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Nation and World briefs for July 19

Thai boys recount cave rescue: Voices in dark, then ‘hello’

CHIANG RAI, Thailand — Trapped in the recesses of a flooded cave, the 12 boys and their soccer coach were trying to dig their way out when they heard voices in the darkness. Their coach quickly told everyone to be quiet.

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“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul Samon said. “So we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”

That stunning moment when two British divers found the missing soccer team was recounted by the boys Wednesday at their first news conference since the rescue that riveted the world.

They all looked healthy as they walked out to applause from classmates and reporters in a hall decked out as a miniature soccer field. Dressed in green, white and black uniforms emblazoned with a red wild boar — the nickname of their team — the boys briefly showed off their ball-handling skills before answering questions that were reviewed in advance.

The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach had come from the hospital where they have been recuperating for more than a week. They hugged their friends before taking seats up front with doctors and members of the Thai navy SEAL unit that rescued them from the Tham Luang cave after more than two weeks inside.

Tale of sex, deception emerges about suspected Russian agent

WASHINGTON — A 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States, prosecutors said Wednesday, accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections.

The woman, Maria Butina, was photographed by the FBI dining privately with a Russian diplomat suspected of being an intelligence operative in the weeks before the envoy’s departure from the U.S. last March, prosecutors said. She also had contact information for people who investigators believe were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB.

The allegations add to the portrait of a Russian woman who the Justice Department says worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, and gather intelligence for a senior Russian official to whom she reported.

Prosecutors also alleged she had a personal relationship with an American political operative and offered sex to another person in exchange for a position with a special interest organization.

Court papers do not name the individuals or the special interest group.

Voters won’t decide in November whether to split California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A measure that would divide California into three parts won’t appear on the November ballot, the state Supreme Court decided Wednesday, marking the latest defeat for a long-shot push to reimagine the nation’s most populous state.

The justices ordered the secretary of state not to put the ballot initiative before voters, saying significant questions have been raised about its validity. The court now will consider a challenge from the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group that argued splitting up California would drastically change its government structure beyond what can be accomplished through a simple ballot initiative.

“We conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election,” the justices wrote in a unanimous ruling.

They said time constraints forced them to rule on the issue immediately.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper, who spent more than $1.7 million on his “Cal 3” initiative, has tried for years to split the state, arguing it has become ungovernable because of its size, wealth disparities and geographic diversity. His last attempt to divide California in six didn’t gather enough signatures to make the ballot in 2016.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launches spacecraft higher than ever

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company shot a capsule higher into space Wednesday than it’s ever done before.

The New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas on the company’s latest test flight. Once the booster separated, the capsule’s escape motor fired, lifting the spacecraft to an altitude of 389,846 feet. That’s 74 miles or 119 kilometers.

It’s part of a safety system intended to save lives once space tourists and others climb aboard for suborbital hops.

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Wednesday’s passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that’s flown before, plus science experiments.

The booster and capsule — both repeat fliers — landed successfully. It was the ninth test flight and lasted 11 minutes.