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World News Headlines

    A Russian billionaire close to President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he is willing to take part in U.S. congressional hearings to discuss his past business relationship with President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Last week, The Associated Press reported that Manafort had written aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska in 2005, proposing to do work for Deripaska that would 'benefit the Putin Government.' The story was based on interviews with people familiar with Deripaska's business dealings with Manafort and documents obtained by the AP, including strategy memoranda, contracts and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. In a quarter-page advertisement in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, Deripaska said he was 'ready to take part in any hearings conducted in the US Congress on this subject in order to defend my reputation and name.' Manafort signed a $10 million contract in 2006 that laid out a four-country communications and political strategy intended to support Deripaska's company and undermine anti-Russian political movements. Payments continued until at least 2009, seven years before Manafort joined and led Trump's 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the relationship. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the business arrangement openly. In his newspaper ads responding to the AP's story, Deripaska said he never signed 'a $10 million contract 'to greatly benefit the Putin Government' with Paul Manafort.' 'I have never made any commitments or contracts with the obligation or purpose to covertly promote or advance 'Putin's Government' interests anywhere in the world,' Deripaska wrote. The AP's story said that Manafort wrote a strategy memo proposing that the work he would do for Deripaska would 'benefit the Putin Government,' not that the contract contained that language. 'This AP Exclusive report falls into the negative context of current US-Russian relations and causes fresh unfair and unjustified concerns and alarm in the US Congress about Russian involvement in US domestic affairs,' Deripaska's ad says. The AP stands by its reporting, spokeswoman Lauren Easton said. The revelations about Manafort come as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations, and they appear to guarantee that Manafort will be sought as a key witness in upcoming hearings. He has volunteered to appear. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort's ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed. Deripaska is one of Russia's wealthiest men. He amassed his fortune under Putin and has bought assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin's interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described him as 'among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis' and 'a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad.' A spokesman for Manafort has confirmed that Manafort worked for Deripaska representing him on business and personal matters, but has denied that the work involved 'representing Russia's political interests.' White House spokesman Sean Spicer said last week that Trump was not aware of Manafort's work for Deripaska a decade ago. The AP reported last week that Manafort proposed an ambitious political strategy in a June 2005 memo that was based on work he had done in Ukraine. Manafort described how his plan could be used to influence politics, business deals and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to the benefit of the Russian government. 'We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,' Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, 'will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.' Manafort wrote that the plan would bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political influence campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations. The $10 million contract Manafort signed in 2006 outlined the political and communications activities in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia in more detail, but the AP noted last week that the work actually performed is unclear. Manafort and Deripaska had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands court. The dispute involved a nearly $19 million investment that Manafort was orchestrating for Deripaska in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska's representatives. In the filing, Deripaska accused Manafort and his associates of taking the money and then failing to respond to his queries about how the funds had been used. Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska's representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the presidential nomination, Deripaska's representatives said they would no longer discuss the case. Last week, Deripaska wrote in a statement to the AP that 'there was an agreement between Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Manafort to provide investment consulting services related to business interests of Mr. Deripaska, which now is a subject to legal claims.' ___ Submit reporting tips to The Associated Press: https://www.ap.org/tips
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with President Donald Trump the first full week of April, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. The first in-person encounter between the leaders comes after Trump sharply criticized China during the presidential campaign. But he is now seeking Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Trump and Xi also are likely to discuss the U.S. president's threats to counter what he claims are unfair Chinese trade practices. Trump has promised to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator. It's unclear if Trump will follow on either threat while seeking China's cooperation on North Korea. Though the White House hasn't formally announced Xi's visit, the leaders are expected to gather at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — where Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February. The State Department official confirmed the timing of Xi's trip while discussing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's upcoming travel plans. Tillerson had planned to skip a meeting of NATO foreign ministers scheduled for April 5-6 so he could attend Xi's meeting with Trump, the official said. The NATO gathering in Brussels was rescheduled for Friday so Tillerson could attend, said the official, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity even though Trump has criticized media for using anonymous sources. Under Trump, regular opportunities for journalists to question Tillerson or other State Department officials in public have been significantly curtailed. The agency held no televised briefings, a State Department mainstay for decades under administrations of both parties, for six weeks after Trump's inauguration. They resumed in March under a new format: Two televised briefings per week and two over-the-phone briefings. Now the televised briefings have again been canceled, due to staffing changes. Instead, they're only holding telephone briefings, restricted to one topic per day as chosen by the State Department. Those calls are held on 'background,' meaning journalists can question senior officials but are prohibited from naming them in any stories, and the State Department has declined requests to conduct the calls on the record. The State Department has said typical, on-the-record briefings may resume soon.
  • The U.S. military says it is investigating the blast, which may have been caused by an Islamic State truck bomb that was either hit by the airstrike or detonated by the militants near a building packed with dozens of civilians. The civilians may also have been held as human shields. Amnesty International said Tuesday that a recent spike in civilian casualties indicates the U.S. military is not taking adequate precautions, and that another strike in Mosul on Saturday may have killed up to 150 civilians. The U.S.-led coalition, which is helping Iraqi forces drive IS militants from the country's second-largest city, says it is investigating multiple strikes that allegedly resulted in civilian deaths. Here is a look at past incidents in which U.S. fire has killed large numbers of civilians. Nov. 3, 2016 — During a firefight between NATO-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban in the northern Kunduz province, troops responded to fire from insurgents who had taken up positions in civilian homes, killing 33 civilians and wounding 27, according to the U.S. military, which expressed regret. Oct. 3, 2015 — A U.S. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunship attacked a Kunduz hospital run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, killing 42 people. Sixteen U.S. military personnel, including a two-star general, were disciplined for what American officials described as mistakes that led to the strike. Doctors Without Borders has called the attack a war crime and demanded an independent investigation. Aug. 22, 2008 — An Afghan government commission and a preliminary U.N. report found that a U.S.-led military operation in the village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children and 15 women. Feb 13, 1991 — At the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, a U.S. bombing attack in Iraq was alleged to have killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Ameriya air raid shelter, which the United States insisted was being used for military communications. The Iraqi Information Ministry said at least 400 civilians were killed in the raid, and civil defense officials estimated the toll at more than 500. July 3, 1988 — A U.S. warship mistakenly shot down an Iranian jetliner in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, killing 290 people and prompting widespread anger at U.S. policy and years of legal dispute.
  • Scottish lawmakers voted Tuesday to seek a new referendum on independence, presenting the British government with an unwelcome distraction as it prepares to push the European Union exit button. The Edinburgh-based legislature voted 69-59 to ask the U.K. government to sanction an independence vote that would be held within the next two years. Outside, several dozen independence supporters bearing Scottish and EU flags broke into cheers and tears of joy as they heard the news. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who asked lawmakers to authorize her to request the referendum, says Scots must be given the chance to vote on their future before Britain leaves the European Union. British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to launch the U.K's two-year process of exiting the EU on Wednesday by triggering Article 50 of the bloc's key treaty. Britain as a whole voted to leave the bloc in a referendum last year, but Scots voted by a large margin to stay. 'Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands,' Sturgeon told lawmakers before the vote. Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum that Sturgeon's Scottish National Party called a once-in-a-generation vote. But Sturgeon says Brexit has altered conditions dramatically. She says there should be a new plebiscite on independence between fall 2018 and spring 2019, when details of Britain's divorce terms with the bloc are clear. Sturgeon said that whatever the final terms, Brexit would mean 'significant and profound' change for Scotland. 'That change should not be imposed upon us,' she said. 'We should have the right to decide the nature of that change.' May, whose government must approve the referendum for it to be legally binding, says the time is not right. She says all parts of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — must pull together to get the best-possible deal with the EU. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson agreed, saying Tuesday that Scots do not want 'the division and rancor of another referendum campaign.' The Scottish parliament had been due to vote on Sturgeon's referendum demand last week, but the session was adjourned after Wednesday's extremist attack in London. Sturgeon's referendum call was backed by the governing Scottish nationalists and the Greens, and opposed by the Conservative and Labour parties. It's unclear what could break the stalemate between Edinburgh and London. British officials have indicated they would not agree to another independence referendum until Britain's EU exit is over and done with — a process that could take longer than two years. David Mundell, the British government's Scotland minister, said the U.K. government would not be 'entering into negotiations on whether there should be another independence referendum during the Brexit process.' 'It's not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people do now know what the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU will be,' he said. Sturgeon said after the vote that she would 'seek sensible and constructive discussion' with the British government later this week. 'I hope the United Kingdom government will respect the view of parliament,' she said. 'This is simply about giving people in Scotland a choice.' Should that fail, Sturgeon promised to inform the parliament of next steps after its Easter break next month. In Edinburgh, supporters of Scottish independence urged Sturgeon to forge ahead. Scott Murray, a 71-year-old music tutor, said the vote for Brexit had changed everything. 'I think we should have another referendum,' Murray said. 'I feel that we are divorced from what happens in the south of England and we should be our own country and stand on our own two feet.' But plumber Brian Hamilton, 45, said he'd be happier if members of the Scottish National Party government 'got on with their day jobs' rather than focusing on Europe. 'They say they speak for the people of Scotland, but they don't speak for the people of Scotland because they are not representing me whatsoever,' he said. ___ Lawless reported from London.
  • Embracing the European Union could be seen as a risky move for politicians given Britain's decision to abandon the bloc and the renewed popularity of nationalist parties. But French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron is doing just that. Macron, 39, an independent centrist with pro-free market views, is fiercely promoting common European ideals of peace, prosperity and freedom with a blitz of campaign events across France and Europe to explain to voters why the EU matters. While British Prime Minister Theresa May will officially trigger divorce proceedings from the bloc Wednesday, Macron's campaign team held pro-Europe events in cities around France over the weekend as the EU marked its 60th birthday. The former French economy minister described himself as an 'enthusiastic, yet lucid European' in a joint interview with French newspaper Liberation and Italian newspaper last week. He said with Britain leaving, the bloc needs to build a new leadership base anchored by France and Germany. The EU needs 'urgent' reforms because 'for the first time, many foreign leaders openly want a weakening of Europe: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, as well as the main authoritarian leaders of the Middle East,' Macron said. One of the reforms he advocates is new cooperation on defense, a move he said would be operated by France and Germany in association with Italy, Spain and possibly the United Kingdom, even after its exit from the EU. To improve the continent's security and fight against terrorism, Macron wants the bloc to be able to deploy at least 5,000 European border guards to 'strengthen controls at the external borders' of the Schengen passport-free travel zone. He also wants the 19 nations that use the euro as their official currency to harmonize their tax policies to allow for fairer economic competition between companies that want to work in other countries. Polls suggest Macron and Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigration, anti-European Union leader of the National Front, are likely to be the two top finishers in the first round of the presidential vote on April 23. If that happens, Le Pen and Macron would go head-to-head in a May 7 runoff. Le Pen wants to pull France from the euro currency and from the European Union. On Monday, she described Macron as 'an immigrationist' because he has backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies to welcome refugees from Syria. Macron met with Merkel earlier this month in Berlin, where he called for a 'new Franco-German deal' that would involve 'much more structured cooperation' on investment, on European border security, and on defense issues — in particular in the Middle East and Africa. 'You cannot be tentatively European; otherwise it's already lost,' the candidate told Liberation and La Repubblica. 'Anti-Europeans' violence is such that we need to repeat over and over what Europe has given us and can still give us, if we are involved in changing it....What Marine Le Pen wants is to recreate conflicts in Europe.' The continent's future is a strong, recurrent theme in the French presidential campaign. Politicians acknowledge a growing discontent with EU institutions, often seen by voters as distant and lacking democratic legitimacy. Conservative contender Francois Fillon advocates for a powerful Europe that would at the same time respect every nation's sovereignty. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon wants a more democratic Europe, with representatives of national parliaments being entitled to gather and discuss the budget of the Eurozone. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon harshly criticizes free market policies and strict budget rules that he says were imposed in the EU by Germany. He has pledged to renegotiate the European treaties and says if the plan fails, he would move to take France out of the EU. The 27 nations that will make up the European Union once Britain exits the bloc renewed their vow of unity Saturday in the face of crises that are increasingly testing the bonds between members. Acknowledging that there won't be agreement on every issue, EU leaders also approved giving member nations more freedom to form partial alliances when unanimity is out of reach. 'We have united for the better. Europe is our common future,' the declaration said.
  • U.S. researchers who monitor North Korea say satellite imagery shows possible preparations for an underground nuclear test explosion. The researchers writing on the 38 North website say the images were taken late last week at Punggye-ri (PUNG'-gare-ree) in the country's northeast, where North Korea has conducted its five previous nuclear tests. They show vehicles or equipment trailers at a tunnel entrance and possibly communications cables that could be used to initiate the test and collect data. There is no definitive evidence of a nuclear device or anything indicating the timing of a test. International concern is mounting over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions last year, the latest in September. Predicting nuclear tests is notoriously difficult because the tests are conducted underground.
  • An English judge handed down an eight-week jail sentence Monday to a woman who played an Ed Sheeran song at top volume and on repeat for an hour, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news Sonia Bryce, 36, played Sheeran’s “Shape of You” on repeat, despite complaints from her neighbors and their five children, The Telegraph reported. “I used to like Ed Sheeran but I’ve taken him off my playlist,” neighbor Clare Tidmarsh told the newspaper. “It drove us crazy,' As part of her defense, The Telegraph reported Bryce claimed “that she does not actually like Ed Sheeran that much.” Bryce’s landlords, Walsall Housing Group Ltd, got a court order last year that barred the Walsall woman from “creating a nuisance or annoyance,” ITV News reported. She violated the injunction several times and was sentenced to six weeks in jail last December, according to the news station. 'You must learn that you should behave as a reasonable and responsible adult, and not make life for your neighbors the misery that you have,' Judge Philip Gregory of Walsall County Court told Bryce on Monday, according to The Telegraph. 'Everybody is entitled to live in a degree of peace and quiet with the usual give and take of society, but you do not behave like a civilized person, and you have got to learn that you will,' he said.
  • The World Video Game Hall of Fame's 2017 finalists span decades and electronic platforms, from the 1981 arcade classic 'Donkey Kong' that launched Mario's plumbing career to the 2006 living room hit 'Wii Sports,' that made gamers out of grandparents. The hall of fame at The Strong museum in Rochester said Tuesday that 12 video games are under consideration for induction in May. They also include: 'Final Fantasy VII,' ''Halo: Combat Evolved,' ''Microsoft Windows Solitaire,' ''Mortal Kombat,' ''Myst,' ''Pokemon Red and Green,' ''Portal,' ''Resident Evil,' ''Street Fighter II' and 'Tomb Raider.' The finalists were chosen from thousands of nominations from more than 100 countries, said museum officials, who will rely on an international committee of video game scholars and journalists to select the 2017 class. The winners will be inducted May 4. 'What they all have in common is their undeniable impact on the world of gaming and popular culture,' said Jon-Paul Dyson, director of The Strong's International Center for the History of Electronic Games.' The hall of fame recognizes electronic games that have achieved icon status and geographical reach, and that have influenced game design or popular culture. The class of 2017 will be the third group to go into the young hall, joining 'DOOM,' ''Grand Theft Auto III,' ''The Legend of Zelda,' ''The Oregon Trail,' ''Pac-Man,' ''Pong,' ''The Sims,' ''Sonic the Hedgehog,' ''Space Invaders,' Tetris, 'World of Wardcraft,' and 'Super Mario Bros.,' whose title character got his start in this year's 'Donkey Kong' entry. More about this year's finalists, according The Strong: —'Donkey Kong' (1981): Helped to launch the career of game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and sold an estimated 132,000 arcade cabinets. —'Final Fantasy VII' (1997): The Sony Playstation's second-most popular game introduced 3-D computer graphics and full motion video, selling more than 10 million units. —'Halo: Combat Evolved' (2001): A launch game for Microsoft's Xbox system, the science-fiction game sold more than 6 million copies and inspired sequels, spin-offs, novels, comic books and action figures. —'Microsoft Windows Solitaire' (1991): Based on a centuries-old card game, it has been installed on more than 1 billion home computers and other machines since debuting on Windows 3.0. —'Mortal Kombat' (1992): The game's realistic violence was debated internationally and in Congress and was a factor in the 1994 creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. —'Myst' (1993): The slow-paced, contemplative game harnessed early CD-ROM technology and became the best-selling computer game in the 1990s, selling 6 million copies. —'Pokemon Red and Green' (1996): Since appearing on the Nintendo Game Boy, the Pokemon phenomenon has produced more than 260 million copies of its games, 21.5 billion trading cards, more than 800 television episodes and 17 movies. —'Portal' (2007): The Game Developers Conference's 2008 Game of the Year was the breakout hit out of the four first-person shooter games it was packaged with, recognized for game mechanics that relied on portal physics. —'Resident Evil' (1996): Among spin-offs of the survival horror game are movies that have grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide, as well as themed restaurants and novels. —'Street Fighter II' (1991): One of the top-selling arcade games ever helped spark an arcade renaissance in the 1990s and inspired numerous sequels. —'Tomb Raider' (1996): Its female protagonist, Lara Croft, is the face of a franchise that has sold more than 58 million units worldwide, helped in part by actress Angelina Jolie's movie portrayal. —'Wii Sports' (2006): Launched with the Nintendo Wii home video game system, its motion-control technology let gamers of any age serve a tennis ball or throw a left hook and helped push Wii console sales to more than 100 million.
  • The jailing of a dozen people working for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was 'an obvious attempt to disrupt' his anti-corruption work following major nationwide protests, a spokeswoman for his organization said Tuesday. Eleven of them have been sentenced to seven days in jail, while Leonid Volkov, who is leading Navalny's presidential campaign, was given 10 days for failing to respond to police orders, said Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund. 'This is an obvious attempt to disrupt the work of the organization,' Yarmysh said. Navalny, who organized Sunday's protests and plans to run against President Vladimir Putin in the 2018 election, was arrested immediately after arriving at a demonstration in Moscow. Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in prison Monday. Police arrested more than 1,000 people across Russia on Sunday during protests called by Navalny against corruption. They were the largest anti-government street demonstrations in Russia for five years. The anti-corruption fund's most recent investigation targeted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's alleged secret wealth and collection of mansions, villas and vineyards. A video about the expose narrated by Navalny garnered more than 13 million views on YouTube and was the chief rallying cry for Sunday's protests. The staff, volunteers and technical experts working for the fund who were arrested Sunday were coordinating a live broadcast of the protests from their office in Moscow. Police said that they refused to leave the premises when warned of a bomb threat. Yarmysh said the organization's offices remained sealed off Tuesday and police had seized computers and other equipment.
  • German prosecutors say they've had a 30-year-old Afghan man arrested on suspicion he commanded a Taliban unit responsible for an attack on a convoy that killed 16 American and Afghan soldiers. Prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday that Abdullah P., whose last name wasn't given in line with privacy laws, was arrested last week in Bavaria on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization and attempted murder. He's alleged to have joined the Taliban in 2002 and taken over a command from his father in 2004. Prosecutors say he was involved in 'countless' missions against foreign and Afghan soldiers, including the convoy attack. Prosecutors refused to give further details, but said he left his combat unit in 2008, fled in 2009 to Pakistan, and came to Germany in 2011.

Local News

  • Rabun County authorities are seeking a missing 28-year-old woman who has her three sons with her, officials said. According to a post on the sheriff’s Facebook page, Brittany Rebecca Stewart has been missing since Thursday. Her children are 7 months to 7 years old. She’s believed to be driving a maroon 1999 Ford Explorer with Georgia tag RCP0743, the sheriff’s office said in the post. Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Stewart and her children is asked to call 911 or Rabun dispatch at 706-782-6226.
  • A dinner meeting is set for tonight for Clarke County School Board members and the first of three finalists to be the next Clarke County School Superintendent: the Board is looking for a replacement for the departed Dr. Phil Lanoue. The United Way of Northeast Georgia holds its annual meeting and awards banquet, 5:30 this afternoon at the downtown Holiday Inn.  Another meeting of the Envision Athens steering committee is on tap for today, underway at 4 o’clock at the Classic Center.  There is an afternoon meeting of the Classic Center Authority: 4 o’clock at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. There is a jobs fair today in Athens: the Benson Hospitality Group is setting up shop at the downtown Holiday Inn at 5 o’clock this afternoon.  Tonight’s Oconee County Commission meeting gets underway at 7 o’clock at the Oconee County Courthouse in Watkinsville. It’s an agenda setting session.  Barrow County Commissioners meet tonight, 7 o’clock at the Historic Courthouse in Winder. 
  • Police in Winder have released the name of the man whose body was found in a car in a shopping center parking lot. Todd Davis was 52 years old, from Winder. His body was discovered Sunday in a vehicle parked in the Holly Hill shopping center on West Athens Street in Winder. Police say there are no immediate indications of foul play; also still no word on the exact cause of death. Hall County authorities have released the name of the husband and wife killed in what is believed to have been a murder-suicide: the bodies of 75 year-old Larry McGinness and 69 year-old Shelly McGinness were found last week at a home in Gainesville. The GBI is in on the ongoing investigation. 
  • State Rep. Tommy Benton believes the history of the Confederate army is part of Southern cultural heritage and should be recognized formally in the state. Benton, a Republican from Jefferson, sponsored House Resolution 644 along with state Reps. Alan Powell, Steve Tarvin and Jesse Petrea to commemorate the “brave” men who fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War by recognizing April as Confederate History Month and April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day. His resolution, however, makes no mention of the “Civil War,” instead referring to it as the “four-year struggle for states’ rights, individual freedom, and local governmental control, which they believed to be right and just.” But when asked whether the resolution, which is written to “encourage our citizens to learn about Georgia’s heritage and history and to observe the occasion with appropriate ceremonies,” includes the need to understand the role that slavery and systemic exploitation and oppression of African and African-American people played and an acknowledgement of what the war was fought about, Benton declined to answer. “Next question,” Benton said Monday during a press conference about the resolution. A former schoolteacher and unapologetic supporter of preserving Georgia’s Confederate heritage, Benton has previously backed a measure that would protect state monuments from being moved or removed. He has also said the Ku Klux Klan, though he didn’t agree with all its methods, “made a lot of people straighten up.” Benton said the intentions of his proposal, which isn’t expected to gain any traction in the final days of the legislative session, have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. “It should never have been a controversy,” Benton said. “We’re not honoring slavery.” After a gunman and avowed white supremacist shot and killed nine people praying in an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., many Southern states came under fire for their embrace of Confederate memorabilia and traditions. The fourth Monday in April had for decades been known in Georgia as Confederate Memorial Day. But in 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal quietly struck that reference, as well as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, from the official state calendar and renamed each date as a “State Holiday.”
  • The Georgia DOT is holding an afternoon meeting on plans to widen Highway 441 in Oconee and Morgan counties. The first session with the Oconee County Citizens Advisory Committee is set for 5 o’clock in the Community Center at the Oconee County Veterans Park. It is expected that plans for a Bishop bypass will be up for discussion at today’s meeting.  Your drive through Madison could be disrupted again this week: more movie work is taking place in Morgan County, with production of a film that stars Reba McIntire. Southbound lane closures on I-85 in Franklin County are scheduled for tonight, as the DOT continues work on the Interstate weigh station near Lavonia. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS – For years, Georgia’s head football and basketball coaches used to go on an extensive spring speaking tour, answering questions and shaking hands with fans who paid a small fee at the door. Those days of extensive touring around Georgia appear to be over. At least for now. The university has planned five events this spring featuring Kirby Smart, but they will be private donor events – and for now only one will be in the state of Georgia. The school will host events in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Houston, with the lone in-state event being in Atlanta in July. These events will be closed to the public and the media, open only to donors. But there will also be two additional in-state events featuring Smart, athletics director Greg McGarity said Monday afternoon. Those events will just be branded differently. “We’re still working through two in-state events that would be branded under the Georgia Bulldog Club, or under UGA athletics,” McGarity said. In the past, Georgia football and basketball coach did as many as 12 spring tour stops, almost all in the state, from Columbus to Macon to Augusta and even smaller stops. But those tours have gradually dissipated: In Mark Richt’s final year, he only went to seven stops. Last year Smart went to five stops, though four of the were in-state, the exception being a donor event in Dallas. This year it’s going all-private, which someone with knowledge said evolved from Smart coming in with a new approach, and UGA wanting to do fundraising. There’s a feeling they don’t need the old model, where fans get a chance to hear from coaches and ask them questions, because of social media and other factors. Crowds at these events had also been going down. “The university is trying to be strategic to generate the money that everybody needs to generate right now,” McGarity said. “The purpose of these events have changed, they’ve morphed over the years.” The athletics department did seem to anticipate some fan blowback. “As for our donors, I realize there may be some sensitivity to the majority of the events being out of state this year,” associate athletics director for development Matt Borman wrote in an internal e-mail earlier this month. “If donors bring this up to you please just say that we are excited to be in Atlanta with an event in July and we wanted to take an opportunity this year to visit some of our supporters who don’t have the opportunity to make it to Athens on a regular basis. “After this year of events we will reevaluate and definitely consider bringing some of these events back into Georgia.” There are other speaking events for Smart that aren’t directly affiliated with the school. For instance, he is speaking Monday night at the Athens Touchdown Club, and spoke last month at the Macon Touchdown Club.
  • ATHENS, Ga. --- The University of Georgia women’s tennis team extended its win streak to six matches with a commanding 4-0 victory over Mississippi State Sunday afternoon at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.   The Bulldogs (13-3, 7-1 SEC) continued to roll in doubles as they grabbed the point for the seventh-consecutive match. The 28th-ranked duo of Elena Christofi and Kennedy Shaffer clinched it on court two for the sixth time in the streak. In singles, Mariana Gould blew by her opponent 6-0, 6-1 followed by a Shaffer win at No. 3 and a clincher at the net by Christofi on court two.   “We are in the middle of this conference race and it's been tough every time we play all these schools,” Georgia head coach Jeff Wallace said. “I keep saying in the SEC we have 11 in the top 25 rankings and everybody comes ready to play. Mississippi State was another one of those teams. I thought the doubles point was great. Getting that 1-0 lead is critical for us. It was a good match and a great day and now we hit the road for the next three before we conclude our season here at home.” The shutout was Georgia’s fifth of the season. The Bulldogs have now rallied off six straight conference wins with four of those against teams in the top-25.   In doubles, the No. 2 court sat at 4-3 before Christofi/Shaffer finished the last two games strong to win 6-3 over Khrystyna Vozniak and Jennifer Brown. The Georgia twosome showcases a 6-1 record playing No. 2 and an 11-2 slate on the year.   Mississippi State (11-5, 4-4) started doubles with the lead after 11th-ranked tandem of Jasmine Lee and Lisa Marie Rioux edged No. 18 Ellen Perez and Caroline Brinson on court one. However, Gould and Marta Gonzalez evened up the score on court three winning 6-3 before Christofi and Shaffer secured the point.   In singles, junior Mariana Gould, ranked at No. 102, overpowered her opponent 6-0, 6-1 on the last court to put Georgia up 2-0. Gould, of Boise, Idaho, ups her win streak to five on court six where she has a 10-2 dual record.   The remaining singles matches featured two first-set tiebreakers and four that spilled into the third set. On court No. 3, Kennedy Shaffer edged Madison Harrison in the first-set tiebreaker 7-2, then carried that momentum into the second set winning 6-2.   In the battle of freshmen on court two eighth-ranked Christofi defeated Rioux in the deciding third set 6-1 to seal the win for the Bulldogs. The clincher was Christofi’s fourth on the season en route to a team-best 26-4 record.   Georgia was leading in two of the three remaining third-set matches that went unfinished. At No. 4, Brinson was on the verge of victory leading Anastasia Rentouli 5-0. After Perez dropped the first-set tiebreaker, she took the second set over 32nd-ranked Jasmine Lee and was up 2-1 when play was called.   “This year is going fast we got to keep working and stay excited and continue to compete like we're competing,” Wallace added.   The Bulldogs are back in action Saturday, April 1st at No. 23 Tennessee. First serve is slotted for 1 p.m. ET.    ## Tennis Match Results Mississippi State vs. Georgia Mar 26, 2017 at Athens, Ga. (Dan Magill Tennis Complex)   #3 Georgia 4, #25 Mississippi State 0   Singles competition  1. #26 Ellen Perez (UGA) vs. #32 Jasmine Lee (MSU) 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 2-1, unfinished 2. #8 Elena Christofi (UGA) def. Lisa Marie Rioux (MSU) 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 3. #57 Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Madison Harrison (MSU) 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 4. #59 Caroline Brinson (UGA) vs. Anastasia Rentouli (MSU) 6-4, 1-6, 5-0, unfinished 5. Marta Gonzalez (UGA) vs. Khrystyna Vozniak (MSU) 4-6, 6-3, 0-1, unfinished 6. #102 Mariana Gould (UGA) def. Sara Lizariturry (MSU) 6-0, 6-1   Doubles competition  1. #11 Jasmine Lee/Lisa Marie Rioux (MSU) def. #18 Ellen Perez/Caroline Brinson (UGA) 6-2 2. #28 Elena Christofi/Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Khrystyna Vozniak/Jennifer Brown (MSU) 6-3 3. #68 Marta Gonzalez/Mariana Gould (UGA) def. Sara Lizariturry/Madison Harrison (MSU) 6-3   Match Notes: Mississippi State 11-5, 4-4; National ranking #25 Georgia 13-3, 7-1; National ranking #3 Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (6,3,2) UGA Rankings: ITA #3, USTA #T6 Official: Karen Badger-Mabry T-2:15 A-460 
  • FROM UGA SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS  Athens, Ga. — For the second straight year, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier has been named the state of Georgia’s Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The club announced its annual award winners on Thursday. Frazier, 5-10, 155-pound senior from Glennville, Ga., led the Bulldogs and ranked among the SEC’s top-10 performers in scoring (third at 18.8 ppg), assists (fifth at 4.1 apg), steals (third at 1.9 spg) and playing time (first at 34.6 mpg). He finished the 2016-17 season with 640 points, the fourth-best mark in school history. Frazier set the Georgia career record for free throw percentage (.841). He had a school-record streak of 45 consecutive made free throws during his senior season, which is also the second-longest streak in SEC history. Frazier has collected a long list of accolades this season. He was named SEC and National Player of the Week on Week on Feb. 27 after averaging 28.5 points in wins over Alabama and LSU in a 49-hour span. Frazier was also voted first-team All-SEC by both league coaches and the Associated Press. He was named to All-District teams by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). UGA players have won Tipoff Club’s statewide honor 10 times since its inception in 1984. Frazier is just the second Bulldog to earn Georgia Player of the Year honors twice. Jarvis Hayes was honored following both the 2002 and 2003 seasons.  Vern Fleming was the award’s initial recipient in 1984, followed by Litterial Green in 1992, Jumaine Jones in 1999, Hayes in 2002 and 2003, Rashad Wright in 2004, Trey Thompkins in 2011, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2013 and Frazier in 2016 and 2017. 
  • There will be a new policy in place for football fans who go to games at Sanford Stadium later this year. The University of Georgia says it will be following Southeastern Conference guidelines and requiring fans to bring items into the Stadium and other athletic venues in clear plastic bags. UGA says the policy will be in place for the April 22 G-Day spring football game.  From the University of Georgia…   In the interest of public safety and to expedite entry into its venues, the UGA Athletic Association will begin to implement the Southeastern Conference Clear Bag Policy in 2017. This policy will be in effect at the annual G-Day intrasquad football game on April 22. It will go into effect permanently for the 2017-18 competition season and will include all UGA venues that host ticketed events: Sanford Stadium (football), Stegeman Coliseum (men’s & women’s basketball, gymnastics) and Foley Field (baseball). Following are the basics concerning the Clear Bag Policy: > These bags will be permitted inside UGA athletic events: Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC and do not exceed 12”x6”x12”. One-gallon clear plastic freezer bags. Small clutch bags, with or without a handle or strap, that do not exceed 4.5” x 6.5”. Bags that contain necessary medical items, which must be inspected and approved at a designated gate. > Each ticket holder is allowed one large clear bag such as a one-gallon Ziploc style bag or clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag that does not exceed 12” x 6” x 12”, plus a small clutch purse > Prohibited bags include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, briefcases, backpacks, cinch bags, fanny packs that are not clear and/or exceed the size restriction, luggage, computer bags/cases, camera bags/cases, binocular bags/cases, or any bag larger than the permissible size. > Several SEC schools began implementing this policy in the 2016 school year. All SEC schools will have this policy in place by the 2017-18 school year. > Fans can still carry items such as binoculars, smart phones, tablets and cameras (with lenses shorter than four inches), so long as they are not in a bag or carrying case. > Seat cushions -- without arms or pockets -- will still be permitted into the venues. Fans may also bring in blankets during cold weather events, provided they carry them in over an arm or shoulder to allow for easy screening upon entry. > More information on this new policy can be found at the following website: http://georgiadogs.com/clear-bag-policy/
  • The Clear Bag Policy will be in effect in Sanford Stadium, Stegeman Coliseum and Foley Field.