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Gunman Kill Three In Washington, US

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A gunman who shot dead three people in what police say was a random attack was being hunted in the western US state of Washington Tuesday.

The attack came on the heels of two mass shootings in California that have left 18 people dead and as the United States grapples yet again with the horror of spiraling gun violence.

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Police in the city of Yakima say a man killed three people at a convenience store overnight in an apparently unprovoked attack.

“It appears to be a random situation,” Yakima Police Chief Matthew Murray said.

“There was no there was no apparent conflict between the parties. They just walked in and started shooting.”

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Murray said officers were examining surveillance footage from the area around the Circle K store after the attack at 3:30 am (1130 GMT).

“The first shooting was inside the store. Then he came outside the store and shot a victim outside the store and then went across the street and apparently shot one more person.

“We have three confirmed deceased parties.”

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The suspect then made off in a stolen car from a nearby gas station, Murray said.

Police initially believed a fourth victim was in that car, but later said they did not think any other people had been hurt.

“This is a dangerous person and it’s random so there is a danger to the community,” he said.

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“We don’t have a motive, we don’t know why. We will do everything we can to locate and apprehend that person.”

Yakima, which sits 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Seattle, is a city of around 100,000 people.

The region is largely agricultural, with fruit and hops the main crops.

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The shooting in Yakima is the latest spasm of gun violence to shake the United States.

On Monday, seven people died at two agricultural sites south of San Francisco when a Chinese-American farmworker is believed to have opened fire on his colleagues.

Some of his victims are known also to be Chinese.

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On Saturday night, an elderly Asian man rampaged through a dance studio in Monterey Park near Los Angeles, killing 11 people who had gathered for Lunar New Year celebrations.

Huu Can Tran shot himself dead several hours later as police moved in on his van.

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Foreign

US will act on China after balloon downing – Biden

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President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday he would not hesitate to defend United State interests against China after he ordered the downing of a suspected surveillance balloon but, delivering his State of the Union address, kept the door open to cooperation.

In the annual speech to assembled lawmakers, many of whom have pressed for a hard line on China, Biden called for US investment in the military, technology and alliances to take on the country widely viewed as the chief US competitor.

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“I’m committed to working with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said.

“But make no mistake about it — as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he said to applause.

Biden said that “winning the competition” with China should unite Americans.

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“I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America stronger — investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future that China intends to be dominating.”

But Biden steered clear of hawkish language as he mentioned by name his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, whom he met at length in November in Indonesia.

Biden said he told Xi that “we seek competition, not conflict.”

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China was one of the few foreign policy issues mentioned by Biden in a more than one-hour speech that comes as he prepares for a likely run for a second term.

He also promised long-term support for Ukraine but made no mention of Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea or this week’s devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

– Pentagon says China rejected talks –

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A US fighter jet on Saturday shot down what the Pentagon called a Chinese surveillance balloon after it crossed into the Atlantic Ocean, with the military saying it waited until a point when the debris could not hurt people on the ground.

The episode led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to Beijing aimed at reducing tensions as he accused China of violating US sovereignty.

Blinken said that he sought to maintain communication with China. But at the Pentagon, a spokesman said that China rebuffed a request to speak.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a secure call with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe immediately after the shootdown, Brigadier General Pat Ryder said.

“Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,” Ryder said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

China says the balloon was an errant weather observation aircraft with no military purpose. But Washington has described it as a sophisticated high-altitude spying vehicle which reportedly traversed over several top-secret military sites.

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Austin and Wei met in Cambodia in November as Washington and Beijing sought to lower the temperature after a visit to Taiwan by then-speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that enraged China.

General Glen VanHerck, head of the US Northern Command, said a naval ship would map the debris field left by the balloon, which is expected to measure about 1,500 by 1,500 meters (yards) in the Atlantic.

The balloon itself was up to 200 feet (60 meters) tall and carried a payload weighing several thousand pounds that were roughly the size of a regional jet aircraft, he said.

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VanHerck said the balloon debris would be carefully studied.

“I don’t know where the debris is going to go for a final analysis, but I will tell you that certainly, the intel community along with the law enforcement community that works this under counterintelligence will take a good look at it,” he said.

AFP

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Mother dies after giving birth under earthquake rubble in Syria

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By Francesca Iwambe

A pregnant woman who was trapped under the earthquake rubble in Syria has been delivered of her baby.

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In a video on Tuesday, a man was seen bringing the baby out while another man threw a dusty blanket in the direction of the baby.

Sadly, the mother of the child has reportedly lost her life.

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Google To Release ChatGPT-Like Bot Named Bard

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Google said Monday it will release a conversational chatbot named Bard, setting up an artificial intelligence showdown with Microsoft which has invested billions in the creators of ChatGPT, a language app that convincingly mimics human writing.

ChatGPT, created by San Francisco company OpenAI, has caused a sensation for its ability to write essays, poems or programming code on demand within seconds, sparking widespread fears of cheating or of entire professions becoming obsolete.

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Microsoft announced last month that it was backing OpenAI and has begun to integrate ChatGPT features into its Teams platform, with expectations that it will adapt the app to its Office suite and Bing search engine.

The potential inclusion in Bing turned the focus on Google and speculation that the company’s world-dominating search engine could face unprecedented competition from an AI-powered rival.

Media reports said the overnight success of ChatGPT was designated a “code red” threat at Google with founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — who left several years ago — pulled back in to brainstorm ideas and fast-track a response.

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The pressure to act was heightened by the poor earnings posted last week by Google-parent Alphabet, which fell short of investor expectations. The company last month announced that it was laying off 12,000 people as it put more emphasis on AI projects.

Google’s announcement came on the eve of an AI-related launch event by Microsoft, further that the two tech giants will do battle over the technology, also known as generative AI.

“Generative AI is a game changer and much like the rise of the internet sank the networking giants that came before (AOL, CompuServe etc.) it has the potential to change the competitive dynamic for search and information,” said independent tech analyst Rob Enderle.

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“Google still largely lives off the fact their search engine is the most widely used, this could change that relegating them to history,” he added.

‘High-quality responses’
In his blog post on Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google’s Bard conversational AI was to go out for testing with a plan to make it more widely available to the public “in the coming weeks.”

Google’s Bard is based on LaMDA, the firm’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications system, and has been in development for several years.

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“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models,” Pichai said, referring to the technology behind ChatGPT-like AI.

“It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses,” he added.

Before the emergence of ChatGPT, which was released in late November, Google had been reluctant to launch its own language-based AI fearing the reputational risk of releasing technology that wasn’t ready.

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Pichai insisted that responses churned out by Bard would “meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real world information.”

And much like ChatGPT, Bard would also use a limited version of its base language model in order to reduce computing power and reach a wider audience.

Crucially for its looming duel with Microsoft, Google also said that users would soon see AI-powered features in its search engine.

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New-style responses would “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats,” Pichai said.

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