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25 May
2017

Legion of fans to celebrate Star Wars 40th birthday

UNITED STATES (WNF) - Strife out there in the Galaxy hooked Star Wars fans in their droves on May 25, 1977. Forty years later, they are still on the hook and the sequels keep coming. Lucasfilm, the company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas, kicks off the anniversary celebrations in Orlando, Florida, on April 13-16.
The full title of the original is Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The 40th anniversary is sandwiched between the seventh and eighth chapters of the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 2015) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 2017). The Force Awakens reunited the original Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia for another run at vanquishing enemies in a galaxy far, far away. Director JJ Abrams set the plot 30 years after the original, a device that accommodates the decades of graying for Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, who finished shooting for the coming eighth chapter before her death in December 2016.

The original Star Wars trilogy, released between 1977 and 1983, was envisioned by director Lucas as the central chunk of a nine-movie cycle. The Walt Disney company bought Lucasfilm for more than US $4 billion in 2012, giving the massive media conglomerate free reign over the multi-billion-dollar Star Wars franchise. Disney is behind the newest trilogy, and plans to keep the story going into the distant future. It is reported to be eyeing cross-platform applications for games, virtual reality, books, comics and television. #21730 Published: 07/20/2016

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25 May
2017

OPEC ministers meet to mull extending surprising production cuts

AUSTRIA (WNF) - Energy and oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will astonish experts a second time if they extend the deal for production cuts when they meet in Vienna.
At the 171st meeting, in November 2016, they agreed to cut production in 2017 by some 4.5 per cent – the first cut in eight years.

The first obstacle to the deal was the political and religious enmity of OPEC members Saudi Arabia and Iran. A second was winning the cooperation of non-OPEC members, primarily Russia.

Prices soared on the news, but the gains might not hold because of oversupply. Producers, taking advantage of the higher prices, are expected to pump as much oil as they can before the six-month deal comes into effect in January.

The New York Times, which reported on the meeting, points out that adherence is not a given. Three big and reliable gulf producers — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — account for more than 60 per cent of the cuts. But the rest come from other producers who may not adhere as closely to their limits. #21942 Published: 12/02/2016

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25 May
2017

NATO leaders meet at new headquarters in climate of uncertainty

BELGIUM (WNF) - NATO leaders meet, with an agenda weighed-down by recent United States military action, to inaugurate the Alliance’s new palace of steel and glass in Brussels.
In the space of one week from Apr 6, the United States ordered a missile strike on a Syrian air base, sent the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its strike group into Korean waters as a message to North Korea and dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS base in Afghanistan.

The question is how the targets and their allies will retaliate: any attack on the United States will draw NATO into the fray. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responded initially with the threat of a nuclear strike.

The U.S. actions threaten to dominate the summit, but the leaders will have to take time to assess progress with the Alliance’s new Baltic Deterrent Force, and with its mission to buttress cyber defense. The leaders adopted a Cyber Defence Pledge at the NATO Summit in Warsaw in Jul 2016, committing “to enhance and strengthen the cyber defenses of national infrastructures and networks as a matter of priority.”

The designers envisioned the shape of the new headquarters as evoking fingers interlaced in a symbolic clasp of unity. The Alliance backed the U.S. missile strike on Syria, after the fact, as a response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Signs of a potential quagmire would threaten ongoing unity.

Moscow considers the Baltic Force, as well as the increased number of military drills near Russian territory, the creation of anti-ballistic missile sites in Europe and other moves as threats to Russia’s national security. Relations between Moscow and NATO soured in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin’s military support for Assad has upset most NATO members.

Brussels faces a security challenge during the summit. The presence of the NATO leaders looms as a magnet for both terrorists and anti-NATO and anti-Trump protestors. #21999 Updated: 04/14/2017 UPDATED 14 APR TO REFLECT US MILITARY ACTION

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26 May
2017

Latest Pirates of the Caribbean reaches cinemas

UNITED STATES (WNF) - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales arrives on screens after a studio snub for the star, Johnny Depp, AKA Captain Jack Sparrow: he wasn't featured in the teaser.
The studio has relented, and Depp appears in the pre-release version of the teaser.

The Los Angeles Times surmises that the studio was squeamish about including Depp in the teaser, which opens with a British ship under siege by ghost pirates, as he was accused of domestic violence at the time and in the midst of a messy divorce. The accusations were made by Amber Heard, who dismissed her domestic violence case against the star as part of their divorce settlement in Aug 2016, according to People magazine.

The fifth installment in the swashbuckling fantasy franchise arrives on screens nearly 13 years after the first – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). It features the villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursuing Jack Sparrow as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon.

Paul McCartney is dropping in for some pirate action. The directors – Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg – filmed an additional scene in order to feature the ex-Beatle. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has also had a drop-in role in the franchise. He played Captain Teague, Captain Jack Sparrow’s father, in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), the fourth installment. #21850 Published: 10/05/2016

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26 May
2017

43rd G7 summit sees newcomers and possible contrarian views

ITALY (WNF) - The leaders of the Group of 7 (G7) nations meet in Taormina, Sicily. At least one newcomer to the group of major industrialized countries disdains traditional G7 aspirations as a matter of principle. Another newcomer, British Prime Minister Theresa May, might come seeking help.
United States President Donald Trump holds populist and isolationist views. He calls the United Nations a political game and scorns multilateral trade deals, a view that won’t sit well at the summit. It is possible that his unilateral military ventures in April will leave him with a need for powerful allies, a situation that could prompt him to soften the populist message.

Far right French presidential candidate Marine LePen will be another isolationist newcomer if she defeats the country’s mainstream candidates in the April-May election. She and Trump are unlikely to agree with anything the G7 proposes to address migration and the refugee crisis, which is still a pressing issue for the group.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who replaced David Cameron following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and herself faces a general election in early June, will be keen to secure G7 help in easing the economic pain of the exit.

The G7 summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. At the 42nd summit they advocated taking strict action against tax evasion, money laundering and other improper fund movements. The scale of all three was revealed in May 2016 by the so-called Panama Papers leak, which exposed how some of the world’s most powerful people use offshore bank accounts and shell companies to conceal their wealth or avoid taxes.

Wrapping up the gathering with a sweeping declaration and action plans, the leaders acknowledged increasing risks for the global economic outlook, including terrorism, legions of displaced people, and conflicts that “pose a serious threat to the existing rule-based international order.” #21723 Updated: 04/14/2017 UPDATED 13 APR TO REFLECT TRUMP DEVELOPMENTS

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27 May
2017

Golden Gate Bridge turns 80 with plans for suicide prevention net

UNITED STATES (WNF) - San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge turns 80 with long-sought funding for a suicide-prevention net finally secure. Perhaps because of its celebrated beauty, the bridge is one of the world's most notorious suicide spots.
The agreement for the US $200 million stainless steel net was signed on Apr 13.
Until it is in place, in 2021, bridge patrols will continue their suicide watch on the bridge.

The massive 4,200-foot orange-painted steel suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate strait, the one-mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Thirty-nine people are reported to have jumped from the bridge to their death in 2016, and bridge patrols were able to prevent the suicides of an additional 200 people.

Estimates of the number of Golden Gate suicides since 1937 vary from 1,400 to just under 2,000. Robert Olson of the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary, Canada, noted in People Magazine that the Golden Gate is a particularly lethal means of killing oneself: while the average survival rate of bridge suicide attempts is 15 per cent, the rate off the Golden Gate is just 4 per cent.

The stainless steel net will be positioned 20 feet down from the sidewalk and extend out another 20 feet. The structure will curve up slightly at its ends and be suspended 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean on both sides of the bridge.

Volunteers, called Bridgewatch Angels, walk the bridge looking for people who may be considering suicide. They look out for anyone alone on the bridge, standing or sitting in one spot for long periods of time, dishevelled-looking or wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather. #21775 Updated: 04/14/2017 UPDATED Apr 13 TO REFLECT PLANNED START OF SUICIDE NET

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27 May
2017

Brisbane hosts first Marvel show and stands in for New York City

AUSTRALIA (WNF) - The world’s first Marvel exhibition opens at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. The Queensland city was the backdrop for some scenes in Thor: Ragnarok, the latest film based on Marvel comic book characters.
The movie reunites actor Chris Hemsworth with his hammer and armor. Several streets in the city were shut in Aug 2016 during the filming and transformed to look like New York.

The Australian network ABC reports that the exhibition, The Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe, will display items from the Marvel Studios and private collections including original artwork, film props and costumes. Among more than 300 items on show, visitors will be able to see Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s armor and Captain America’s shield. The exhibition will also feature popular characters including the Hulk, Black Widow and Ant-Man.

The Marvel fan web site points out that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man films, has continued to expand. The site also notes that fans have seen the Marvel world grow larger in comic book tie-ins such as Iron Man 2: Public Identity. #21893 Updated: 04/11/2017 UPDATED 11 APR WITH CONFIRMED DATES

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31 May
2017

Kenya insists on refugee camps closure despite court order

KENYA (WNF) - Kenya’s government continues to insist on the closure of the vast Dadaab refugee camp by the end of the month, despite a high court order to block the proposal. Generally described as the world’s biggest by numbers, Dadaab houses Somalis who have fled civil war in their home country.
The Kenyan government opened Dadaab in 1991. Situated in northeast Kenya near the Somali border, it was designed to house some 90,000 refugees as a temporary solution to Somalia’s civil war and now houses 250,000 to 350,000.

The ruling Jubilee Party set the May deadline for closing Dadaab as a security measure, claiming the Somali Islamists Al-Shabab used the camp as a hideout. The Islamists have staged deadly attacks in Kenya in recent years.

The government also threatened to close Kakuma, a camp housing mainly refugees from the fighting in South Sudan. Closure of the camps would have displaced an estimated 600,000 people.

Britain’s Guardian saw the government’s threat as related to the general election in Aug 2017, with President Uhuru Kenyatta using it to portray himself as tough on terror. The newspaper describes the threat as cynical electioneering. It points out that threats are one thing and the reality of closing down the huge and well-established camps – now de facto cities – is something else entirely. #22069 Updated: 04/19/2017 UPDATED APR 16 TO REFLECT COURT ORDER TO KEEP CAMP OPEN

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Jun
2017

Apple said to be planning iPhone production in India

INDIA (WNF) - Apple is reportedly planning to manufacture iPhones in India, which might bring the company under new fire from the new President of the United States, Donald Trump. (June 2017
Trump is strong-arming U.S. manufacturers to bring production home, and might not be mollified by the report that the phones will be for Indian consumption.

A Times of India source said that the high-tech hub of Bangalore “is being looked at seriously” for the factory. Production is expected to start in June, according to the newspaper.

According to data shared by Counterpoint Technology Market Research, published by IB Times, Apple sold 2.5 million iPhones in India from Oct 2015 to Sep 2016, marking a rise of more than 50 per cent over the year-ago period.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes that Trump’s prolific tweeting helped him win the U.S. election, and that he now is using Twitter to persuade big business to bend to his agenda.

Apple has shown no interest in bringing phone production home to the United States. MSNBC notes that the majority of Apple phones are made in China, and that iPhone costs would double if production was brought home.

Apple is also reported to be setting up an iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru in May, which the company is calling a first-of-its-kind center to support developers creating mobile apps in India. #21995 Updated: 03/11/2017 UPDATED MAR 11 to move start date from April to June

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Jun
2017

Palestinian membership bid considered at INTERPOL executive meet

FRANCE (WNF) - The INTERPOL Executive Committee, probably meeting in Lyon, considers whether to accept a Palestinian reapplication for membership in the global policing body. Israel credits its lobbying efforts for the suspension of the first application. (June 2017
Should the Palestinian application receive the green light at the second bid, it will be put to the vote at the 86th General Assembly in November.

At the organization’s 85th General Assembly in Bali, Indonesia, the 190 member states suspended the application requests of “the Republic of Kosovo, the State of Palestine and the Solomon Islands.” After the vote the Jerusalem Post boasted that Israel had helped to thwart the Palestinian bid.

Palestine already has observer status in the body. It needed 125 votes in Bali to proceed to the next step. Fifty-six voted in favor of the Palestinian application, 62 voted against and 37 abstained.

The Palestinians argue that they need membership to be able to prosecute dozens of the most wanted fugitives by the Palestinian judiciary on criminal and financial corruption charges.

INTERPOL has forwarded Palestine’s application to the organization’s legal committee to examine whether the Palestinian police would be able to cooperate with INTERPOL.

Palestinian leaders have sought accession to international institutions as a means of keeping the statehood bid alive. Some bids have been successful. Palestine has non-member observer status in the United Nations, and full membership status in the International Criminal Court and UNESCO. Some 136 UN member states recognize Palestinian statehood.

Like the Palestinian Authority, Kosovo is also seeking unilateral de-facto statehood recognition by joining as many international bodies as possible.

The 13-member Executive Committee (EC) meets three times a year to set organizational policy and direction, and to set the agenda for the annual General Assembly. #22075 Published: 02/24/2017

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Jun
2017

South Korea tests new bullet train to Winter Olympics venues

SOUTH KOREA (WNF) - A high-speed railway opens for testing ahead of the Winter Olympics, an amenity that South Korea hopes will help establish the area as a ski destination beyond the Feb 9-25 Games. (June 2017
The train will whisk visitors from Incehon Airport in Seoul to mountain events in PyeongChang county in a mere 69 minutes, compared to the two-and-a-half hour road trip.

The Olympic Stadium is also in PyeongChang, while the ice events will be held in the coastal city of Gangneung. Yongpyong, the largest ski and snowboard resort in the country, will host the slalom and giant slalom.

It’s only the third time the Winter Games will be held in Asia, and the first outside Japan; South Korea is keen to make an impression. Most of the venues were completed months in advance, including a new Alpine ski centre, speedskating oval, figure skating arena and sliding track for the bobsled, luge and skeleton events.

The New York Times notes that the hope is that the Olympics can have a lasting impact on the tourism industry of South Korea and help it rival Japan — and upstart China — as a winter sports destination. Geography has been one of the main impediments: South Korea’s mountains are smaller than its neighbours' and receive far less natural snow. #22084 Published: 03/02/2017

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Jun
2017

Revamped gorilla exhibit opens at Cincinnati Zoo a year after tragedy

UNITED STATES (GN) - An expanded Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo is scheduled to open, shortly after the first anniversary of the shooting death of an endangered gorilla named Harambe. (Early June 2017
Zoo officials shot and killed the western lowland gorilla on May 28, 2016, a day after his 17th birthday, after he seized a 3-year-old boy who’d fallen 15 feet into the enclosure.

The death of the endangered primate spawned international outrage, plus numerous internet memes.

In the immediate aftermath the besieged zoo installed higher barriers at the gorilla exhibit and added a mesh fence to prevent future falls.

The revamped exhibit includes new landscaping, an energy-efficient stream and waterfall and a resurfaced outdoor habitat. A new indoor area will also allow guests to see the gorillas year round.

“We’re on track to complete the new indoor environment this fall and excited to get gorillas outside in a few weeks,” zoo director Thane Maynard said in a recent statement. #22178 Published: 05/22/2017

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