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Soccer icon Messi confirms bitter Barcelona exit in tearful farewell

Soccer icon Lionel Messi fought back tears Sunday as he bid a painful farewell to FC Barcelona.

“I’m not ready for this,” Messi, 34, said during a news conference at the club’s stadium, Camp Nou — a stage on which he spent the past 17 seasons burnishing a legacy as the club’s, and perhaps the sport’s, greatest player ever.

“I gave everything for this club from the first day I arrived to the last,” Messi told reporters at a hastily arranged event for which neither he nor the sports world appeared ready. “I never imagined having to say goodbye.”

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Barcelona announced that it would not renew Messi’s contract Thursday. The Catalan giants’ dire financial situation and the stringent rules of the Spanish league made it impossible for him to stay despite the wishes of both parties.

“Despite club and player reaching an agreement and their clear intention to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles,” the club said in a brief statement.

The move left the world of soccer reeling, with its most heralded star forced to leave the only home he has ever known.

Messi said he did “everything possible” to stay.

Fans outside Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium hold up Messi’s iconic jersey.Pau Barrena / AFP – Getty Images

The focus now shifts to his next move, with French giants Paris Saint-Germain — owned by the state-controlled Qatar Sports Investment group and therefore rarely short of cash — widely seen as the front-runners for his signature.

Messi did not say what his immediate plans were, but he said joining PSG was a “possibility.” He said he has gotten a lot of phone calls from various clubs and has not signed anything yet.

Despite his advancing age, Messi remains a highly productive player in one of the world’s most elite leagues, having scored 30 goals in 30 matches last season.

He has helped lead the team to 10 La Liga titles, and he won Europe’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League, four times. Messi has also won the men’s Ballon d’Or, the award honoring the world’s greatest player, a record six times. Just last month, he led Argentina to its first South American championship, the Copa America, since 1993.

He leaves as Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer, with 672 goals in all competitions, and he is the overall top scorer in the Spanish league with 474 goals from 520 league matches.

Messi said Sunday he would go on playing “as long as I go on being competitive and as long as my body responds.”

Messi wiped tears from his face as he stood at the podium, with his wife and three sons watching on from the front row of the audience. He received roaring applause and a standing ovation, with many of his teammates gathered to watch the occasion.

Messi’s departure comes at a time when athletes have become more empowered to make decisions about their careers, with NBA players and stars in other sports and leagues determined and able to craft their own futures.

But having failed to force his way out of Barcelona last year — he was unhappy with the club’s direction after a run of questionable moves on and off the field — Messi must now leave against his wishes.

He had appeared set to stay at Barcelona, with Spanish media reporting that the two sides had agreed to a new five-year deal involving a 50 percent pay cut.

But the club, whose debts total well over $1 billion, seemed unable to make the deal work within the frameworks of the Spanish league’s financial fair play regulations.

“It was like my blood ran cold,” Messi said of the moment he was told he would have to leave Barcelona 21 years after he joined from Argentina as a boy. “It was very sad, very difficult.

“I tried to behave with humility and respect, and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club,” he said.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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