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Longer battery life for China e-transport

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BEIJING, China (Xinhua) — China’s electric vehicles were a main means of transport on expressways during the National Day holiday, with the battery charge doubling year on year, data from the industry showed.

The average daily charge on expressways surged to 408,000 kWh during the week-long holiday, 3.6 times of that of off-holiday travel, according to a subsidiary of the State Grid Corporation of China.

Green transportation with electric vehicles is concentrated in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Delta region, with provinces of Hebei, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Hubei ranking top four in battery charge.

An increasing number of Chinese took long journeys by electric vehicles thanks to improvements in the charging infrastructure. The number of charging posts across the country reached 1.08 million by the end of August 2019.

During the Spring Festival, the average daily charge exceeded 250,000 kwh. The figure went up to nearly 300,000 kwh during the May Day holiday.

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Final whale saved from grim Australia mass stranding

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NEARLY 500 pilot whales were stranded in a remote Harbor in Tasmania, with only 110 surviving. W. Commons

A lone whale was rescued from among hundreds of carcasses Sunday, taking to 110 the number of creatures that survived a mass stranding in southern Australia.

The country’s largest-ever mass stranding saw around 470 pilot whales become stuck in a remote harbour on Tasmania’s rugged western seaboard last week, sparking a major effort to save the animals.

It was “absolutely remarkable” another whale was found alive six days after the pod was first discovered, a Tasmania environment department spokeswoman told AFP, adding that it had been taken back out to sea.

More than 100 rescuers toiled for days in chilly waters, but many volunteers and conservationists have now packed up as efforts turned to disposing of the remaining carcasses.

“There has been a tremendous team effort and this combined commitment has allowed us to get as many whales as we can back out to sea,” Parks and Wildlife Service manager Rob Buck said of the “complex rescue”.

With more than 300 carcasses spread across a 10-kilometre area (about 6 miles), authorities shifted their focus Sunday to a mass sea burial.

Boats have begun towing the dead whales into the open ocean, where they will be released over several days.

Authorities have warned that more whales could be found in the area, with some animals likely to become beached for a second time.

The causes of mass strandings remain unknown, but some experts have suggested the pod may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.

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North Korea warns Seoul’s navy over search for dead official

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North Korea on Sunday warned the South Korean navy to stop crossing into its territorial waters as ships search for the body of a Seoul official shot dead at sea by Pyongyang’s soldiers.

State media said the North will begin its own search for the body and warned that the South’s naval operations threatened to raise tensions.

The fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean soldiers on Tuesday — the first killing of a South Korean civilian by Pyongyang’s forces in a decade — prompting a rare public apology from leader Kim Jong Un.

Seoul’s military has accused the North Korean soldiers of pouring oil over the man’s body and burning it after shooting him.

The death was an “awful case which should not have happened”, the North’s official KCNA news agency said Sunday, adding that Pyongyang was organising a search operation in its waters to help locate the body.

It said the country was considering “procedures and ways of handing over any tide-brought corpse to the south side … in case we find it during the operation”.

But it warned that South Korean vessels near the site of the incident had crossed into North Korean waters.

“We can never overlook any intrusion into our territorial waters and we seriously warn the south side against it,” KCNA said.

“It arouses our due vigilance as it may lead to another awful incident.”

South Korea on Saturday demanded the North carry out a further probe into the shooting and said it would request a joint investigation if necessary.

Apologies from North Korea are unusual and the message from Kim came with inter-Korean ties in a deep freeze and nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington deadlocked.

There have been no North Korean media reports on the contents of the letter from Kim.

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US restricts technology sales to Chinese semiconductor giant

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Washington has ordered US companies to seek permission before selling their technologies to Chinese semiconductor giant SMIC, its latest salvo in the battle for technological dominance over Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The Department of Commerce “has told US computer-chip companies that they must obtain licenses before exporting certain technology to China’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors,” according to the business daily.

The new rules were announced in a letter to the industry Friday, which says that “exports to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. or its subsidiaries risk being used for Chinese military activities,” the report continued.

The newspaper said the administration of US President Donald Trump has “grown more concerned about Beijing’s practice of leaning on private companies to advance its military aims.”

The Commerce Department would not comment on the matter specifically, but a spokesperson with its Bureau of Industry and Security said they are “constantly monitoring and assessing any potential threats to US national security and foreign policy interests” and “will take appropriate action as warranted.”

The report comes as the White House says it will not back down from a plan to ban new US downloads of TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app, over what it says are national security concerns, setting up a court showdown ahead of a Sunday deadline.

For years China and the United States have been scrapping for tech dominance.

SMIC is key to Beijing’s ambition to someday achieve semiconductor self-reliance. Analysts say China’s dependence on foreign — including US-made — chips hinders that national goal.

The issue was brought into stark relief earlier this year by the US campaign to hobble Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which Washington fears could allow China’s security state to tap into global telecoms networks.

The US Commerce Department in May announced plans to cut off Huawei’s access to global semiconductor supplies, which the company said would threaten its “survival.”

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Trump names ‘brilliant’ conservative to US Supreme Court

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US President Donald Trump (L) and Judge Amy Coney Barrett (R), with US First Lady Melania Trump (C), arrive at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)

President Donald Trump named Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, setting in motion a rush by Republicans to cement a conservative majority on the court on the eve of a tense and potentially disputed US election.

Trump stood alongside Barrett at a White House Rose Garden ceremony to announce his decision, calling her “one of the most brilliant and gifted minds” in the legal world.

Despite strong opposition from Democrats, he predicted a “very quick” and “straightforward” confirmation in the Republican-led Senate.

If confirmed, Barrett will fill the seat left by the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, likely steering the court to the right for years, expanding the current conservative wing’s sometimes shaky 5-4 advantage to a solid 6-3.

Trump has previously filled two of the nine seats on the high court.

With the liberals’ influence waning, the court will likely see a replay of some of the biggest judicial disputes in the nation, not least abortion rights and the already battered Obamacare health care plan.

More immediately — and even more explosively — a quick confirmation of Barrett would tilt the court just as fears are growing that the body may have to arbitrate a post-election dispute in which either Trump or his Democratic opponent Joe Biden refuses to accept the result.

Trump, who is well behind in the polls, has repeatedly said he may have to challenge results, alleging — without evidence — that Democrats want a “rigged” election. He said this week that the contest is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

Biden reacted immediately, saying “the Senate should not act” until voters have chosen their next president.

Fill the seat!

Underlining the politicized atmosphere, Trump was set to depart soon after the Rose Garden ceremony for a campaign rally in Pennsylvania — one of the handful of swing states that hold the balance in tight presidential elections.

Trump is clearly hoping that his ability to transform the Supreme Court to favorable territory for rightwing views will galvanize voters. “Fill the seat!” has become a standard chant at his rallies.

“I think she’s an excellent choice,” said Dianne Billig, 54, a Trump supporter waiting for the Pennsylvania rally. “I like that she is true to the constitution.”

Democrats are furious, given that Trump could lose the election, yet still leave a judicial imprint with potential to last decades. They are especially incensed, given that Barrett, 48, is replacing Ginsburg, one of the country’s biggest feminist icons and a steady ally of the left.

“Considering the fact that this Supreme Court nominee may serve on the court for 30 years, it is nothing short of outrageous that they want to approve her in fewer than 30 days,” Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, told CNN on Saturday.

A majority of Americans — by 57 to 38 percent — oppose the push for confirmation before the election, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.

But leaders of the Republican majority in the Senate, which is tasked with confirming Supreme Court nominees, said they expect a vote either before the election or, at latest, during the ensuing “lame duck” session before the inauguration of the next president in January.

Barrett reaches out

Barrett was first named to the bench in 2017. A deeply conservative Catholic and mother of seven, she is an opponent of abortion, a core issue for many Republicans.

Barrett used her own remarks at the White House to try and calm the waters.

She began with an impassioned tribute to Ginsburg, saying, “should I be confirmed, I will be mindful of who came before me.”

“The flag of the United States is still flying at half mast in memory of justice Ginsburg,” she said, noting Ginsburg’s pioneering success in the legal field. “She not only broke glass ceilings, she smashed them.”

Barrett also gave a taste of what will be her presentation to the Senate, describing her conservative values as a judge.

“A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policy makers,” she said.

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Plane crash toll: 23

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Military and experts work on the place of the Antonov-26 transport aircraft crash at Chuhuiv military air base around 30 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KIEV, Ukraine (AFP) — The death toll climbed to 23 on Saturday from the crash of a Ukrainian air force plane carrying mostly cadets in the east of the country, emergency services said.

The Antonov-26 transport plane was carrying 20 cadets and seven crew when it crashed late Friday two kilometers (about one mile) from the Chuguiv military air base near the city of Kharkiv.

One more body was found under the charred remains of the plane early Saturday, the emergency services said, bringing the number of victims to 23. Two people were also injured.

“The search for two more people continues,” the services said in a statement.

The cause of the crash is being investigated.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said it was a training flight but the cadets of the Kharkiv National Air Force University were not involved in piloting the plane.

It said in a statement that according to the initial information the officer who was piloting reported the failure of one of the engines, and seven minutes later the plane hit the ground.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Andriy Taran said “the plane likely caught the ground with its wing” and caught fire after that.

“The flight recorder is now in the plane, after analyzing the information that is recorded there, it will be possible to draw conclusions,” the defense ministry quoted Taran as saying.

The body of the plane burst into flames on landing and firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze after an hour.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier described the crash as a “terrible tragedy,” is due in the Kharkiv region on Saturday.

The region, which borders Russia in the northeast, has declared Saturday a day of mourning.

Many grieving Ukrainians mourned the victims of the tragedy on social media.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the cadets, officers, and crew killed and injured in the An-26 plane crash,” US embassy in Ukraine wrote on Facebook.

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Crisscrossing U.S., Trump mocks Biden for staying in

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NEWPORT NEWS (AFP) — With just 39 days until the US election, President Donald Trump ramped up his campaigning with back-to-back events Friday in battleground states — a frenetic pace in contrast with the more sedate approach of Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The 74-year-old president’s grueling 12-hour, three-state schedule culminated with a nighttime rally in Newport News, Virginia. By that time US media was reporting that he was set to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who if confirmed would cement a solid conservative majority on the country’s highest court.

“We are going to be announcing somebody great,” he told the crowd without mentioning a name.

“Tomorrow (Saturday) I think is going to be a big day!” he added, as the crowd roared with approval.

Trump — who trails Biden in national polling and is narrowly behind in several swing states seen as crucial to his path to reelection —- is under pressure to make the most of the remaining weeks before the 3 November election.

During his whirlwind day the president mocked his rival for a lower-energy campaign, saying Biden was “staying in again today.”

“This guy never goes out. It’s terrible huh?” he told a black economic empowerment event in Atlanta, where few people wore masks and social distancing was non-existent.

“If I lose to a man who doesn’t campaign… I don’t know,” he told the laughing crowd.

Biden traveled from his home in Delaware to Washington on Friday to attend a ceremony at the US Capitol as late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state there.

But there was no in-person campaigning on the former vice president’s schedule.

In a bid to fire up his base over the weekend, the president on Saturday will announce his pick to replace the liberal icon Ginsburg, who died last week at 87.

Trump began the day in Florida with a roundtable with Latino voters, a crucial constituency in the swing state.

Biden has “been very bad to Hispanics,” the president said at the event which took place at his golf club in Doral, near Miami.

“I’m a wall between the American dream and chaos.”

Trump next flew to neighboring Georgia, which has voted Republican in the last six elections but is now rated a toss-up, where he insisted that as president he did “even more than I promised” for African Americans.

“I did more for the black community in 47 months… than Joe Biden did in 47 years,” he said, repeatedly swiping at Biden’s legislative record in co-sponsoring 1990s tough-on-crime legislation that many experts say resulted in high incarceration rates for black Americans.

Trump said he was unveiling a “platinum plan” that aims to increase capital to African Americans, create three million new jobs for the black community and implement “the highest standards of policing.”

Trump then returned to Washington to gather with supporters and flew to a Make America Great Again nighttime rally in Newport News, Virginia.

The state’s Democratic governor meanwhile announced that he and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19.

“As I’ve been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement.

Trump appears to dismiss coronavirus concerns at his events, where he appears maskless and crowds are often packed together — a scenario his own government experts have warned against.

Biden’s campaign has been cautious ever since the pandemic forced several US states into extended lockdown, with the US death toll now topping 200,000.

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French police arrest ‘meat cleaver’ suspect

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French police stand guard at the scene of the attack. Photo: AFP

`PARIS, France (AFP) — French police have detained a former flatmate of a man arrested over an attack with a meat cleaver that left two wounded outside the former offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, a judicial source said Saturday.

Police also late Friday released another man who was close to the scene of the attack in Paris but who was confirmed to have been a witness who had “chased the assailant,” the source said.

A total of seven people are now being held in connection with the attack, which came three weeks into the trial of suspected accomplices in the 2015 massacre of the newspaper’s staff.

They include the “main perpetrator,” who was arrested not far from the scene, prosecutors said.

France’s PNAT specialist anti-terror prosecution office said Friday it had opened a probe into charges of “attempted murder related to a terrorist enterprise” against him as well as “conspiracy with terrorists.”

According to PNAT head Jean-Francois Ricard, the suspect was an 18-year-old man. Initial indications were that he was born in Pakistan.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Friday the attack was “clearly an act of Islamist terrorism.”

Charlie Hebdo has angered many Muslims around the world by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed over the years, and in a defiant gesture reprinted some of the caricatures ahead of the trial.

Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo by Islamist gunmen on 7 January 2015.

Paris police said two people were “critically wounded” in Friday’s attack near the paper’s former offices in the French capital’s 11th district.

The magazine’s new address is kept secret.

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Bosnia trains dogs that can detect mines

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Bosnian trainer trains a Belgian Malinois dog to assume the ‘siting indication position’ in a simulated mine field at training facility near Bosnian town of Konjic. ELVIS BARUKCIC/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VogošĆa, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AFP) — With her nose in the grass of a Bosnian field, Orna sniffs furiously until she finds her target. She then sits and wags her tail in excitement for the red rubber toy that is her reward.

The exercise is only a game for the two-year-old dog, but the mine-detection skill is saving lives in Bosnia and around the world.

The Balkan state, still working to rid its territory of landmines dating back to its 1990s war, has become an important training ground for canines deployed as far afield as Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

At the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 conflict, some eight percent of its territory was littered with explosives.

Today, experts believe it is down to two percent, thanks in part to the work of the dogs, who have learned the trade at two centers backed by US and Norwegian NGOs.

Orna, a black and brown Belgian Malinois, is undergoing her schooling at the global training center of the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in a suburb of Sarajevo.

She is among 40 dogs from the hard-working breed currently in training, while 30 other “veterans” are “enjoying their well-deserved retirement,” said Gordana Medunjanin, who works at the center.

All the dogs are the Malinois breed, which is known to be “energetic, adaptable and have a great desire for work and cooperation,” she said.

The site’s graduates are currently taking part in mine clearance programmes in Bosnia, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Cambodia.

’It’s a game’-Training starts when the puppies are four to six weeks old and lasts up to 18 months, said Orna’s trainer Namik Dzanko, 29.

One of the important first tests is to confirm the dog’s interest in the rubber toy, known as a cong, that helps motivate their work.

The dogs then start honing their skills by detecting the scent of explosives, hidden at random in tin canisters attached to a merry-go-round.

The dog circles the structure, stops and sits when it sniffs a mine.

Successes are rewarded with some play time with the red toy.

More advanced training continues in the simulation “minefields” outside, where explosives lacking detonators are buried in a 100- square-meter (1,076-square-foot) plot, with zones delineated by yellow tape.

Guided by their trainers, the dogs methodically sniff in straight lines.

When they pick up the scent of the explosive, they “mark” it by sitting quietly and pointing their muzzle at the suspected spot.

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TikTok at the center of war between 2 superpowers

TikTok has seen some two billion downloads and its user base is estimated at 700 million, making it one of the biggest players in the social media space.

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WASHINGTON (AFP) — Known for its short-form videos popular with teens, TikTok has become a global social media sensation, and at the same time has found itself at the heart of a geopolitical war between the United States and China.

US President Donald Trump has called the app a national security risk, claiming that TikTok and its Chinese parent ByteDance could access user data and deliver it to Chinese intelligence services.

Trump’s executive order would prohibit new downloads of TikTok from Sunday night and would ban usage from November 12 unless a deal to restructure its ownership comes to fruition.

700 million users
TikTok has seen some two billion downloads and its user base is estimated at 700 million, making it one of the biggest players in the social media space.

It is known for its user-generated short videos of 15 to 60 seconds, many featuring dancing, parodies or comments on the news. Filters and special effects can be added.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped TikTok expand its user base beyond young smartphone users, as new kinds of content are added and popular “influencers” join the platform.

Created in 2016 as Musical.ly, the app was acquired by ByteDance in 2017 and rebranded as the global version of the Chinese app known as Douyin.

According to the company, TikTok has 100 million users in the United States alone, with 50 million logging on every day. Before July, when reports of a ban began to circulate, TikTok was adding some 400,000 US users every day.

Spy threat?

While its quirky videos seem innocuous, TikTok has drawn scrutiny over potential security threats.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio called in 2019 for an investigation in TikTok’s links to Chinese authorities, and in 2020 the Defense Department told all its personnel to remove the app.

TikTok has denied ties to the Chinese government and claims its servers are inaccessible to Beijing.

“We store all US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore,” TikTok said in a recent statement.

“TikTok’s data centers are located entirely outside of China.”

But a White House executive order in August claimed TikTok “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” and  that this “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

This, according to the White House, could allow China to “track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.”

Making a deal
Trump has sought to take TikTok out of Chinese control, and has given his blessing to a deal that would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the data partner for the application.

It remained unclear if Beijing would approve the deal, terms of which remained somewhat murky.

One of the key details is what would happen to the TikTok recommendation algorithm seen as the key to its success. The system uses machine learning to determine user preferences and deliver videos to keep people engaged, without too much repetition.

China last month issued new rules that would prevent the export of algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies.

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