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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Brazilians have ousted their far-right president.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Jair Bolsonaro is out. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is back in. The leftist president known as Lula was massively popular in earlier terms but went to prison for corruption. Later, a court threw out his conviction. And his supporters in Sao Paulo celebrated the one-time inmate's return to power.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTÍNEZ: Brazil's election authority says Lula received a little under 51% of the vote. He won the two-person runoff despite Bolsonaro's threats not to accept the result.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Sao Paulo. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was it like when Lula won?

KAHN: It was quite a celebration here in Sao Paulo. Da Silva is 77 years old. And he took to one of the biggest streets in the city. It's called Boulevard Avenida Paulista. And it was just jammed-packed with people, about four city blocks full. And he tried to speak to the crowd with barely a voice left. He outlined what he will do in his presidency. This will be his third. He said he will end hunger, zero tolerance for deforestation in the Amazon. And most of all, he told the throngs of the crowd there that he will restore democracy to Brazil.

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LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: You could just hear him screaming at the top of his lungs as best as he could. And he just said that this victory is the most sacred because we defeated authoritarianism and fascism in this country. Democracy is back in Brazil.

INSKEEP: And of course, he's a person Brazilians know very well.

KAHN: Very well. And he is a polarizing figure, as is the current president, Jair Bolsonaro. But da Silva's political comeback now, it's just amazing. While he was very popular back in the 2000s when he was president, and credited with helping tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty, his party was just embroiled in a huge corruption scandal. And da Silva himself went to jail for nearly two years. His conviction was later annulled. But he has a lot of baggage with them. He has a solid base, especially among the poor. And some voters, like Victor Castelo (ph), who I met celebrating at this bar with friends, said, you know, he isn't a die-hard da Silva fan. But he says the last four years of Bolsonaro were just hell.

VICTOR CASTELO: We don't have a president. We have - I don't know - a crazy guy. He do what he wants. So it's like he's a dictator that right now, we have - we will change.

KAHN: Da Silva won - just squeaked by. It was 50 - a little bit over 50% of the vote to 49%. And that's just about 2 million voters. It was a very close race.

INSKEEP: Although, we should note that, at least in American standards, 2 million is far more than an error would tend to correct or a recount would tend to correct. So is Bolsonaro, the loser, accepting the results?

KAHN: He didn't speak publicly last night. Some of his allies did accept the defeat. Bolsonaro supporter Maria Pouli (ph) was drinking quietly with a few friends in Sao Paolo last night and just taking in the last. Here's what she said.

MARIA POULI: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: She said she just couldn't believe in just four years people forgot all the corruption of da Silva's party and brought him back.

INSKEEP: So how is the rest of the world taking this victory?

KAHN: World leaders immediately congratulated da Silva, and hoping that that will thwart off any contestation by Bolsonaro about the vote. We'll have to see today.

INSKEEP: OK. Carrie, thanks so much for your reporting.

KAHN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn has been up all night in Sao Paolo.

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INSKEEP: Now, this is the sound of mourning on the streets of Seoul, South Korea.

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UNIDENTIFIED MONKS: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTÍNEZ: Buddhist monks chanted as people laid flowers for the 154 people who were killed in a Halloween stampede. It's the nation's most deadly crowd accident.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is covering this story from Seoul. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was the scene like at the place where people were marking these deaths?

KUHN: We were just listening to sounds from an informal altar, which was outside the Itaewon subway stop near the site of the accident. Itaewon is a kind of funky, multicultural neighborhood of bars and restaurants, embassies and international schools in Seoul. People stop by this place to put flowers, candles, bottles of liquor and other offerings on the ground. And in addition to this unofficial altar, there were also two official ones in Itaewon and another by city hall. President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife paid tribute to the victims there today. And this is the second day of a weeklong period of mourning, with flags at half-staff across the nation and many events canceled.

INSKEEP: And I'm sure that many people with a little extra time on their hands are asking the question, how did this happen?

KUHN: Yes, well, just steps away from this unofficial altar was the site of the crowd surge. The center of it was an alleyway, which is only 11 1/2 foot across. It runs downhill to Itaewon's main street. Eyewitnesses say this place was just packed with around 100,000 people in Itaewon. And at the uphill end of this alley, people started pushing. And then people started falling down in front of them. And they were buried by others falling on top of them. Medics and bystanders tried to resuscitate people who were lying on the sidewalk. The largest group of these people were in their 20s, there to party and celebrate Halloween. All of the dead, including 26 foreigners of whom two were Americans, have now been identified. Police and forensic investigators combed the alleyway for clues today. But the precise cause of the crowd surge is still not clear.

INSKEEP: I'm sure that some people are asking why the police would not have controlled the crowd a little differently.

KUHN: That's right. The interior minister of South Korea said yesterday that police were busy dealing with political protests. But even if they had deployed large numbers of police, it wouldn't have prevented the tragedy. Today, though, the National Police Agency admitted they failed to predict that the crowd could become deadly. They admitted that the police weren't doing any crowd control in that alley. There were 137 police there in Itaewon, but they were directing traffic and looking out for street crime. They also admitted they don't have any standard procedures for a spontaneous event where there's no organizer that authorities can work with.

INSKEEP: And what insights did you gain, Anthony, when moving around the area where this happened?

KUHN: Well, there were a lot of people at this informal alter. It was the first weekday since the accident happened. There was a lot of raw energy. This is a national tragedy. And such events always seem to be followed by introspection about how this was allowed to happen and how to prevent it. So far, nobody has taken responsibility or held - been held accountable for the tragedy. But that may happen later as the investigation goes on and makes clearer the causes of this tragedy.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

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INSKEEP: Affirmative action faces a big test today.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over university admission practices that help applicants from underrepresented groups get a spot. Some members of the court's conservative supermajority have signaled they might overrule decades of precedent.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is covering this case. Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's start with what the law is now. What are the rules?

TOTENBERG: Well, for more than four decades, the court has ruled that while race can't be the determinative factor in college admissions, it can be one of many factors considered. Today, the issue is back essentially because of one man, legal activist Edward Blum. He's not giving up his decades-long fight against what he considers racial preferences in school admissions. And his organization, Students for Fair Admissions - SFA - sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, two elite academic institutions...

INSKEEP: Sure.

TOTENBERG: ...One private, one public - charging that their affirmative action programs amount to racial discrimination. Here he is.

EDWARD BLUM: What is happening on college campuses today is that applicants are treated differently because of their race and ethnicity. Some are given thumbs up. Some are given thumbs down.

INSKEEP: Well, based on what you said, that does seem to be true as far as it goes, that applicants are treated differently at least partly because of their race. So what do Harvard and UNC say in response?

TOTENBERG: They say that what they do isn't racial discrimination. What they're seeking is, in addition to academic excellence, a student body that is demographically diverse. And they argue that they need not ignore a candidate's race any more than they would ignore a candidate's home state. This, as it's called, individual holistic approach to college admissions is used by a huge variety of colleges, large and small, religious and non-religious, and even the U.S. military academies.

INSKEEP: And what you're describing has been before the courts before and has been upheld. So why would it be back before the court now?

TOTENBERG: Because the court's new conservative supermajority wants to revisit the issue. Three of the court's conservatives, including the chief justice, dissented from many of these precedents. And in the last five years, four new justices have been added to the court, including three Trump appointees.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about the case they're going to consider. It's not one directly involving the question of Black and white students. It involves Asian students.

TOTENBERG: Right. SFA's Blum points to Harvard's infamous history of limiting the number of Jews by imposing a Jewish quota in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

BLUM: Today at Harvard, Asians are the new Jews.

TOTENBERG: But after a 15-day trial in which Harvard's dean and other admissions officials were cross-examined and hundreds of thousands of emails produced, a federal judge found no evidence of discrimination against Asian Americans. And there was a similar finding in the UNC case.

INSKEEP: That's what the lower courts found. But now it gets appealed to the Supreme Court. So what happens if the top court makes a different ruling?

TOTENBERG: Well, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of SFA and against Harvard and UNC, it likely will have a significant ripple effect with other institutions and programs. Affirmative action in employment, perhaps, might be next under legal attack. I asked Mr. Blum about that. And he was a little coy. He said that he's sort of at the end of his tether. He's 70 years old. But last year, he founded a new organization that's already filed two lawsuits challenging diversity goals on corporate boards.

INSKEEP: The story goes on. Nina, thanks.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.