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Fighting Corruption is Core National Security Interest, Biden Says

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WASHINGTON – The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is formally establishing the fight against corruption as a core national security interest.

Biden on Thursday issued his first national security memorandum, outlining his anti-corruption agenda.

“Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself,” the president said in his directive. “But by effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”

Biden’s memorandum is important because it serves as a formal notification from the president “that he expects all relevant federal departments and agencies to up their anti-corruption game in very specific ways,” a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call Thursday.

In part, the memo calls for combatting all forms of illicit finance in the country and with the international financial systems. It calls for American companies to report their beneficial owners to the Treasury Department and reduce offshore financial secrecy.

Treasury’s beneficial ownership registry is intended to effectively bar illicit assets from being hidden behind anonymous shell companies.

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“It’s a massive undertaking,” acknowledged the senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on condition of not being named. “We have seen several instances over past years in which the proceeds of corruption have been funneled through shell companies and wound up in major metropolitan areas in the United States to offshore those ill-gotten gains. And so we’re going to be taking additional steps to make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future.”

In the action, the president calls for “corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators” to be held accountable, including by taking criminal enforcement action against them.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agency will also be involved in the anti-corruption effort, which will use “all the tools at our disposal to make sure that we identify corruption where it’s happening and take appropriate policy responses,” said a senior U.S. official.

Biden’s memo requests an interagency review to be completed within 200 days with a report and recommendations to be submitted to him for further direction and action.

“The United States will lead by example and in partnership with allies, civil society, and the private sector to fight the scourge of corruption,” said the president in a statement. “But this is a mission for the entire the world. And we must all stand in support of courageous citizens around the globe who are demanding honest, transparent governance.”

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Turkey Summons US Envoy Over Biden’s Armenian Genocide Declaration

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WASHINGTON – Turkey says it summoned the U.S. ambassador to Ankara to condemn President Joe Biden’s declaration that the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal told U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield late Saturday that Biden’s statement had no legal basis and that Ankara “rejected it, found it unacceptable and condemned [it] in the strongest terms.”

The Ankara government said the United States, a NATO ally, had caused a “wound in ties that will be hard to repair.”

Earlier Saturday, Biden became the first U.S. president to make the genocide declaration in connection with the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire — the predecessor to modern-day Turkey — between 1915 and 1923.

Armenians say they were purposely targeted for extermination through starvation, forced labor, deportation, death marches, and outright massacres.

Turkey denies a genocide or any deliberate plan to wipe out the Armenians. It says many of the victims were casualties of the war or murdered by Russians. Turkey also says the number of Armenians killed was far fewer than the usually accepted figure of 1.5 million.

Moments after Biden made his statement Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, “Words cannot change or rewrite history. We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.”

Biden’s statement fulfilled a campaign promise and came on the same day that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was observed in Armenia and by the Armenian diaspora.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said in a statement. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”

Biden had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Friday that he intended to make the genocide declaration, although Erdogan has yet to make a public statement about Biden’s decision. The two leaders also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels in June.

In a letter Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged Biden to become the first U.S. president to recognize the killings as genocide.

“The shameful silence of the United States Government on the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide has gone on for too long, and it must end,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to follow through on your commitments and speak the truth.”

Cavusoglu said last week that Biden’s recognition of the killings as genocide would harm relations between the NATO allies.

Cavusoglu said Saturday that Biden’s recognition “distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”

“We call on the U.S. president to correct this grave mistake, which serves no purpose other than to satisfy certain political circles, and to support the efforts aiming to establish a practice of peaceful coexistence in the region, especially among the Turkish and Armenian nations, instead of serving the agenda of those circles that try to foment enmity from history,” Cavusoglu added.

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Ohio shooting: Columbus police kill black teenage girl

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A police officer in the US state of Ohio has shot dead a 16-year-old black girl while responding to an emergency call over an attempted stabbing.

The teenager involved in the incident, in the state capital Columbus, has been identified as Ma’Khia Bryant.

Columbus police have produced bodycam footage which appears to show the girl attacking others with a knife before being shot.

An inquiry is under way, with officials urging local residents to remain calm.

The officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Police were called to an address in a south-eastern area of Columbus at about 16:45 local time (20:45 GMT) on Tuesday, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper reported.

Bodycam footage provided by the police shows an altercation with a group of individuals outside a house before one of them – said to be Ma’Khia Bryant – appears to lunge at another member of the group with a knife in hand.

A police officer then approaches the group in the driveway and shouts “get down” before firing several shots, fatally injuring the girl.

The officer is heard saying in the footage: “She had a knife, she just went at her.” A bystander shouts that she was just a child.

Officials have said the officer opened fire in order to save the life of one of the girls. A woman identified in local media as Ms Bryant’s aunt said her niece was simply defending herself after being attacked.

Hazel Bryant was quoted by local TV station WSYX-TV as saying: “She was a good kid. Yeah, she had issues, but that’s OK. She didn’t deserve to die like a dog on the street.”

Speaking to local broadcaster WBNS-TV, Ma’Khia Bryant’s mother, Paula Bryant, said she was “hurt” by what had happened and that her daughter was a “loving girl”.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” she said, adding: “I want answers.”

Paula Bryant said her daughter, who had been staying at a foster home, was “looking forward to coming home”.

At a news conference, the interim chief of Columbus Police, Mike Woods, said an inquiry was being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

“At the conclusion of that investigation, the divisional police will conduct an administrative review of the actions of this officer and all officers at scene,” he said. “This is a tragic incident for all involved, but especially for the family of the female.”

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther described it as “horrible, heart-breaking” and a “tragic day in the city”.

“We know, based on this footage, the officer took action to protect another young girl in our community – but a family is grieving tonight.”

The White House linked the shooting – which happened about an hour before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the May 2020 death of George Floyd – to “systemic racism”.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a news conference on Wednesday: “Her death came, as you noted, just as America was hopeful of a step forward after the traumatic and exhausting trial of Derek Chauvin and the verdict that was reached.

“So our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implicit bias head-on and, of course, to passing laws and legislation that will put much-needed reforms into place in police departments around the country.”

Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during his arrest last May.

The widely watched footage sparked worldwide protests against racism and excessive use of force by police.

Protesters gathered in Columbus on Wednesday afternoon near the home where the girl’s shooting took place.

Meanwhile, NBA megastar LeBron James encountered a fierce backlash after posting a tweet targeting one of the officers involved.

“YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,” the basketball player wrote with an hourglass emoji over a photo of one of the white policemen at the scene of the teen’s shooting.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted: “Lebron [sic] James is inciting violence against an Ohio police officer. This is disgraceful and dangerous. Is the NBA okay with this? Is Twitter?”

The Los Angeles Lakers legend deleted the tweet and said he had sent it out of “anger”.

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Newly red-tiered LA County’s businesses counting on ‘the great indoors’

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Finnish telecoms giant Nokia is to axe between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs worldwide in the next two years as it cuts costs.

It is unclear where the bulk of the cuts will fall, but it said about 96 jobs in the UK were under threat as part of the €600m (£518m) cost cuts.

Nokia is playing catch-up on 5G, and also plans to invest in cloud computing and digital infrastructure research.

The company currently has 90,000 employees around the world, and has cut thousands of jobs since 2015.

“We currently expect the consultation process in the UK to cover an estimated 96 roles,” a Nokia spokesperson said.

“At this stage, however, these are only estimates. It is too early to comment in detail, as we have only just informed local works councils and expect the consultation processes to start shortly, where applicable.”

As of 2018, Nokia employed people in 100 countries.

In Finland, the company’s base, about 300 jobs are likely to go, mainly from its Helsinki headquarters, a union representative said.

France, where the company slashed more than 1,000 jobs last year, will be spared in the latest round of cuts.

Chief executive Pekka Lundmark said: “Decisions that may have a potential impact on our employees are never taken lightly. My priority is to ensure that everyone [that will be hit] is supported through this process.”

After taking the top job last year, Mr Lundmark has made changes after product missteps under the company’s previous management hurt Nokia’s 5G ambitions and dragged on its shares.

The restructuring is intended to boost Nokia’s performance against rivals such as Sweden’s Ericsson and China’s Huawei.

Nokia was once the biggest handset manufacturer in the world, but it failed to anticipate the popularity of internet-enabled touchscreen phones such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy and was spectacularly knocked from its perch by rivals.

After selling its handset business to Microsoft, which the software giant later wrote off, Nokia concentrated on telecoms equipment. It also later went into a licensing deal for Nokia-branded handsets.

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Iraq: Targeting activists’ families sets a dangerous precedent*

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Iraqi citizen Jaseb Hattab, father of kidnapped activist Ali Hattab, has been killed by gunshot in Amara city in the Maysan governorate, southern Iraq, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement today warning of targeting activists’ families and its implications on the social peace.

At about 7 p.m. on Wednesday 10th of March, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot Jaseb directly while he was walking in Al-Maa’ard street in downtown Amara city in the Maysan governorate. Prior to his assassination, Jaseb had been participating in a memorial service for assassinated activist Abdul Quddus Qasim, which yesterday marked the first anniversary of his death.

“While the area witnessed a great overcrowding of citizens and widespread presence of security forces , two armed men on a motorcycle approached the victim,” an eyewitness, spoke on condition of anonymity, said to Euro-Med Monitor.

“The victim tried to run as one of them got off the motorcycle and walked towards him. But the gunmen rushed towards him and shot him several times, which killed Jaseb instantly [before he could escape]”.

After the accident, a security force arrived at the scene, took the victim’s body to the forensic medical office, and then began conducting an extensive investigation about the incident.

Jaseb had launched several distress calls demanding to know the fate of his son, lawyer and activist Ali Jaseb Hattab, who had been kidnapped since October 8th, 2019, for his participation in the popular protests. Since that time, no information had been known about his fate or whereabouts.

Euro-Med Monitor viewed a copy of a video of the victim, in which he confirms that he had reliable information about the identity of his son’s kidnappers. He said his son was kidnapped by Ansar Allah Alawfiaa faction, affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, and demanded to meet the Prime Minister to provide him with documents confirming these claims.

The Hellija clan, to which the victim belongs, have made it clear in a statement to the media that the assassination of Hattab had nothing to do with any tribal disputes – contrary to what was stated in the provincial police statement about the incident. The clan held the security leaders and governor of Maysan governorate responsible for his assassination.

Political activists in Iraq have been subjected to great harassment and constant threats of liquidation. The number of activists who have received assassination threats since August of last year, reached about 30 activists, of which 19 have already been assassinated. Most recently, activist Salah al-Iraqi was assassinated on December 15th, 2020, near a security checkpoint in New Baghdad, southeast of the capital Baghdad.

“The assassination of the father of the kidnapped activist, Ali Jaseb Hattab, rings alarm bells that targeting activists extends to their families,” said Omar Al-Ajlouni, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.

“The Iraqi authorities must commit itself to the provisions of the constitution that stipulates preserving the lives of activists and their families as Article 15 of it states: ‘Every individual has the right to enjoy life, security and liberty. Deprivation or restriction of these rights is prohibited except in accordance with the law and based on a decision issued by a competent judicial authority’.

Al-Ajlouni added that “This was also confirmed by Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated: ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’”

The Iraqi authorities should:
• urgently investigate the circumstances of the crime,
• bring the perpetrators to justice,
• make more efforts to put an end to the widespread assassinations that escalated since the start of the popular movement in October 2019,

• provide the necessary protection for political activists and their families who are under constant threats of liquidation, and
• allow citizens to express their views without being subjected to any harassment or threat.

Nashville Blast Investigation Leads US Agents to Suburban Home

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NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – Federal agents investigating the explosion of a motor home in Nashville were searching a two-story suburban house Saturday for clues to the blast, which injured three people in the heart of America’s country music capital on Christmas Day.

Federal agents were also trying to identify apparent human remains found near the exploded vehicle.

The motor home, parked on a downtown street of the Southern U.S. state of Tennessee’s largest city, exploded at dawn Friday, moments after police responded to reports of gunfire noticed it and heard an automated message emanating from the vehicle warning of a bomb.

The blast destroyed several vehicles, damaged more than 40 businesses and left a trail of glass from shattered windows.

Following up on what they said were more than 500 leads, local police and agents from the FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were searching a two-story, red-brick house on Bakertown Road in Antioch, Tennessee, 18 kilometers southeast of Nashville, paying particular attention to its basement, according to a Reuters witness.

Officials on Saturday declined to name a person of interest in connection with the explosion, but CBS News reported that the investigation has homed in on a 63-year-old man who recently lived at the Bakertown address, public records showed. According to a document posted online, on Nov. 25 he signed over the property to a woman in Los Angeles at no cost to her. The document was signed by the man, but not by the woman.

Google Street View images of the house from 2019 show what appears to be a white motor home in the driveway. Neighbors told local TV station WKRN that the recreational vehicle had been parked there for years and is now gone.

“Once we have processed the scene, we will look at the evidence and anything that we have recovered from this residence and see how that fits into this investigation,” FBI spokesperson Darrell Debusk, who was at the house Saturday, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“At this point we’re not prepared to identify any single individual,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Doug Korneski said at a news conference Saturday.

Korneski told reporters that investigators were “vigorously working on” identifying what appeared to be human remains found in the wreckage. He declined to say whether investigators believe the remains belong to the person behind what officials say was “an intentional act.”

Korneski said the FBI’s Quantico, Virginia-based Behavioral Analysis Unit was helping determine the motivation of the person responsible.

The vehicle was parked outside an AT&T office, and the blast caused widespread telephone, internet and TV service outages in central Tennessee and parts of several neighboring states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.

A recording, then a blast

Before Friday’s blast, police and witnesses described hearing a crackle of gunfire followed by an apparently computer-generated female voice coming from the RV reciting a minute-by-minute countdown to an impending bombing.

Police rushed to evacuate nearby homes and buildings and called for a bomb squad, which was en route when the RV blew up.

Police later posted a photo of the motor home, which they said had arrived in the area about five hours before the explosion.

Officials said 41 businesses were damaged and three people were hospitalized with relatively minor injuries. City authorities hailed police officers who they said likely prevented more casualties by acting quickly to clear the area.

Dozens of agents from the FBI and the ATF were surveying the scene on Saturday. Parked cars and trees were blackened and an exploded water pipe that had been spraying overnight had covered trees in a layer of ice.

“All the windows came in from the living room into the bedroom. The front door became unhinged,” Buck McCoy, who lives on the block where the blast occurred, told WKRN.

Communications problems

Among those hit by communications problems as a result of damage to the AT&T building from the blast were police departments, emergency services and Nashville International Airport, which temporarily halted flights Friday afternoon.

AT&T said on Saturday that a fire reignited at the building overnight, forcing it to be evacuated, but workers were able to drill access holes into the building to connect generators to critical equipment that it hoped to have back online in hours.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee visited the scene on Saturday and said in a Twitter post it was a miracle that no one was killed. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Lee requested a federal emergency declaration to aid relief efforts.

 

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Fauci to Discuss Coronavirus Pandemic with Biden Transition Team

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, is meeting virtually Thursday with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team about the surging coronavirus pandemic in the country and the likely start soon of widespread vaccinations of millions of Americans.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, was for months the face of the government’s response to the pandemic.

But his dire warnings about the health risks of the virus eventually peeved President Donald Trump, who sidelined him in favor of more optimistic medical views ahead of last month’s national election in which Biden defeated Trump.

Biden has promised to listen to the advice of medical experts like Fauci as tens of thousands of new infections in the United States are being recorded daily. More than 273,000 Americans have been killed by the virus, more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The 79-year-old Fauci, a career government civil servant, told CBS News that his discussions with Biden’s “landing team” at his agency will center on the new administration’s priorities to quickly start inoculations after two proposed vaccines are likely approved by government drug regulators in the next two weeks.

“Having served six (White House) administrations, I’ve been through five transitions, and I know that transitions are really important if you want to get a smooth handing over of the responsibility,” Fauci said.

Fauci said he has not yet spoken with Biden but expects to do so soon.

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Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulates Donald Trump despite no election result

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Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has handed Donald Trump victory in the 2020 United States Presidential election, despite no official result being declared.

“Its pretty clear that American people have elected ⁦Donald Trump and Mike Pence for four more years,” Janša tweeted on Wednesday.

Donald Trump declared a premature victory at the White House and described the election process as a “major fraud on our nation”.

The campaign for Democrat candidate Joe Biden has described the bid to stop vote counting as “outrageous, unprecedented and incorrect”, and say they are “ready to deploy” legal teams.

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The Slovenian Prime Minister’s tweet generated an immediate response from several MEPs, including German Nicola Beer from Renew Europe Group.

“Donald Trump has his deeply undemocratic, unjustified playbook on elections EU Member States should not play along,” tweeted Beer.

“The European Union, with all Member States, has a duty to show respect for every single vote. Period.”

No other EU leader has issued congratulations or themselves announced a result in the US election.

“While we wait for the election result, the EU remains ready to continue building a strong transatlantic partnership, based on our shared values and history,” said EU Vice-President Josep Borrell.

The electoral college votes have not all been counted at time of writing.

Texas State football player shot, killed; 2 suspects arrested, search on for others: police

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At least two suspects have been arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a Texas State University football player, who was killed during a drug deal gone wrong this week, authorities said Wednesday.

manhunt was underway for two additional suspects who police said were involved in the shooting death of Khambrail Winters, 20, a Houston native and defensive back for the football team, FOX 4 of Dallas-Fort Worth reported.

Jake Spavital, the team’s head coach, released a statement saying, “Our Texas State University football team is deeply saddened by the death of our team member, and friend.”

“I met with the players this morning to share the news. We will stand together as a team and support one another during this difficult time. Our thoughts and condolences are with Khambrail’s family and loved ones,” he continued.

Police officers responded to calls of gunfire around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday at an apartment complex in San Marcos, Texas, about 30 miles southwest of Austin. Witnesses described the incident as a drug deal gone wrong, according to a statement from the San Marcos Police Department and city officials.

The officers found Winters with a gunshot wound to the chest and emergency personnel attempted life-saving measures, which were unsuccessful, officials said. Winters was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses told police that Winters, and two other people — identified as Enalisa Blackman and Michael Ifeanacho — went to the apartment building with the intention of buying marijuana, a police statement said.

Winters was shot and killed during the deal. Police arrested Blackman and Ifeanacho, who were charged with capital murder and were being held at Hays County Jail.

Authorities said they are still looking to identify two other people involved in the shooting, as well as other witnesses, FOX 4 reported.

Cameras at the apartment building were “not operational,” the statement added.

An investigation is ongoing.

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Black Lives Matter flag becomes issue in Florida community

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As demonstrations against police brutality roiled the country earlier this year, Antoine Mickle began noticing the flags going up in his Jacksonville neighborhood declaring “Blue Lives Matter.”

For months, those flags hung from his neighbors’ homes.

But when Mickle decided to hang a flag of his own last month — proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” — his neighborhood association immediately asked him to take it down, calling the flag ”noxious or offensive” under its rules.

If his neighbors could express their support for police, he said, he should be allowed to make a statement of his own.

“My life means something. My life matters. I’m a black man living in a white neighborhood,” Mickle said Wednesday, a day after he filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville asserting his civil rights were violated.

The country’s racial divisions aren’t just flaring up in city streets, government plazas and political discourse. They are also outside our front doors as disputes arise in some neighborhoods over waving the flag of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Homeowners associations can wield wide power over their communities — from preserving the architectural character of their neighborhoods to dictating paint colors and garden choices. Homeowners associations in Phoenix and Houston ordered residents to take down their flags.

But Mickle, who is Black, asserts that the association went too far when it went after his flag. He has no intention of taking it down.

In a one-page letter dated Oct. 20, the homeowners association ordered Mickle to take down his flag within 24 hours.

“In order to comply with the Association’s governing documents, the Board of Directors requests that you take the following action: Remove the ‘Black Lives Matter’ flag.”

The president of the River Point Community Association, Shantell Hughes, declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, saying the matter has “been blown way out of proportion.”

Mickle’s attorney disagrees.

“When somebody suffers discrimination, you just can’t turn the page,” lawyer Matthew Dietz said. “He’s rightly concerned that it could happen in the future. The Blue Lives Matter flags hung for months at a time and they still remain. Those flags aren’t considered noxious by the officers of the association. They need to apply their rules equally.”

In an earlier statement sent to news outlets, Hughes said the association does not intend to take any further action against Mickle and considered the matter closed.

“The fact that it was a Black Lives Matter flag made no difference,” she said, adding that the flag violated association rules that require that flags be flown on a flagpole and that those flags commemorate holidays, sports teams or be seasonal in nature. The association said it does not prohibit political signs, as long as they be removed in a timely manner.

Hughes said it was unfortunate that Mickle “took offense” to the association’s notice, which she called a routine letter when rules violations occur. She would not say if similar notices were sent to homeowners flying “Blue Lives Matter” flags.

“Unfortunately, this is a politically charged time and the timing was ill-advised,” Hughes said in her statement. “We were obviously not thinking about that and just simply doing our job as we would have with any other type or flag or sign outside of the guideline.”

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