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    American basketball star Brittney Griner is heading home, freed from Russian prison in exchange for the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Thursday's dramatic action was the culmination of an eight-month saga of high diplomacy and dashed hopes. But the U.S. failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, jailed in Russia for nearly four years on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government say are baseless. The swap comes at a time of heightened tensions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And it has brought unprecedented attention to the number of what the U.S. considers wrongful detainees.

      The House has given final approval to protections for same-sex marriages. The vote Thursday sends the legislation to President Joe Biden, a monumental step in a decadeslong battle for nationwide recognition of such unions. The law requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages, a relief for hundreds of thousands of couples who have married since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing the marriages. The bipartisan legislation would also protect interracial unions by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin." Biden says he'll promptly sign the measure into law.

        A recount of an Anchorage-area state Senate race reaffirmed Republican Cathy Giessel as the winner, while a recount of an Anchorage House race reaffirmed Republican Rep. Tom McKay as the winner. The Senate recount was conducted by the state Division of Elections Wednesday at the request of Democrat Roselynn Cacy, who was the first of the three candidates in the Senate District E race to be eliminated in the Nov. 8 ranked vote contest. Democrat Denny Wells requested the recount in the House race; that recount was held Thursday.

          Sri Lanka’s Parliament has approved a budget that includes reforms aimed at improving the country’s finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis. The $15-billion budget includes a $117-million relief package for those affected by the crisis. It provides for a restructuring of state-owned enterprises, reduced subsidies for electricity, and tax increases to boost state revenue. That's based on proposals by the International Monetary Fund under a preliminary $2.9-billion bailout plan. Unsustainable government debt, a balance of payments crisis and the pandemic led to a severe shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food. Soaring prices have caused severe hardships for most Sri Lankans.

            The one-for-one swap involving Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout was not the one that U.S. officials had hoped to negotiate or were initially willing to accept. For months they been demanding the release of both Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan. The final agreement came together in just the past few days. The administration grudgingly accepted that though Russia would not budge on Whelan, it was finally prepared to relent on Griner. That created imperfect but ultimately workable options for a U.S. government under pressure to make a deal.

              Kosovo police say armed men fired guns from a vehicle, injuring one officer. A statement Friday said a police officer was “slightly wounded” and a police car was damaged. The injured officer was taken at the hospital and police are investigating the case. Police have increased their presence to help with rising tensions in northern areas dominated by the ethnic Serb minority. The area includes four ethnic Serb-dominated communes in the north where a snap election will be held Dec. 18. Earlier this week, some election centers were damaged and shooting was heard in those communes, raising fears of the long-simmering tensions between Serbia and its former province, Kosovo. It's not clear if voting will be held as normal.

                New Mexico officials are outlining new conditions for a proposed permit for the U.S. government to continue disposing of nuclear waste in the state's southeast corner. As a hedge against becoming the nation’s permanent dumping ground, New Mexico wants to raise the bar with its proposal by demanding federal officials produce a full accounting of waste still needing to be cleaned up. It also intends to put Congress on notice that the permit would be revoked if it expands the type of waste that can be brought to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

                At his initial court appearance in Lima, Peru on Thursday, Pedro Castillo gave only yes or no answers, looking on downcast as his attorney argued that he had been arbitrarily detained. The man who had served as Peruvian president refused to give any statement of his own. In just three tumultuous hours, Castillo went from decreeing the dissolution of his country’s Congress to being replaced by his vice president and put under arrest. On Wednesday, he was removed from office and arrested on a charge of rebellion after dissolving the Congress before a scheduled impeachment vote.

                The governor of Illinois has signed into law a measure that officials say will eliminate a $1.8 billion debt in the pandemic-battered account that pays out unemployment benefits.Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that an unexpected surge in revenue fuels the plan. It was brokered by business and labor, as well as Democrats and Republicans. It pays off a $1.36 billion federal loan distributed to Illinois when COVID-19 shuttered businesses in 2020 and sent unemployment rates to 40-year highs. That loan’s retirement carried a $20 million interest payment due next fall.It also puts an additional $450 million into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

                Reflecting on her five years as New Zealand’s leader, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says China has undoubtedly become more assertive in the region over that time. But she cautions that building relationships with small Pacific nations shouldn’t become a game of one-upmanship. In a joint interview with The Associated Press and the Australian Associated Press, Ardern says China has changed in recent years under President Xi Jinping. China this year made some bold geopolitical moves in the Pacific, including signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands, which worried some Pacific nations and Western democracies. But Ardern rejected criticism that New Zealand didn’t make its presence felt enough this year.

                Officials say the U.S. is sending an additional $275 million in military aid to Ukraine, including large amounts of ammunition and high-tech systems that can be used to detect and counter drones in its ongoing war with Russia. The total amount is smaller than most of the recent packages of aid, and comes as many military officials and experts predict a reduction in attacks during the winter. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia appears to be slowing its military activities to regroup and launch a new offensive when the weather warms. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the aid package prior to its public release, which is expected Friday.

                The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” has resigned after being indicted on charges of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses. Rep. Joe Harding submitted his resignation letter Thursday. That came a day after authorities announced he had been indicted on charges that he illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic aid loans. Harding is a Republican who became nationally known this year over his sponsorship of a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

                A show of prison artwork by a Russian arms trader serving 25 years in the United States and the focus of speculation about a prisoner swap that could free WBNA star Brittney Griner has opened at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. The exhibition at the Federation Council that opened Tuesday underlines Russia’s strong interest in the release of Viktor Bout. Russian officials say he is an “entrepreneur” who was unjustly arrested and sentenced to 25 years but who is characterized abroad as the ruthless “Merchant of Death.” Russia has agitated for his release since he was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and later convicted of terrorism for allegedly trying to sell up to $20 million in weapons.

                The House Committee on Oversight and Reform says the Washington Commanders created a “toxic work culture” for more than two decades and downplayed sexual misconduct by men at the top levels of the organization. That's according to a report published Thursday. The report also says team owner Dan Snyder was involved in the misconduct, interfered in a separate investigation and was misleading to the House committee. The report also says the NFL minimizes "workplace misconduct across the league.” Attorneys for Snyder and the Commanders said the committee’s work was “one-sided” and there were “no new revelations.”

                A judge in Miami has admonished federal prosecutors for instructing a cooperating witness to gather information on his co-defendants and then lying to the court to cover up misconduct he said violated their constitutional right to a fair trial. The rebuke came in an excoriating ruling unsealed Wednesday by Judge Darrin Gayles that orders a new trial in the case of three friends found guilty in a 2017 trial of mail fraud and sentenced to more than six years in prison. The case revolved around a cooperating witness prosecutors instructed to spy on his co-defendants to gain an upper leg at trial.

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                An Indiana doctor has dropped a lawsuit that aimed to halt the state’s attorney general from investigating her after she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old Ohio child who was raped. Thursday court filings say lawyers for Dr. Caitlin Bernard of Indianapolis voluntarily nixed the lawsuit filed last month against Indiana Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita. The lawsuit argued Rokita’s office was wrongly justifying the investigation with “frivolous” consumer complaints submitted by people with no personal knowledge about the girl’s treatment. Marion County Judge Heather Welch ruled that Rokita could continue investigating Bernard but also said Rokita wrongly made public comments about investigating Bernard before he filed a complaint about her with the medical board.

                A sand storm at the Jersey shore is escalating. New Jersey is suing a coastal town that repaired beach erosion from an October storm in defiance of a state order not to do so. And the town, North Wildwood remains defiant: It says it will place material to build a prohibited bulkhead on the sand next week and promises it will build the wall if a storm predicted for this weekend causes the temporarily repaired dune to collapse. The state says there is no imminent danger to communities near the beach and warns that the work North Wildwood wants to do could actually make future erosion worse.

                The brother of an American detained in Russia since 2018 says that his family fears he will not be released for years. He said Paul Whelan's family also supported the U.S. government’s agreement to a prisoner exchange that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner but left Whelan behind. Whelan is a Michigan corporate security executive. He has been jailed for four years on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. U.S. officials said Russia refused to consider including Whelan in the Griner deal, calling it a “one or none” decision.

                A bill to rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military has passed the House. The bill approved Thursday directs Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to rescind his 2021 order requiring COVID vaccination. The bill also provides nearly $858 billion for national defense, which is about $45 billion more than President Joe Biden requested. Lawmakers said the added spending is needed to help the U.S. military keep an edge over China and Russia. This year’s bill also supports a $4.6% pay raise for military members and the Defense Department’s civilian workers. The Senate is expected to approve the bill soon.

                Gov. Andy Beshear has announced plans to revamp Kentucky’s juvenile detention system. He said Thursday the plan is to assign male teens to facilities based on the severity of their offenses. He says the classification system will be for male juveniles ages 14 and older. It's aimed at enhancing safety in a system struggling with violent disruptions. A riot broke out recently at a detention center. Starting in 2023, the system will place male juveniles charged with serious crimes in a high-security facility. It will replace a regional system that placed juveniles in detention facilities based on where they live.

                A state court judge is weighing whether to allow a case to proceed to trial that alleges that an Alaska lawmaker’s ties to the far-right Oath Keepers group disqualifies him from holding office. Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna in September ordered that state elections officials delay certifying the Nov. 8 election for Republican Rep. David Eastman’s seat pending further order by the court. Eastman won that election last month. Eastman has asked that the case against him be dismissed. McKenna heard arguments on that and related matters Thursday. He said he would aim to issue a ruling by Friday. Trial was tentatively set to begin next week.

                Israel’s designated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a coalition deal with an ultra-Orthodox party, taking another step forward toward forming what is expected to be the most right-wing and religious government in the country's history. Under Thursday's deal, the Shas party will either control or hold senior posts in a number of key ministries,including religious services, social affairs, education and interior affairs. Its head Aryeh Deri, is expected to serve half a term as minister of health and interior affairs, and then half as the finace minister. The appointment will require special legislation. Deri was convicted of tax offenses last year and is on probation. Current law prevents him from holding a Cabinet post.

                Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has helped mark a milestone in U.S. history by holding up a newly minted $5 bill signed for the first time ever by two women. Yellen’s signature will appear alongside that of U.S. Treasurer Lynn Malerba, the first Native American in that position. Yellen joked Thursday about the bad handwriting of some of her male predecessors and said, “I will admit, I spent some quality time practicing my signature.” Malerba and Yellen traveled to a Bureau of Engraving and Printing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to provide their signatures. The new $1 and $5 notes will go into circulation next year.

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