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18 Aug
2018

Indonesia readies for the region’s Olympics – the 18th Asian Games

INDONESIA (WNF) - Twin hosts Jakarta and Palembang appear to be sailing toward the 18th Asian Games, also known as Asiad, without the distractions of scandals. The Asiad footprint stretches Asia to include the Middle East, a region once called the Near East.
Scandals about unpreparedness and corruption prefaced the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016, and doping tainted the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. In contrast, Asiad 2018 headlines reflect nothing more than perturbation about construction site chaos.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) organizes the Games every four years in one of its 45 member countries.

The country of 13,000 islands last hosted the Games in 1962. The Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta will host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the athletics. Eleven of the sports will be held at the Jakabaring Sports City in Palembang. The complex includes the Athletes’ Village and has been used to host international multi-sport games before, including the 26th South East Asian (SEA) Games in 2011.

OCA is expecting some 10,000 participants for the Asian Games 2018. New events among the 40-plus sports include rock climbing and bridge.

The statistics on everything from the size of the Games to the number of competitors vary according to the source, but they support the information that China vastly leads the medal count. According to InsideTheGames, China topped the medal table at Incheon 2014 with 151 golds, 109 silvers and 85 bronzes. It hosted the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.

The OCA groups: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bahrain, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Palestine, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Timor Leste, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen. #22523 Published: 02/23/2018

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18 Aug
2018

Party primaries open Nigeria’s election season

NIGERIA (WNF) - The primaries for the country’s 2019 general election, which sees a record number of parties registered, open in August. Several parties are joining forces to challenge the main players, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In the 2015 elections, Nigeria had 40 registered political parties. Sixty-eight parties have registered to contest the presidential and Legislative Assembly polls on Feb 16, 2019, and the gubernatorial and state elections on Mar 2.

The APC, formed through the merger of four opposition parties ahead of the 2015 election, made history when it defeated the long-ruling PDP. It has already named its presidential candidate, the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari.

Potential presidential nominees for the PDP include former vice president Atiku Abubakar and Ekiti State governor Ayodele Fayose.

Both the APC and PDF are reported to be struggling with intra party rivalries and disputes that undermine their cohesion and open a window for challengers.

An analysis of the primaries and election by African Arguments notes that Nigeria could see a powerful third party emerge in 2019 for the first time. The most popular phrase in the country ahead of the 2019 vote is Third Force, according to the publication, and various groups are trying to tap into a reported appetite for an alternative to the APC and PDP. Thirty opposition parties have joined forces under the banner of the Coalition for a New Nigeria (CNN), and former president Olusegun Obasanjo has helped set up the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM). African Arguments points out that the Nigerian Intervention Movement, Revive Nigeria and Emerging Leaders’ Summit are also trying to jostle for position.

It reports that citizen-led groups, such as the Red Card Movement and Not too Young to Run are also striving for a place in the race. #22616 Published: 05/08/2018

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19 Aug
2018

Qataris among world’s Muslims at Mecca for annual Hajj

SAUDI ARABIA (WNF) - Qataris will be among some 2 million pilgrims at Mecca for the annual Hajj despite an ongoing dispute with the Kingdom.
The unresolved dispute roils the region. Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia launched an embargo on Qatar in Jun 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. Qatar rejects the accusations.

The Saudis previously threatened to block Nigerian pilgrims because of an outbreak of Lassa fever in their country, but they have relented after the African country's assurances that they had the situation under control. In April the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 423 confirmed Nigerian cases, including 106 deaths, of the viral haemorrhagic fever. The agency described it as the largest outbreak ever reported in the country. The blazing temperatures during the Hajj, and the scale, density and diversity of the visitor base amplify the risk of disease transmission. The MERS virus caused a scare in 2015, and flu transmission is an ever present threat.

The Hajj occurs two months and 10 days after Ramadan ends, during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah. Islam requires every Muslim who is physically and financially able to make the journey to Mecca at least once in his or her life. #22645 Updated: 07/15/2018 UPDATED JUL 15 TO SHOW NIGERIA CLEARED TO SEND PILGRIMS AFTER LASSA FEVER EPIDEMIC FEARS

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20 Aug
2018

Debt-saddled Greece returns to market financing

GREECE (WNF) - The finance ministers of the 19-member Eurozone agreed in June that Greece has met its obligations and can exit from eight years of bailouts. The decision leaves Athens free to borrow money on the bond market.
With the end of the bailouts, Greece will also be free to set its own economic policy, marking a political turning point for the country that has been forced to implement highly unpopular reforms. The debt crisis has toppled four governments, and has obliged the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras to adopt unpopular measures to balance the books. Many Greeks demonstrated against the austerity plan.

Greece’s government has said the country is “turning a page.” The plan allows Greece to extend and defer repayments on part of its debt for another 10 years and gives Athens another €15 billion in new credit. Britain’s Guardian points out that it also means the government will have to stick to austerity measures and reforms, including high budget surpluses, for more than 40 years. Adherence will be monitored quarterly, according to the newspaper. #22672 Published: 07/01/2018

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20 Aug
2018

Reunion program resumes amid thaw in Pyongyang-Seoul relations

NORTH KOREA (WNF) - Barring setbacks, some of the families separated when the Korean War sealed the north-south border on the peninsula will be reunited at Mount Kumgang. The agreement for the reunion results from the recent thaw between Seoul and Pyongyang.
The resumption of the reunions was among the agreements reached between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their landmark summit at the border on Apr 27. Moon has taken an active role in trying to broker peace on the peninsula and between the North and the United States.

Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump on Jun 12 in Singapore, an historic summit after a year in which the pair exchanged insults and threats. Since the meeting, the conciliatory tone of the summit has all but disappeared. Trump, who said after the summit that North Korea is no longer a threat, reversed his opinion on Jun 23, saying North Korea is still an “extraordinary threat.” The fate of the August reunions and future North-South relations could depend on whether Kim takes umbrage and the exchange of insults and threats resumes.

The first reunions were held in 1985, and about 20 have been held since then. The August reunion of some 100 people from each side is small compared to the last occasion: in 2015, 650 South Koreans were allowed to visit relatives in the North.

Reuters notes that time is running out – 56 per cent of the 131,531 South Koreans who initially applied to take part in reunions are thought to have died. #22673 Published: 07/01/2018

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20 Aug
2018

New controversial celestial decisions at the XXX IAU General Assembly?

AUSTRIA (WNF) - The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the body that famously demoted Pluto, meets in Vienna to decide on the designations for a host of celestial bodies.
Meetings on the sidelines of the assembly will work on the problems delaying the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) until Mar 30, 2021. The new observatory will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The IAU’s policies have not always pleased the scientific community. Astronauts and officials during the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s often named features at the landing sites, but many names were not accepted by the IAU. More recently, the IAU’s decision to reclassify Pluto in 2006 caused a worldwide uproar.

Pluto – which had been known as the ninth planet since its 1930 discovery – was demoted in Aug 2006 to the newly created category of dwarf planet. The reduced status relates in part to its meager size. Among questions debated at the 2018 meeting will be when a planet is too big to carry the designation. At present, there’s confusion regarding whether the biggest planets really are planets, or whether they’re actually ultra-light stars, according to Gizmodo. The science publication cites Kevin Schlaufman from Johns Hopkins University, who argues that “objects more massive than [around 10 times the mass of Jupiter] should not be thought of as planets.” Schlaufman suggests there’s a better way to define maximum planet size, and proposes an update to the definition based on how planets form.

Gizmodo reports separately that NASA scientists have a plan to make Pluto a planet again.

The IAU describes itself as the world's largest professional body for astronomers. Among other activities, it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies, such as stars, planets and asteroids, as well as any surface features on them. #22520 Published: 02/16/2018

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21 Aug
2018

eSports a red hot attraction at 2018 Gamescom

GERMANY (WNF) - Gamescom 2018 in Cologne anticipates raging interest in eSports, a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games and a 2024 Olympics attraction.
Gamescom, now in its 10th year and recognized as the world’s largest trade fair for computer and video games, also anticipates welcoming a record number of computer gamers and developers in 2018. The event set an attendance record in 2017, with some 335,000 fans and 900 companies from around the world.

eSports, the name for competitive video gaming, has reached professional status. It supports teams and leagues of gamers and fills huge arenas for tournaments that award multimillion dollar prizes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Gamescom 2017, and Germany now recognizes competitive gaming as an official sport. With international eSports attracting millions of viewers and sponsorship money, according to DW, “it makes sense for the European Union’s biggest economy to jump on board.” The German broadcaster notes that South Korea, China, Russia, Italy and South Africa have taken the same course.

Competitive gaming has its own global organization, the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF). Based in South Korea, it has 46 member nations and hosts an annual world championship.

The IeSF is knocking on the door of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for official recognition of eSports. The IOC has expressed guarded interest, describing eSports in its present form as “contrary to Olympic values” because of its violent content. It has agreed to feature eSports as a demonstration event at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

The IOC red line poses a dilemma for the industry. Arguably, conflict and bloodshed account for much of the appeal of the top games, which include Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. Call of Duty boasts a World League and hosts monthly events that culminate in the Call of Duty World League Championships in August. Gamers compete for a prize pool of US $1.5 million. #22654 Published: 06/08/2018

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21 Aug
2018

Pilgrims to crowd Dublin for World Meeting of Families and papal visit

IRISH REPUBLIC (WNF) - The World Meeting of Families will bring Pope Francis and Catholics from around the world to Dublin to focus on the importance of marriage, an institution on which the pope has taken a controversial stand.
It will be the first papal trip to Ireland in nearly 40 years. His presence and the massive crowd in the final days of the event present a monumental security challenge for the authorities: Islamic State militants have issued death threats against both the pope and Catholics.

The reform-minded pontiff’s 2016 document Amoris Laetitia has upset Catholic traditionalists. In a widely circulated letter in Aug 2017, several dozen conservative Catholic theologians charged the pope with promoting “heresies,” most notably through his openness to allowing some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the church’s sacraments. The letter accuses the pope of imposing “strange doctrines on the faithful,” and asks him to publicly correct his teachings.

The Lumen Fidei Institute plans to convene its Conference of Catholic Families on Aug 22-23, in Dublin, as an alternative to the main event. The Catholic publication LifeSite reports that the organizers “felt compelled to coordinate the conference, which will feature speakers who are uncompromising on Catholic doctrine, after witnessing the flagrant LGBT push associated with the Vatican’s meeting.”

The event begins with a three-day congress in Dublin with the theme, The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World. Visitor numbers will surge for the weekend finale of the event – the Festival of Families on Saturday and for the Mass on Sunday. Pope Francis will arrive for the last two days of the conference and will preside at the Mass that wraps up the event.

The security challenge of ensuring the safety of both the pope and pilgrims, which usually number in the millions for papal visits, will keep the authorities wakeful ahead of and during the event.

Reuters reported in Apr 2017 that a New Jersey teen pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists in what was believed to be an ISIS-inspired effort to assassinate the pope in during a public Mass at the 2015 World Meeting of Families. #22323 Published: 10/01/2017

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22 Aug
2018

SCO military drills see arch-rivals India and Pakistan on the same side

RUSSIA (WNF) - Arch-rivals India and Pakistan will be on the same side when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) stages its multi-nation military exercises in the Ural Mountains.
The exercise, named Peace Mission 2018, simulates an operation to eliminate terrorists, neutralize terror networks and thwart possible attacks, according to India’s Tribune. Combat readiness will also be tested.

The newspaper notes that Indian and Pakistani soldiers have operated together in the past on foreign lands while providing security or in convoy protection deployment as peacekeepers under the United Nations, but the SCO exercise is a first for them.

India and Pakistan were admitted as full members of the China-dominated bloc at the 2017 summit in Kazakhstan, with Beijing sponsoring Islamabad and Moscow sponsoring Delhi as an attempted counterbalance to Chinese power and influence.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference that SCO membership gives neighbouring India and Pakistan a new space to work out their differences. Their disputes are mainly territorial, dating from the partition of the Indian sub-continent along religious lines in 1947.

China is also sending troops to the exercises. Russia has sought to strengthen ties with China in the aftermath of its collapsing relations with Europe and the United States.

The SCO groups China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan. #22628 Updated: 07/15/2018 UPDATED JUL 15 TO ADD DATES

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