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Former AP photographer Max Desfor dies at 104

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Former Associated Press photographer Max Desfor, whose photo of hundreds of Korean War refugees crawling across a damaged bridge in 1950 helped win him a Pulitzer Prize, died Monday. He was 104.

Desfor died at his apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he’d been living in his retirement, said his son, Barry.

Desfor volunteered to cover the Korean War for the news service when the North invaded the South in June 1950. He parachuted into North Korea with U.S troops and retreated with them after forces from the North, joined by the Chinese, pushed south.

He was in a Jeep near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang when he spotted a bridge that had been hit by bombing along the Taedong River. Thousands of refugees were lined up on the north bank waiting their turn to cross the river.

“We came across this incredible sight,” he recalled in 1997 for an AP oral history. “All of these people who are literally crawling through these broken-down girders of the bridge. They were in and out of it, on top, underneath, and just barely escaping the freezing water.”

Desfor climbed a 50-foot-high section of the bridge to photograph the refugees as they fled for their lives.

“My hands got so cold I could barely trip the shutter on my camera,” he remembered. “I couldn’t even finish a full pack of film. It was just that cold.”

The Pulitzer jury in 1951 determined that Desfor’s photos from Korea the previous year had “all the qualities which make for distinguished news photography — imagination, disregard for personal safety, perception of human interest and the ability to make the camera tell the whole story.” The Pulitzer board honored his overall coverage of the war, based on a portfolio of more than 50 photos, and cited the Taedong River bridge shot in particular.

A native of New York, Desfor was born in the Bronx on Nov. 8, 1913, and attended Brooklyn College. He joined the AP in 1933 as a messenger. After teaching himself the basics of photography and moonlighting as a baby photographer, he began shooting occasional assignments for the AP. He became a staff photographer in the Baltimore bureau in 1938 and moved to the Washington bureau a year later.

During World War II, Desfor photographed the crew of the Enola Gay after the B-29 landed in Saipan from its mission to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. He was with the first wave of Marines at Tokyo Bay shortly after Japan’s surrender that month and photographed the official surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

Desfor worked for the AP in the Philippines and in India, where he photographed Mahatma Gandhi and later covered the assassinated leader’s funeral in 1948. He also worked in the AP’s Rome bureau and was set to return to the U.S. when war broke out in Korea.

After the war Desfor served as supervising editor of Wide World Photos, the AP’s photo service, and returned to Asia in 1968 as photo chief for the region. He retired from the AP in 1978, then joined U.S. News & World Report as photo director.

Desfor and his wife, Clara, raised a son, Barry, of Wauconda, Illinois. She died in 2004.

In January 2012, when he was 98, Desfor and his longtime companion, Shirley Belasco, surprised guests at a party celebrating her 90th birthday by marrying in front of their guests. They had been friends since the 1980s when the Desfors and Ms. Belasco lived in the same Silver Spring apartment building and became a couple a few years after his wife’s death. Ms. Belasco died in 2015.

A photo Desfor took during his long career that had particular meaning to him also came from the Korean War. Walking near a field he spotted two hands, blue from cold, sticking up in the snow and photographed them. The hands, which had been bound, belonged to one of several civilians taken prisoner and executed, their bodies left to be covered by snowfall.

“I labeled that picture, later on, ‘Futility,’ because it’s always been — I’ve always felt that it’s the civilians caught in the crossfire, the civilians, the innocent civilians, how futile it is for war,” he said for the oral history. “That epitomized it to me.”

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Tiger Woods was unaware of his ‘grave’ injuries after car crash, says first officer on scene | US News

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Tiger Woods did not appear to be “aware of how gravely he was injured” after his car crash in California, the first officer on the scene has said.

The 45-year-old golf star suffered serious leg injuries when his car hit a kerb and then a tree before rolling several times on the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning.

No other cars were involved.

Carlos Gonzalez, a deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told NBC News he arrived within minutes of a 911 call from a member of the public.

Asked if Woods was aware of his injuries, the officer said: “He didn’t mention anything. I don’t think he was aware of how gravely he was injured at the time.

Tiger Woods celebrates after making a birdie on the 18th hole
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Tiger Woods is one of the most successful golfers ever

“It could be a mixture of adrenaline. It could have been shock.

“Again, it was very quick – the moment I arrived from the moment he rolled over – so I don’t know if he had time to fully assess his injuries.”

Woods’s 2021 Genesis SUV was found 12m (40ft) from the road. Aerial footage showed the car on its side, with its front end heavily damaged and its airbags deployed.

Asked if Woods was saying anything at that point, the officer replied: “He wasn’t. I saw his eyes, because it was dark in there, and my first role as a first responder is to assess the passenger, the occupants of the vehicle, and I want to keep them calm as well.”

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Aftermath of Tiger Woods’ car crash

He asked Woods if he could tell him his first name: “He looked at me and he said, ‘Tiger’.”

“It took me a half second, but I saw his face and I thought, oh yeah, you’re Tiger Woods,” continued the officer.

He asked the sportsman questions to assess his physical and mental state.

“He seemed calm. He didn’t seem like he was in distress, and he was able to kind of talk to me a little bit,” the officer said.

“I noticed the passenger compartment seemed mostly in tact and he didn’t seem like he was in any further danger.

“I did consider pulling him out myself, but I decided it would be better to wait for the fire departments since they have the specialised tools and training to remove people safely from vehicles like that.”

Police officers look over the damaged car. Pic: AP
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The golfer had to be pried from the car through the windscreen. Pic: AP

Carlos Gonzalez said earlier that Woods was “very fortunate” to survive the crash.

Authorities investigating the incident have said there is no evidence Woods was impaired at the time.

Asked if a toxicology report was ordered at the scene, the officer said he was “unaware” of one.

“At the scene we are looking for evidence of intoxication, like if there is an odour of an alcoholic beverage or if there is an open container, or prescription medication.

“At this time we didn’t see any evidence of impairment, and anything beyond that, in terms of medical or toxicology, I wouldn’t be aware at this time.”

Woods's open fractures affect both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones. File pic
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Woods’s open fractures affect both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones. File pic

He suggested Woods’s injuries may have been more severe if he had not been wearing a seat belt.

“This accident was traumatic in many ways. There is a lot of energy that went into the speeds that made the vehicle travel the distances that it did, the fact that it rolled, the injuries that Mr Woods sustained, and I’ve seen collisions that didn’t look as serious where the occupants were injured much more severely,” he said.

“I think that is a testament to the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, the airbags worked as intended and modern vehicles are much more safe than they used to be.”

Woods, a 15-time major champion, was cut free from the vehicle and rushed to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where he underwent significant surgery and is recovering from his injuries.

A statement from his TGR foundation said he is “currently awake, responsive and recovering in his hospital room”.

The officer added: “I have a lot of sympathy for Mr Woods because I’m sure he’s going through something traumatic and I’m sure he’s going through a lot of pain, so I’m hoping for a speedy recovery for him.”

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Ex-Syrian agent convicted by German court in landmark torture trial | World News

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A former member of Syrian president Bashar al Assad’s secret police has been sentenced by a German court to four-and-a-half years in jail for facilitating the torture of prisoners.

Human rights activists hope the landmark ruling will set a precedent for other cases connected to the 10-year-old Syrian civil war.

Eyad al Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court.

It was the first time that a court outside Syria had ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity.

The court heard Gharib had arrested at least 30 anti-government protesters at the start of the conflict in 2011 and sent them to an intelligence facility where he knew detainees were tortured.

The verdict gives hope to the 800,000 Syrians in Germany who say they were tortured in government facilities after attempts to establish an international tribunal for Syria failed.

Gharib’s lawyers had asked for an acquittal, saying he had carried out the arrests in and around Damascus under duress by his superiors.

The 44-year-old had asked the court to consider him a witness in broader legal efforts against the Syrian government.

Syrian government officials did not testify during the trial and the Assad regime has denied it tortures prisoners.

Syrian defendant Eyad Al-Gharib in court in Germany
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Gharib’s lawyers had asked for an acquittal, saying he had carried out the arrests under duress

“This is an important step forward in the process of securing accountability for the Syrian government’s systematic use of torture against civilians,” said Steve Kostas, a lawyer with the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative, which is representing Syrian plaintiffs.

Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al Bunni said the unprecedented verdict would speed up efforts to bring charges against former members of the Syrian government suspected of war crimes who have fled to Europe.

He said: “History has been made. The first verdict against a member of the Syrian regime’s torture and murder machine is a verdict against the whole regime, not just against one individual.

“It gives hope that justice is possible.”

The same court will continue hearings in the case of a second suspect, a former intelligence officer charged with 58 murders in a Damascus prison where prosecutors say at least 4,000 opposition activists were tortured in 2011 and 2012.

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COVID-19: Ghana receives 600,000 free vaccine doses as part of global scheme | World News

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A flight carrying 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Ghana as part of a global effort to immunise the world’s poorest people.

The delivery comes eight months after the launch of the COVAX initiative – the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) sharing scheme which is aimed at ensuring global vaccine equity.

The shots will be used to kick-start a vaccination drive that will prioritise frontline health workers and others at high risk, according to a plan presented by Ghanaian health officials.

“This is a momentous occasion, as the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Ghana is critical in bringing the pandemic to an end,” Anne-Claire Dufay of UNICEF Ghana, and WHO country representative, Francis Kasolo, said in a statement.

“These 600,000 COVAX vaccines are part of an initial tranche of deliveries.”

They added the shots paid for by the scheme and produced by the Serum Institute of India will “represent part of the first wave of COVID vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries”.

The roll-out in Ghana is a milestone for the initiative that is trying to narrow a politically sensitive gap between the millions of people being vaccinated in wealthier countries and the comparatively few who have received shots in less-developed parts of the world.

The scheme aims to deliver a total of 2.3 billion doses by the end of the year, including 1.8 billion to poorer countries at no cost to their governments.

Although it hopes to cover up to 20% of countries’ populations, it will not be sufficient for nations to reach herd immunity and effectively contain the spread of the virus.

The African Union (AU) has been trying to help its 55 member states buy more doses in a push to immunise 60% of the continent’s 1.3 billion people over three years.

Last week, its vaccine team said 270 million doses of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines secured for delivery this year had been taken up.

China has donated small batches of its Sinopharm vaccine to countries including Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.

Russia has offered to supply 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the AU scheme along with a financing package.

But many countries are largely reliant on COVAX.

On Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged wealthy nations to share vaccine doses with COVAX, saying the goal of equitable distribution was “in jeopardy”.

Boris Johnson has said the UK will share the majority of its surplus COVID-19 vaccines with COVAX, but has not said how many.

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