating one of the great drivers of terrestrial wildlife decline, according to a new study.

Loss of habitat is often to blame when the status of a species' potential to survive worsens. But while the major direct threats to species have been well documented, establishing specific targets for threat reduction is complex due to the large number of threatened species -- more than 30,000 on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species -- as well as rapid deterioration and large variation in extinction risk to species and the threats impacting them, according to a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Thursday.

A new metric, the species threat abatement and restoration (STAR) metric, allows businesses, governments and society to assess their potential contributions to the global species loss. STAR can also calculate specific targets at a national, regional, sector-based or institutional level.

The metric found that restoring habitat opportunities in certain places "could reduce species extinction risk to levels that would exist without ongoing human impact," researchers state. Crop production accounts for about 24.5% of the global STAR score, while logging and wood harvesting accounts for another 16.4%.

These figures lead researchers to believe that removing threats to wildlife from crop production, as well as actions such as land sharing to land sparing, the setting aside of land for biodiversity conservation, could reduce the global extinction risk for amphibians, birds and mammals by 24%.

Ending threats caused by unsustainable logging globally would reduce this by a further 16%, while removing threats associated with invasive alien species would reduce the risk by 10% more, according to the researchers.

"For years, a major impediment to engaging companies, governments and others in biodiversity conservation has been the inability to measure the impact of their efforts," IUCN Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said in a statement. "By quantifying their contributions, the new STAR metric can bring all these actors together around the common objective of preserving the diversity of life on Earth. We need concerted global action to safeguard the world’s biodiversity, and with it our own safety and wellbeing."

Complete alleviation of threats to a great majority of species could halt the decline and promote sufficient enough recovery in populations that their status on the IUCN's Red List could be improved to the category of "Least Concern," researchers said.

A global framework with revised targets and goals for 2030 is currently being negotiated using the new metric.

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Putin foe Navalny tests negative for COVID-19 but has 2 hernias, lawyers say

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(MOSCOW) -- The jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has tested negative for the coronavirus after he was moved to his prison's medical bay to be treated for a respiratory illness, Navalny's lawyers said Wednesday, but the activist remains unwell and appears to be suffering from two hernias that have been causing him severe back pain.

Navalny, known as President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic, is currently in a penal colony close to Moscow and was transferred to its medical unit two days ago with a high temperature and a cough.

Navalny was already on hunger strike over what he said was the prison's refusal to treat his back pain that was making it difficult to walk. His new symptoms raised concerns he could be sick with COVID-19, and also possibly even tuberculosis, after he said three inmates in his prison block had been diagnosed with the illness.

Navalny's lawyers on Wednesday visited him at the prison and told ABC News that a first test for the coronavirus was negative. They are currently waiting on the result of a second test.

After meeting with Navalny, one of the lawyers, Olga Mikhailova, told Russian media that his temperature appeared to have improved somewhat on Wednesday, falling from over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to around 99 degrees.

She told ABC News earlier they were concerned about the cases of tuberculosis in the prison but that for now it was unclear what illness was causing his cough and fever. An anonymous prison source has denied to Russian state media that there is an outbreak of tuberculosis in the camp.

But Navalny's other health problems appeared worse, the lawyers said. An MRI scan, they said, had now shown Navalny's back pain is being caused by two hernias.

Navalny, 44, declared his hunger strike a week ago and demanded he be allowed proper medical treatment for his back problem, which he said he has been enduring for weeks and has recently worsened, causing him to lose sensation in his legs and making it hard to stand.

Navalny has accused the prison of refusing to allow him to be examined by an independent doctor or give him real treatment. Mikhailova said on Wednesday that the loss of sensation has now started to spread to Navalny's hands.

"Of course, he's exhausted, because he is continuing his hunger strike, he's only drinking water." Mikhailova told the Russian opposition-leaning channel TV Rain. "But with that, he is holding on and he was trying to somehow cheer us up."

Navalny was imprisoned after he returned to Russia in February, having survived an assassination attempt with a nerve agent last summer that has been linked to Russia's intelligence service, the FSB. He was sentenced to over two and a half years in prison for alleged parole violations in a case that has been condemned internationally as political.

The camp where Navalny is held, Correctional Colony No.2 in the town of Pokrov, about 60 miles east of Moscow, is notorious among prisoners and rights activists for its strictness, and denial of medical treatment is routine in Russian prisons.

Russia jails 2nd ex-US Marine Trevor Reed for 9 years amid criticism trials are political
The international human rights group, Amnesty International, on Tuesday warned that the conditions Navalny was being kept in amounted to "torture".

They "have already attempted to kill him, they are now detaining him, and imposing prison conditions, that amount to torture," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general, told Reuters.

"The Russian authorities, may be placing him into a situation of a slow death and seeking to hide what is happening to him," Callamard said.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said it is not following Navalny's situation in prison. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday told reporters that there could be no "special treatment" for Navalny.

In messages posted from prison, Navalny has struck an upbeat tone and maintained his ironic, mocking style. A new message was posted on Wednesday from Navalny via his team on Instagram where he did not mention his illness, but in his characteristic style accused authorities of using absurd tactics to try to undermine his hunger strike. He said the prison guards had started trying to put candy into his pockets to make it look like he was sneaking food and has even resorted to cooking chicken in the prisoners' kitchen in the hope of weakening his resolve.

"I knew, of course, that the authorities in the first place would want to discredit my hunger strike and make a joke of it," Navalny wrote. "Only the primitiveness of the approach surprises me."

A group of Navalny's supporters, including a prominent medical activist who is also his personal physician, gathered at the prison on Tuesday and demanded he be given access to an independent doctor. Police detained the activists, including six doctors, as well as briefly a CNN crew, who were later released.

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