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Rural North Carolina has some of the most beautiful scenery in America, as documented by the growing numbers of tourists. Almost 40 percent of our 10.5 million residents live in the 80 counties considered rural, defined as having a population density of 250 people or fewer per square mile. Demographers tell us rural citizens are older, poorer, more obese, have higher blood pressures, greater instances of diabetes, and a lower life expectancy than state averages. Read moreTom Campbell: Rural healthcare in critical condition

No decent citizen could fail to be appalled by the video, released Friday, showing Memphis police officers beating a 29-year-old Black man, Tyre Nichols, so badly on Jan. 7 that he died three days later. No feeling citizen could fail to be moved by the anguish of his mother, RowVaughn Wells, as she eloquently described her grief at losing a young man, himself the father of a 4-year-old, who cried out for “mom” as he absorbed the assault. And no concerned citizen can fail to be impressed by, and appreciative of, the way in which those who justifiably protested Nichols’s death heeded — with sporadic exceptions — Wells’s call for nonviolence. Read moreEditorial: Over-reliance on violent policing gets us nowhere

State AP Stories

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North Carolina’s newly seated Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether people convicted of felonies should be permitted to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The justices listened Thursday to their first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. They didn’t immediately rule. The case stems from 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restoring voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” Roughly 56,000 people could be affected by the outcome.

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Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent. The bill would require schools to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. Several mental and behavioral health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee on Thursday that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for students without affirming home environments. The proposal now heads to the Senate rules committee.

Some North Carolina senators want tougher punishments for intentionally damaging utility equipment in light of the December attacks on two Duke Energy substations in Moore County that left 45,000 customers without power. The legislators filed a bill on Wednesday that would make it a high-grade felony to intentionally destroy or damage any “energy facility.” Current state law only makes it a misdemeanor to vandalize equipment that interrupts the transmission of electricity. A perpetrator also would face a $250,000 fine and potential lawsuits. Someone also fired at an electric cooperative's substation in Randolph County two weeks ago, causing damages but no outages. No arrests have been in either attack.

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A bill advancing in North Carolina’s Senate would prohibit instruction about sexuality and gender identity in K-4 public school classes. The proposal approved Wednesday by the Senate education committee would require schools in most circumstances to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronoun used for their child. The measure defies the recommendations of parents, educators and LGBTQ youths who testified against it. The bill now heads to the Senate health care committee. A version passed the state Senate last year but did not get a vote in the House.

National & World AP Stories

Ukraine and the three Baltic countries, all former Soviet republics, moved a step closer Friday to boycotting next year’s Paris Olympics because of the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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Ford will return to Formula One as the engine provider for Red Bull Racing in a partnership announced Friday that begins with immediate technical support this season and engines in 2026. Red Bull powertrains and Ford will partner on the development of a hybrid power unit that will supply engines to both Red Bull and AlphaTauri when new F1 regulations begin in 2026. The American automaker dominated F1 in the late 1960s and 1970s as an engine manufacturer with Cosworth and Ford is the third most successful engine maker in F1 history with 10 constructors’ championships and 13 drivers’ championships.

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CAIRO (AP) — The United States has stepped up pressure on Middle East allies to expel the Wagner Group, a military contractor owned by an oligarch with close ties to Russia’s president, from chaos-stricken Libya and Sudan where it has expanded in recent years, regional officials told The Ass…

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The mayor of Austin, Texas, has apologized and says the city let its citizens down after a winter storm that has left thousands without power for days. Mayor Kirk Watson said at a news conference Friday that “the situation is unacceptable to the community, and it’s unacceptable to me.” Rising temperatures are offering some hope for frustrated Texans. Meanwhile, a new wave of frigid weather has begun rolling into the Northeast and led communities to close schools and open warming centers. Wind chills in some higher elevations of the Northeast could dive below minus 50 as an Arctic front sweeps in from Canada.