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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Allies of Alexei Navalny say the late Russian opposition leader will be laid to rest near his home in Moscow today.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The announced funeral comes two weeks after Navalny's death under mysterious circumstances in an Arctic prison colony and a standoff over his burial. Navalny's widow, Yulia, says her husband was murdered on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a charge the Kremlin denies. Here she is speaking this week in front of the European Parliament.

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YULIA NAVALNAYA: My husband will never see what the beautiful Russia of the future will look like, but we must see it, and I will do my best to make his dream come true. The evil will fall, and the beautiful future will come. Thank you.

INSKEEP: For now, what comes is a funeral. And NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow, near where that funeral is reported to take place. Hi there, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where are you, exactly?

MAYNES: You know, I'm in Maryino. This is in southeastern Moscow. This is the neighborhood where Alexei Navalny lived with his family, with his wife, Yulia, and his children he raised there. And it's also where he made his name in opposition politics, going up to the ranks of - initially an anti-corruption campaigner here in Russia against state companies and later becoming really the leader of the opposition over the past decade.

INSKEEP: And what is happening in that neighborhood exactly?

MAYNES: Well, that's really the question. Alexei Navalny's family says that the Russian government has repeatedly thwarted efforts to organize a memorial service that they hope to hold here today. They say authorities initially delayed the release of Navalny's body, then pressured the family to hold a private ceremony out of the public eye and even prevented them from renting any facility in Moscow that might be an appropriate place for a mass memorial. So instead, we're here in Maryino. This is near an Orthodox church. We're not far from Navalny's home. This will be followed by a burial at a nearby cemetery. And yet, even that may prove problematic.

INSKEEP: Why would that be?

MAYNES: Well, again, this is coming from Navalny's political team. They say authorities are now threatening the funeral services company that's supposed to bring Navalny's body to this church for the service. So we don't really know yet if this funeral will actually happen. But I can tell you what I've seen so far. There's a heavy security presence here. Police have cordoned off the church with steel fencing where mourners hope to pay their final respects. There are dozens of police vans nearby and riot police and steel fencing along this route across a bridge that leads to the cemetery as well. I should add that, you know, Navalny's immediate family - his wife, Yulia, his children - are not expected to be here today simply because it's too dangerous for them. Navalny's parents, however, are still in Russia. In fact, you might recall it was Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, who spent that grueling week in the Arctic Circle fighting the authorities to retrieve her son's remains. And that brings us to this point.

INSKEEP: What is the Kremlin, Putin's side, saying about this?

MAYNES: Well, the Kremlin - you know, it insists there's - it has no interest in these proceedings at all. Putin hasn't said a word about Navalny since his death. But, you know, keep in mind, Putin never spoke about Navalny when he was alive. It was part of a strategy to treat him as a political nonentity here. Yet police actions would appear to tell a different story. You know, we saw several hundred Navalny supporters detained for merely attending these makeshift memorials in the days after Navalny's death. And now the question today is how many more could face arrest for just attempting to attend this final send-off? The Moscow authorities, they haven't issued orders forbidding people from attending the church service, but it certainly seems like they're doing everything possible to make sure this funeral doesn't turn into something resembling a protest.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes is in southern Moscow, where people have been planning a funeral for Alexei Navalny today. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: Sometimes a single image gets across the scale of devastation in Gaza, like one of them that you see from overhead, showing whole neighborhoods destroyed as Israel responds to last October's Hamas attack.

MARTÍNEZ: Sometimes, though, a single incident gets across the desperation of those still alive. One came yesterday when hungry people rushed to trucks distributing food in two locations. Palestinians say more than 100 people were killed. They say Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd. Israelis contend their troops fired weapons to defend themselves, and many of those killed were trampled or run over.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf is trying to figure out what is known. Hi there, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How, if at all, can you verify what happened here?

ARRAF: It's really difficult. It's just hard to get reliable information from Gaza. And one of the reasons for that is Israel bans foreign journalists from there. Unless you're with the Israeli military, for instance, it's impossible to get in and report what's happening on the ground. We did speak with one of the survivors, Ahmed Al-Haj Salim (ph), who's in hospital in Gaza City. He said he was waiting for an aid truck in the hope of getting some food for his three children when he was shot in the leg and then the hand.

AHMED AL-HAJ SALIM: (Through interpreter) I was left lying on the ground for two hours because there were so many injured. Then after two hours, there came a cart with a horse, and it was then that he took me.

ARRAF: You can see from satellite images or possibly drone images released by the Israeli military, people completely overwhelming trucks. There's so little food reaching Gaza. It just speaks to the desperation of people who have no other way of feeding their children. It's also worth noting, Steve, that the Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it has been overseeing. U.N. agencies, which would normally deliver aid, say Israel is imposing severe obstacles to access.

INSKEEP: And I want to understand those obstacles a little better because you have people around the world, including in the United States, who contend that they would like humanitarian aid to be reaching Gaza. Why isn't that happening?

ARRAF: Well, according to aid officials, there are a few reasons. One is we have to remember, Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. And for the past 16 years, it's been under siege, with access controlled by Israel and, to some extent, Egypt. Israeli airstrikes over the course of the war, five months of it, have damaged or destroyed most of Gaza's infrastructure. But really the main reason is restrictions by Israel on aid crossing into Gaza. Before the war, 500 trucks a day entered with food and basic supplies, and that's down to as low as a couple of dozen now some days. Those main U.N. agencies, which would normally take the lead, are unable to do that now due to security and political factors.

INSKEEP: What are some aid routes that are working?

ARRAF: Well, yesterday I went with the Jordanian military on one of their airdrops over northern Gaza. Jordan has taken the lead on airdropping aid with participation from some other countries. Those drops require a lot of coordination, including from the Israelis, and yesterday was the first time in many weeks that aid was dropped into northern Gaza. Having said that, they're generally considered a last resort because of the expense, the logistics and the fact that they can't carry as much as trucks. Save the Children aid group's CEO Janti Soeripto says Israel needs to open the other existing land crossings to allow in aid.

JANTI SOERIPTO: We get the intent of people, and we welcome that authentic attempt to get more aid into Gaza. The fastest, most effective, most efficient way to do it is to open up more crossings.

ARRAF: In the meantime, though, aid officials say even more children are at risk of starving to death.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: Science is stranger than fiction.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Get this - scientists have started cloning genetically modified pigs with organs designed to be transplanted into people.

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein recently became the first journalist to tour one of the research farms breeding these creatures. Hi there, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I don't know - should I say congratulations?

STEIN: Well, it was definitely a very interesting experience. I have to say that.

INSKEEP: OK, so what are they doing and where?

STEIN: So I can't say exactly where the farm is located. The company that runs it, Revivicor, asked me not to for security reasons, but it's in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Revivicor's headquarters in Blacksburg, Va. And before heading to the farm, I watched as company scientists edited the DNA in pig skin cells in the lab and then fused those cells with pig eggs to create cloned pig embryos. The company then implants them in the wombs of adult female pigs to give birth to cloned, genetically modified piglets.

INSKEEP: Which grow up to be independent animals, more or less.

STEIN: Yes, exactly. And that's where the research farm comes in. Four months after the cloned pig embryos are implanted into adult female pigs, they give birth to cloned piglets, each with 10 identical modifications designed to make their hearts, livers, kidneys and other organs compatible for transplantation into people. David Ayares, who runs Revivicor, took me into a barn to see some of the newborn cloned piglets.

DAVID AYARES: Every cell in the body of this animal has those same genetic modifications. If you want, you know, you can hold one.

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah, that'd be great.

INSKEEP: OK. What's it like to hold one?

STEIN: Well, you know, it's the first time I've ever held a little piglet. And, you know, he was really cute and cuddly, very solid, but soft, but kind of squirmy and couldn't wait to get back to his mom to continue feeding.

INSKEEP: But he's part of this experiment.

STEIN: That's right. And the company actually has already started testing organs from these pigs in baboons and in the bodies of people who have been declared brain dead. Surgeons have even implanted two pig hearts into men who had run out of other options.

INSKEEP: What questions does this experimentation raise?

STEIN: Well, you know, Steve, this kind of thing has raised some fears, you know, about accidentally spreading some dangerous pig virus to people and about sacrificing thousands of these genetically modified pigs just to harvest their organs. Syd Johnson is a bioethicist at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., and I talked to her about this.

SYD JOHNSON: They're treated like machines for the sole purpose of being disassembled to provide spare parts for humans. And I think the hubris of a human-created, built-for-purpose animal should really give us pause.

STEIN: Now, Steve, Ayares argues that the company treats the animals humanely, and he says, you know, the U.S. slaughters millions of pigs every year for food.

AYARES: I would argue that this is, you know, a higher use for these animals - certainly, I think, a higher use than using these animals for food.

STEIN: The company envisions a day not too far off when farms scattered around the country are breeding herds of these genetically modified, cloned pigs to supply organs for transplant patients.

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with a story we can't hear anywhere else. Rob, thanks so much.

STEIN: You bet, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.