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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)

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)

A look at what's next in the Colombian peace process
27 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)

AP Explains: How Colombia conflict developed over decades
27 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)

Minnesota sets broadest U.S. limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines
27 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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Mauritius raises 2016 tourism earnings forecast after surge in visitors
19 August 2016 - Mauritius said on Friday that tourism revenue in 2016 will be 1.8 percent higher than it had previously forecast, after a surge in visitors during the first half. Tourism is a valuable source of foreign exchange for the tiny Indian Ocean country known for its luxury spas and beaches. (more)

UK: Frog Bikes bring manufacturing back home to Wales to beat the business cycle
19 August 2016 - From this month, brightly coloured children's Frog Bikes destined for stores around the UK and the rest of the world will be painstakingly assembled from 120 parts, packed up and shipped out from a brand new factory in Pontypool, south Wales. Until now, the bikes have been assembled in China using components from around the world. Now the company is 'reshoring', following the lead of other manufacturers in moving the bulk of their production back to the UK to get better control over lead times and quality. (more)

US: Obama administration to phase out some private prison use
19 August 2016 - The Obama administration is phasing out its use of some private prisons, affecting thousands of federal inmates. In a memo Thursday to the Bureau of Prisons, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told the bureau to start reducing 'and ultimately ending' the Justice Department's use of private prisons. The announcement follows a recent Justice Department audit that found that the private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones. (more)

French unemployment rate falls below 10 per cent for first time since 2012
18 August 2016 - France's unemployment rate has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time since 2012. Unemployment was down in all age categories, but the fall in youth unemployment was sharper. (more)

Most fatal type of stroke declining along with smoking rates
18 August 2016 - The type of brain bleeding that causes the most lethal kind of stroke has declined substantially since 1998, possibly as a result of falling smoking rates, according to researchers in Finland. (more)

Scientists unravel mystery of osprey migration
18 August 2016 - Scientists have long known ospreys make an epic journey each summer from New England to South America. But the details of their dangerous trip remained a mystery -- until now. Starting in August, the birds travel as much as 5,000 miles down the Atlantic Coast and across the Caribbean before they end up in the northern part of South America and the Amazon basin, where they spend the winter. Scores of male birds have been equipped with trackers, nearly 500 so far in the United States and Europe. The matchbox-size devices use miniature GPS-enabled transmitters to show the birds' precise location, altitude, speed, and time it takes for them to complete the trip. (more)

Foreign ministers of Japan, China, South Korea likely to meet next week: media
17 August 2016 - Japan, China, and South Korea are in talks to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers next week, despite rows between Tokyo and Beijing over China's maritime expansion in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, a Japanese daily said on Wednesday, 17 August. The foreign ministers' meeting is expected to lay the groundwork for a three-way summit Tokyo is set to host this year. (more)

25 years on, Russians tell of how they defeated a coup
17 August 2016 - On August 19, 1991, a group of eight senior hard-line Communist leaders, including the KGB chairman, had seized power from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, declaring that Gorbachev was unable to continue as head of the party due to illness. In fact, Gorbachev was under arrest and the 'Gang of Eight' intended to roll back his reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, which they believed had set the Soviet Union on a path of disaster. For a few days, the fate of the superpower hung in the balance. As the 25th anniversary of the August Coup draws near this Friday, The Associated Press has talked to participants and witnesses of those critical days when Muscovites turned out to defend the spirit of democracy that Gorbachev had unleashed, and many Soviet officers defied their orders and sided with the people, ensuring that that the plotters failed. (more)

US home construction climbed to a 6-month high in July
16 August 2016 - Apartment construction in the Northeast fueled a jump in home building in July as the pace of housing starts nationwide reached the strongest pace in six months. 'Continued recovery in housing will be supported by historically low mortgage rates, coupled with a firming labor market that has begun to spur on wage gains for workers,' said Neil Shankar, an economist at TD Bank. Homebuilders appear optimistic that sales will continue to rise. (more)

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