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How to get out of your student housing lease amid COVID-19



California colleges are by and large still working out the details of what campus life will like look in the fall, even as they announce whether they’ll be open, closed or — most likely — somewhere in between.

That means some students are making housing decisions based on limited information, including the number of in-person classes they’ll have and how communal bathrooms will work.

If you’re having second thoughts about an apartment or dorm room you signed up for, you may have options.

On campus

Students who aren’t ready to face the potential new normal of dorms — such as deserted common areas and assigned bathroom stalls — can most likely still back out. The key is to check your school’s housing cancellation policy for details. Different campuses within a single university system may handle onsite housing differently. That’s the case for both University of California and California State University.

Several colleges are allowing students to cancel on-campus housing contracts — but they differ on deadlines, refund policies and penalty fees. Cal State Northridge and Cal State Los Angeles offer refunds up to to the start of the fall semester. UCLA’s cutoff for refunds is when the contract’s term begins. USC students must cancel before July 15. UC Irvine recently modified its policy to allow students to cancel before Sept. 1 for a full refund. Cal State Long Beach imposes a fee on cancellations less than 30 days before the contract begins, as well as a service fee of $275 no matter when the contract is canceled.

Many students, however, will face the opposite problem: They will not be able to secure desired housing on campus as universities move to decrease density to promote safety during the pandemic. Several campuses said they are working to offer alternative housing solutions, including consulting with local hotels and private housing owners.

“We want our students back, our students want to come back, but we have to be smart about it,” said Sheri Ledbetter, a spokeswoman for UC Irvine, who described the housing situation as a “tug of war.” UC Irvine is no longer offering incoming freshmen its two-year on-campus housing guarantee.

Off campus

Privately owned off-campus housing is a different animal. These are often regular apartments that involve leases governed by landlord-tenant law, not campus policy. American Campus Communities (ACC), a large national student housing owner and operator, falls under this category, as do housing companies that just happen to lease to a large number of students.

“Unlike universities where housing is provided in connection with academic services and is contingent on a student’s enrollment status and subject to campus restrictions, we cannot simply evict everyone and shut down a housing community,” said Jason Wills, senior vice president of development for ACC. “The lease agreement requires that our communities remain operational, provide essential services to tenants and pay utilities and real estate taxes.”

Students living in an off-campus apartment not affiliated with a university will need to take the same approach as anyone who wants to get out of a residential lease.

Before attempting to break or renegotiate a lease, do these four things:

Check your lease for an attorney fee provision. They’re common in residential leases, and they mean that the tenant is on the hook for the other side’s attorney fees if the matter goes to court and the tenant is ordered by a judge to pay up. Those fees can dwarf the cost of back rent, according to Joseph Tobener, a Bay Area attorney specializing in tenant law. That makes them a major risk factor for tenants and potentially parent co-signers.Check if your lease includes a force majeur clause, also known as an “acts of God” clause. Such clauses nullify contracts when circumstances beyond a party’s control — such as natural disaster, war or a global pandemic — arise that make the obligation impossible and impractical to fulfill. This provision is uncommon in residential leases.Determine if an amendment or change to the lease must be signed by all parties. Most require it. “So it’s not enough to get an email; you really need to get this amendment in writing,” including rent reduction or deferral agreements, Tobener said. Then you — and any roommates — need to decide whether you want to try to get a rent reduction or other arrangement to keep the unit, or whether you want to cancel the lease entirely.

Canceling a lease

Those intent on moving out should give a standard 30-day notice to vacate. The notice “would cut off your damages and trigger the landlord’s duty to mitigate” damages, Tobener said. A duty to mitigate means the landlord is required to re-rent the unit as soon as possible. Tenants can’t be charged for unpaid rent if the unit could have been re-rented and the money reasonably recouped.

Once notice is given, Tobener recommends posting an ad for the room or apartment on Craigslist or a similar platform to find applicants for the landlord. The string of applicants are evidence that the landlord could re-rent the property and mitigate damages, he said.

Another option is using your entire security deposit toward your last month’s rent. Tenants can then give a 60-day notice to vacate and use the unit during that time, Tobener said. Previously, Tobener didn’t recommend this move because it would have likely been met with a three-day notice to vacate the dwelling or face eviction. Now, under a temporary statewide eviction moratorium, tenants in California can’t be evicted. “It’s an aggressive move,” he said, “but it’s the right move so that the landlord can’t steal more than your security deposit.”

Staying put and negotiating

If you want to try to keep the unit, it’s time to put your negotiator’s hat on. Reach out to your landlord and initiate a conversation. According to Tobener, “Your leverage is that the landlord isn’t going to be able to [easily] re-rent and probably doesn’t want to deal with the collections action.”

Consider subleasing, sometimes called subletting. Some jurisdictions, like San Francisco, give tenants the right to make what’s called one-to-one replacements. In an apartment with four roommates where just one wants to move out, for example, the provision allows the remaining roommates to find another tenant to replace the one who’s leaving. Matt Briton, a tenant’s attorney in Los Angeles, said Angelenos don’t have the same right. But even if it’s not written into your local law, you can always talk to your landlord about the possibility of subleasing, Tobener said.

Tenants can also ask landlords for a rent reduction, deferral or waiver. Residents in certain places, like Los Angeles and several Bay Area cities, are eligible for a deferral during the coronavirus emergency.

For students, “the rent reduction would be temporary, until the college is back open till the school is back open,” Tobener said.

Some large student housing owners, like American Campus Communities, allow students affected by COVID-19 to apply for relief.

After having difficulty finding someone to sublet her UC Berkeley-adjacent apartment, student Saya Linney worked out a rent reduction agreement with her landlord for the summer months while she and her roommates are away.

Avoid this

Something to keep in mind: If no one pays the rent for the apartment, the landlord can go after just one person for payment under a legal principle called joint and several liability. “So they can go after the most creditworthy person, the person that has the deepest pockets,” Tobener said. That tenant would then need to seek reimbursement from co-tenants.

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Business

JetBlue to leave Long Beach Airport, move operations to LAX



JetBlue Airways, once the dominant airline at the Long Beach Airport, announced plans to relocate its Southern California hub to Los Angeles International Airport, with an eye to expand service over the next five years.

The New York-based airline plans to begin the relocation to LAX in October. JetBlue’s last day of operation in Long Beach will be Oct. 6.

JetBlue put part of the blame for the move on the coronavirus pandemic, saying the financial hit caused by the pandemic has made the airline reconsider its future in Long Beach.

“The impact of COVID-19 on our industry has forced us to take a hard look at our remaining Long Beach Airport operation, which continues to financially underperform our network despite various efforts through the years — including seeking to bring international flights — in order to make our operation at the airport succeed,” said JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, referring to a decision by Long Beach lawmakers in 2017 to kill a proposal to allow for international flights.

In the past few years, the relationship between JetBlue and Long Beach has been rocky.

About a year ago, Long Beach Airport forced JetBlue to give up nearly a third of its gate slots after being warned that it was in danger of violating new city regulations designed to prevent airlines from sitting on under-used slots to keep competitors out.

Several of its competitors, including Southwest Airlines, picked up most of the slots JetBlue gave up.

In addition, JetBlue had proposed adding international flights from Long Beach to Mexico and other Latin American destinations but the idea was rejected by local lawmakers and residents who feared the addition of international flights would lead to more traffic, air pollution, a drop in property values and pressure to lift the city’s restrictive noise limits.

In addition to consolidating its transcontinental flights to LAX, JetBlue says it plans to embark on an expansion to about 70 flights per day by 2025, including international flights. JetBlue now flies about 20 daily takeoffs from LAX.

“While we recognize it is bittersweet to say farewell to a community that’s been part of our company’s story from our earliest days, this move is the right one for JetBlue and our future as we think about our next decade of growth,” Stewart said.

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Business

Former NBA coach David Fizdale finds a new home court in Calabasas



Basketball coach David Fizdale, who recently spent stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, is putting down roots in Southern California. The L.A. native just bought a Mediterranean-style home in Calabasas for $2.25 million.

That’s about half a million shy of the original asking price, records show.

Recently remodeled, the two-story house sits on a third of an acre in guard-gated Mountain View Estates. A clean white exterior and clay tile roof give the façade a Mediterranean feel, and inside, updated living spaces feature sleek shades of black, white and gray.

Wrought iron touches up the double-door entry and staircase, and farther in, the family room adds a custom fireplace and wet bar. Other highlights include a center-island kitchen and living room under coffered ceilings.

In about 6,200 square feet are six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms. Outdoors, a column-lined patio expands to a fenced backyard with a grassy lawn, swimming pool and spa

Fizdale, 46, attended the University of San Diego and eventually became an assistant coach of the school’s basketball team before landing NBA assistant roles with the Warriors, Hawks and Heat, with whom he won a pair of championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2018, he signed a four-year deal to become head coach of the Knicks but was fired midway through his second season.

A few different NBA players and coaches have landed in Calabasas in recent years. Mark Jackson put his home in Mountain View Estates on the market for $4.75 million in 2019, and earlier this year, former No. 1 overall pick Kenyon Martin listed his Tuscan-style spot for $3.599 million. In 2018, Chris Paul sold his mansion with a basketball court for $11.05 million.

Shore Behdin of Gold Star Realty Encino held the listing. Mark Goldsmith of Coldwell Banker Realty represented the buyer.

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World

Afghan War Casualty Report: July 2020


The following report compiles all significant security incidents confirmed by New York Times reporters throughout Afghanistan for the month. It is necessarily incomplete as many local officials refuse to confirm casualty information. The report includes government claims of insurgent casualty figures, but in most cases, these cannot be independently verified by The Times. Similarly, the reports do not include Taliban claims for their attacks on the government unless they can be verified. Both sides routinely inflate casualty totals for their opponents.

At least 47 pro-government forces and 17 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the past week. The deadliest attack took place in Zabul Province, where the Taliban attacked a military convoy that had been heading toward Shinky District with a roadside bomb before both sides opened fire, killing seven police officers. Days later, in Paktika Province, unknown gunmen entered a house in the Khwaza Khail area of Sharana, the provincial capital, killing six members of a family, including a young girl. It remains unclear if the attack was carried out by insurgents or motivated by personal enmity for the family.

[Read the Afghan War Casualty Report from previous weeks.]

July 9 Baghlan Province: four soldiers killed

The Taliban struck a Humvee of security forces with a rocket, killing four soldiers, in the Chashma-e-Shir area Pul-i-Kumri, the provincial capital, where checkpoints have been set up in order to push insurgents out of the area.

July 9 Herat Province: one civilian killed

An employee of Torghundi Port, located on the border with Turkmenistan, was killed by the Taliban in the village of Chehl Dokhtaran in Kushk-e- Robatsangi District, while three other civilians were kidnapped. The employees were traveling from Herat City to the port via private vehicle.

July 8 Baghlan Province: six civilians killed

Security forces fired mortars at the Taliban, but a mortar shell hit a house in the Chashma-e-Shir area of Pul-i-Kumri, killing six civilians, including women and children, and wounding another.

July 8 Balkh Province: one soldier killed

The Taliban ambushed a military convoy in the Alam Khil area of Balkh District, killing one soldier and wounding four others.

July 8 Ghazni Province: three police officers killed

The Taliban attacked a security outpost in Deh Yak District. When the district police chief was trying to reach the area for backup, his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, killing him and two other officers.

July 8 Kandahar Province: three police officers killed

The Taliban tried to target the district police headquarters of Shawalikot District with a large truck laden with explosives, but the truck was targeted by security forces. Three police officers were killed and 14 others were wounded in the explosion, while the police headquarters were damaged.

July 8 Wardak Province: one security force killed

The Taliban fired several mortar shells on the district governor’s office in Nerkh District, killing one police special force member.

July 8 Badghis Province: two civilians killed

A roadside bomb placed by the Taliban hit a group of children in the village of Gandah Ab in Ab Kamari District, killing two children.

July 8 Kandahar Province: two police officers killed

Two police officers were shot and killed by the Taliban in the Nakhoni area of Panjwai District. The attackers managed to escape from the area.

July 8 Kandahar Province: one security force killed

A member of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, was shot and killed in the 10th Police District of Kandahar City, the provincial capital.

July 8 Kandahar Province: two police officers and one civilian killed

Unknown gunmen opened fire on police officers who were on duty in the Fourth Police District of Kandahar City, killing two police officers and one civilian. Police officers in the area engaged with the attackers, killing them both.

July 7 Paktika Province: six civilians killed

Unknown gunmen entered a house in the Khwaza Khail area of Sharana, the provincial capital, killing six members of a family, including a young girl. The motive for the attack was unclear.

July 7 Kandahar Province: one police officer and one civilian killed

Unknown gunmen shot and killed a police officer and a municipality in Kandahar City before escaping from the area.

July 7 Paktia Province: one soldier killed

A vehicle carrying Afghan soldiers hit a roadside bomb in the Karkin Khwla area of Ahmad Khail District, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

July 7 Nangarhar Province: five police officers killed

A car bomb targeted a convoy of local police forces in the main roundabout of Koz Kunar District, killing five police officers, including a local police team leader. Two other officers were wounded, as were nine civilians.

July 6 Herat Province: one soldier killed

A soldier was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in the bazaar of Shindand District, where he was standing near his outpost. The attackers managed to escape from the area.

July 6 Zabul Province: four police officers killed

Four police officers were killed in an insider attack in Sharisfa District carried out by two Taliban infiltrators who later joined the insurgency after killing their colleagues.

July 6 Faryab Province: one soldier killed

The Taliban attacked a military base in the Bala-Hisar area of Andkhoi District, killing one soldier. The attackers seized the soldier’s rifle before escaping.

July 5 Baghlan Province: two police officers killed

A Taliban fighter shot and killed two local police officers in Baghlan-e-Markazi District before escaping from the area.

July 5 Nangarhar Province: one soldier killed

Afghan soldiers were trying to defuze a roadside bomb placed by the Taliban in the Fateh Abad Area of Surkhrood District when the bomb detonated, killing one soldier.

July 5 Zabul Province: seven police officers killed

The Taliban attacked a military convoy that had been heading toward Shinky District with a roadside bomb before both sides opened fire, killing seven police officers.

July 4 Kapisa Province: one security force killed

A member of the National Directorate of Security was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in the Dangarkhil village of Mahmod Raqi, the provincial capital. The attackers managed to escape from the area.

July 4 Herat Province: three police officers killed

Three police officers were killed and three others were wounded when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb in the village of Ahmad Abad in Kohsan District.

July 3 Baghlan Province: two police officers killed

A police vehicle hit a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban in the Kotal-e-Hafiz Bacha area of Nahrin District, killing two police officers and wounding three others.

July 3 Paktia Province: one police officer killed

The Taliban attacked the district headquarters of Mirzaka District, killing one police officer.

Reporting was contributed by the following New York Times reporters: Najim Rahim from Kabul, Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Zabihullah Ghazi from Jalalabad, Asadullah Timoory from Herat and Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost.

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Miley Cyrus buys Hidden Hills home in off-market deal



Singer-actress Miley Cyrus has purchased a Hidden Hills home for a little over $4.95 million in an off-market transaction.

The “Wrecking Ball” singer used a trust to facilitate the deal, which closed in late June, according to real estate records. The seller was Steven Baio, the brother of actor Scott Baio.

The Traditional-style house was built in 1957, but was recently renovated and expanded. Wide-plank wood floors, vaulted ceilings and a new-look kitchen are among the features of note. A snazzy wet bar near the entry is decked out in Mercury glass.

The 1.18-acre estate in Hidden Hills has a sunken dining area, a lagoon-style swimming pool and a fenced pasture.

(NearMap)

A home theater with a snack bar, formal living and dining rooms, a family room, six bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms also lie within about 6,000 square feet of living space.

Outdoors on the 1.18-acre site are a sunken dining area, a barbecue pavilion and a lagoon-style swimming pool. A white-picket fence encloses a grassy hillside to the rear.

The property was most recently listed last summer at $5.099 million. Multiple Listing Service records indicate it was leased out last fall at $39,000 a month.

Cyrus has a history with the area, having sold another home in the guard-gated equestrian community two years ago for $5 million, The Times previously reported.

The daughter of musician Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyrus gained fame at an early age as the child star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana.” As a singer, the 27-year-old has released six studio albums, most recently “Younger Now” in 2017. Her seventh album, “She is Miley Cyrus,” is expected to be released later this year.

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World

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon Is Found Dead


SEOUL, South Korea — The mayor of Seoul, South Korea, the country’s most powerful official after the president, was found dead by the police, hours after his daughter reported him missing, the police said Friday.

A Seoul police officer confirmed the discovery of Mr. Park’s body in a hill in northern Seoul, but said he could offer no further detail until there was a formal announcement.

His disappearance came a day after a secretary in the mayor’s office told the police that he had been sexually harassing her since 2017, two Seoul television stations reported, attributing the information to unidentified police sources.

Mr. Park, 64, canceled his official schedule for Thursday and called in sick to City Hall. His daughter told the police that he had left home after leaving a cryptic, “will-like message,” according to Yonhap, the national news agency, which cited an anonymous police source.

When Mr. Park had not returned home after five hours, his daughter called the police.

On Thursday evening, 580 police officers and emergency medical workers, aided by police dogs, searched the hills in northern Seoul.

The mayor of Seoul, a city of 10 million, is considered the second most powerful elected official in South Korea after the president. Mr. Park, who is serving his third term, has often been named as a possible candidate to replace President Moon Jae-in, whose single five-year term is set to end in 2022.

Mr. Park has been the mayor of Seoul since 2011. His latest term was scheduled to end in 2022.

Before becoming mayor, Mr. Park was a prominent human rights attorney who founded the country’s most influential civil rights group.

As a lawyer, he won several major cases, including South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction. He also campaigned for the rights of so-called comfort women, Korean sex slaves who were lured or forced to work in brothels for the Japanese army during World War II.

A tireless critic of inequality, Mr. Park was a vocal antagonist of former President Park Geun-hye, and supported huge rallies against her in central Seoul that led to her impeachment and ouster on corruption charges in 2017.

Mr. Park has been one of the most aggressive leaders in South Korea in fighting the coronavirus, issuing a series of municipal steps aimed at containing its spread, like shutting down nightclubs. Seoul has reported only 1,390 cases.

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‘Whack-a-Mole’ Against Virus Sounds Reasonable, Unless You’re the Mole


LEICESTER, England — Fresh buttercream wastes away in an empty cake shop. Young men slip past the lockdown border to reopened pubs in nearby towns. And neighbors blame neighbors for a new outbreak of the coronavirus that has stalled their return to something resembling normal life.

In Leicester, a city of ramshackle garment factories and multigenerational homes in the heart of England, the imposition of a second lockdown late last month has induced a sort of whiplash among people who were still recovering from the first.

The city of 340,000 in the East Midlands was shuttered as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to play ‘Whack-a-Mole’ with the virus, bringing a mallet down on any areas suffering an outbreak.

But carving a stay-at-home border around one region while others hurry back to pubs and jobs has proved to be a convoluted and divisive step. And it illuminates the difficulties that countries across Europe and Asia will face as they try to battle local flare-ups of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Weeks of delays by the government in giving local officials in England details about test results made it difficult to detect clusters of new infections before they spread.

With sweatshops employing mostly underpaid South Asian immigrant workers operating during lockdown, Leicester was a prime candidate for a second outbreak. Its garment workers were packed together not only in the factories but also at home — confined spaces where the virus can easily spread.

Once known for “clothing the world,” Leicester has struggled as larger manufacturers moved overseas. It recently ranked as the 21st most deprived of more than 300 local authorities in England.

And now, residents complain, it has to shoulder the reputation of becoming England’s first city to be convulsed a second time by the coronavirus.

“The only time people have known how to say ‘Leicester’ is when we won the Premier League and we found a dead king,” said Dharmesh Lakhani, the owner of Bobby’s, an Indian restaurant, on the city’s normally bustling Belgrave Road. The city soccer team won the 2016 championship and archaeologists in 2012 found Richard III’s remains under a parking lot where a 16th century priory once stood.

“Now these are the three highlights,” he said. “Being locked down again attaches a stigma to us.”

In Leicester (pronounced “Lester,” in case anyone was wondering), recriminations are flying over why local officials were not given centrally held data showing a spike in infections sooner.

“We are a very centralized country — probably one of, if not the most, centralized in the democratic world,” Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, said in an interview. “And if it’s all done from the center, they’re missing out on local expertise, and we’re sitting here very frustrated at not being trusted.”

Pouncing on an outbreak depends upon testing and tracking cases down to the level of single office buildings and neighborhoods, a strategy that England has struggled to develop. Chief among its problems has been a network of privately run testing sites that for weeks processed tens of thousands of daily tests, without the government sharing detailed results with local officials. Only testing results from public hospitals were being quickly shared.

Those blind spots made Mr. Johnson’s decision to reopen England seem hasty to some experts. Leicester’s lockdown was triggered by an infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people, nearly three times as high as the bar set by Germany. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that the lifting of the national lockdown appeared timed to the easing of the virus in London, and not its more stubborn spread elsewhere.

In an internal report on the outbreak, Leicester officials said the government had denied them testing data in recent months on the grounds that “it hadn’t been cleaned.” Government officials have said the data processing had not yet been automated, causing delays.

When Leicester was given citywide test results on June 1 showing an elevated number of new cases, city officials were alarmed.

But on a call in the following days with Leicester’s public health director, national health officials denied anything was amiss, the report said. The city’s public health director “was told it was probably ‘a small numbers issue’ and may well go down again in the following week’s data release,” the report said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said, “At no point did the department or Public Health England seek to downplay the situation in Leicester. In fact, our close monitoring of the outbreak allowed us to take early action, including through extra testing capacity and providing additional data analysis.”

Extra testing was not introduced until June 20, Leicester officials said, shortly after the government publicly confirmed an outbreak. With government health officials struggling to pinpoint the hotspot, and deliberating whether to delay future reopenings or ask everyone to stay at home, it took until June 29 for a lockdown to be announced.

Even now, Leicester officials said, they were being notified of positive results only in local areas, and not the overall number of tests, preventing them from determining the rate of new infections. The data also have missing or incorrect information about people’s workplaces — as with a reputed eight-year-old health care worker — making it difficult to trace the spread.

Government officials have said that Leicester was slow to complete data security forms required to access testing information. The mayor also publicly questioned the lockdown shortly before it was announced, saying that he was “deeply skeptical” of what it would achieve.

On a recent gloomy day, with rain threatening from a leaden sky and shops sitting empty behind closure notices, the city looked ghostly. Pubs and restaurants once poised to open along with those elsewhere in England were shuttered, and boxes of supplies sat stacked on tables.

At Sugar and Ice, a cake shop that had reopened in mid-June only to partly close again because of the lockdown, Debbie Bass, the owner, tallied her looming losses. Forty kilograms of buttercream was nearing its expiration date. So was £200, or $250, of sponge cake bases.

Three cake orders had already been postponed or canceled. And an employee whom Ms. Bass had rehired off furlough had been sent home.

“Now she’s back on furlough and we go through it all over again,” Ms. Bass said. “It’s rather a waste of money and a waste of time.”

Adding to the stress for residents was confusion over the lockdown borders. Even the mayor said on the day the lockdown started that he did not know where it applied.

“Sitting up all night refreshing social media to see if we had any updates wasn’t very good,” Ms. Bass said.

With caution tape still fluttering from the bars of playground equipment, some of the heaviest activity in Leicester was centered last week in the garment factories that analysts fear could have seeded the outbreak.

The so-called dark factories — housed in the shells of old buildings, their windows often papered over inside — pay workers as little as £3.50, or $4.40, an hour, a fraction of the national living wage.

Their biggest buyers are cheap online retailers like Boohoo, which thrived in the pandemic by switching to leisure wear. The factories — exempt, like other manufacturers, from lockdown — forced workers to show up sick, workers told an advocacy group, Labour Behind the Label. At one 80-person factory, a fifth of the staff had the virus.

Labor unions have criticized the government’s Health and Safety Executive, which had been promised an extra £14 million to enforce workplace safety during the pandemic, for not inspecting factories and other facilities more aggressively.

“It’s almost like an open secret,” said Dominique Muller of Labour Behind the Label, referring to the longstanding labor abuses. “But there hasn’t been any coherent response from the government.”

The high rate of infection in nearby South Asian neighborhoods fed a false perception that nonwhite residents were to blame for the outbreak, spawning racist remarks online. For a city with a long history of immigrant arrivals, the racism has stung.

“People are labeling the whole Asian community,” said Priti Raichura, who runs a wedding business in the city. “I have seen lots of racist comments.”

Like many places walloped by the coronavirus, Leicester is a deeply unequal city: The gap in life expectancy between the healthiest and sickest neighborhoods is more than six years. The prevalence of diabetes is among the highest in England and rising.

But rather than supply public health teams and local doctors with infection data they could have used to warn patients, the government left them in the dark, said Professor Kamlesh Khunti of the University of Leicester, who is also a general practitioner.

“We know the family structures better than most,” he said. “Like others, we suffered all these months, but now we have to wait before we can get back to something the rest of the country already has, which seems unfair.”

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World

Melania Trump Statue in Slovenia Set on Fire


LONDON — After a wooden statue of Melania Trump was burned near her birthplace in Slovenia on July 4, the American artist who commissioned it said that he now wants to interview the arsonist as part of a new project.

The life-size, rustic sculpture of Mrs. Trump, which was carved out of a linden tree last year by a local folk artist, showed the first lady waving a hand in the powder blue cashmere dress she wore at her husband’s inauguration in 2017.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the destruction of monuments, so it could come from left-leaning people,” Brad Downey, the artist who commissioned the statue, said about the charred work near Sevnica, a rural town of 5,000 people where Mrs. Trump grew up. “Or it could be from right-leaning people, because they don’t like how it looks or think it’s disrespectful, aesthetically.”

Standing nine feet tall on the banks of the Sava, a major river in Slovenia, the sculpture drew mixed reactions when it was unveiled: with its rough-hewed features and naïve appearance, locals deemed it grotesque or said it looked like a scarecrow. But Mr. Downey said that people there generally liked the sculpture and had taken care of it — until last weekend.

“The face is burned but the features are intact — we can still see the face,” said Mr. Downey, who has stored the sculpture in a temporary studio in Slovenia. He said that he planned to show the charred version at an exhibition in the country in September. “The blue dress is still all blue,” he noted.

From the state of the remains, Mr. Downey said that whoever had set the statue afire had most likely put tires around the head and then dumped gasoline on it.

A local police officer said the investigation was continuing and refused to comment further. A wooden statue representing President Trump in northeastern Slovenia was burned to the ground in January.

The town of Sevnica has built a tourism industry around the Mrs. Trump’s origins ever since her husband entered the presidential race in 2015, with offerings such as Melania salami, Melania slippers and Melania wine. While the rural town has attracted tens of thousands of visitors, the first lady hasn’t visited Slovenia since then.

Mr. Downey, a 39-year-old Berlin-based artist who defined his work as “contextual public art,” said that the sculpture was intended to question President Trump’s anti-immigration policy and what he described as a “heavy rhetoric of xenophobia.”

He said he had commissioned a local sculptor, Ales Zupevc, known as Max, to create the statue because Mr. Zupevc was born in the same hospital the same month and year as Mrs. Trump: April 1970.

Mr. Zupevc said in a 2019 short film made by Mr. Downey that he had never met the first lady — and that he had never before made a full human statue.

Mr. Downey said that he did not want to press charges against the culprits, but he expressed a wish to interview them. “Why did you do this? Who are you? I’d love to speak to you,” he said.

He added that the charred sculpture, wrapped in plastic, would remain in his temporary studio near the seaside town of Koper, in southwestern Slovenia.

“I had also made a silicon mold of it, just out of precaution,” Mr. Downey said. “The statue is still here.”

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World

NASA Scientist Jailed in Turkey for 3 Years Recounts His Ordeal


ISTANBUL — When Turkish police officers stopped him as he set out for the airport to return to the United States after a family vacation in Turkey, the country of his birth, Serkan Golge, an NASA scientist and American citizen, was in disbelief.

It was July 2016, eight anxious days after a failed coup tried to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the police told Mr. Golge that they had received an anonymous tip that he worked for the C.I.A. and was part of a terrorist group accused of masterminding the plot.

The idea was so far-fetched that Mr. Golge expected to sort it out quickly and changed his flight to the next day. “I was quite shocked, but I was like, ‘This will go away,’” he said. “This is probably a mistake and the police and prosecutors would figure this out.”

It would take four years. Mr. Golge and his family returned to Houston just last week, ending a nightmare in which he was held for three years in solitary confinement as he became a bargaining chip in a series of high-level disputes between the Turkish and American governments.

In his first interview since arriving home, Mr. Golge described with exasperation but little rancor the ordeal of being charged and found guilty of terrorist activities on evidence so flimsy he called it “garbage.”

His account provides a rare insight into the Turkish judicial machine from the side of a defendant. Some 70,000 people have been accused in the Turkish courts in connection with the failed coup. Many, still fearful of the whims of Turkish justice, prefer to keep silent even once they are freed.

Mr. Erdogan’s government has blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. Soon after the coup, pro-government Turkish media outlets began accusing the American government of being behind the plot, suggesting that it was in league with Mr. Gulen.

For Mr. Golge, who has a doctorate in physics and worked as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, being an American citizen was enough to be presumed guilty.

“You fit the profile,” he recalled his lawyer telling him at one point. “It does not really matter if you are innocent or not. They won’t release you.”

After 14 days, Mr. Golge appeared before a judge who told him the police had found an American dollar bill in his parent’s house, which the Turkish authorities alleged was a badge of membership to the Gulen movement, by then designated a terrorist group.

He was held in a general prison in southern Turkey, alongside high-ranking military officers, judges and prosecutors, some of whom told him that they were being held without any evidence at all.

Senior military officers and civilian supporters of Mr. Gulen have been charged over their part in leading the coup and ordering the bombing of the Parliament and clashes that killed 250 people.

But thousands of others who were accused had only tenuous links to Mr. Gulen’s movement, or, like the military cadets who were ordered out on the night of the coup, had little idea what was going on. Journalists and political opponents of Mr. Erdogan with no connection to the events were prosecuted as well.

Mr. Golge was sent to a prison in the town of Iskenderun, where in the August heat 32 men were crammed in a cell made for eight. He slept on a blanket on the floor and soon fell ill with bronchitis.

Within a month, he was moved to solitary confinement and faced charges of overthrowing the government and the constitution, which carried a life sentence, and a charge of belonging to a terrorist organization, which carried a 15-year sentence.

“‘That’s it, I’m never getting out of here,’” he recalled thinking. “That was a collapse psychologically, and I cried a lot.”

“It is a very small room — it barely sees the sunlight, and the guards took me out only one hour a day,” he said. “And I stayed in that room, in that small single cell, for three years.”

For a long time, Mr. Golge clung to the fact that the evidence the Turkish prosecutors presented was hardly incriminating. The anonymous tip turned out to be from a relative who bore a grudge against Mr. Golge’s sister and later admitted he did not know if his allegations were true.

The prosecutors drew on other evidence, and even Mr. Golge acknowledges that he fits the profile of a possible member of the Gulen movement.

He went to Fatih University, which was one of the most prominent Gulen schools, on a scholarship to study physics; he banked with Bank Asya, which was part of the Gulen network of companies. But none of that, he points out, amounts to a crime.

“A one dollar bill, an anonymous tip, a bank account? How is this terrorism?” Mr. Golge asked. “Nobody could explain, but I think this is how laws and courts still work in Turkey.”

Mr. Golge has condemned the coup attempt and says he had nothing to do with the Gulen movement.

“I am not part of this organization,” he said. “I am very sorry for the people who lost their lives. This is something unacceptable. Violence is never a solution. I have always believed in democracy, and I think currently it is the best solution we have.”

But he says Turkey missed an opportunity by not dealing justly with the coup attempt. Instead, zealous prosecutors have pursued people far beyond the actual perpetrators, sweeping up many who have been judged guilty by association.

Mr. Golge recalls a fellow inmate, a former judge, telling him the government had no evidence against him. “At least there was some bogus evidence about you,” he told Mr. Golge, “but I don’t know why I was arrested.”

He shared time in the exercise yard with a one-star general who told him he had opposed the coup but had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment anyway because his name appeared on a list of appointments made by the coup plotters.

“If Turkey only prosecuted the responsible people, instead of prosecuting hundreds of thousands of innocent people, I think that Turkish democracy would come out of this horrible act much stronger,” Mr. Golge said.

Gradually, with American officials including President Trump pressing Turkey for his release over the lack of evidence, the charges against Mr. Golge were reduced. He was eventually convicted of aiding a terrorist organization, and the sentence was reduced on appeal.

He said he sensed the Turkish judges knew the case against him was “garbage” but were compelled to drag out the process. “I felt they were scared of something,” he added.

He was released from prison in May 2019 and in April this year was cleared to leave the country. But then he was hospitalized with stomach ulcers, and the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights.

The strain of the past four years on his wife, Kubra, and two boys, ages 4 and 10, erupted at the airport, when Mr. Golge was pulled aside at passport control and held for 40 minutes.

“My wife started crying, the kids started crying,” he said. “I tried to stay calm because I knew they had no basis to hold me, but they were shaking so hard. My son was crying a lot, grabbing me, holding on to me, saying ‘No Dad, not again, not again.’”

Officials at the U.S. Embassy, who were tracking his progress, ensured he made the flight.

Back in Houston, he is rebuilding his life, applying for his old job and looking for a house. “Your life — four years, three years in prison — will not come back,” he said. “But that’s life. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win.’’

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World

U.S. Visa Changes Leave International Students in Limbo


LONDON — Oliver Philcox was nearing the end of his first year of graduate studies in astrophysics at Princeton University when the coronavirus outbreak began. Classes were halted in March, and then moved online. By May, he had decided to travel home to Britain.

“In the long run, that was a terrible idea,” said Mr. Philcox, 24. “But I had assumed I would be able to go back in September.”

Now, the return to an American institution has been thrown into question for Mr. Philcox and countless other international students after a directive by the Trump administration that students whose classes were moving entirely online for the fall would be stripped of their visas and required to leave the United States.

Many universities see the move as a political one — an attempt to pressure them to reopen rather than hosting all classes online during the pandemic. For some international students, the directive poses frustrating questions of logistics and uncertainty. But for others — notably those whose home countries are embroiled in conflict or have communications technologies that are insufficient for online learning — the decision has the potential to disrupt their lives and drastically alter their futures.

The Trump administration’s plan to require in-person classes for international students would affect around one million students, according to data from the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. China sends the highest number of students — with about 370,000 enrolled in American universities in 2018-2019 — followed by India with just over 200,000 students enrolled that year.

As the reality has sunk in, outrage has grown from those around the world who are now met with the possibility that they may not be able to return to, or stay in, the United States for their education. Many are rethinking whether the choice to enroll in an American institution, despite the expertise and prestige, was worth it.

Macarena Ramos Gonzalez, a native of Spain who is nearing the end of a Ph.D. program in applied physiology at the University of Delaware, was blunt: “If they really don’t want me here — and the administration has made that very clear in a number of ways — maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

The decision highlights a wide disconnect between the diversity that most universities strive for among students and staff members and a government that shuns those principles, she said.

Hundreds of thousand of students and their supporters have signed petitions demanding that the government rethink the decision and urging their universities to protect students from abroad. Some universities are reassessing their fall reopening policies in an attempt to enable some in-person classes.

For some international students, the United States has been a haven, offering safety from conflict in their home countries and relief from infrastructure that cannot support remote learning. But that sense of security has now been upended.

In Ifat Gazia’s hometown in Kashmir, India’s government cut off internet access in August as part of moves to strengthen its grip over the disputed territory. Although the service was restored in January, only 2G is available, making it nearly impossible to make calls over Skype, let alone support the video that would be needed if she were to try to attend lectures via Zoom.

Ms. Gazia arrived in the United States last August, just as India was cracking down on her region. She was unable to call her parents to let them know she had arrived safely, as the Indian government had cut landline and mobile phone service in Kashmir.

“I considered myself lucky when I landed,” Ms. Gazia said. “But when this order came this week, I felt only despair.”

She pointed out that higher education is often a pathway for the United States to draw in highly skilled workers.

“That is what makes America great,” she said. “But so many Americans think we are just here to just take from their country. They don’t realize how much we contribute.”

For students like Kunal Singh, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at M.I.T., there is no way even to get home. He has been unable to fly to India, as it shut its borders in March to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The anti-foreigner sentiment has also stripped away some of the prestige of graduating from a top American university.

“If I had known that something like this would happen when I was applying to American schools, I wouldn’t have applied,” Mr. Singh said. “I would have applied to Australia or Britain.”

For some, it isn’t worth the money or stress to continue. Andres Jaime, 48, whose 19-year-old son is a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, said they had decided that he would postpone his studies and return to Colombia.

Mr. Jaime said they had previously asked the university to lower fees for the coming semester “because the online experience wasn’t the same,” but the university refused. The visa decision further strengthened their resolve that he should return home.

Other students have begun assessing other options, like Andy Mao, 21, from Shanghai, who is studying biology at New York University. He was preparing for the Graduate Record Exam when he heard the news.

This was his final year in an undergraduate program, and he had planned years of study in the United States because of its legacy as a research leader. But now, he said he would add universities in Canada and Singapore to his list.

“I still like this country,” he said. “But if Trump gets re-elected, we will face huge uncertainty.”

In many cases, graduate and Ph.D. students have spouses and children with them in the United States, which means that the directive will also result in the uprooting of whole families. In some cases, children will be displaced from the country that they were born in and the only country they have ever known.

Among those students is Naette Lee, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Maryland. Ms. Lee, 38, from Trinidad and Tobago, lives with her husband, who is Belgian, and infant son, who was born in the United States and is an American citizen. They would be unable to travel to Europe together because of a ban on nonresident travelers from the United States.

And if Ms. Lee has to return home, she will be separated from her family — Trinidad and Tobago have barred foreigners from entering the country during the pandemic, which would extend to her husband and son.

“This is not about the campus experience,” she said. “This is about leaving our lives behind.”

Many students are even struggling to understand whether they will be affected by the directive, particularly those studying for advanced degrees that are focused on research. They would typically have no in-person classes and instead study independently.

Kelsey Bryk, 29, a Canadian, left the University of Delaware in a scramble in March, driving 26 hours to her home in Winnipeg as border closings loomed. Having spent the last four years working toward a Ph.D., she may now not be able to return.

“I’ve invested so much time money and effort, and now it’s just being potentially ripped away,” she said.

While her university is still trying to figure out a way to ensure that international students can stay, the uncertainty looms.

“Right now, I don’t think anyone has any answers,” she said. “And we are just sitting here expecting the worst and hoping for the best.”

Megan Specia reported from London, and Maria Abi Habib from Los Angeles. Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting from New Delhi, Cao Li from Hong Kong and Elian Peltier and Iliana Magra from London.