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Locust Swarm Descends Upon Madagascar’s Capital

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStock/Thinkstock(ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar) — A swarm of millions of locusts descended upon Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo on Thursday, slowing traffic and blotting out the skies over the city.

Fully-formed clouds of the insects, which have plagued the African nation for more than two years, whizzed through the city’s streets after an urban heat wave attracted the bugs away from their usual rural surroundings.

“It reminds us of the 10 plagues of Egypt,” said Ronald Miller, a missionary working in Madagascar with his family.

The current plague began in April 2012, leading to a national disaster declaration in Madagascar in November of that year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The island nation’s government announced a three-year emergency plan in September 2013, when the locusts threatened food security of more than 13 million people, almost 60 percent of Madagascar’s population.

FAO officer Annie Monard told Voice of America that the locust swarms in the city were caused by unusually high temperatures, not a new surge in the pest population. So far, the FAO and Madagascar’s government have succeeded in controlling the pests in over 4,600 square miles of agricultural land. Madagascar’s emergency plan will continue until 2016 and is expected to cost more than $41 million.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Space Shuttle Discovery First Launched 30 Years Ago

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Saturday marks 30 years since Space Shuttle Discovery’s first launch.

Discovery, the third space shuttle to join NASA’s fleet, left for its first mission on Aug. 30, 1984, to deploy three communication satellites.

Discovery finished more than 30 missions afterwards, including one to launch the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990 and a trip to the International Space Station in 2005. According to NASA, it received its name from several exploration ships, including one used to search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Discovery completed its final mission in 2011. It now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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UN Received Reassurance that Kidnapped Peacekeepers Are ‘Safe and in Good Health’

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GOLAN HEIGHTS, Syria) — The United Nations said on Friday that it had received assurances that the 44 peacekeepers kidnapped from their positions on Thursday are safe and in good health.

According to a statement from the U.N. spokesperson, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has not had direct contact with the peacekeepers. They were informed, however, that the intention behind the holding of the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield for their own protection.

The UNDOF has been in contact with the other groups of peacekeepers who are being confined to their current positions and confirm that they have not been harmed.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Sanctions Imposed on Six Companies Accused of Supporting Proliferation of Iran WMDs

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama and his administration imposed new sanctions on six companies, including four based in Iran on Friday, citing their having engaged in activities that support Iranian weapons of mass destruction.

A statement from Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokesperson, noted that the companies and individuals sanctioned on Friday have supported terrorism or aided Iran’s evasion of existing sanctions. The U.S. and its P5+1 partners will continue to work towards a solution, Hayden said, to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful.”

Among the companies sanctioned was the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, which was started by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the father of Iran’s nuclear research program. He has been on the United Nations sanctions list for about six years. The company was created in 2011, and was not subject to sanctions until Friday.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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State Department Issues Updated Travel Warning for Ukraine

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department issued an updated travel warning on Ukraine on Friday, citing the latest clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian military.

The memo from the State Department warns U.S. citizens that travel to eastern Ukraine is dangerous and that all travel to the area should be deferred. The warning covers both Crimea, which was annexed by Russia earlier this year, as well as the area near the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Americans who opt to remain in those regions are urged to keep a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings. because the situation in Ukraine is unpredictable, Americans should be prepared to remain indoors and sheltered for extended periods of time if clashes occur in their region.

Additionally, the State Department notes that U.S. government personnel have had their travel to the regions in question restricted, making it more difficult to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens.

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Four More Airstrikes Conducted by US Military Near Mosul Dam

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) — U.S. fighter and attack aircraft were involved in four more airstrikes in the area of the Mosul Dam, the U.S. Central Command said on Friday.

The latest strikes bring the total since Aug. 8 to 110 within Iraq. The most recent strikes destroyed four armed vehicles and three support vehicles, while severely damaging another armed vehicle, all controlled by militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

As with other strikes conducted in Iraq in recent weeks, the U.S. military says it has acted to support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, as well as in the interest of protecting key infrastructure and U.S. interests in the region.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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3 Million Refugees Have Fled Syria, UN Agency Says

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — More than 3 million people have sought refuge from the fighting in Syria, the United Nations’ refugee agency announced Friday.

That means the Syrian crisis, which has persisted since a civilian uprising began in 2011, is the biggest refugee operation in the UNHCR’s 64-year history, the agency said.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said the international effort to help Syrian refugees was insufficient to meet their growing needs and number.

“The world is failing to meet the needs of [Syrian] refugees and the countries hosting them,” Guterres said, adding that, while the response to the crisis has been generous, “the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what’s needed.”

In addition to the 3 million people who have sought shelter in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, another 6.5 million refugees have been displaced within Syria, the agency said, adding that half of those people were children. The UNHCR concluded that almost half of the Syrian civilian population has had to leave its homes.

Not only are the refugees fleeing violence, but because they frequently bounce from village to village before finally leaving their home country, they arrive in neighboring countries in increasingly “shocking states[s],” according to a UNHCR statement.

“There are worrying signs too that the journey out of Syria is becoming tougher, with many people forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders,” the statement said.

Long-term medical conditions, steep food and commodity prices and unemployment are also problems that Syrians are plagued with once they escape the areas of greatest danger, the UNHCR added.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Panda Fakes Pregnancy for Pampered Life?

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(CHENGDU, China) — A real-life soap opera appears to have played out at a panda research center in China where zookeepers claim a panda may have faked her pregnancy in order to live a more pampered life.

Zookeepers at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding say Ai Hin, a 6-year-old giant panda, first showed signs of pregnancy in July, but then returned to normal at the end of this month, after just a two-month observation.

Chengdu officials say “phantom pregnancies” — caused by progestational hormone changes — are not uncommon for pandas, but that some “clever” pandas keep playing the pregnancy card long after.

“After showing prenatal signs, the ‘mothers-to-be’ are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life,” panda expert Wu Kongju told state news agency Xinhua.

The false pregnancy caused the Chengdu Base to call off its planned live broadcast of Ai Hin giving birth.

The director of animal programs at the Memphis Zoo says that zookeepers must prepare pandas for birth at the first sign of pregnancy, even if it is hard to tell if they are actually pregnant.

“Pandas and other bears don’t make it real easy to tell whether or not they are pregnant,” Matt Thompson told ABC News. “But we treat her as though she’s pregnant whether she’s pseudo pregnant or actually pregnant.”

“We just want to be ready in either case,” he said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Whiskey Particles Stored on ISS Headed for Earth

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

NASA(NEW YORK) — A Scottish distillery that enlisted the help of astronauts to develop whiskey particles on the International Space Station is now preparing for touchdown.

Ardbeg, a whiskey distillery in Scotland, partnered with a Houston-based space research company to launch some micro-compounds of their liquor into outer space in 2011.

According to the distillery’s website, 20 vials of the unmatured whiskey particles were sent along with pieces of charred oak that they were treated with when they arrived at the International Space Station. The vials only contained microbes that will later be used to brew whiskey, rather than the liquor itself.

“This is indeed a research program to help us understand terpenes, which are the building blocks for flavorings, paints and yes, whiskey — so to us, this is a very solid research project for a consumer-based company,” Jeffrey Manber, the CEO of Houston-based company NanoRocks, told ABC News. “NASA approved the project since terpenes have never been grown in zero-gravity conditions.”

If a difference is noted between the vials kept in zero gravity as compared to those in “control” vials in Scotland, the implications could lead well out of the liquor cabinet.

“The absence of gravity may well create a new generation of consumer products and help us understand materials, biologicals and products that are right here on Earth,” Manber said.

Once the out-of-this-world particles return to Earth — they are expected to land in Kazakhstan on Sept. 12 — the vials will be shipped to Texas, where they will be compared to similar vials made in Scotland in 2011 to test what effect gravity had on the maturation process.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Britain Raises Terror Threat Level to ‘Severe’

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by

Posted in World News

Bethany Clarke – WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) — The British government Friday raised the threat level for international terrorism to “severe,” indicating a terrorist attack is “highly likely” but based on intelligence not necessarily “imminent.”

U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May released a statement Friday saying the increased threat is “related to events in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West, and that some of those attacks are likely to involve fighters who have travelled from the U.K.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was the first time in three years the threat has been raised to such a level in the U.K.

“What we’re facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before,” Cameron said in an address to the nation, noting that the terrorist group, also known as ISIS for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has recruited hundreds of British citizens to its ranks.

Western security officials have been concerned for months that ISIS recruits with Western passports could travel to Syria and Iraq and then return home with deadly skills to wreak havoc.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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