February 23, 2021

Adolfo Melendez is looking out for his fellow small business owners in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Using $2,000 he had set aside to buy ads for his restaurant, Melendez purchased gift cards from seven other dining establishments in town, to be raffled off online.

"If you help one person and that person will help another business, that will help a lot," Melendez told WSAW. As the owner of El Mezcal, Melendez knows how hard it is right now to run a restaurant. He said small businesses are the backbone of Stevens Point, and that's what prompted him to buy the gift cards.

Pete Ananiadis, who owns Olympia Family Restaurant in Stevens Point, said he appreciates Melendez and his community spirit. "In these COVID times it's very important to eat local, small mom and pop shops," he told WSAW. "He understands that, and for all of us right now it's a tough time." Catherine Garcia

7:24 p.m.

At least 20 people were killed and more than 600 injured on Sunday afternoon after several explosions rocked military barracks in Bata, the largest city in Equatorial Guinea.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema said the explosions were triggered by "negligent handling of dynamite," and the impact "caused damage in almost all the houses and buildings in Bata." Later, the country's defense ministry released a statement saying a fire broke out in a weapons depot, and that caused ammunition to explode.

The Associated Press reports that roofs were ripped off of some houses near the blast zone, and streets are filled with debris. The government is asking for volunteer health workers to assist with patients at overcrowded hospitals, as well as people to donate blood. Catherine Garcia

2:27 p.m.

The United States has identified a Russian-led disinformation campaign seeking to undermine confidence in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, an official with the State Department's Global Engagement Center told The Wall Street Journal.

The official said four websites that U.S. intelligence has marked as fronts for Russian intelligence have exaggerated the risk of side effects associated with the Pfizer shot and other Western vaccines and falsely questioned their efficacy and speed of their approval process. The sites don't have large readership numbers, but officials are reportedly concerned they could be amplified.

Pfizer is likely the main target because it was the first vaccine besides Russia's own Sputnik V to see widespread, global use, the Journal reports. An upcoming report from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a German Marshall Fund-affiliated NGO which focuses on authoritarian governments, reportedly says Russia likely views Pfizer as a threat to "Sputnik's market dominance."

A spokesman for the Kremlin denied that Moscow was orchestrating a campaign against any vaccine, arguing that if Russia were to treat "every negative publication" about the Sputnik jab "as a result of efforts by American special services, then we will go crazy because we see it every day, every hour, and in every Anglo-Saxon media." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

1:59 p.m.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told ABC News' Martha Raddatz on Sunday that the United States still doesn't have a clear assessment of who may have been behind a rocket attack against Iraq's Ain al-Asad base, which is used by U.S.-led coalition troops, earlier this week. And while Washington intends to make sure they get a firm answer, Austin said "you can expect that the U.S. will always hold people accountable for their acts ... we'll strike, if that's what we think we need to do, at a time and place of our own choosing."

President Biden previously signed off on airstrikes in retaliation for a similar attack carried out by Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria, a decision that prompted some criticism from congressional Democrats who felt the administration didn't adequately brief lawmakers before moving forward. Austin's comments, however, suggest that such a move could again be in Biden's playbook depending on the outcome of intelligence findings. Tim O'Donnell

1:12 p.m.

West Virginia has built a reputation for executing an effective COVID-19 vaccine rollout. There are likely a few factors behind this. For instance, independent, local pharmacies have played a large role in creating an easy appointment scheduling system while also having the luxury of having already established trust within the community. But messaging has also been essential, the state's Republican Gov. Jim Justice told CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Sunday's edition of Face the Nation.

Polling suggests the rollout should have been more challenging in a state like West Virginia, which is largely Republican and heavily rural. Brennan showed Justice statistics that found that nearly 40 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of American adults who live in rural areas are hesitant to receive the vaccine. But Justice said his administration and medical experts have been transparent, honest, and direct with West Virginia's population. "I tell them this almost every day: For crying out loud do you really think you're gonna take the vaccine and grow antlers?," he said. "I mean come on, just look at all the medical knowledge that's around you. You gotta be taking the vaccines, and they are." Tim O'Donnell

12:37 p.m.

On the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — the name given to the events on March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, which included a civil rights march led by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and the violent response from state police — former President Barack Obama's foundation revealed the text that will appear on the exterior of his planned presidential library in Chicago.

The words will come from a speech Obama, the United States' first Black president, gave in Selma on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2015.

The passage that has been selected reads: "You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow ... America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word 'We.' 'We The People.' 'We Shall Overcome.' 'Yes We Can.' That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours."

Watch the introductory clip below. Tim O'Donnell

11:27 a.m.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday denied allegations that his country is carrying out genocide against the Uighur population in the northwestern Xinjiang province. "The so-called 'genocide' in Xinjiang is ridiculously absurd," Wang said during his annual news conference. "It is a rumor with ulterior motives and a complete lie."

Several countries, including the United States, have used the term to describe Beijing's human rights abuses against Uighurs, an ethnic minority that largely practices Islam, and Wang attempted to flip the script by focusing on past genocides and injustices in those countries. "When it comes to 'genocide,' most people think of native North Americans in the 16th century, African slaves in the 19th century, Jews in the 20th century, and the indigenous Australians who are still fighting today," he was quoted as saying.

China claims that Uighurs have been placed in "re-education camps" that provide vocational training and are designed to eradicate extremism, but there is growing evidence that allegations of forced labor and sterilization and systematic rape and torture at the concentration camps are legitimate.

In addition to the genocide denial, Wang defended China's plans to reform Hong Kong's electoral system, which critics believe will ensure Beijing loyalists are in charge, and he also called on the U.S. to remove "unreasonable" curbs on China to improve bilateral cooperation. Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Pope Francis on Sunday was greeted by thousands of Iraqi Christians as he toured parts of the country's northern region that were once held by the Islamic State, including Mosul, a major city The Associated Press notes was once considered the heart of the so-called caliphate.

"How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism," Francis said in Mosul while surrounded by four hollowed-out churches nearly destroyed in the war to oust ISIS. "Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war."

Francis urged Iraq's Christians, a dwindling minority population, to both "forgive" and not "give up" along the way to a "full recovery." He also emphasized the assistance Mosul's Muslims provided to returning Christians, and prayed for the Yazidis, an ethnic minority that was brutally targeted by ISIS.

In Qaraqosh, a formerly ISIS-occupied Christian-majority town, journalists captured the "jubilant" atmosphere ahead of Francis' arrival. He then led a prayer service in a newly-refurbished church that had been gutted by ISIS. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads