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Blinken Presses Congo Leaders to Slow Oil-and-Gas Push in Rainforests

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KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Pushing for a reconsideration of plans by the Democratic Republic of Congo to auction parts of its vast rainforests and peatlands, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that American and Congolese officials would form a team to examine proposed oil-and-gas extraction in those areas.

The agreement came on Tuesday during Mr. Blinken’s visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. While there, the secretary of state expressed concern over an effort by the country’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, to auction off vast parcels of land, which are critical to mitigating climate change, to energy companies for exploration. Mr. Blinken’s remarks were the first time the U.S. government has taken a public stand on the issue.

“We had concerns about the announcement of the auction of these oil and gas exploration blocks,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Some of the blocks infringe on sensitive rainforest and peatland areas, including in the Virunga National Park and Salonga National Park.”

He noted that at the United Nations climate summit in November in Glasgow, governments made a collective pledge of $1.5 billion to support the Congo Basin’s forests. Mr. Tshisekedi signed onto the 10-year plan and was hailed as a leader in climate change mitigation efforts.

His government’s abrupt announcement of the auction in May stunned officials, environmental groups and policymakers worldwide. The auction began on July 28, and the government is taking bids for 27 oil blocks and three gas blocks.

U.S. officials say they are unaware so far of any American companies putting in bids.

Mr. Blinken said he raised the issue separately with Mr. Tshisekedi and Christophe Lutundula, the foreign minister, on Tuesday, and with Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, the prime minister, on Wednesday. He said Mr. Tshisekedi had promised him that proposed actions would not proceed “in the absence of full environmental impact assessments and studies.”

It is unclear if the American intervention will slow the auction process or its aftermath, or whether it will prompt other nations to try to get involved. But the announcement of the transnational working group was seen as a hopeful sign by some scholars who have studied the threats to the rainforest, especially because Congolese officials had been insisting that the rainforest question is a sovereign matter.

“It is very significant that the environmental impacts of drilling for oil in the rainforest are being discussed at the very highest levels,” said Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London. “Logically, the D.R.C. government should now officially halt the oil auction until the new D.R.C.-U.S. working group has concluded its discussions and implemented any near-term actions.

“In my view, environmental and social assessments should be completed before any auction, as this is the only way the people of D.R.C. and the world can see if prospecting for oil makes sense,” he added.

American officials said they would need to work out details of the working group with Congo.

Mr. Lutundula said at the news conference with Mr. Blinken that Congo would stick to its promise last year to protect the rainforests, but also stressed that the government needed to find ways to improve the economy of Congo, a nation of 90 million that is one of the world’s poorest. It was exploited for decades as a colony of Belgium before being ruled by dictators.

“The challenge is to find an equilibrium, a balance between the well-being of Congolese people and also the necessity to guarantee a framework, a development framework, an ecological framework,” Mr. Lutundula said.

He also pointed to the history of foreign companies in his country, saying, “We know that there are some countries that have been exploiting D.R.C.’s riches for years now and not respecting at all the biodiversity.”

The rainforest of the Congo Basin stretches for 1,500 miles across central Africa. It acts as a large carbon sink, slowing climate change by removing 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, according to Mr. Lewis.

Without solid exploration data, Congolese officials have speculated that up to 16 billion barrels of oil are under the rainforest, and that the country could produce up to one million barrels a day, up from the current number, 25,000.

Energy companies have reaped record profits from oil sales this year as the market price has surged. The United States developed its economy based on fossil fuels, and the American government maintains close ties with some Middle Eastern nations — notably Saudi Arabia — in part because of their capacity for oil production. But environmental advocates say a move by Congo to become a petro-economy is shortsighted, given the widening embrace of renewable energy by many countries, institutions and companies.

Mr. Blinken and Congolese officials also spoke about improving the mining industry, which is rife with corruption and environmentally destructive. He said the United States wanted to work with Congo to ensure that mining companies were not in “a race to the bottom that ends up hurting workers, hurting the environment, fueling armed conflict.”

Mr. Blinken has also urged Congolese officials to ensure that presidential elections next year, in which Mr. Tshisekedi plans to run for office again, are held properly and on time. On Tuesday, police officers arrested Jean-Marc Kabund, a former Tshisekedi ally and now an opposition party leader, on unannounced charges.

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Colorado home where Chris Watts killed his family is sold

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The Colorado home where Chris Watts savagely murdered his pregnant wife and two children in 2018 has been sold, according to a report.

The five-bedroom, four-bath house in Frederick was sold for an unspecified price, The Sun reported.

It had been on the market since May when the listing said potential buyers had to submit a funding commitment of at least $600,000 from a bank.

A real estate agent posted a congratulatory note on social media to the new owners saying, “It took everything we had to get here!!! So happy for you guys and can’t wait to see the memories you make in your new home!!!” according to The Sun.

The agent then added “since it’s been asked. Yes, this was the Watts house. It is now the Miller home and they cannot wait to put love, family and laughter back into this house.”

Chris Watts was convicted of murdering Bella, Celeste and Shanann Watts in 2018.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation via AP
Christopher Watts is escorted into the courtroom before his bond hearing at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colo.
Christopher Watts is escorted into the courtroom before his bond hearing at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colorado, on Aug. 16, 2018.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune via AP, Pool, file
Chris Watts
Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife and two children.
Weld County Sheriffs Office/MEGA

Watts was convicted of the 2018 killings of his wife, Shanann, 34, and daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3,

The murders were the subject of the Netflix documentary “American Murder: The Family Next Door.”

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Queen Elizabeth II worried Prince Harry was ‘over-in-love’ with Meghan Markle: biography

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Queen Elizabeth II thought grandson Prince Harry was “perhaps a little over-in-love” with his new bride Meghan Markle, according to an upcoming biography.

“This was as far as she came – to my knowledge at least – to ever uttering a word against the new Duchess of Sussex,” British broadcaster Gyles Brandreth wrote in “Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait.”

The late British monarch was “truly delighted” when her grandson said he was marrying Markle, according to the book which will be released in December.

“She liked Meghan and told lots of people so. And she did everything she could to make her future granddaughter-in-law feel welcome,” according to the biography, an excerpt of which was published in the Daily Mail.

The Queen wasn’t even put off by the Sussexes infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“I can tell you, because I know this, that the Queen was always more concerned for Harry’s well-being than about ‘this television nonsense’, meaning both the Oprah Winfrey interview – which caused so much controversy – and the lucrative deal the Sussexes made with Netflix,” wrote Brandreth, a former MP who has long known the royal family.

The Queen had a form of myeloma, according to the biography.

The Queen reportedly did not care about the Sussex's Netflix deal.
The Queen was reportedly happy that Prince Harry was marrying Meghan.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - MAY 19: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission of #960087582 with alternate crop.) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, on May 19, 2018 after their wedding ceremony. (Photo by Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle outside Windsor Castle on their wedding day on May 19, 2018.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II at the Queen's Young Leaders Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 26, 2018 in London, England. The Queen's Young Leaders Programme, now in its fourth and final year, celebrates the achievements of young people from across the Commonwealth working to improve the lives of people across a diverse range of issues including supporting people living with mental health problems, access to education, promoting gender equality, food scarcity and climate change. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on June 26, 2018.

He wrote that the monarch was “was anxious that Harry should ‘find his feet’ in California and ‘find really useful things to do’. “

Brandreth also revealed in the book that he “had heard that the Queen had a form of myeloma — bone marrow cancer — which would explain her tiredness and weight loss and those ‘mobility issues’ we were often told about during the last year or so of her life.”

The Queen died in September at 96 with the official cause of death listed as old age.

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Youngest Virginia Walmart shooting victim Fernando Chavez-Barron used first check to buy gift for mom

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The teen gunned down with five co-workers at a Virginia Walmart had just started working at the store — and used his first paycheck to buy a gift for his mom, according to a report.

Fernando Chavez-Barron, 16, was a “hardworking” and “humble” 11th-grade honors student who just earned his driver’s license and was an “excellent big brother,” according to a GoFundMe set up for his family, which has brought in more than $14,000.

He was the youngest of six employees slain Tuesday at the big-box store in Chesapeake, a suburb of Norfolk.

“I was hoping everything was a dream until today,” Fernando’s childhood friend Joshua Trejo-Alvarado told WTKR. “I wish he was still standing here with me.”

The city of Chesapeake, which had initially withheld Fernando’s name due to his age, publicly identified Fernando Friday.

Chavez-Barron was a “humble” and “hardworking” 11th-grade honors student.
AP

Deranged Walmart manager Andre Bing opened fire at his colleagues in the store’s break room just after 10 p.m., before fatally shooting himself.

Randall Blevins, 70, part of a team that arranged merchandise and set prices at the store, had worked at Walmart for “almost 30 years,” his cousin Virgil Wimmer told The Post. A year ago, he told Wimmer he planned on retiring soon, citing his age.

Blevins, who he described as “laid back,” appeared to have changed his mind, which he chalked up to the fact that “he really liked Walmart,” Wimmer said.

“He really enjoyed his job,” Wimmer said. “That’s the reason I found out he decided to work on and not retire.”

Police officers outside the Chesapeake Walmart.
Friends and family members have mourned the Chesapeake victims in the days following Tuesday’s shooting.
REUTERS

One woman who worked with Blevins two decades ago at the company recalled starting her career by his side.

“20 years ago…I had this Walmart friend,” the colleague, Denise Black Brzenk, wrote, posting a photo of Blevins in his blue vest. “His name was Randy Blevins.”

Custodian Lorenzo Gamble, 43, worked at the Chesapeake location for 15 years, his mother, Linda, wrote on Facebook. Before the shooting, he’d been getting ready to transfer to another store in Grassfield, just nine minutes away.

“What do I do now” she wrote. “My world is turn[ed] up side down.”

A person stands by a memorial to the Walmart victims, set up at a tree with balloons
Randall Blevins had planned on retiring, but continued working because liked his job.
AP

Kellie Pyle, 52, was a mom who planned to wed in 2023.

“We love her,” said her future mother-in-law Gwendolyn Bowe Baker Spencer. “She was going to marry my son next year. She was an awesome, kind individual — yes she was.”

A makeshift memorial with the words “Our Hearts are with you” and a basket of flowers had been set-up outside the Walmart for Tyneka Johnson, 22.

During her high school years, Johnson had her sights for attending college and “gelled” with everyone she met at Cannon’s Blessed Tutoring Services, tutor Casheba Cannon told the Washington Post.

Brian Pendleton, 38, a custodian who had just celebrated his 10th anniversary at the store, would regularly show up before his 10:30 p.m. start time and was in the break room when Bing began shooting, his mother, Michelle Johnson said.

“He always came to work early so he would be on time for work,” his mother said. “He liked his coworkers.”

With Post wires

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