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Australian state to permanently ban onshore gas fracking
30 August 2016 - The state of Victoria plans to ban shale and coal seam gas fracking in what would be Australia's first permanent ban on unconventional gas drilling, citing the concerns of farmers and potential health and environment risks. Farmers are worried that groundwater reserves could be depleted or contaminated by onshore gas drilling. (more)

African migrants go to Italian quake zone to help survivors
30 August 2016 - African migrants hoping to start a new life in Italy after risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean have headed to the area of Wednesday's earthquake, helping local people who lost everything in the disaster. 'It was their idea. They wanted to do something, so we helped make it happen,' said Letizia Dellabarba of the Human Solidarity Group (GUS) charity that brought the migrants to Pescara del Tronto. Dellabarba said most of the migrants who helped in the quake zone were from Burkina Fasso, Niger, and Senegal. (more)

Old machiya houses in Japan's Kyoto given new lease of life by niche loans
30 August 2016 - For generations, artisans and merchants in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto lived in thousands of traditional 'machiya' townhouses . . . To help restore the wooden-and-tile-roof structures, banks in Kyoto have tailored loans to help contribute to the preservation of architecture in a city that was once Japan's ancient capital and boasts a number of World Heritage sites. With help from Bank of Kyoto, Yoshinori Murase was able to restore his family's machiya, built in 1918, to an airy refuge, with polished wooden beams above floors covered with pristine tatami mats. (more)

US Judge: Citizens United must disclose donor information to NY
30 August 2016 - A nonprofit conservative organization advocating for less government must reveal information about major donors to the state's attorney general if it wants to solicit money in the state of New York, a judge ruled Monday as he rejected First Amendment claims. U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein said that states have a strong interest to ensure that charities do not serve as fronts for fraud and crime and the lawsuit by the conservative organization, Citizens United, failed to show that the requirement 'lacks a substantial relation to these important governmental interests.' He called the policy imposed by Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman 'a generic disclosure policy, one the First Amendment has long considered acceptable.' Schneiderman said the ruling is a 'victory for common sense oversight of New York's vast nonprofit sector.' (more)

French consumer morale resilient after attacks, Brexit
29 August 2016 - French consumer confidence picked up in August, shrugging off two Islamist militant attacks the month before and Britain's shock vote to leave the EU, data showed on Friday, a sign the French economy started the third quarter on a stronger footing. French households' opinion about their personal financial situation improved markedly, INSEE said, gaining 7 points to reach the highest level since October 2007. (more)

German consumer morale brightens unexpectedly heading into September
29 August 2016 - The mood among German consumers improved unexpectedly heading into September, hitting one of the highest levels in the past 15 years despite external shocks such as Britain's decision to leave the European Union, a survey showed on Friday, 26 August. The surprisingly strong data, published by the Nuremberg-based GfK institute, offered another sign that household spending will keep supporting growth in Europe's largest economy. Record-high employment, rising real wages, and ultra-low borrowing costs are boosting the spending power of Germans. (more)

Permanent cease-fire taking effect in Colombia under accord
29 August 2016 - A permanent cease-fire took effect in Colombia on Monday, a major step in bringing an end to 52 years of bloody combat between the government and the country's biggest rebel group. The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced Sunday that his fighters would cease hostilities beginning at 12:01 a.m. as a result of the peace accord the two sides reached at midweek. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made a similar announcement Friday, saying the military would halt attacks on the FARC beginning Monday. Colombia is expected to hold a national referendum October 2 to give voters the chance to approve the accord, which would end political violence that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven more than 5 million people from their homes over five decades. Top FARC commanders are planning to gather one final time in mid-September to ratify the deal. (more)

US: 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show extends a hearty 'welkom'
29 August 2016 - The Dutch are coming to the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show. 'Holland: Flowering the World' is the theme for next year's March event, which is America's largest and longest-running horticultural event. The show is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Here are some planned highlights: (more)

Vatican says it has high hopes of better ties with China
28 August 2016 - The Vatican is hopeful it can improve ties with China after decades of tension, the Roman Catholic Church's highest-ranking diplomat said on Saturday, adding that warmer relations would benefit the whole world. Beijing severed links with the Vatican in 1951 shortly after the Communist Party took power and launched a crackdown on organized religion. After decades of mistrust, Pope Francis is pushing to improve relations and his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sounded upbeat about the chances of success. (more)

Euro zone business growth stable in August, France surprises upwards
28 August 2016 - Surprisingly strong growth in France supported stable euro zone private business activity during August, surveys showed on Tuesday, 23 August. France's private sector shrugged off its neighbor's vote [the UK's Brexit vote] and accelerated to levels last seen just before the militant attacks in Paris in November, as an upturn in the service sector offset continued weakness in manufacturing. German private sector growth slowed in August, but remained robust overall, its PMI showed, suggesting Europe's biggest economy is set to keep on expanding in the summer months after it grew more than expected in the second quarter. (more)

FARC sets permanent cease-fire under Colombia peace deal
28 August 2016 - The commander of Colombia's biggest rebel movement said Sunday its fighters will permanently cease hostilities with the government beginning with the first minute of Monday, as a result of their peace accord ending one of the world's longest-running conflicts. Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), made the announcement in Havana, where the two sides negotiated for four years before announcing the peace deal Wednesday. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Friday that his military would cease attacks on the FARC beginning Monday. Colombia is expected to hold a national referendum October 2 to give voters the chance to approve the deal for ending a half-century of political violence. The much-smaller National Liberation Army remains active in Colombia, although it is pursuing its own peace deal with the government. (more)

Colombian rebels announce final conference of peace talks
27 August 2016 - Top commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are preparing to gather one final time in mid-September to ratify a peace accord reached this week with government negotiators and map out the group's political strategy without weapons. The summit will take place September 13-19 in jungled surroundings of San Vicente del Caguan, an area where the rebels have long been dominant and which was the center of a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone ceded to the FARC during a previous attempt at peace more than a decade ago. ... Colombians will also be given a chance to ratify the accord in a national referendum October 2. Polls say most Colombians loathe the rebel group but will likely endorse the deal. (more)

France: Office workers turn urban gardeners on Paris luxury store rooftops
26 August 2016 - Le Bon Marche and La Grande Epicerie, two landmark Paris luxury stores, have turned their joint rooftops into an urban garden for staff to grow their own crops in their free time. In the past months, the LVMH-owned adjoining stores on Paris's residential left bank have built planter boxes on a 700 square meter (7,500 square feet) roof area. The stunning views over Paris and the chance to learn about gardening have attracted 200 of the stores' 1,500 employees, selected by lottery, and put the stores at the forefront of the city's urban gardening drive. (more)

Minnesota sets broadest U.S. limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines
26 August 2016 - Minnesota's governor on Friday (26 August) ordered the broadest restrictions yet in a U.S. state on the use of agricultural pesticides that have been blamed for hurting bees. Minnesota, the country's third-largest soybean producer, carried out a special review of neonicotinoids that prompted the new limits, the first U.S. state to do so. Honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States for three decades, threatening billions of dollars in crops. In recent years, their death rate has become economically unsustainable, according to the U.S. government. (more)

Philippine rebels agree to indefinite cease-fire
26 August 2016 - Philippine communist rebels on Friday agreed to an indefinite cease-fire in peace talks with government officials aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. After a weeklong meeting in Norway, negotiators for the Maoist rebels and the government issued a joint statement pledging to accelerate the peace process for a conflict that has killed thousands since the late 1960s. (more)

Scientists find Earth-like planet circling sun's nearest neighbor
26 August 2016 - Scientists have discovered a planet that appears to be similar to Earth circling the star closest to the sun, potentially a major step in the quest to find out if life exists elsewhere in the universe, research published on Wednesday (24 August) showed. An international team of 31 scientists found the planet after careful and repeated measurements of slight shifts in the color of the light coming from its host star, Proxima Centauri, which is a small, dim star in the Alpha Centauri system. (more)

This unusual galaxy is actually 99.99 percent dark matter
26 August 2016 - Astronomers have discovered a galaxy as big as the Milky Way that consists almost entirely of dark matter, a mysterious and invisible substance that scientists have been trying to figure out for decades. Only one-hundredth of one percent of the galaxy is ordinary, visible matter like stars and planets. The other 99.99 percent of the stuff in this galaxy can't be seen. This dark galaxy, named Dragonfly 44, was first detected in 2015, through the use of the Dragonfly Telephoto Array in New Mexico. Dragonfly 44 is one of 47 ultradiffuse, or 'fluffy' galaxies that Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University and colleagues found in the Coma Cluster, a group of at least 1,000 galaxies around 300 million light-years from Earth. (more)

A look at what's next in the Colombian peace process
25 August 2016 - Colombia's government and the country's biggest leftist rebel group have reached a peace deal that puts the South American nation on the threshold of ending a five-decade war. Colombians will get a chance to vote on the accord on October 2. Here's what lies ahead and some of the remaining hurdles: (more)

Ancient Greece's restored Tower of Winds keeps its secrets
25 August 2016 - It is said to be the world's first weather station, to date back more than 2,000 years, and to have been used by merchants to tell the time -- even in darkness. The Tower of the Winds, still standing on a slope on Athens's ancient Acropolis hill despite attempts by Lord Elgin to move it to Britain, has been restored and re-opened to the public for the first time in nearly 200 years. It is credited to the architect and astronomer Andronikos of Cyrrhus, but all these years later no one knows exactly how it worked. (more)

Scientists find Earth-like planet at star next door (+ AP video)
25 August 2016 - After scanning the vast reaches of the cosmos for Earth-like planets where life might exist, astronomers have found one right next door. A planet that's rocky like Earth and only slightly bigger has been discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri , the nearest star to our solar system, scientists reported Wednesday. It is probably in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone where liquid water -- a key to life -- is possible, if the planet has an atmosphere. (more)

AP Explains: How Colombia conflict developed over decades
24 August 2016 - With Colombia's government and the country's biggest rebel movement announcing agreement on a historic peace deal, The Associated Press explains how the conflict began and developed over the decades. (more)

Solar power brings northern Mali much needed light
22 August 2016 - Residents in Kidal in northern Mali are finding it easier to work and study into the night thanks to a solar lighting project recently introduced to the area. About 1,500 households are now able to switch on their lights thanks to a 50,000 US dollar project funded by the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali. National energy company, Energie du Mali (EDM) has begun to add solar power capacity to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which provide around half the West African nation's power. (more)

Hidden codex may reveal secrets of life in Mexico before Spanish conquest
21 August 2016 - One of the rarest manuscripts in the world has been revealed hidden beneath the pages of an equally rare but later Mexican codex, thanks to hi-tech imaging techniques. The Codex Selden is one of a handful of illustrated books of history and mythology that survived wholesale destruction by Spanish conquerors and missionaries in the 16th century. The codex is one of fewer than 20 dating from before or just after the colonisation which were saved by scholars who realised the importance of the images. (more)

China, Myanmar vow closer ties as Suu Kyi visits Beijing
20 August 2016 - China and Myanmar said Saturday that they have pledged to forge closer ties as 'blood brothers,' as Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi got set to wrap up a visit to Beijing, her first diplomatic trip since taking power in March. China has been on a diplomatic charm offensive in the past year toward its fast-growing neighbor, while Myanmar under Suu Kyi has shown a willingness to embrace its top trading partner and major investor. (more)

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