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26 Jun
2018

Berlin Airlift launched 70 years ago an unequalled humanitarian gesture

GERMANY (WNF) - The 1948-49 Berlin airlift, launched 70 years ago by the World War II Allies, can be remembered for rescuing West Berlin from starvation, as a bighearted act with strategic underpinnings, and for striking the first blow in the Cold War.
So-called Operation Vittles saved the city from falling to the Soviets during the post World War II contest for control of the city. Britain and the United States organized the airlift, and countries as far away as Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand also contributed men, machines and supplies to the operation. They flew 278,000 flights to Berlin, delivering over two million tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies. At the height of the airlift, Apr 16, 1949, some 1,400 planes carried in nearly 13,000 tons of supplies over a 24-hour period. Frequently, landings were just minutes apart.

The airline supplied some two million West Berliners with food and fuel until Sep 30, 1949. The blockade was lifted in May, but the airlift continued for three months to stockpile supplies in the city in case Soviet dictator Josef Stalin changed his mind.

In Germany three claw-like concrete structures commemorate the airlift. They face westwards to symbolize the three air corridors and the three Allied occupying forces. The original is at the former Tempelhof airport. Later replicas were built in Frankfurt am Main and Celle, where the bombers loaded with food and supplies took off. Anniversary ceremonies can be expected at one or more of the German memorials, and at Berlin Airlift memorials in Britain and the United States.

The way the victors divided up Germany after World War II set off the festering tensions between the Soviets and Western powers that became the Cold War.
Zones of western Germany were handed to Britain, France and the United States to administer, while the Soviet Union was handed the east. Berlin was inside the Soviet sector, but also divided among the four powers. In Jun 1948 Stalin blockaded all rail, road and ship traffic into the city in an effort to squeeze the Western powers out of Berlin. The airlift was the Allies’ response. #22225 Published: 06/29/2017

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26 Jun
2018

UN steps up war on drugs

WORLD (GN) - It hardly has the snappiest title, but the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, observed each year on June 26, is a key plank in the United Nations’ war on drugs.
Originally instigated in 1987 by a resolution of a special session on drugs of the UN’s General Assembly, the annual awareness day was founded to mark the centenary of China’s efforts to combat the trade in opium in the early 20th century – widely regarded as the start of the international war on drugs.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) uses the annual date to highlight the dangers of drug use and their illegal trade, and provides educational material to teachers and public officials around the globe to spread the message about the extreme cultural and economic harm generated by the trade in drugs.

According to UNODC, nearly 200 million people around the world use illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates and sedative hypnotics, and around 190,000 people die from their use every year.

A statement released to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in 2017 stressed how terrorists and non-state armed groups profit from the drug trade. “By some estimates, up to 85 per cent of opium cultivation in Afghanistan occurs in Taliban-influenced territory. As new threats appear, including spreading methamphetamine and new psychoactive substances, old ones continue to thrive. Business models are evolving too, with cybercrime and the darknet increasingly playing a role.”

As long ago as 2007, the UN’s World Drug Report put the value of the illegal drug trade at US $322 billion a year. #22623 Published: 05/14/2018

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26 Jun
2018

Poland given deadline for easing political control over country’s judiciary

POLAND (WNF) - The European Commission has given Poland a deadline, the date of the June meeting of EU Affairs Ministers, for addressing the bloc’s concerns about laws that increase the country’s political control over its judiciary.
The European Union, concerned about what Bloomberg describes as Poland’s war on judges, has made history by opening a formal process that could revoke the country’s EU vote. The Bloomberg news service reported in February that the European Commission, much of Poland's judicial community and political opposition, and almost the entire European liberal commentariat see the laws as completing the transfer of the court system to the political control of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

EU Executive Director Frans Timmermans told reporters in May that “some progress has been made over the last couple of weeks, but not enough to say that the systematic threat to the rule of law would be removed.” He added that the EU affairs ministers’ next meeting on Jun 26 is the new deadline for Poland to act. Progress has been slowed by EU members’ reluctance to sanction one another, according to the European Observer, which reported Timmermans’ deadline, and Hungary has already said it would veto any measures against Poland. #22626 Published: 05/15/2018

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27 Jun
2018

Japanese asteroid explorer due to reach destination

SPACE (WNF) - The Hayabusa 2 asteroid explorer is due to reach Ryugu (1999 JU3), its destination, around the middle of 2018. The second asteroid sample-and-return mission of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), it is expected to answer questions about the early days of the solar system.
Astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about 2,952 feet (900 meters) across, is roughly spherical and rotates once every 7.6 hours. It is thought to contain water and organic materials.

Over 18 months Hayabusa 2 will deploy three rovers and a German-European lander called MASCOT. They will work independently on the surface to gather information on Ryugu’s composition and history. Ryugu samples are due to arrive back on Earth in Dec 2020.

Launched in Dec 2014, Hayabusa 2 carries numerous improvements over the original Hayabusa mission, which linked up with asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and ranks as the first sample-and-return mission. It suffered a host of technical problems and arrived back on Earth with a meager sample of dust from the asteroid.

Hayabusa means Falcon in Japanese. #22643 Updated: 06/14/2018 UPDATED JUN 15 TO MOVE ARRIVAL DATE TO LATE JUNE

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28 Jun
2018

Iran sanctions issue a looming distraction at EU summit

EUROPEAN UNION (WNF) - The European Union summit in Brussels gives the Irish Republic another chance to argue for a soft border with departing Britain, and Bulgaria a last opportunity as EU president to push its integration agenda. The United States’ decision to exit the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran represents a major distraction.
Dublin fears that if the 500 km border between the Irish Republic and United Kingdom is allowed to become a frontier, sectarian conflict might return to the island. The border decision awaits agreement on the final trade relationship – if any – between the EU and Britain.

Bulgaria has put Balkans integration high on its wish list, and Brussels has opened the possibility of EU membership by 2025 to six Western Balkans nations – Serbia, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia. Enlargement fatigue and Kosovo loom as potential roadblocks. EU members Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia do not recognize breakaway Kosovo as a sovereign country. Turkey’s alleged human rights transgressions have set back its chances of EU accession.

After U.S. President Donald Trump’s Iran decision in May, Euractiv described him as the “number one threat to European economy.” His announcement has fueled oil prices and increased the uncertainty for European companies doing business with Iran, according to the EU-focus publication. The leaders of Britain, France and Germany, all signatories to the deal, insist they will stick by it. Their economies are at risk if they remain resolute as Trump has threatened to impose sanctions on European companies if their governments don’t heed his demand to stop dealing with Iran.

French Prime Minister Emanuel Macron will use the summit to push his Grand March for Europe initiative. The 2017 German election weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel, an ally in his bid for unity across the bloc, and Italy’s recent election sees it veering hard right. The EU Observer reports that the bloc has issued a warning aimed at countries that are increasingly turning against EU consensus and the norms of liberal democracy, such as Poland and Hungary.

Refugees, populism, Russian sanctions, the U.S. trade dispute, Syria and Iran round out the concerns likely to be expressed in the June summit statement. #22592 Updated: 05/15/2018 REWRITTEN MAY 14 TO ADD IRAN SANCTIONS ISSUE

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Jul
2018

Record-setting Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge due to open to traffic

CHINA (WNF) - Billed by China as the world’s longest sea crossing and an engineering marvel, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in the Pearl River Estuary is scheduled to open to traffic this summer. Slightly over 34 miles (55-km) long, it will put the three cities within an hour of each other, and commuters will be crossing borders. (July 2018
Though officially called a bridge, it is a series of bridges, tunnels and artificial islands across the estuary. The crossing and two other major cross-border infrastructure projects – the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point – are part of a broad push by the central government to integrate the Pearl River Delta region.

Under the so-called one country, two systems policy, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and Macau returned in 1999. Each enclave has its own money, passports and legal system. In January 2018 the Hong Kong Free Press cited a report in China Daily that says the opening date will depend on the progress of constructing checkpoint facilities and negotiating policies. After several postponements, latest indications suggest it will open sometime in the third quarter of the year.

Britain’s Telegraph notes that the Y-shaped span, which will link the three cities, incorporates the latest engineering technology and design, enabling the structures to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, a super typhoon or a strike by a cargo vessel weighing 300,000 tons. Engineers were confronted with complex geological and topographical conditions, taking into account prevailing winds and tidal forces.

Hong Kong Free Press reports that the project – construction of which commenced in 2009 – has been plagued by over-spending, delays, deadly accidents involving workers, instances of hacking, and falsified test results. #22541 Updated: 06/18/2018 UPDATED TO MOVE FROM JUNE to JULY

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Jul
2018

Japanese firm makes business suits for blue collar workers

JAPAN (GN) - A Japanese company has launched a line of business suits specifically for blue-collar workers. The formal looking work wear has proved popular among workers in industries ranging from waste collection and building maintenance to agriculture. (July 2018
The Japan Times reports that the Oasys Style Wear company in Tokyo, which released the clothing in March at a price of roughly ¥30,000 for a jacket and pants, will add more lightweight, quick-to-dry summer models to its men’s work wear range in July. Women’s models are also available.

The clothing is designed to appeal to workers in blue-collar jobs, traditionally dubbed the “3K” — standing for kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous) in Japanese. The firm’s spokesman, Hayato Suhara, said the new work wear is helping to mitigate the bad stereotypes of blue-collar jobs, generally associated with a “dirty, bad looking and poorly groomed” image.

The Japan Times says the water-repellent, washable attire was originally produced as an in-house uniform for the Oasys Lifestyle group, a Tokyo-based plumbing firm, and was inspired by an idea from a female employee in charge of personnel affairs. The company began selling a line of suits after its engineers were praised on their formal attire. Suhara says the firm has received an increased number of applicants since the launch of the clothing line, particularly from younger people. The company plans to expand sales overseas as well, having received inquiries from Asia and Europe.

The suit was given a publicity boost after being worn by Kiyoto Saito, a rice farmer who became an online celebrity in 2016 for being the “world’s best dressed farmer”.

“I thought the times are catching up with me when I saw the work wear,” said Saito, who told the Japan Times that he has worn formal business attire for six years while working in his rice field. Mentioning that he had worn the Oasys work wear to his fields that day, Saito said, “I’ve been wearing some functional suits for work, but this work wear is more water-resistant. I don’t have to put on rainwear for light rain.” #22659 Published: 06/21/2018

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01 Jul
2018

Leftist leading way into Mexican general election

MEXICO (WNF) - Mexico’s general election sees Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the founder of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), within reach of a presidential victory.
Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of For Mexico in Front, a three-party coalition spanning right to left, is in second place. In third place is Jose Antonio Meade, the candidate of the ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Voters also choose 128 members of the Senate and 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies. MORENA’s near defeat of the PRI in the Mexico state election in June fuels optimism for a López Obrador victory and for a stronger MORENA presence in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

The PRI dominated the country’s political institutions from its founding in 1929 until the end of the 20th Century. It regained power in 2012 after a 12-year hiatus.

The election will be the first to permit independent candidates, and legislators elected in 2018 will be allowed to run for re-election, also a first.

Incumbent President Enrique Pena Nieto (PRI) is not eligible for a second 6-year term. His successor faces voters angry about corruption and rising violence.

López Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City and two-time presidential candidate who has cast himself as the new leader of the political left, founded MORENA in 2014 with a populist message that appeals to poor and working-class Mexicans. #22296 Updated: 06/14/2018 UPDATED JUN 14 TO REFLECT CURRENT STANDINGS

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01 Jul
2018

Brexit and refugees on Austria’s plate as EU president

EUROPEAN UNION (WNF) - Austria will be expected to move the Brexit negotiations into the home stretch during its six-month European Union presidency, and will be pressed to break the bloc’s impasse over refugees and migrants. Austria also inherits the ever-worsening EU-United States spat.
Britain voted on Jun 23, 2016, to exit the bloc. The daily headlines, as of June 2018, suggest that the main obstacles to the departure on Mar 29, 2019, have been cleared. They also reveal arguments over the details and Prime Minister Theresa May’s political vulnerability if she appears too soft on the terms.

The bloc is embroiled in a bitter dispute with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary over their refusal to accept refugees. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have called for the relocation policy to be scrapped. Austria can’t be considered an impartial arbiter. Its government, a coalition of the center-right Austrian People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, has vowed to stop illegal migration and crack down on refugees.

EU relations with the United States have deteriorated. Plans by the Trump Administration to slap steel and aluminum tariffs on several trading partners in the bloc, and take the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal are causing big waves that are likely to affect trade. The harsh words traded at the G7 summit in Canada in June suggest that Austria will have its hands full in preventing an all out EU-US trade war. #22377 Updated: 06/14/2018 UPDATED JUN 14 TO REFLECT ADVANCES IN BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS AND GROWING TRADE DISPUTE

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01 Jul
2018

Rights crusader Simone Veil interred at Pantheon of French luminaries

FRANCE (WNF) - Simone Veil enters France’s Pantheon in Paris, which houses the remains of the country’s great national figures. The first woman to become president of the European Parliament, in 1979, Veil died at 89 on Jun 30, 2017.
Veil’s body will spend the night of Jun 30 under the watch of the Republican Guard before being deposited in the Pantheon’s crypt in a ceremony to be broadcast live on television the following day.

Veil survived the concentration camps that claimed the lives of her mother, father and brother, and went on to become a crusader for women’s rights and European reconciliation. As reported by several French publications, her biggest political achievement was pushing through a law to legalize abortion in France in 1974 in the face of fierce opposition.

Veil will join Polish-born French scientist Marie Curie; two French Resistance members who were deported to Germany, Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion; and Sophie Berthelot, who was buried alongside her chemist husband Marcellin Berthelot. Other luminaries buried at the Pantheon include the writers Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. #22524 Published: 02/23/2018

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02 Jul
2018

Veterans to rule at 2018 Wimbledon Tennis Championships?

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - Tennis fans can almost expect veterans to take home the men’s and women’s singles trophies at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships. The top contenders are all over 30.
Roger Federer, 36, enters the contest boosted by his 2017 Wimbledon victory, plus consecutive Australian Open titles in 2017 and 2018. Rafael Nadal, 32, is riding high on his recent 11th French Open title. After a break in 2017 to give birth to a daughter, Serena Williams, 36, is aiming for her eighth Wimbledon title. Five-times champion and 2017 runner-up, Venus Williams, now 38, is all but certain to be competing because of her strong showing throughout 2017.

Former Wimbledon champions Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both 31, should be potent competition for Federer and Nadal – although both have been sidelined by injury for much of this year. Djokovic has pain in his right elbow, and Murray underwent hip surgery in January.

At 24, defending Wimbledon Women’s Champion Garbiñe Muguruza has youth on her side when she comes back to defend her title, but she and other young recent winners of major tournaments have had uneven results. #22429 Updated: 06/14/2018 UPDATED FOLLOWING 2018 AUSTRALIAN OPEN AND FRENCH OPEN

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