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Japan spacecraft approaches Earth to drop asteroid samples

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese space agency officials said Friday the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is on its intended trajectory as it approaches Earth to deliver a capsule containing samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.The spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away, a year ago. The capsule is to be released 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in space and land in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia, on Sunday. Hayabusa2 is flying smoothly according to plan, Yuichi Tsuda, project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said at a briefing ahead of the critical separation of the capsule from the spacecraft on Saturday. “We trained ourselves and now we are fully prepared. So I'm just praying that equipment that hasn't been used yet will work well and that there will be good weather in Australia," he said. “We are so excited."In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location. JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals, while also preparing marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule, 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter. Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples. JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth.For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way.So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu, despite its extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid’s surface.Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved. Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.

Tokyo Olympics delay costs may reach $2.8 billion

TOKYO (AP) — The cost of the postponement for the Tokyo Olympics could reach about $2.8 billion, according to figures released Friday by the Tokyo organizing committee, the Tokyo city government and Japan’s national government.The numbers are in line with estimates that have been made in Japan since the Olympics were postponed eight months ago. They are now set to open on July 23, 2021.About two-thirds of the added costs are being picked up by the two government entities, with the other one-third going to the privately funded organizing committee.The operational cost for the delay is listed at 171 billion yen, or about $1.64 billion at the present exchange rate. The organizing committee and the Tokyo government share equally in covering the expenses. The national government will pick up a small portion.The cost for coronavirus countermeasures is 96 billion yen (about $920 million). This is being covered solely by the governments.Tokyo organizers also said they could add 27 billion yen (about $260 million) from a contingency fund to help cover added costs.Tokyo costs are ballooning and could reinforce skepticism about holding the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. Recent polls show the public is divided on the issue of the Olympics, and allowing fans from abroad to enter.Prior to the postponement, Japan said the Olympics would cost $12.6 billion. But a government audit last year said it was likely twice that much. All but $5.6 billion is public money, before any delay costs.Tokyo said the Olympics would cost $7.3 billion overall when it won the bid in 2013. And a University of Oxford study two months ago said the Tokyo Games are the most expensive Summer Olympics on record.___More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

China accuses Danish politicians in feud over Hong Kong

BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday accused Danish politicians of violating “basic norms governing international relations” in a feud over a visit by a former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker and pro-democracy activist to the Scandinavian country. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the action of the lawmakers, whom she did not name, “damages Denmark’s image as a country that has always emphasized the rule of law.” Hua’s comments at a daily briefing came during a visit to Denmark by Ted Hui, who was arrested in Hong Kong in May over a protest in the city's Legislative Council. Hui was able to get his passport back from the government and obtain a visa after receiving an invitation from Danish lawmakers to travel to Denmark, where he arrived Tuesday. “We oppose any individual, organization or country interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, meddling in Hong Kong’s judicial sovereignty and harboring Hong Kong criminals in any way," Hua said.Hui on Thursday told The Associated Press that he is going into exile and will soon move to Britain, which ran Hong Kong as a colony from 1841 until returning it to China in 1997. It was not clear when Hui would travel to Britain, which, in response to a crackdown on opposition in Hong Kong, has extended residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas, or BNO, passports, allowing them to live and work there for five years and offering a path to eventual citizenship. The passport issue has angered Beijing, and Hua repeated the government's threat to retaliate over what she called interference in China's internal affairs. “If the U.K. violates its commitments in the first place, China will consider no longer recognizing BNO passports as valid travel documents, and we reserve the right to take further measures," she said.Hong Kong has become a major flashpoint in China's foreign relations following the suppression of sometimes-violent anti-government protests in the city last year. In June, Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law that led to a further crackdown and which critics say amounts to China betraying its promise to allow Hong Kong to retain its separate political and civil rights until 2047. Since the start of the anti-government protests in June 2019, Hong Kong police have made more than 10,000 arrests, most recently prominent pro-democracy figures including activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, as well as outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai.Hui’s parents, wife and two young children left Hong Kong on a flight on Wednesday, Hong Kong online news portal HK01 reported. It did not mention their destination.Along with Hong Kong, China has tangled with European nations over human rights, Taiwan, trade and other issues.

Rains in western Indonesia leave 2 dead, 2,700 homes flooded

MEDAN, Indonesia (AP) — Torrential rains in Indonesia’s third largest city caused four rivers to overflow, flooding thousands of homes and killing at least two people, officials said Friday. The local disaster mitigation agency said rescuers were searching for six missing people, including a toddler, after the heavy rains in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.At least two people were found dead after being swept away by the floods, which began Thursday evening, the agency said in a statement. More than 2,700 houses were flooded in the city, which has about 2.9 million people, forcing authorities to cut off electricity and water supplies, it said.On Friday, rescuers took 181 people to temporary shelters after floodwaters reached as high as 5 meters (16 feet) in several places. Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia during the rainy season.Severe flooding and landslides that hit greater Jakarta early this year killed more than 60 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and forced an airport to close.

India's winter of discontent: Farmers rise up against Modi

NEW DELHI (AP) — A chilly breeze whirls through New Delhi in the mornings and the sun is partly obscured by toxic haze, a marker of another winter in the Indian capital. But along the city's borders, this year is visibly and viscerally different.The perpetually busy arterial highways that connect most northern Indian towns to this city of 29 million people now pulse to the cries of “Inquilab Zindabad” — “Long live the revolution.” Tens and thousands of farmers with distinctive, colorful turbans and long, flowing beards have descended upon the city's borders, choking highways in giant demonstrations against new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation.For more than a week, they’ve marched toward the capital on their tractors and trucks like an army, pushing aside concrete police barricades while braving tear gas, batons and water cannons. Now, on the outskirts of New Delhi, they are hunkered down with food and fuel supplies that can last weeks and threatening to besiege the capital if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government doesn't meet their demands to abolish the laws.“Modi wants to sell our lands to corporates,” said one of them, Kaljeet Singh, 31, who traveled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, some 310 kilometers (190 miles) north of New Delhi. “He can’t decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land they regard as more precious than their lives.”At night, the farmers sleep in trailers and under trucks, curling themselves in blankets to brave the winter chill. During the day, they sit huddled in groups in their vehicles, surrounded by mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables that are prepared into meals at hundreds of makeshift soup kitchens, in enormous pots stirred with wooden spoons the size of canoe paddles.Anmol Singh, 33, who supports his family of six by farming, said the new laws were part of a larger plan to hand over the farmers' land to big corporations and make them landless.“Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends,” he said. “We are here to fight his brutal decrees peacefully.”He paused, then reconsidered: “Actually, let him and his ministers take us on. We will give them a bloody nose.”Many of the protesting farmers hail from northern Punjab and Haryana, two of the largest agricultural states in India. An overwhelming majority of them are Sikhs. They fear the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Many activists and farming experts support their demand for a minimum guaranteed price for their crops.The new rules will also eliminate agents who act as middlemen between the farmers and the government-regulated wholesale markets. Farmers say agents are a vital cog of the farm economy and their main line of credit, providing quick funds for fuel, fertilizers and even loans in case of family emergencies.The laws have compounded existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.The government has argued the laws bring about necessary reform that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.With nearly 60% of the Indian population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the growing farmer rebellion has rattled Modi’s administration and allies. His leaders have scrambled to contain the protests, which are fast resembling last year’s scenes when a contentious new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims led to demonstrations that culminated in violence.Those demonstrations were much bigger in scale, but the farmers' rumblings are growing fast and gaining widespread support of ordinary citizens who have started joining them in large numbers.Modi and his allies have tried to allay farmers’ fears about the new laws while dismissing their concerns. Some of his party leaders have called the farmers “misguided” and “anti-national,” a label often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.The government is holding talks with the farmers to persuade them to end their protests, but they have dug in their heels.Farmer Kulwant Singh, 72, said that when he left his home in Haryana for the protests, he gave his wife a garland of flowers for two possible scenarios.“Either I return victorious and she places it around my neck in celebration, or I die here revolting and the same garland is put on my body when it reaches home,” Singh said.Such passions run deep among the protesters who have found social, economic and generational barriers tumbling during the demonstrations.Singh isn't the only one from his family who traveled to New Delhi for what he called “Qilah Fatehi," an Urdu term that translates to “laying a siege.” His son and grandson also accompanied him.“It's a fight for my generation too,” said Amrinder Singh, 16.As demonstrations grow, the protesters have also started to drive a political message home.Not satisfied with Modi's federal policies, many of which have attracted widescale resentment from his critics and minorities, protesting farmers say it's time he stops what they call his “dictatorial behavior.”“India is in a recession. There are hardly any jobs and our country's secular fabric is in tatters,” said Gurpreet Singh, 26, a biotechnology student who comes from a farming family. “At a time when India needs a healing touch, Modi is coming up with divisive, controversial laws. This is unacceptable and defies our constitutional values.”Modi's second term in power since May 2019 has been marked by several convulsions. The economy has tanked, social strife widened, protests have erupted against discriminatory laws and his government has been questioned over its response to the pandemic. The farmer protests present a new challenge for the government.The protesters' desire to stand up to Modi and his policies extends to a sexagenarian farmer couple who drove 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Chandigarh city in a hatchback Sunday to participate in the demonstrations.Dharam Singh Sandhu, 67, and Vimaljeet Kaur, 66, are spending nights in their car parked near the protest site. In the morning, they share breakfast at a makeshift soup kitchen. The latter part of the day is spent taking part in the demonstrations.“Our land is our mother. If we can’t protect it then we have no right to live," Sandhu said about the protests.His wife spoke passionately of a larger purpose as she made her way to the protest site through a stream of vehicles honking incessantly to get past congested traffic.“Our country is like a bunch of flowers, but Modi wants it to be of the same color. He has no right to do that. I am here to protest against that mindset," Kaur said.As Kaur walked hand in hand with her husband, a great cry emerged from one of the vehicles: “Inquilab Zindabad.” The crowd turned and followed their gaze toward a young man with a black beard who held up his fist through the car's window.The protesters, including Kaur, roared back: “Inquilab Zindabad!"

One Good Thing: Hong Kong restaurant trains the disabled

HONG KONG (AP) — Located smack in the middle of Hong Kong’s bustling Mong Kok neighborhood, Dignity Kitchen offers an array of mouthwatering Singaporean fare — from piping-hot laksa (noodles in a spicy coconut milk broth) to fragrant slices of chiffon cake flavored with the essence of pandan leaves.But what sets Dignity Kitchen apart from other restaurants in the city is that it is a social enterprise, almost entirely staffed by employees with physical or mental disabilities. The restaurant trains disabled employees to prep food and cook, as well as serve customers.“It’s important to help the disabled or the disadvantaged people, because they are at society’s bottom of the pyramid,” said the restaurant’s founder, Koh Seng Choon, a sprightly 61-year-old Singaporean entrepreneur who launched the restaurant in January.“They are the people who need help. If we can get them a job, they will be out of the poverty cycle.” Ultimately, Dignity Kitchen aims to place its employees in other jobs in the food and beverage sector so it can then welcome and train new groups of disabled people. Koh first came up with the concept in his hometown of Singapore, but later decided to do the same in Hong Kong after the city’s government invited him to open a branch.The kitchen is expansive, modeled after a food court in Singapore. The drink stall is operated by a deaf employee, and printed diagrams at the stall encourage customers to learn simple sign language when it comes to drink requests, or even to sign “thank you.” At the claypot rice stall, an employee with autism — who, according to Koh could barely communicate with strangers before his training — enthusiastically introduces the dish to customers who ask about it.“We used to prepare a script for him,” said Koh, smiling proudly. “But now, 8 months, 9 months later, he can’t stop talking.”The training they get at Dignity Kitchen not only equips them with useful skills but also aids them in getting the self-respect and dignity that they may have lacked, Koh said.Ming Chung, who has visual disabilities, found employment at Dignity Kitchen as an administrative assistant. Using voice-to-text technology, Chung co-ordinates with other organizations and handles email as well as phone inquiries.“Director (Koh) told me that he doesn’t care about our disabilities, he only focuses on our abilities,” Chung said. “This really inspired me and touched my heart.”Others, like Carol Wong, who is mildly intellectually disabled, has picked up knife skills at the restaurant that could eventually be transferable to food preparation roles in the industry. “At first I was afraid, but since I started working in this restaurant, I’ve become unafraid of chopping food,” she said.The kitchen has drawn customers in with its social mission and offers them the option of buying meals for the less unfortunate in the city.“I think this is very meaningful, so we’ve come to try,” said Lisa Gu, a customer who visited Dignity Kitchen for a bowl of laksa. “The food is also delicious.”___“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing

Asia Today | S. Korea reports highest daily tally in 9 months

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has recorded 629 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally in about nine months.The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 600 of the newly confirmed cases were domestically transmitted — nearly 80 % of them in the densely populous Seoul area, which has been at the center of a viral resurgence.The cases took the country’s total to 36,332 with 536 deaths.After successfully suppressing two previous outbreaks this year, South Korea has been grappling with a fresh spike in infections since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules in October. Last week, it toughened those restrictions in the greater Seoul area and other places.Authorities say they’re struggling to contain the latest bout because it’s tied to a variety of sources.On Thursday, more than 400,000 students including 41 virus patients took the nationwide university exam at about 1,380 sites, raising worries about a viral spread. Those infected were separated from the others. In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: — India's capital of New Delhi has decided against a night curfew as the number of new cases in the city and elsewhere in the country continued to drop. India reported 36,595 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, maintaining a downward trend for nearly a month. The Health Ministry also reported 540 additional deaths, taking India’s total fatalities to 139,188. ___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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Hopping away calories with ‘Kangoo Jumps’

TAIPEI (The China Post) — In need of a fun workout? Look no further! Spring boots, originally devised to help patients with leg injuries, have...

US intelligence director says China is top threat to America

WASHINGTON (AP) — China poses the greatest threat to America and the rest of the free world since World War II, outgoing National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe said Thursday as the Trump administration ramps up anti-Chinese rhetoric to pressure President-elect Joe Biden to be tough on Beijing. “The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically,” Ratcliffe wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. “Many of China’s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.”“I call its approach of economic espionage ‘rob, replicate and replace,'" Ratcliffe said. “China robs U.S. companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology and then replaces the U.S. firms in the global marketplace.”Trump administration officials have been stepping up their anti-China rhetoric for months, especially during the presidential campaign as President Donald Trump sought to deflect blame for the spread of the coronavirus . On the campaign trail, Trump warned that Biden would go easy on China, although the president-elect agrees that China is not abiding by international trade rules, is giving unfair subsidies to Chinese companies and stealing American innovation. The Trump administration, which once boasted of warm relations with China's President Xi Jinping, also has been ramping up sanctions against China over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. It has moved against the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and sought restrictions on Chinese social media applications like TikTok and WeChat. China’s embassy in the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment on Ratcliffe’s op-ed, although China has routinely denied many of these allegations in the past.Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist who has been accused of politicizing the position, has been the nation's top intelligence official since May. In his op-ed, he did not directly address the transition to a Biden administration. Trump has not acknowledged losing the election.Ratcliffe said he has shifted money within the $85 billion annual intelligence budget to address the threat from China. Beijing is preparing for an open-ended confrontation with the U.S., which must be addressed, he said. “This is our once-in-a-generation challenge. Americans have always risen to the moment, from defeating the scourge of fascism to bringing down the Iron Curtain,” Ratcliffe wrote in what appeared to be call for action to future intelligence officials. Biden has announced that he wants the Senate to confirm Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, to succeed Ratcliffe as the next national intelligence director.“This generation will be judged by its response to China’s effort to reshape the world in its own image and replace America as the dominant superpower," Ratcliffe wrote.He cited several examples of Chinese aggression against the United States: The Justice Department has charged a rising number of U.S. academics for transferring U.S. taxpayer-funded intellectual property to China. He noted the theft of intellectual property from American businesses, citing the case of Sinoval, a China-based wind turbine maker, which was convicted and heavily fined for stealing trade secrets from AMSC, a U.S.-based manufacturer formerly known as American Superconductor Inc. Rather than pay AMSC for more than $800 million in products and services it had agreed to purchase, Sinovel hatched a scheme to steal AMSC’s proprietary wind turbine technology, causing the loss of almost 700 jobs and more than $1 billion in shareholder equity, according to the Justice Department. Ratcliffe and other U.S. officials have said that China has stolen sensitive U.S. defense technology to fuel Xi's aggressive military modernization plan and they allege that Beijing uses its access to Chinese tech firms, such as Huawei, to collect intelligence, disrupt communications and threaten the privacy of users worldwide.Ratcliffe said he has personally briefed members of Congress about how China is using intermediaries to lawmakers in an attempt to influence legislation.

Indian gov't, farmers to meet again over highway blockade

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian government and protesting farmers reported some progress in talks Thursday and agreed to meet again over the weekend to discuss a blockade of key highways leading to the capital by thousands of farmers angry over new agriculture laws.Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government is open to remedying the farmers' grievances and is hopeful a solution will be found at Saturday’s meeting. Thursday’s talks between Tomar and 35 leaders of the farmers, the second in three days, lasted over seven hours. They met in a tense atmosphere and the leaders didn't join government representatives for lunch.Thousands of farmers are protesting reforms they say could devastate crop prices and reduce their earnings. They have blocked highways on the outskirts of New Delhi since last Friday. The farmers say the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Tomar said he assured the farmers that the minimum prices for grains will continue and land belonging to farmers will also be protected.Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the farmers, told reporters he saw some softening of the government's stand on their demands.However, Kuldip Singh, another leader, said the farmers will not back down from their demand for the repeal of the laws. ”Our movement will continue," he said.Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against them.The farmers are camping along at least five major highways on the outskirts of the capital and have said they won’t leave until the government rolls back what they call the “black laws.”