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Cake day: Aug 25, 2023

At least 56 killed after suicide bombings rip through two religious ceremonies in Pakistan
Suicide bombings ripped through two religious ceremonies in Pakistan Friday, killing at least 56 people and injuring dozens more as worshipers celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, according to police and local officials. At least 52 people were killed and a further 50 wounded by an explosion at a religious procession in the Mastung district of the southwestern Balochistan province, Assistant Commissioner Atta Ul Munim told CNN. Hours later, a separate blast took place during Friday prayers at a mosque near Peshaway City in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing at least four people and injuring 11. The explosion caused the roof of the mosque to collapse, but it was not clear how many people remained inside. No group has yet claimed responsibility for either of the explosions, which struck during a restive period in Pakistan, as it has weathered a surge of militant attacks in the buildup to general elections being held in January.

You have it the other way around. Russian support dried up so Armenia is courting the West.

South Korea says it ‘will not stand idly by’ if North Korea receives Russian help on nuclear weapons
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol warned on Wednesday that his country and its allies “will not stand idly by” if North Korea receives Russian help to boost its weapons of mass destruction – just days after the leaders of the two nuclear-armed nations held a closely watched summit. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled to Russia last week for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Ahead of the meeting US officials warned that the two leaders could strike a deal that would provide weapons for Moscow to use in its grueling war against Ukraine – and that could see sanction-hit Pyongyang gain access to vital Russian technology. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Yoon declared: “While military strength may vary among countries, by uniting in unwavering solidarity and steadfastly adhering to our principles, we can deter any unlawful provocation.” He also called to reform the UN Security Council – of which Russia is a member – saying such a move “would receive a broad support” if Moscow did supply Pyongyang with information in exchange for weapons. “It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions,” Yoon said.

Archaeologists in Zambia discover oldest wooden structure in the world, dating to 476,000 years ago
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence yet of a wooden structure crafted by the hands of a human ancestor. Two tree trunks, notched like Lincoln Logs, were preserved at the bottom of the Kalambo River in Zambia. If the logs' estimated 476,000-year-old age is correct, it means that woodworking might predate the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens, and highlights the intelligence of our hominin ancestors. Archaeologists unearthed the logs at Kalambo Falls, on Lake Tanganyika in northern Zambia, a site that has been investigated by scientists since the 1950s. Previous excavations around a small lake just upstream from the falls yielded stone tools, preserved pollen and wooden artifacts that have helped researchers understand more about human evolution and culture over the span of hundreds of thousands of years. But a new analysis of five modified pieces of wood from Kalambo is pushing back the earliest occupation of the site and giving researchers new insight into the minds of our Middle Pleistocene (781,000 to 126,000 years ago) ancestors. In a new study published Wednesday (Sept. 20) in the journal Nature, researchers led by Larry Barham, a professor in the Department of archaeology, classics, and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool in the U.K, detail the wooden objects they unearthed. These include two that were found with stone tools below the river and three that were covered in clay deposits above the river level. These wooden artifacts survived over hundreds of thousands of years due to the permanently elevated water table. Through luminescence dating of sand samples from the site, which involves measuring how long ago the sand grains were exposed to light, Barham and his colleagues found three clusters: a cut log and a tapered piece of wood dating to 324,000 years ago; a digging stick dating to 390,000 years ago; and a wooden wedge and two overlapping logs dating to 476,000 years ago.

Man who sold black rhino and white rhino horns to confidential source sentenced to 18 months in U.S. prison
A Malaysian man who sold a dozen black rhino and white rhino horns to a confidential source was sentenced to a year and a half in a U.S. prison Tuesday, federal prosecutors in New York said. Teo Boon Ching, known as the "Godfather," had pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan said in a statement. "As long as you have cash, I can give you the goods in 1-2 days," Ching, 58, told the confidential source during a meeting in Malaysia in 2019, according to prosecutors. The Malaysia meetings lasted for two days, and during that time, Ching described himself as a "middleman" who buys rhino horns poached by co-conspirators in Africa and ships them to customers around the world, according to prosecutors. Ching also sent the source photos of rhino horns that were for sale. Later that year, authorities directed the source to buy 12 rhino horns from Ching, which were delivered to the source in a suitcase. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lab confirmed two of the horns were from a black rhino, which the World Wildlife Fund considers to be critically endangered, and the other 10 horns were from white rhinos, which are not considered to be endangered but are instead "near threatened," according to the group. Ching was arrested in Thailand in 2022 and eventually extradited to the U.S. According to prosecutors, he conspired to traffic approximately 480 pounds of poached rhino horns worth about $2.1 million.

Arson attacks at schools in Belgium are believed to be connected to a controversial sex ed program
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday that he will seek the help of government experts on extremism in the wake of a series of school arsons. Officials believe the attacks are connected to a controversial sexual education school program. De Croo spoke just hours after a sixth school in the French-speaking Wallonia region was torched this week. Signs protesting the so-called Evras program were discovered in some of the schools, according to authorities. The program is a required four hours of training for students aged 11 to 12 and 15 to 16, intended to help them develop their relational and sexual lives. The program had been around and available for all age groups for years, but was not compulsory until now. De Croo said he has asked the body in charge of processing intelligence on “terror, extremism and radicalization” to analyze the situation, and Verlinden said she’s asked the federal police to provide support to local forces in the affected region. No one has claimed responsibility for the fires set to the six schools, and no suspect have been arrested. This year, around 100,000 students in the Wallonia-Brussels federation are required to attend the two sessions for a total of four hours of training. Protests, with a few hundred people taking part, have also been organized in Brussels. Several Islamic groups have also condemned the program in a joint statement, fearing it will favor “hypersexualization” of children. Rumors about the nature of Evras have also been spreading on the internet. De Croo said that sexual education has been provided in Belgium for half a century and warned that the country will not take steps backwards. “It’s not new, it’s the basis of sexual health, but also the basis for our children to be are aware of their rights and (physical) integrity,” he added.

World's largest food program is in 'desperate situation' and running out of money as quickly as October
The U.N. World Food Program (WFP), the largest anti-hunger initiative around the globe, is grappling with the worst funding shortage in its 60-year history and "we are in a desperate situation," Executive Director Cindy McCain said on Sunday. "It's a combination of things -- it's COVID, it's climate change, it's conflict and also the cost of being able to do business," McCain told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl about the reasons behind the lack of money. "Those things combined and, of course, a world that has kind of grown tired of all this. There's a great malaise right now within countries about foreign aid and giving." "The bottom line is those that are going to suffer [are] those who can't afford to," McCain said. In September, the WFP said it "has been struggling to meet the global need for food assistance .... And for the first time ever, WFP has seen contributions decreasing while needs steadily increase." The organization has already had to make "significant cuts in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Jordan, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria."

Sudan conflict: Landmark skyscraper in Khartoum engulfed in flames
Videos posted online on Sunday showed the iconic Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower engulfed in flames. "This is truly painful," said Tagreed Abdin, an architect of the building, in a post on Twitter. Air strikes and ground battles have continued in Khartoum and other towns and cities since fighting broke out in April. Over one million people have been forced to flee the country, the UN has said. Located near the River Nile, the 18-storey oil firm skyscraper is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Khartoum. Ms Abdin said it defined the skyline of the city, and lamented "such senseless destruction".

Armenian president admits 'strategic mistake' in trusting Russia as country moves towards the West
The arrival of US soldiers for a peacekeeper training exercise in Armenia has rankled the Russian government, which has for decades acted as the sole security guarantor for the former Soviet republic. The 10-day “Eagle Partner” exercise, which began Monday, involves 85 US and 175 Armenian soldiers and aims to prepare the Armenians to take part in international peacekeeping missions. The exercise, while small in scale, is the latest in a series of what Russia’s foreign ministry has deemed “unfriendly actions” taken by its traditional ally. Armenia recently sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time, and its parliament is set to ratify the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute – meaning it would be obliged to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he were to set foot in the country, which Russia has long viewed as its own backyard. Armenia’s flirtation with new international partners has been spurred by its frustration that Russia has been unable or unwilling to defend it against what it sees as aggression from neighboring Azerbaijan, and has raised questions about Russia’s ability to retain its hold on countries and conflicts across the former Soviet empire. Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan said his country was beginning to taste the “bitter fruits” of the “strategic mistake” of trusting Russia with near-exclusive responsibility for his country’s defense. “Armenia’s security architecture 99.999% was linked to Russia,” he told Italian newspaper La Repubblica earlier this month. “But today we see that Russia itself is in need of weapons… Even if it wishes so, the Russian Federation cannot meet Armenia’s needs.” Edit: As Furball commented, Pashinyan is the Prime Minister of Armenia

Yemen’s Houthis heading to Riyadh for ceasefire talks with Saudi Arabia
Yemen’s Houthi rebels will head to Saudi Arabia amid efforts to negotiate a permanent ceasefire to end the long-running war in Yemen, according to the Saudi state news agency, a Houthi official and reports quoting diplomatic and government sources. The visit, expected on Thursday night, raises hopes of a breakthrough in the quagmire conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead through direct and indirect causes such as famine. Ali al-Qhoom, a member of the Houthi political council, had earlier said the rebels’ delegation would fly to Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, on an Omani plane. A delegation from Oman, which has played the role of mediator, arrived in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, on Thursday, according to Yemeni government officials. “Optimism exists regarding the mediation and the Omani efforts to achieve peace in Yemen,” he posted on social media. Al-Qhoom said talks will be focused on a full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, payment of wages for public servants from oil revenues, rebuilding efforts, and a timeline for foreign forces to quit Yemen, among others. Sources speaking to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity also said the same. The topics are long-standing Houthi demands.

UN says Colombia's coca crop at all-time high as officials promote new drug policies
Coca cultivation reached an all-time high in Colombia last year, the U.N. said, as the administration of President Gustavo Petro struggles to reduce poverty in remote areas and contain armed groups that are profiting from the cocaine trade. The new findings on coca growing were published over the weekend by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, which said 230,000 hectares (nearly 570,000 acres) of farmland in Colombia were planted with coca in 2022, a 13% increase from the previous year. The South American nation is the world's largest exporter of cocaine, which is made from coca leaves. Colombia provides 90% of the cocaine sold in the United States each year. Colombia's government said Monday that the amount of land planted with coca is increasing at a slower pace than in previous years. It hopes new programs that provide greater economic incentives for farmers to adopt legal crops will help reduce cocaine production in coming years.

At least 150 killed, hundreds more feared dead as Storm Daniel sweeps Libya
The head of the Red Crescent in Benghazi, Kais Fhakeri, has confirmed that Storm Daniel has killed at least 150 people dead in Derna, after water levels in the city rose as high as three metres (10 feet). Two dams have also collapsed in the city, the Derna municipal council has said, and videos posted online show entire residential blocks destroyed along Wadi Derna, a river that runs down from the mountains through the city centre. “The city of Derna is completely surrounded by mountains, and these dams collapsed,” said Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from the capital, Tripoli, in Libya’s west. “Some experts are saying more than 30 million cubic square metres of water was dumped into the city, and we’re starting to see pictures of entire neighbourhoods destroyed.” Footage on social media showed people stranded on the roofs of their vehicles as Storm Daniel hit the cities of Benghazi, Susa, Bayda, al-Marj and Derna on Sunday and Monday. Note: Source updated

If you don’t like the article, downvote and move on. There’s nothing here worth getting upset about.

A plane took off from Switzerland with 111 people on board and 0 of their suitcases
A Swiss International Air Lines plane arrived at its destination without a single checked bag onboard. The plane arrived in Bilbao, Spain, on Saturday without any of the passengers' checked bags. The bags were left behind in Zurich, Switzerland, Kavin Ampalam, a spokesperson for Swiss, told the news agency AFP. Passengers waited in vain for more than two hours at a conveyor belt for their suitcases, according to the Swiss-German newspaper The Blick. "There was a shortage of ground staff," Ampalam told AFP. Ampalam said the flight departed without its 111 passengers' suitcases "for operational reasons," as the plane had to fly another set of passengers from Bilbao to Zurich Airport before it closed. Swiss was operating the flight on behalf of Edelweiss Air, Ampalam said. Ampalam said the flight crew waited for "one hour and 16 minutes" for the ground staff to load the bags onto the plane before deciding to fly to Bilbao without them. "We understand the situation is not favourable for the people involved, and of course we regret the inconvenience," Ampalam told AFP. Several passengers said the pilot in charge of the flight was apologetic over the delayed departure, but never mentioned leaving their bags in Zurich, according to Blick's report.

Zelensky dismisses compromise with Putin, pointing to Prigozhin’s death
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin – the Russian mercenary leader whose plane crashed weeks after he led a mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership – shows what happens when people make deals with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. As Ukraine’s counteroffensive moves into a fourth month, with only modest gains to show so far, Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he rejected suggestions it was time to negotiate peace with the Kremlin. “When you want to have a compromise or a dialogue with somebody, you cannot do it with a liar,” Volodymyr Zelensky said.

India preps for G20 summit of world leaders by bulldozing homes
The annual summit of the Group of 20 economies is the largest gathering of world leaders ever in New Delhi, with attendees including President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and others. They will be greeted by some of the cleanest streets New Delhi has seen, ornamented by hundreds of thousands of lush flowers potted on freshly painted pavements. What they will not see are the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced, or the slums that have been flattened or obscured by temporary fences bearing the G20 summit’s logo and photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s government hopes the beautification project will help showcase the best of what the world’s most populous country has to offer, further cementing its position on the global stage. Anything that might disrupt that effort is unwelcome.

Hong Kong paralyzed by flash flooding after heaviest rainfall since 1884
Record-breaking rainfall paralyzed much of Hong Kong on Friday, with flash flooding submerging metro stations and trapping drivers on roads, as authorities suspended schools and urged the public to seek safe shelter. Photos and videos showed residents wading through murky brown floodwaters as heavy rain continued to fall. In some low-lying areas, streets were transformed into surging torrents, with authorities forced to rescue motorists stuck in their vehicles. The deluge began late Thursday night, with the Hong Kong Observatory recording more than 158 millimeters (6.2 inches) in rain between 11 p.m. and midnight, the highest hourly rainfall since records began in 1884, the government said in a news release. Some parts of the densely populated city of 7.5 million saw almost 500 mm (19.7 inches) of rainfall in 24 hours, according to online weather data site OGimet.

‘Bashar out!’: Protests in southern Syria over economy now target president
Hundreds of people have protested in southern Syria to urge President Bashar al-Assad to step down, capping nearly two weeks of demonstrations that had erupted over poor living conditions but have spiralled into renewed calls for political change. “Bashar out! Syria free!” shouted a large crowd on Friday in the city of Sweida, according to the Reuters news agency. Syria is in a deep economic crisis that has seen its currency plunge to a record low of 15,500 Syrian pounds to the dollar last month in a rapidly accelerating free fall. It had traded at 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of Syria’s war 12 years ago. The protests were initially driven by surging inflation and the war-torn country’s worsening economy but have quickly shifted focus with marchers calling for the fall of al-Assad’s government. Centred in the government-controlled province of Sweida, the heartland of Syria’s Druze, a religious minority that had largely stayed neutral in the conflict between al-Assad and the Syrian opposition, the protests are unusual. Open criticism of the government had remained rare in government-controlled areas, but as the economic situation has grown worse, the discontent has gone public.

Barred from freezing their eggs at home, single Chinese women are traveling elsewhere
Egg freezing has become a growing topic of discussion in China, where officials alarmed by the country’s first population decline in six decades are trying to boost the birth rate even as young people are increasingly putting off marriage and childbearing or avoiding it altogether. But unmarried women are legally barred from undergoing the procedure in mainland China, prompting some to do it elsewhere at a much greater cost in a bid to extend their reproductive window. Amid concerns that its working-age population is falling too quickly, China has made other moves aimed at increasing the birth rate. In 2016 it amended its decadeslong “one-child policy” to allow all couples to have a second child, and in 2021 the limit was raised to three. But the policy shift has not increased the birth rate as expected, with young people citing the high cost of raising children, work stress and a reluctance to bring babies into a highly competitive society as reasons for their resistance to getting married and starting families. The country had a record-low fertility rate of 1.09 last year, state media reported in August. Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, is a natural choice for many mainland Chinese women seeking to freeze their eggs because of its geographical proximity, shared language and high-quality health care. Dr. Ng Hung Yu, a clinical professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Hong Kong, said his hospital had received a growing number of egg-freezing inquiries since opening its services to single women from mainland China without any health issues.

Two people detained in China for allegedly damaging Great Wall with excavator
Two people have been detained in China after allegedly damaging a section of the Great Wall in the northern Shanxi province with an excavator, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Authorities in Youyu County said they received a report on August 24 that a gap in the wall was created in Yangqianhe Township, CCTV reported. After an investigation, police found a 38-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman had used an excavator to breach the wall in order to create a shortcut to pass through, causing “irreversible” damage to the integrity and safety of that portion of the wall, the broadcaster said.

Diplomacy isn’t just cozying up to nations that are your friends and and insulting others, it’s having cordial relations with all nations.

Threats, insults, and Kremlin 'robots': How Russian diplomacy died under Putin
Russia's diplomats were once a key part of President Putin's foreign policy strategy. But that has all changed. In the years leading up to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, diplomats lost their authority, their role reduced to echoing the Kremlin's aggressive rhetoric. BBC Russian asks former diplomats, as well as ex-Kremlin and White House insiders, how Russian diplomacy broke down.

India launches Aditya-L1 solar observatory, its 1st-ever sun probe
Fresh off its success at the moon, India is now headed for the sun. The nation launched its first-ever solar observatory today (Sept. 2), sending the Aditya-L1 probe skyward atop a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 2:20 a.m. EDT (0620 GMT; 11:50 a.m. local India time). After a series of checkouts, it will use its onboard propulsion system to head toward Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1 (L1), a gravitationally stable spot about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet in the direction of the sun. That destination explains the latter part of the mission's name. And the first part is simple enough: "Aditya" translates to "sun" in Sanskrit. The 3,260-pound (1,480 kilograms) observatory will arrive at L1 about four months from now, if all goes according to plan. But the long trek will be worth it, according to the ISRO. "A satellite placed in the halo orbit around the L1 point has the major advantage of continuously viewing the sun without any occultation/eclipses," ISRO officials wrote in an Aditya-L1 mission description. "This will provide a greater advantage of observing the solar activities and its effect on space weather in real time."

This was initially reported by Al Jazerra (Qatar) and The National (UAE).

That’s the idea behind the prototype. The sonic booms are lessened so overland flights will be permitted.