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Tokyo Tower lit in red on Lunar New Year's Eve

TOKYO, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- On the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the iconic Tokyo Tower in the Japanese capital was lit in red to celebrate the traditional festival.In its fifth run this year, the special illumination event on Saturday was held as a symbol of friendship between China and Japan.The mascot of the popular giant panda Xiang Xiang who is about to return to China joined hands with the mascot of the rabbit TianTian to deliver new year greetings at the event along with over 100 children from China and Japan.The moment the landmark was lit up in Chinese red, more than 2,000 balloons were released into the sky, sending festival greetings to the world.Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda sent a video speech to the event, extending his wishes that everyone could "jump high and far" in the Year of the Rabbit."On the occasion of the new year, let us look forward to the early end of the epidemic, the resumption of personnel exchanges, and the rich and active exchanges between Japan and China," Fukuda said."I wish everyone good health, and wish peace and prosperity for China, Japan, Asia and the world at large," Fukuda added.Kong Xuanyou, Chinese ambassador to Japan, also sent a video speech, expressing the belief that the Chinese red at the Tokyo Tower could bring more confidence and strength to the people of China and Japan.

At least 4 killed in apartment fire in western Japan

TOKYO, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Four people were killed with four others feared dead after a fire broke out early Sunday at an apartment in Japans western city of Kobe, local media said.Firefighters received a call around 1:35 a.m. local time saying that black smoke was coming out of a window on the first floor of a three-story housing complex in Hyogo Ward of Kobe, Kyodo News reported.Four men were confirmed dead at the scene, the report said, citing police and other sources, adding that four other men who were taken to a hospital were all unconscious.All the eight individuals were found on the first floor of the apartment, it said.The fire was mostly put out after about an hour.A total of 60 square meters of the first and second floors of the 300-square-meters building were burned, according to Kyodo News.

Hundreds of stranded tourists evacuated from Machu Picchu amid Peru unrest: govt

Rescue teams on Saturday evacuated more than 400 tourists stranded at the iconic Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, Perus Ministry of Tourism said, as protests throughout the country have disrupted transportation services."This afternoon the 418 domestic and foreign visitors were transferred from the town of Machu Picchu to... Cusco," the ministrys Twitter account posted, along with photos of a train and passengers.

New Zealand Labour Party endorses Chris Hipkins as new leader

New Zealands governing Labour Party endorsed Chris Hipkins as its new leader on Sunday, following the resignation of Jacinda Ardern, and the 44-year-old is set to become the countrys 41st prime minister. Carmel Sepuloni was backed as the countrys deputy prime minister at the caucus meeting on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against judical reforms

JERUSALEM, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in several cities on Saturday evening to voice their dissatisfaction over the governments plan to make sweeping reforms in the countrys judicial system.Israeli media quoted police as saying that more than 100,000 protesters arrived at the main demonstration in Tel Aviv. Smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities.This is the second week in a row that massive protests are being staged against the government. The demonstrators said the reforms will weaken the courts and give the ruling coalition limitless power.The government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the changes are necessary in order to rein in the judicial system which has become "too powerful" in recent decades. They also said the supreme court often intervenes in political issues that should be determined by the parliament.Netanyahu and his coalition partners have said they will continue to push for the reforms despite the widespread protests.The reforms include allowing the parliament to override supreme court rulings with a simple majority. In addition, politicians will have greater influence in appointing supreme court judges.

Lula sacks Brazil's army chief after anti-government riots

A Brazilian flag is reflected on a broken window of the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, January 10, 2023. /CFPBrazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sacked Julio Cesar de Arruda, the commander of the army, on Saturday, two weeks after the Jan. 8 storming of government buildings by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro.The dismissal came a day after Lula convened a meeting with his top military chiefs that Arruda also attended.Lula has previously said he suspects security forces may have been involved in the riots, in which more than 2,000 people were arrested.(With input from AFP)

White House chief of staff could be headed out: reports

US President Joe Bidens chief of staff, Ron Klain, could soon step down after two years in the key, high- pressure White House post, US media reported Saturday. File photo: AgenciesThe New York Times said Klain has privately told colleagues since the midterm elections in November that after a grueling, uninterrupted stint at Bidens side, dating back to the 2020 campaign, he is ready to move on.The departure could come after Bidens State of the Union address, scheduled for February 7, the Times added.Klain would be stepping down at an important point in the presidents term. Biden, 80, could announce in the coming weeks whether he will run for the White House again in 2024. His Republican rival Donald Trump, 76, has already sone so. The November midterms turned out less catastrophic than expected for the Democrats, who kept control of the Senate and lost many fewer seats than anticipated as they gave up the House of Representatives to the Republican Party.Now Biden finds himself in a bind over classified documents from his time as Barack Obamas vice president that were found in a former office of Biden and at his family home in Delaware. They should have been turned over to the National Archives. Biden has downplayed the affair as a mere oversight.White House chiefs of staff rarely stay in this position for four years. Four people held the job under Trump. Klain, 61, served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1999, then to Biden between 2009 and 2011. During Obamas tenure Klain served as coordinator of the White House response to the Ebola virus crisis.

Six more classified docs found in Justice Dept search of Biden home: Biden lawyer

Officials from the US Department of Justice found six more classified documents during a search of Joe Bidens family home in Delaware this week, the presidents personal lawyer said in a statement Saturday. "DOJ took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials," the statement from Biden lawyer Bob Bauer said.The discovery came as part of a Justice Department search conducted Friday after several batches of secret papers from Bidens time as vice president were found at a former Washington office space and the presidents home in Wilmington, Delware.

Philippines looks forward to welcoming back Chinese tourists

MANILA, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines is looking forward to welcoming Chinese tourists back to the Southeast Asian country, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Saturday.File photo: Agencies"We look forward to the significant contribution of the Chinese market to the recovery and resurgence of the Philippine travel and tourism industry," Frasco said in a message on the Chinese New Year which falls on Sunday."We gladly welcome back our Chinese friends to the Philippines award-winning and emerging tourist destinations," she added.The Philippines and China have agreed to boost tourism cooperation earlier this month during the visit of Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos to China, stressing the importance of people-to-people relations and cultural exchanges between the two nations.Frasco said the Philippines "is grateful for the commitment to the continued pursuit of fruitful and productive Filipino-Chinese interactions.""We embrace with enthusiasm the continued convergence and collaborations of our tourism stakeholders, travelers, tourism players, national agencies, local government units, and host communities, in making the Year of the Rabbit a truly prosperous year for Philippine tourism," she added.Frasco noted the rabbit symbolizes longevity, peace and prosperity. "As we usher in this New Year with hope and optimism for the tourism industry, we look forward to a stronger partnership and collaboration with the Chinese community and stakeholders in the year ahead."As a key economic driver, the tourism industrys contribution to the Philippines gross domestic product (GDP) stood at 12.7 percent in 2019.Over 1.74 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines in 2019, an increase of 38.58 percent from 2018. Chinese tourists spent more than 2.3 billion U.S. dollars while vacationing in the country, official data showed.

M4.5 earthquake jolts Syria region: EMSC

A magnitude-4.5 earthquake jolted Syria region at a depth of 2 kilometers on Saturday, according to the European Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC).

Sri Lanka to hold elections for local councils in March

COLOMBO, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lankas national election commission on Saturday announced that local council polls will be held on March 9.Foreign tourists walk past Sri Lankan Presidents office in Colombo on January 20, 2023. (Photo: AFP)The commission said that all the main political parties had submitted nominations by the close of the deadline on Saturday afternoon. Accordingly, the commission fixed the date to hold the elections to pick new mayors and local council members for all the districts in Sri Lanka.President Ranil Wickremesinghes United National Party and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksas Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have joined hands for the first time to contest the March elections.Their main battle will be with the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya led by Sajith Premadasa. A number of smaller political parties have also formed alliances for the elections.

World leaders send Chinese New Year greetings

World leaders and officials sent their Chinese New Year greetings as China welcomes the Year of the Rabbit.The Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac, runs from January 22, 2023 to February 9, 2024.A shop selling Spring Festival decorations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 17, 2023. (Photo: CFP)Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen extended Chinese New Year greetings and wished the Chinese people and the Cambodians of Chinese descent good health, happiness and success in all their endeavors in the New Year."On the occasion of the upcoming Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, I would like to congratulate and join in the fun with all Chinese people and Cambodians of Chinese descent, who have always lived and stuck together through thick and thin since ancient times," he said.Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha sent a Chinese New Year greeting in Chinese when he attended a celebration for the festival in Ratchaburi Province, wishing everyone prosperity and luck.Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim greeted the countrys Chinese community ahead of the Chinese New Year celebrations with a message of unity.

Illegal border crossings surge to highest of Biden's term

A surge in Cuban and Nicaraguan arrivals at the U.S. border with Mexico in December led to the highest number of illegal border crossings recorded during any month of Joe Biden’s presidency, authorities said Friday.President Joe Biden walks along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, Jan. 8, 2023. (Photo: AP)The extraordinary influx came shortly before Biden introduced measures on Jan. 5 to deter Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans.U.S. authorities stopped migrants 251,487 times along the Mexican border in December, up 7% from 234,896 times in November and up 40% from 179,253 times in December 2021, Customs and Border Protection said. Cubans were stopped nearly 43,000 times in December, up 23% from November and more than quintuple the same period a year earlier. Nicaraguans were stopped more than 35,000 times, up 3% from November and more than double from December 2021.More migrants were also stopped from Ecuador and Peru.The influx from Cuba and Nicaragua made El Paso, Texas, the busiest of the Border Patrol’s nine sectors on the Mexican border for a third month in a row. The city was overwhelmed with migrants who were released to pursue their immigration cases in the U.S. in the weeks leading up to Biden’s visit on Jan. 8, his first to the border as president.The number of Venezuelan arrivals remained far below September highs, when the South American country was the second-highest nationality at the border after Mexicans. In October, the U.S. agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelans on humanitarian parole, while Mexico agreed to take back the same number who entered the U.S. illegally and could be expelled under a pandemic-era rule to deny rights to seek asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Biden said this month that the U.S. would admit up to 30,000 people a month under humanitarian parole from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, allowing them to live and work for two years if they apply online, pay airfare and fin...

India's sports minister announces WFI president stepping aside

NEW DELHI, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Indias federal sports minister Anurag Thakur on Saturday announced that Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh will step aside from his position until the completion of the probe into allegations of sexual harassment and misappropriation of funds.Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (C) arrives to address a press conference in Gonda on January 20, 2023, following allegations of sexual harassment to wrestlers by members of the WFI. (Photo: AFP)Thakur made the announcement during a press conference after a several-hour meeting with protesting wrestlers."It has been decided that an oversight committee will be formed and names for it will be announced tomorrow. The committee will complete its investigation within four weeks. It will thoroughly probe all the allegations, be it financial or sexual harassment that have been leveled against the WFI and its chief," Thakur said in the news conference."Until the investigation is over, he (Singh) will step aside and cooperate with the investigation and the oversight committee will run the day-to-day affairs of the WFI."With the announcement, the wrestlers called off their protest against alleged sexual harassment and misappropriation of funds.Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia, who was at the forefront of the protest, said the minister has assured he is with the wrestlers at every step."We are hopeful that the committee will probe the matter in a neutral way," Punia said. "The minister has promised protection to all the protesting athletes and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also always supported the athletes."The Indian Olympic Association has also announced a seven-member panel to investigate the allegations against Singh. The panel has athletes Mary Kom, Dola Banerjee, Alaknanda Ashok, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sahdev Yadav as members.The Indian wrestlers, including some top ones, began their p...

'Aquaman' warns Sundance of deep-sea mining peril

He is best known as hunky, sea-dwelling superhero "Aquaman," but actor Jason Momoa brought a stark and sober warning about the perils of deep-sea mining to the Sundance film festival on Friday.Jason Momoa narrates Deep Rising, a new documentary about the frenzied efforts by resource-hungry corporations to scrape valuable metals from the floor of the Pacific. (Photo: AFP)The Hawaiian-born A-lister narrates "Deep Rising," a new documentary about the frenzied efforts by resource-hungry corporations to scrape valuable metals from vast swathes of the Pacific floor.Supporters of deep-sea mining claim that pellets of nickel and cobalt -- used in electric car batteries -- can be conveniently scooped off the seabed, helping reduce our fossil fuel reliance.But conservation groups and scientists fear this could devastate poorly understood marine systems that play a crucial role in regulating the climate, and some nations have called for bans."Theres moments where I cried and got emotional" narrating the film, Momoa told AFP, before its world premiere at the festival in Utah."Its very important, using your power for good. Its all the things Im passionate about," added the actor, who took marine biology courses as a student, and is a UN Environment Program advocate for the oceans.The documentary follows key players in the fledgling industry including The Metals Company, a Canadian group pushing to mine the Clarion Clipperton Zone -- a vast expanse of seafloor near Hawaii.The film goes behind-the-scenes as its chief executive Gerard Barron courts wealthy investors with promises that little harm will be done to "the most barren, desolate part of the planet," in contrast to the devastation that ongoing mining is causing rainforests.But "Deep Rising" director Matthieu Rytz told AFP that "we know so little" about the real risk to the deep ocean."Extraction on the seafloor, it...

11 hospitalized after 8-vehicle pile-up in Japan's Tokushima

Eleven people were hospitalized on Saturday morning after an eight-vehicle pile-up that included trucks and passenger cars in Anan City, Tokushima Prefecture, Kyodo News has reported, citing local firefighters.

Arizona dismantles shipping container wall on US-Mexico border

A wall of shipping containers installed just a few months ago by the then- governor of Arizona at a $100 million cost to US taxpayers was being dismantled Friday.Looking like a train traveling across the desert, a long row of shipping containers stacked to create a wall between the United States and Mexico in the Coronado National Forest near Hereford, Arizona, on January 20, 2023. (Photo: AFP)Republican Doug Ducey ordered the huge line of shipping containers to be placed at the frontier between the United States and Mexico, during the final months of his administration, in what he said was a bid to stem illegal immigration.But after being sued by Washington for putting the containers on federal land in the Coronado National Forest, Ducey -- who has since been succeeded by Democrat Katie Hobbs -- agreed in December to remove them."I couldnt believe that Governor Ducey thought that it was a good idea," said Debbie McGuire, as a truck barreled down a dusty road carrying an empty container away."Its absolutely ludicrous. To put containers that werent going to work ever to keep anybody out," she told AFP."I just cant believe he thought it was a good idea. Ridiculous, and a total waste of taxpayer money."Duceys container wall effort began in the middle of 2022, and quickly ran into opposition, with critics slamming it as a cynical political move that would damage the environment and make no difference to the number of illegal border crossings.Opponents said the corrugated containers, which snaked like a huge cargo train for four miles (seven kilometers) through federal lands, divided an important conservation area.They also pointed out that the terrain is so difficult to traverse that people traffickers have never really used it.In practice, the double-stacked containers were ill-suited to keeping people out -- their rigid shape means they didnt always line up, leaving gaping holes between boxes easily big enoug...

Seasonal flu spreads across Japan as case numbers surge

TOKYO, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- The average number of flu patients per medical institution in Japan in the week through Sunday came to 7.37, signaling the beginning of an epidemic, a health ministry survey said.People shop at a supermarket in Tokyo on January 20, 2023. (File photo: AFP)About 5,000 medical institutions in all of Japans 47 prefectures reported 36,388 cases of seasonal flu during the seven-day period, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said Friday.The nationwide per-institution figure was more than 1.5 times that of the previous week, while the tally of influenza patients across the country is estimated to stand at about 257,000.By prefecture, the per-hospital number was the highest in Okinawa at 33.23. The number was above 10 in seven other prefectures, including Fukuoka at 16.96, Miyazaki at 16.63 and Saga at 15.79.A reading above 10 suggests a major spread of seasonal flu could occur within four weeks, while a reading above 30 signals that a major spread is suspected to have occurred.

US partisan standoff over debt ceiling poses risk of default, higher inflation

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appeared Friday on CNN to warn of international consequences if the federal government fails to raise the debt ceiling, with both the Democrat and Republican parties in a standoff.The US Treasury Department building is seen in Washington, DC, January 19, 2023. (Photo: AFP)After her departments "extraordinary measures" are exhausted, the United States could experience a downgrading of its debt as a result of Congress failing to raise the debt ceiling, Yellen told CNN.Earlier this week, U.S. debt rose to over 31.4 trillion U.S. dollars, the limit set by Congress over a year ago, prompting the Treasury Department to take "extraordinary measures" to continue financing the federal government.In a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Yellen said there would be "considerable uncertainty" should Congress fail to pass legislation to increase the debt ceiling, namely the maximum amount the U.S. government can borrow.However, the standoff between the two parties has sparked concerns over a possible debt default. Republicans, who now control the House by a slim margin and want any deal on raising the debt limit to be tied to spending cuts, are pushing Democrats to negotiate over the debt limit.Democrats refuse to budge, setting up an impasse between the two bitterly divided sides.If the federal government fails to make payments, "our borrowing costs would increase, and every American would see that their borrowing costs would increase as well," Yellen told CNN.A failure to make payments that are due "would undoubtedly cause a recession in the U.S. economy and could cause a global financial crisis," she added."The U.S. clearly has a public spending problem," as seen in "the steady rise in its public debt to GDP ratio to its highest level in the post-war period and in the large size of its unfunded social security obligations," Desmond...

Italy faces "mild" recession: reports

ROME, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Italy may already suffer a "mild" economic recession, according to data released on Friday by the Bank of Italy and a leading business organization, though both said the economy would strengthen over the second half of this year.File photo: AFPThe two reports were the first major economic forecasts for the country released this year.According to the forecast from retailers association Confcommercio, a slowdown in household demand due to rising prices sparked by the Ukraine conflict appears to have created what the organization called a "short and mild ... recessionary" period.A recession is generally defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. Though Italys economy is likely to show positive growth for 2022 as a whole, indications are that the economy contracted in the fourth quarter of 2022.In Fridays report, Confcommercio said that the negative trend appeared to be extending into the first quarter of this year.The Bank of Italy said that high prices, a restrictive monetary policy of the European Central Bank (ECB) and a global economic slowdown would likely hinder growth prospects in Italy and the rest of the European Union.In Fridays statement, the Bank of Italy said the Italian economy "weakened" in the last quarter of 2022, noting that companies interviewed by the Bank of Italy surveys "still consider the conditions for investing unfavorable."Both Confcommercio and the Bank of Italy pointed to rising prices pushed higher by energy costs as a major drag on economic growth. According to ISTAT, Italys National Institute of Statistics, prices in 2022 rose 8.1 percent year-on-year and ended the year with double-digit inflation in the last three months.In its research, Confcommercio said prices would rise by "at least" 6 percent in 2023, further dampening growth prospects.In its forecast, the Bank of Italy predicted a 0.6 percent growth for 2023,...

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