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Japan's chrysanthemums: More than symbol of autumn
24 October 2014 - When Americans think of flowers and Japan, they think of cherry blossoms. But to the Japanese, there is a flower for every time of year, and right now, it's the chrysanthemum, celebrated in festivals, shows, and home displays. Like the cherry blossom, the chrysanthemum, called 'kiku' in Japanese, symbolizes the season, but more than that, it's a symbol of the country itself. The monarchy is referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne and the imperial crest is a stylized mum blossom. That seal is embossed on Japanese passports. The flower is also a common motif in art, and it's seen in everyday life depicted on the 50-yen coin. Originally introduced from China, this flower came with a legend about longevity, the story of a town whose residents all lived to over 100 years old. At this time of year in Japan, you'll even find chrysanthemum petals in your food. Fall is also the season for a range of festivals and shows celebrating the flower. (more)

US: Alaska's indigenous languages now official along with English
24 October 2014 - Alaska's governor signed a bill on Thursday to officially recognize the state's 20 indigenous languages in a symbolic move that gives a nod to tribal efforts to save Native American tongues at risk of dying out. In April, the State Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill. The move would make Alaska only the second US state, after Hawaii, to officially recognize indigenous languages. Lance Twitchell, a professor of native languages at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, said the bill was important even if largely symbolic. 'Hawaii has gone from language decline and become one of the few areas where they are producing more native speakers than they are losing,' Mr Twitchell said. (more)

Britain's economic recovery is continuing
24 October 2014 - Official figures show Britain's economic recovery is continuing, despite a gloomy global environment. The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product grew 0.7 per cent in the three months through September compared with the previous three months. Though down slightly from the April-June quarter, it remains among the strongest growth rates among developed economies. Compared with a year earlier, the economy was 3.0 per cent larger. (more)

Survey: German consumer confidence stabilizes
24 October 2014 - A survey finds that a downward trend in German consumer confidence has come to an end, despite cooler growth prospects for Europe's biggest economy. The GfK research group said Friday that its forward-looking consumer climate index edged up in November. It found that Germans' willingness to buy has increased amid low unemployment and that income expectations continue to improve, while consumers' economic outlook has stabilized. (more)

Noble prize winner Malala Yousafzai renews call for education for all at Philadelphia ceremony
23 October 2014 - Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, renewed her call for world peace and universal education on Tuesday at a ceremony in which she was awarded the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center. The Liberty Medal honours people who 'strive to secure the blessings of liberty', according to the website of the National Constitution Center, which presents the award each year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (United States). The medal comes with a $100,000 cash prize, which Yousafzai said she would donate to education and humanitarian relief efforts in her native Pakistan. (more)

Serbia: Kosovo minister Enver Hoxhaj makes historic visit
23 October 2014 - Enver Hoxhaj has become the first minister from Kosovo to officially visit Serbia since his country unilaterally seceded in 2008. The Kosovan foreign minister hailed warmer ties between the two sides, and urged his hosts to agree to a peace treaty that would recognise Kosovo's independence. (more)

US companies return to Mexico's one-time 'murder capital'
22 October 2014 - For years, the only industry Juarez was famous for was murder. But now American companies are betting on a comeback that once seemed highly unlikely. As a result, the city is on track to break its all-time employment record this year of 250,000 manufacturing jobs created, according to the Borderplex Alliance, a privately funded economic development group. That hiring would have been hard to imagine four years ago. (more)

Tourists watch solar alignment in Egypt temple
22 October 2014 - Hundreds of visitors gathered in Egypt on Wednesday at the Great Temple of Ramses II to watch the sun illuminate colossal statues, a rare 3,200-year-old astronomical ceremony that happens twice a year. Thirty-two centuries ago, during the reign of Ramses II, the temple was precisely built to align with the sun twice a year, celebrating the pharaoh's birthday and coronation. It is considered one of the most beautiful of Egypt's ancient monuments and it is well-known for its four colossal statues of Ramses II, the sun gods Re-Horakhte and Amon-Re, and the Theban god of darkness Ptah, the only one who is not lit by the solar alignment. (more)

US returns dozens of stolen artifacts to Peru
22 October 2014 - Dozens of artifacts are on their way back to Peru after being seized in the United States during investigations into the smuggling of cultural relics. Investigators from US Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security department held ceremonies in Denver, San Antonio, and Boston on Wednesday to repatriate more than 40 items. US Homeland Security helps investigate the illegal importation and distribution of artifacts. Since 2007, it says more than 7,150 items, including paintings, manuscripts, and other artifacts, have been returned to 27 countries. (more)

US returns stolen artwork to Peru
22 October 2014 - US officials returned two stolen, colonial-era paintings to the government of Peru on Wednesday in a repatriation ceremony at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Harold Forsyth, the ambassador of Peru to the United States, said the recovery of the artwork was a 'moral triumph' for his country. (more)

US: Pioneering environmentalist presents new climate solutions at New Orleans Greenbuild conference
22 October 2014 - Climate solutions abound, says pioneering environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author Paul Hawken. Today, at the opening plenary of the big Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, he is unveiling Project Drawdown--a new compendium of climate solutions that are designed not just to stabilize, but to reduce the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Project Drawdown's purpose is to re-frame the climate debate, by showing that solving the climate crisis will bring, not sacrifice, but ''more security, more prosperity, more jobs, more well-being and better health,'' Hawken said. (more)

Cyprus sees smaller 2014 contraction, growth next year
21 October 2014 - Cyprus's economy will shrink this year by less than previously expected and a three-year-long recession seems to be nearing its end, Finance Minister Haris Georgiades said on Friday. A surge in tourist arrivals, a revival of business activity by new start-ups, and improved real estate sales compared to 2013 have all helped ease economic conditions, Georgiades said. Cyprus was forced to seek a rescue when its outsized banking sector collapsed under the weight of bad loans to Greece. On Friday, Georgiades said Cyprus expects to return to growth in 2015. (more)

US existing home sales rise in September
21 October 2014 - United States homes sold in September at their fastest clip this year, a sign that the housing market is shaking off a slowdown that began in the middle of 2013. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that sales of existing homes rose 2.4 per cent from the previous month. (more)

Nigeria declared Ebola-free; `spectacular success'
20 October 2014 - Water laced with salt and sugar, and gallons of the nasty-tasting stuff. Doctors who survived Ebola in Nigeria credited heavy doses of fluids with saving their lives as the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free Monday, a rare victory in the battle against the disease that is ravaging West Africa. Monday's announcement came 42 days -- twice the incubation period -- since the last case in Nigeria tested negative. Officials are crediting strong tracking and isolation of people exposed to the virus, and aggressive rehydration of infected patients. Dr Simon Mardel, one of the world's leading experts on viral hemorrhagic fevers, said the number of deaths could be cut in half if infected people were taught to properly hydrate themselves and do not take anti-inflammatory drugs, which can actually harm Ebola victims. Mardel, of Britain's University Hospital of South Manchester, called rehydration a low-tech approach that has been neglected by a medical system focused on groundbreaking research. (more)

Nigeria declared Ebola-free, holds lessons for others
20 October 2014 - Nigeria was declared free of the deadly Ebola virus on Monday after a determined doctor and thousands of officials and volunteers helped end an outbreak still ravaging other parts of West Africa and threatening the United States and Spain. Caught unawares when a diplomat arrived with the disease from Liberia, authorities were alerted by Doctor Ameyo Adadevoh, who diagnosed it, kept him in hospital despite protests from him and his government, and later died from Ebola herself. This year's outbreak of the highly infectious hemorrhagic fever thought to have originated in forest bats is the worst on record. (more)

On the road to find the world's funniest person
19 October 2014 - It was last summer and Israeli-Palestinian tensions were at the highest they'd been in some time when Jamie Masada hit on a formula for world peace: Forget about guns and bombs, and just tell jokes to each other. He knew it'd be a challenge to bring together people from across the world who dislike each other, and hope they will laugh at each other. And yet, that's what he's trying to do with what he calls the first Funniest Person in the World competition. (more)

China, Viet Nam patch ties after territory disputes
18 October 2014 - China and Viet Nam agreed to resume military ties and better manage their maritime disputes in the first signs that tensions over territorial claims could be easing. Despite fraternal ties between their ruling Communist parties, relations between the two countries grew tense this year after China deployed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Hanoi. The vessels of the two sides rammed each other near the rig, and there were deadly anti-China riots in several industrial parks in Viet Nam, leading to an exodus of thousands of Chinese workers. (more)

Iran says number of foreign tourists surges
18 October 2014 - The number of foreigners visiting Iran jumped dramatically over the 12-month period ending in March, with 35 per cent more tourists compared to the same period a year earlier, Iran's top tourism official said Saturday. Masoud Soltanifar said on state TV that the thriving industry could help boost Iran's economy out of recession and bring in much-needed hard currency. He said 4.5 million foreign tourists that came to the Islamic Republic over the period, bringing in some $6 billion in revenue. He attributed the increase to the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has shifted away from the bombastic style adopted under his hard-line predecessor. Looser visa policies have also helped. Iran has 17 UNESCO-registered world heritage sites. (more)

European shares post biggest daily gain in three years
17 October 2014 - A key pan-European equity index posted its biggest daily gain in three years on Friday as stronger US data fuelled a rebound from recent sharp losses and speculation about monetary easing stabilized lower-rated euro zone bonds. The FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 2.8 per cent to 1,280.17 points in its biggest daily bounce since 30 November 2011. Trading volume on the index was at its highest since 15 June 2012. (more)

India launches index to measure air quality
17 October 2014 - The country's top environment official unveiled a government programme Friday that will eventually measure air quality across India, home to some of the most polluted cities in the world. Over the next five years, the government will begin measuring eight major pollutants that affect respiratory health in cities with populations above 1 million, and then gradually expand the air quality index to the rest of the country, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters. The index will warn residents when pollution levels rise past dangerous levels. (more)

Ukrainian, Russian leaders sound optimistic note
17 October 2014 - Russian and Ukrainian leaders sounded optimistic after marathon, Europe-brokered talks Friday, signalling progress on both a definitive peace settlement in Ukraine and a gas dispute that threatens to disrupt supplies to Europe this winter. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko stopped short of declaring a breakthrough, they both spoke with renewed confidence. The fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government troops began a month after Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea, killing more than 3,600 people, according to the UN. The West, in return, imposed economic sanctions, which Putin is eager to see lifted. (more)

US consumer sentiment rises despite Ebola fears
17 October 2014 - While the appearance of the deadly Ebola virus in Texas is worrying the nation, it has yet to lead Americans to take a more cautious view over how to spend their money, data suggested on Friday, 17 October. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose in early October to its highest level since July 2007. Consumers were more upbeat about their personal finances and the national economy. (more)

Data show US economy's pulse is still strong
16 October 2014 - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell to a 14-year low last week and industrial output rose sharply in September, positive signals that could help ease fears over the economic outlook. Data offered evidence the economy remained on solid ground, with the labour market gaining steam. (more)

Russian President Putin to meet with Western leaders on Ukraine
16 October 2014 - Russian President Vladimir Putin is mounting a diplomatic blitz on the sidelines of a summit of European and Asian leaders in a bid to escape Russia's worst crisis with the West since the Cold War. Putin on Friday will discuss Ukraine over breakfast with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and key European leaders on the sidelines of the 10th ASEM summit in Milan. He may also meet privately with Poroshenko. (more)

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