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20 Jul
2018

New Mamma Mia movie a probable hit with ABBA fans

UNITED STATES (WNF) - Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, the sequel to the film version of Mamma Mia, arrives at cinemas during a bumper year for ABBA fans.
The new release, almost 10 years after the original, continues the story about a woman’s search for her real father using hit songs by 1970s pop phenomenon, ABBA to relate the tale.

The loyalty of the ABBA fan base all but guarantees that Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! will enjoy box office success. The original movie, based on the popular stage musical by the same name, disappointed critics, but not the fans. It was a hit at the box office, grossing U.S. $144.1 million in the United States alone.

The original movie starred Meryl Streep as the mother of Amanda Seyfried, who invites three of her mother’s former lovers -- Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård -- to her wedding in order to find out who her father is. Pre-release hints suggest that the sequel might disclose the identity of the father. The new movie adds Cher to the reunited original cast.

News that the four members of the Swedish band -- Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog and Bjorn Ulvaeus -- had reunited to record new songs made headlines in April, demonstrating the continuing popularity of their perky pop sound. The four hadn’t been in a studio together for 35 years.

Easily the most commercially successful group of the 1970s, ABBA became the focus of a revival in the early 1990s, when its ABBA Gold topped charts around the world. #22608 Published: 05/04/2018

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25 Jul
2018

World’s first “test-tube baby” turns 40

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first baby to be conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF), turns 40. The four decades since her birth have seen IVF used, misused, applauded and condemned.
Now a mother of two, Brown was born at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England, to parents Lesley and Peter Brown. Lesley Brown had suffered years of infertility, and underwent the then-experimental IVF procedure under the care of British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards in Nov 1977. The healthy baby was delivered shortly before midnight by caesarean section and weighed five pounds, 12 ounces. Louise’s birth as the first “test tube baby” made headlines around the world, attracting vicious condemnation at the time as well as widespread applause and amazement.

Forty years on, IVF is considered a mainstream medical treatment for infertility. Some five million people or more worldwide who have been born through IVF – a 2013 estimate cited by the BBC – have experienced its undoubted benefits.

The delivery of twins and triplets is common with fertility treatments, a result of the transfer of more than one embryo during the procedure. For medical reasons, there is opposition to the delivery of “high order” multiple births, and women are advised against carrying all of the embryos to full term. Nadya Suleman, dubbed Octomom, became notorious on Jan 26, 2009, in the United States when she ignored the advice and gave birth to six boys and two girls via IVF and donor sperm. She set the Guinness World Record for most children delivered at birth to survive. Widely reviled at the time for misusing IVF, she had to go into hiding for a time. Her children survive, and so has her notoriety.

Some religious leaders have condemned IVF. In Nov 2017 Pope Francis criticized the procedure as promoting children as “a right rather than a gift to welcome” and referred to it as “playing with life.” Some churches and conservatives oppose it because it now also allows same-sex couples and single mothers to have children too. #22298 Published: 09/02/2017

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25 Jul
2018

Pakistan National Assembly election a three-way race

PAKISTAN (WNF) - The election for the 342-seat National Assembly, the second democratic transition in Pakistan’s history, sees the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) aiming to retain power, but the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have turned up the heat.
The outgoing PML-N government completed its five-year term on May 31. An interim government headed by former justice Nasir ul-Mulk leads the country into the election.

The country achieved its first democratic transfer of power in 2013, but political upheaval since then has prevented it from enjoying the benefits of the accomplishment.

The Diplomat sees PML-N with handicaps but with a strong chance of forming a government at the federal level, even without a clear majority. The factors undermining its strength include the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in Jul 2017 by the Supreme Court on charges of corruption, internal PML-N divisions, a succession battle and the loss of PML-N heavyweights to other parties.

Khan’s growing popularity threatens both PML-N and the PPP, which held the most seats in the Senate until March elections. His goal is to win ground in the country’s most populous province of Punjab, which contains the majority of the seats in the National Assembly, making it the battlefield for all political parties.

Khan accuses former Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chair of the liberal PPP, of being massively corrupt, according to DW. The former president, meanwhile, slams Khan for being a Taliban supporter. The German broadcaster reports that despite their mutual enmity, Khan and the PPP co-chair have forged an alliance of convenience in an attempt to end the Sharif era.

Interviewed by DW, political analyst Khalid Javed accused the powerful military establishment of backing the political alliance against the Sharifs because it wants a weak government that can’t challenge the generals’ immense power. #22306 Updated: 06/15/2018 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE JUNE 14 TO REFLECT developments

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25 Jul
2018

South Africa hosts milestone 10th BRICS summit

SOUTH AFRICA (WNF) - The five emerging economies known as the BRICS meet in Johannesburg for their 10th summit to develop their significant achievement, a credit-rating company aimed at breaking the dominance of the big three – S&P Global Ratings, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.
The purpose is to lower borrowing costs associated with the assessments of the three.

BRICS groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries that together constitute 43 per cent of the world’s population and generate roughly 22 per cent of global GDP.

The first achievement was the opening of the New Development Bank (NDB) in Shanghai in 2015 with the purpose of getting money back from the Western banking system to finance BRICS members’ own infrastructure and development, and to enhance their financial systems. The NDB opened its first regional office, the Africa Regional Center, in Johannesburg in Aug 2017.

By its own reckoning, the NDB is achieving benefits for BRICS members.
“The Bank has committed U.S.$1.5 billion in loans to member countries so far,” according to NDB Vice President Leslie Maasdorp in Sep 2017, “with a strong emphasis on renewable energy. Furthermore, plans are on track to reach the target $2.5 billion of loan commitments by end of 2017. This will pave the way to reach between $10 billion and 15 billion of loans by 2021.”

The next significant achievement for the BRICS bloc would be anything related to their core goal of trade liberalization. It has been elusive from the start. All broadly support free trade and oppose protectionism, but they have different opinions on how to achieve it. The Bloomberg news service notes that trade relations are heavily tilted in China’s favour – and it has been the largest trading partner for the other four nations in recent years.

Bloomberg observes that the BRICS have found little common ground in recent years as their growth trajectories have diverged and geopolitical ambitions have spurred tensions. China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative also adds to the tensions as it encroaches on to the other BRICS nations’ areas of influence, particularly India’s and Russia’s, according to an expert interviewed by the news service. #22615 Updated: 06/15/2018 UPDATED JUN 15 TO ADD DETAILS OF PLANNED CREDIT-RATING AGENCY

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27 Jul
2018

Korean War armistice anniversary a target for peace treaty?

KOREAN PENINSULA (WNF) - An armistice ended the fighting on the peninsula 65 years ago, but not the war. The anniversary represents a symbolic target for the North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea to sign the peace treaty they discussed during an historic summit at the border on Apr 27.
Millions of people died in the Korean War, which began on Jun 25, 1950, and civilian deaths outnumbered military deaths. The two leaders agreed during their summit to push towards turning the armistice into a peace treaty in 2018.

The rapprochement began in January when Kim suggested he was “open to dialogue” with South Korea. The two countries marched under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, held in the South.

The summit came as a surprise. North Korea had continued its nuclear and missile tests and stepped up its militant rhetoric through 2016 and 2017, and Kim and United States President Donald Trump had engaged in a spate of apocalyptic threats, taunts and name-calling just weeks before the Olympics.

The Korean leaders agreed at the meeting to work toward ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons. The prospects for the peace treaty depend on whether negotiations on denuclearization between the United States and both Koreas stay on track following the Jun 12 summit between Trump and the North Korean leader in Singapore.

The BBC notes that previous inter-Korean agreements have included similar pledges but were later abandoned after the North resorted to nuclear and missile tests and the South elected more conservative presidents. #22315 Updated: 06/15/2018 UPDATED JUN 15 TO INCLUDE TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT

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27 Jul
2018

Former South African president in court for third time on corruption charges

SOUTH AFRICA (WNF) - The corruption case against former president Jacob Zuma has been adjourned until July amid questions about who will pay the former president’s legal fees and the start date for his trial. The July session is set for Pietermaritzburg.
Zuma, who was ousted in February by the African National Congress, his own party, appeared briefly in the Durban high court on Jun 8. He is facing 16 charges, including fraud, money laundering and racketeering. They relate to a US $2.5 billion arms deal in the late 1990s, when he was deputy president. The accusations have long dogged his political career.

Reuters notes that the speed with which prosecutors have moved against Zuma is a sign of his waning influence since he was replaced as head of state by Cyril Ramaphosa, his former deputy, four months ago. #22661 Published: 06/21/2018

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27 Jul
2018

Second lunar eclipse of 2018 an unusual type

SPACE (WNF) - The second lunar spectacle of the year is a relatively rare central eclipse, the first since Jun 15, 2011. It will be darker and longer than January’s show.
The total lunar eclipse of 1 hour and 43 minutes will plunge the full Moon into deep darkness, as it passes right through the center of the Earth’s umbral shadow. Central eclipses are the darkest kind. The Moon may be stained a deep orange or red color at maximum eclipse. Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia will see the best of the spectacle. The partial eclipse will last for 3 hours and 55 minutes.

January’s eclipse put on a shorter show, lasting 1 hour and 16 minutes at totality, and 5 hours and 17 minutes in the partial phase.

The map on TimeandDate.com indicates which areas will see the best show.

The publication notes that a lunar eclipse always occurs about two weeks before or after a solar eclipse. In some instances, a lunar eclipse can be both preceded and followed by a solar eclipse. July’s lunar show pairs with a partial solar eclipse before, on Jul 13, then after, on Aug 11. #22363 Published: 11/27/2017

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