After String of Adventures, Ancient Gold Ring Back in Greece

This undated photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Friday, May 20, 2022, shows a gold Mycenaean-era ring which was willingly returned by Swedish officials who provided full assistance with documenting the artifact and its provenance.(Greek Culture Ministry via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Friday, May 20, 2022, shows a gold Mycenaean-era ring which was willingly returned by Swedish officials who provided full assistance with documenting the artifact and its provenance.(Greek Culture Ministry via AP)
TT

After String of Adventures, Ancient Gold Ring Back in Greece

This undated photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Friday, May 20, 2022, shows a gold Mycenaean-era ring which was willingly returned by Swedish officials who provided full assistance with documenting the artifact and its provenance.(Greek Culture Ministry via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Friday, May 20, 2022, shows a gold Mycenaean-era ring which was willingly returned by Swedish officials who provided full assistance with documenting the artifact and its provenance.(Greek Culture Ministry via AP)

A more than 3,000-year-old gold signet ring that was stolen from an Aegean island in World War II, crossed the Atlantic, was bought by a Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian scientist and ended up in a Swedish museum has found its way back to Greece.

It was the latest in a series of coups by Greek authorities seeking the return of works plundered from the antiquities-rich country - even though an initial effort by the Swedish museum to return the ring apparently fell between the cracks of 1970s bureaucracy.

The Greek culture ministry said Friday that the gold Mycenaean-era work from Rhodes, decorated with two facing sphinxes, was willingly returned by Swedish officials who provided full assistance with documenting the artifact and its provenance.

Greek experts confirmed the identification, and the piece was handed over in Stockholm by Vidar Helgesen, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, to which the ring had been bequeathed by the Hungarian biophysicist.

The foundation, which presents annual awards for outstanding achievement in several fields, had given it to the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni thanked the Nobel Foundation and Swedish authorities for the repatriation, saying it "shows their respect for modern Greece and our constant efforts to fight the illegal trafficking of cultural goods."

The ring, which would have been a status symbol for a local nobleman in the 3rd millennium B.C., was discovered in 1927 by Italian archaeologists in a Mycenaean grave near the ancient city of Ialysos on Rhodes. The southeastern Aegean island belonged to Italy until it was incorporated in Greece after WWII.

The Ministry of Culture and Sports said the ring was stolen from a museum on Rhodes during the war - with hundreds of other pieces of jewelry and coins that remain missing - and surfaced in the United States.

It was bought to the US during the 1950s or 1960s by Georg von Békésy, a biophysicist and art collector whose collection was donated to the Nobel Foundation after his 1972 death and from there distributed to several museums.

The Nobel Foundation's Helgesen said there was no doubt where the ring belonged.

"To us, it was obvious that the ring should be returned," he said. "This artifact is of very great cultural-historical value for Greece."

The Stockholm museum had initially identified the ring from Ialysos in 1975 and contacted Greek authorities, the ministry said.

"But it remained in Stockholm for reasons that are not clear from existing archives,” Friday's statement said. The artwork will now be displayed in a museum on Rhodes.



Vaccines Saved at Least 154 Million Lives in 50 Years, Says WHO

 World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during an event about expanding health coverage for all during the IMF and World Bank’s 2024 annual Spring Meetings in Washington, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during an event about expanding health coverage for all during the IMF and World Bank’s 2024 annual Spring Meetings in Washington, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
TT

Vaccines Saved at Least 154 Million Lives in 50 Years, Says WHO

 World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during an event about expanding health coverage for all during the IMF and World Bank’s 2024 annual Spring Meetings in Washington, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during an event about expanding health coverage for all during the IMF and World Bank’s 2024 annual Spring Meetings in Washington, US, April 18, 2024. (Reuters)

Global immunization efforts have saved at least 154 million lives in the past 50 years, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, adding that most of those to benefit were infants.

That is the equivalent of six lives saved every minute of every year of the half century, the UN health agency said.

In a study published in the Lancet, WHO gave a comprehensive analysis of the impact of 14 vaccines used under the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which celebrates its 50th anniversary next month.

Thanks to these vaccines, "a child born today is 40 percent more likely to see their fifth birthday than a child born 50 years ago", WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

"Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable," he said.

"Smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing back the frontiers of disease."

Infants accounted for 101 million of the lives saved through immunization over the five decades, said the study.

"Immunization was the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood," WHO said.

'Vaccines cause adults'

Over 50 years, vaccines against 14 diseases -- diphtheria, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever -- had directly contributed to reducing infant deaths by 40 percent, the study found.

For Africa, the reduction in infant mortality was more than 50 percent, it said.

The vaccine against measles -- a highly contagious disease by a virus that attacks mainly children -- had the most significant impact.

That jab accounted for 60 percent of the lives saved due to immunization, according to the study.

The polio vaccine means that more than 20 million people are able to walk today who would otherwise have been paralyzed.

The study also showed that when a vaccine saves a child's life, that person goes on to live an average of 66 years of full health on average -- with a total of 10.2 billion full health years gained over the five decades.

"Vaccines cause adults," Tedros said.

WHO stressed that the gains in childhood survival showed the importance of protecting progress on immunization.

It highlighted accelerating efforts to reach 67 million children who missed at least one vaccination during the Covid pandemic.

The UN health agency, along with the UN children's agency Unicef, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on Wednesday launched a joint campaign called "Humanly Possible".

It is aimed at scaling up vaccination programs around the world.

"By working together we can save millions more lives, advance equity and create a much healthier and more prosperous world," Violaine Michell of the Gates Foundation told journalists.

Anti-vax threat

But efforts to ensure broader vaccine coverage have increasingly run into anti-vax movements and conspiracy theories circulating on social media.

This was particularly clear during the Covid pandemic, but it has also taken its toll on efforts to avert measles outbreaks.

"There has been a very significant backsliding in the use of the measles vaccine and the coverage that has been achieved in countries around the world, and that is resulting in outbreaks," WHO vaccine chief Kate O'Brien told journalists.

In 2022, the last year for which there are clear statistics, more than nine million measles cases were registered around the world, including 136,000 children who died.

Lack of access to the vaccines was a major concern, said O'Brien, but part of the backsliding was attributable to "misinformation and anti-vax movements".

"The measles vaccine is a safe vaccine, and it's highly effective," she insisted, stressing the need to ramp up efforts against "one of the most infectious viruses that infect humans".


Police: Horses Running Loose in Central London

FILE PHOTO: A tourist shelters from the rain under an Union Jack umbrella near the Bank of England in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, February 13, 2024. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A tourist shelters from the rain under an Union Jack umbrella near the Bank of England in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, February 13, 2024. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes/File Photo
TT

Police: Horses Running Loose in Central London

FILE PHOTO: A tourist shelters from the rain under an Union Jack umbrella near the Bank of England in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, February 13, 2024. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A tourist shelters from the rain under an Union Jack umbrella near the Bank of England in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, February 13, 2024. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes/File Photo

A number of horses are loose in central London, with the army called in to help locate them, police in the British capital said on Wednesday.
Footage posted by social media users showed a saddled white horse covered in blood running through the street alongside a black one.
"We are aware of a number of horses that are currently loose in central London and are working with colleagues, including the Army, to locate them," the Westminster branch of London's police said on X.
According to Reuters, City of London Police, the force in charge of the capital's financial district, said officers had contained two horses and were preparing to transport them to veterinary care.
The Telegraph newspaper reported that five cavalry horses had run loose while exercising at Horse Guards Parade, the ceremonial parade ground in Westminster, close to Buckingham Palace and the Whitehall government district.


Eurovision Contest Host Sweden Braces for Anti-Israel Protests

FILE - Swedish pop group ABBA celebrate winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest on stage at the Brighton Dome in England with their song Waterloo, April 6, 1974. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File)
FILE - Swedish pop group ABBA celebrate winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest on stage at the Brighton Dome in England with their song Waterloo, April 6, 1974. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File)
TT

Eurovision Contest Host Sweden Braces for Anti-Israel Protests

FILE - Swedish pop group ABBA celebrate winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest on stage at the Brighton Dome in England with their song Waterloo, April 6, 1974. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File)
FILE - Swedish pop group ABBA celebrate winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest on stage at the Brighton Dome in England with their song Waterloo, April 6, 1974. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File)

Sweden said it plans to host a dazzling Eurovision Song Contest, watched by 200 million people worldwide, but visitors face heightened security amid planned protests over Israel's participation and a new geo-political backdrop since Sweden joined NATO.
The contest, the world's biggest of its kind, takes place in Malmo from 7-11 May and is expected to draw 100,000 visitors to Sweden's third-largest city which has a large Muslim population.

Organizers plan a special tribute to Swedish pop group ABBA, who won Eurovision 50 years ago this year. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the contest, has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded due to its war in Gaza, Reuters reported.

Controversy over the conflict has already hit various cultural events across Europe. Much focus is expected to be on Israeli contestant Eden Golan and her song Hurricane, as multiple large pro-Palestinian protests are planned outside the venue in Malmo.

Israel was permitted to compete after it agreed to modify the lyrics of its original song "October Rain" which the EBU said made reference to the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught in Israel.

EBU brands Eurovision a non-political event and insists that the contest is between public service broadcasters, not governments.

Still, it banned Russia in 2022 from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden is hosting the annual competition for the seventh time, after Swedish singer Loreen won last year's competition in Liverpool with her song "Tattoo".

Ebba Adielsson, executive Eurovision producer from Swedish broadcaster SVT, promised "some smashing shows." She ruled out an ABBA reunion but said the event would celebrate the group's 1974 win with their song "Waterloo", a victory that launched the band onto the international stage.

Swiss contestant Nemo is the favorite to win this year, according to bookmakers, followed by Croatia's Baby Lasagna, Joost Klein of the Netherlands, and Italy's Angelina Mango.

'HIGH THREAT-LEVEL'

Visitors from 89 countries expected in Malmo will have to pass through airport-like security checks when entering venues around the city.

"There's a high threat level combined with a lot of people," said Per-Erik Ebbestahl, Malmo's security director.

Organizers face the risk of protests escalating into violence, heightened terror threats in the country, and increased tensions with Russia after Sweden's NATO membership.

In central Malmo there are official posters for Eurovision but also protest banners replicating the same colorful design, with the word Eurovision replaced by 'genocide' and the words: "Israel out of Eurovision or Eurovision out of Malmo."

Police say security will be tighter compared with when Sweden last hosted the event in 2016.

"The situation around the world is complex, and also the security for Sweden is different," said Petra Stenkula, Malmo police chief. "We are ready for anything that can happen."


China to Send Fresh Crew to Tiangong Space Station

A staff member poses for photos in front of a board featuring China's astronauts, after a press conference ahead of the Shenzhou-18 space mission, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, in northwest China on April 24, 2024. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)
A staff member poses for photos in front of a board featuring China's astronauts, after a press conference ahead of the Shenzhou-18 space mission, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, in northwest China on April 24, 2024. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)
TT

China to Send Fresh Crew to Tiangong Space Station

A staff member poses for photos in front of a board featuring China's astronauts, after a press conference ahead of the Shenzhou-18 space mission, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, in northwest China on April 24, 2024. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)
A staff member poses for photos in front of a board featuring China's astronauts, after a press conference ahead of the Shenzhou-18 space mission, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert, in northwest China on April 24, 2024. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

China will send a fresh crew to its Tiangong space station on Thursday evening, Beijing's Manned Space Agency announced, the latest mission in a program that aims to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030.

The Shenzhou-18 mission -- crewed by three astronauts -- is scheduled to take off at 8:59 pm Thursday (1259 GMT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, Beijing announced Wednesday.

It will be led by Ye Guangfu, a fighter pilot and astronaut who was previously part of the Shenzhou-13 crew in 2021.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Commander Ye described the launch as a "new beginning".

"Facing the challenge, my two teammates and I are fully prepared. We are full of confidence in completing this mission!" he said.

Li Guangsu, in turn, said he wanted to take a "good look at the beautiful blue planet, the splendid mountains and rivers of the motherland, and find the places that have nurtured me along the way".

"I also want to see for my lovely child if the stars in the sky can really twinkle or not," he added.

The latest batch of Tiangong astronauts will stay in orbit for six months, carrying out experiments in gravity and physics, as well as in life sciences, Agence France Presse reported.

They will also carry out a "project on high-resolution global greenhouse gas detection", Deputy Director General of the CMSA Lin Xiqiang said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

"All pre-launch preparations are on schedule," he said.

"They will work with other active astronauts to carry out the follow-up space station missions and to realize the country's manned lunar landing."

The Tiangong, which means "heavenly palace", is the crown jewel of a space program that has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made China the third country to independently put humans in orbit.

It is constantly crewed by rotating teams of three astronauts, with construction completed in 2022.


Sweden: Archaeologists Uncover 850-year-old Treasure in Ancient Grave

The coins that were found date back to the 12th century, Swedish experts say. (Jönköping County Museum)
The coins that were found date back to the 12th century, Swedish experts say. (Jönköping County Museum)
TT

Sweden: Archaeologists Uncover 850-year-old Treasure in Ancient Grave

The coins that were found date back to the 12th century, Swedish experts say. (Jönköping County Museum)
The coins that were found date back to the 12th century, Swedish experts say. (Jönköping County Museum)

Swedish archaeologists have recently uncovered a 12th century grave during an archaeological dig – and found buried treasure along with it, Fox News reported.

The Jönköping County Museum announced the find in a March 27 press release that was translated from Swedish to English, Fox News said on Monday. The discovery happened during an excavation of a grave in an old church in Visingsö, a Swedish island.

The coins were found in the grave of a man that experts believed was between 20 and 25 years old when he died. The pieces of metal were produced between 1150 and 1180.

"My colleague Kristina Jansson and I found two skeletons in the shaft where the wires were to be laid," project manager Anna Ödéen explained in a statement. "We cleaned out the bones from the buried to get an idea of ​​what the graves looked like."

"All of a sudden three silver coins appeared! We soon realized that many more were lying close to the buried person's left foot."

170 silver bracteates were found in total, said the report. A bracteate is a piece of thin, coin-shaped metal that was used as jewelry.


Norway Women Bring Seaweed to Culinary Heights in Europe

Lofoten Seaweed co-founder Angelita Eriksen picks kelp from the icy Norwegian waters. Olivier MORIN / AFP
Lofoten Seaweed co-founder Angelita Eriksen picks kelp from the icy Norwegian waters. Olivier MORIN / AFP
TT

Norway Women Bring Seaweed to Culinary Heights in Europe

Lofoten Seaweed co-founder Angelita Eriksen picks kelp from the icy Norwegian waters. Olivier MORIN / AFP
Lofoten Seaweed co-founder Angelita Eriksen picks kelp from the icy Norwegian waters. Olivier MORIN / AFP

In the glacial waters of the Lofoten archipelago in Norway's far north, Angelita Eriksen uses a knife to cut a handful of seaweed that will soon end up in a fancy European eatery.
"We have the cleanest and clearest waters in the world. We're very lucky that we have this really important resource growing right outside our doorstep," Eriksen told AFP in a cabin on the shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean where the seaweed is laid out to dry.
"We want to show that to the world."
The daughter of a Norwegian fisherman, Eriksen joined forces with New Zealand-born Tamara Singer, whose Japanese mother served seaweed with almost every meal, to start the company Lofoten Seaweed -- specializing in harvesting and preparing seaweed for the food industry.
With the help of six others, they hand-pick 11 tons of seaweed a year, the snow-capped mountains plummeting into the sea behind them in a dramatic tableau.
It's a demanding and "physical job", said Eriksen.
The peak season runs from late April until June, but "we harvest the dulse, the nori and the sea truffle in the winter and fall".
"It can be quite cold, as we can stay out for about an hour along the shore", with lower legs and hands submerged in the chilly water.
By "late May, I'm actually sweating in my suit".
One time, she said, "I took my glove off and the steam was just rising up".
"It's physically hard but at the same time it's very meditative, or therapeutic in a way, to harvest," she says.
'Delicate'
Truffle seaweed, winged kelp, nori, dulse, sugar kelp, oarweed kelp: the pair focus on about 10 types of seaweed, long eaten in Japan and increasingly popular in Europe for their nutritional qualities.
The seaweed is sold locally or shipped to gourmet restaurants in Norway and the rest of Europe.
The two women organize workshops to teach chefs about the different varieties and the qualities of each type.
"Seaweeds are like vegetables, they have their own texture, taste and colors," says Singer.
She said it was a "huge surprise" how many European chefs had little or no knowledge of the different flavors and ways of preparing seaweed.
The duo have worked with Japanese chefs "who know exactly what to do, you don't have to tell them anything".
"It's just so natural for them. It's like giving a piece of fish to a North Norwegian," says Singer.
Some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, chef Josh Wing has been serving the pair's products in his high-end restaurant Hattvika Lodge for about five years.
He is well versed and does not need to take part in their workshops anymore.
Wing is particularly fond of the dulse, a "very delicate purple seaweed", which he serves with local fish dishes or bread.
It "can provide a physical texture in a dish that you can't get from other products", he tells AFP.
To ensure that their business is sustainable, Eriksen and Singer have mapped and dated their harvest sites, as well as the volumes of each species, for the past four years.
"Our results show that the regrowth in recently-harvested patches is actually faster than anticipated, almost as if a harvest actually stimulates growth," says Singer.


Highest-level Rainstorm Warning Issued in South China's Guangdong

Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated due to flooding in southern China, including in Qingyuan (pictured). STR, STR / CNS/AFP
Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated due to flooding in southern China, including in Qingyuan (pictured). STR, STR / CNS/AFP
TT

Highest-level Rainstorm Warning Issued in South China's Guangdong

Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated due to flooding in southern China, including in Qingyuan (pictured). STR, STR / CNS/AFP
Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated due to flooding in southern China, including in Qingyuan (pictured). STR, STR / CNS/AFP

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated due to heavy rain and fatal floods in southern China, with the government issuing its highest-level rainstorm warning for the affected area on Tuesday.
Torrential rains have lashed Guangdong in recent days, swelling rivers and raising fears of severe flooding that state media said could be of the sort only "seen around once a century".
On Tuesday, the megacity of Shenzhen was among the areas listed as experiencing "heavy to very heavy downpours", the city's meteorological observatory said, adding the risk of flash floods was "very high".
Images from Qingyuan -- a city in northern Guangdong that is part of the low-lying Pearl River Delta -- showed a building almost completely submerged in a flooded park next to a river, AFP said.
Official media reported Sunday that more than 45,000 people had been evacuated from Qingyuan, which straddles the Bei River tributary.
State news agency Xinhua said 110,000 residents across Guangdong had been relocated since the downpours started over the weekend.
Four people have so far died and 10 are missing, according to state media.
Climate change driven by human-emitted greenhouse gases makes extreme weather events more frequent and intense, and China is the world's biggest emitter.
Aerial shots from the province showed brown gashes in the side of a hill -- the aftermath of landslides that had occurred behind a town on the banks of a swollen river.
Soldiers could be seen operating excavators in an attempt to clear away the muddy debris produced by the downpour.
'Take precautions'
Guangdong is China's manufacturing heartland, home to around 127 million people.
"Please quickly take precautions and stay away from dangerous areas such as low-lying areas prone to flooding," authorities in Shenzhen said in issuing Tuesday's red alert.
"Pay attention to heavy rains and resulting disasters such as waterlogging, flash floods, landslides, mudslides, and ground caving in."
Heavy rain is expected to continue in Shenzhen for the next two to three hours, authorities said.
In recent years China has been hit by severe floods, grinding droughts and record heat.
That has meant that authorities are typically very quick to deploy, making casualties much lower than in previous decades.
Last September Shenzhen experienced the heaviest rains since records began in 1952, while the nearby semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong saw its heaviest rainfall in nearly 140 years.
Asia was the world's most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations has said, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses.


UN Meteorological Agency: Asia is Most Climate Disaster-impacted Region

FILE PHOTO: A drone view of a flooded village in Mokhada after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall, in the western state of Gujarat, India, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A drone view of a flooded village in Mokhada after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall, in the western state of Gujarat, India, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
TT

UN Meteorological Agency: Asia is Most Climate Disaster-impacted Region

FILE PHOTO: A drone view of a flooded village in Mokhada after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall, in the western state of Gujarat, India, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A drone view of a flooded village in Mokhada after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall, in the western state of Gujarat, India, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo

Asia was the world's most disaster-hit region by climate related hazards last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, with floods and storms causing the highest number of casualties.
In a report published on Tuesday, WMO said that 79 disasters linked to hydro-meteorological events had been reported in Asia in 2023. More than 80% of these were related to floods and storms that caused more than 2,000 deaths, Reuters reported.
"Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms," said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo.
"Climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events."
Asia is warming faster than the global average, according to WMO. Last year, high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, as well as from eastern China to Japan.
The report also highlighted that most glaciers in the high-mountain region in Asia had lost significant mass because of record-breaking high temperatures and dry conditions.


Airport Near Volcano Reopens as Indonesia Lowers Eruption Alert Level 

Mount Ruang volcano erupts in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
Mount Ruang volcano erupts in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
TT

Airport Near Volcano Reopens as Indonesia Lowers Eruption Alert Level 

Mount Ruang volcano erupts in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
Mount Ruang volcano erupts in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, on April 19, 2024. (AFP)

Indonesian authorities reopened an international airport near a volcano that erupted last week as they lowered a warning level on Monday.

Sam Ratulangi airport has been closed since Thursday due to eruptions at nearby Mount Ruang.

Indonesia’s Disaster Management Agency lowered the volcano's alert level from four, the second-highest level, to three, but said residents were still ordered to remain at least 4 kilometers (2.7 miles) away from the mountain.

More than 3,000 residents have been evacuated since Thursday due to dangers including ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and fears of a tsunami. A joint team from the local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents by boat.

Danger continued with the possibility of small-scale eruptions, which could cause rockslides and other damage in the immediate area of the volcano.

Officials opened the airport after satellite imagery showed that rains had washed away volcanic ash covering the tarmac.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, has 120 active volcanoes. It is prone to volcanic activity because it sits along the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean.


North Koreans May Have Helped Create Western Cartoons, Report Says 

A cartoon soldier is depicted on part of a warning sign on barbed wire on the Chinese side of the border between Russia, China and North Korea near the town of Hunchun, China, November 24, 2017. (Reuters) 
A cartoon soldier is depicted on part of a warning sign on barbed wire on the Chinese side of the border between Russia, China and North Korea near the town of Hunchun, China, November 24, 2017. (Reuters) 
TT

North Koreans May Have Helped Create Western Cartoons, Report Says 

A cartoon soldier is depicted on part of a warning sign on barbed wire on the Chinese side of the border between Russia, China and North Korea near the town of Hunchun, China, November 24, 2017. (Reuters) 
A cartoon soldier is depicted on part of a warning sign on barbed wire on the Chinese side of the border between Russia, China and North Korea near the town of Hunchun, China, November 24, 2017. (Reuters) 

North Korean animators may have helped create popular television cartoons for big Western firms, including Amazon and HBO Max, despite international sanctions on North Korea, a research report has found.

Researchers discovered files on a North Korean internet server that included animations, written instructions and comments that appear to relate to projects under production for the foreign studios, the report from the Washington-based 38 North project released on Monday said.

Among those projects were "Invincible," an Amazon Original animated series produced by California-based Skybound Entertainment and "Iyanu, Child of Wonder," an anime about a superhero created by Maryland-based YouNeek Studios and due to air this year on HBO Max.

US sanctions prohibit almost all commercial activity between US citizens and North Korean entities.

Michael Barnhart, who works on North Korea issues at Mandiant, a computer security company owned by Google, and worked with 38 North on the project, said there was nothing to indicate the Western companies had knowledge of the arrangements, which appeared to involve subcontracting of work to China.

"There's no way that anyone could have known it, except for the operational security error which exposed it," he said.

Amazon spokespersons declined comment and referred Reuters to Skybound Entertainment.

Skybound said it had no knowledge of any North Korean companies working on its animation, but took the allegations seriously and had initiated a thorough internal review to verify and rectify any potential issues.

"We have also notified the proper authorities and are cooperating with all appropriate bodies," its head of corporate communications Hannah Cosgrove said.

HBO Max and YouNeek did not respond to requests for comment.

The report said that after discovering the files, two researchers kept watch on the server and observed traffic throughout January.

"Each day, a new batch of files would appear that included instructions for animation work and the results of that day's work," the report said.

"Often the files contained editing comments and instructions in Chinese, presumably written by the production company, along with a translation of those instructions into Korean," it said.

"This suggests a go-between was responsible for relaying information between the production companies and the animators."

The report said the identity of the person, or persons, uploading the files could not be determined, nor of the North Korean entity involved.

WESTERN ANIMATION PROJECTS

North Korea's premier animation house is the Pyongyang-based April 26 Animation Studio, also known as SEK Studio, which has worked in the past on international projects. In 2016, the US Treasury Department designated it a North Korean state-owned enterprise and put it under sanctions.

The report noted that in 2021 and 2022 the US government also imposed sanctions on Chinese companies that have worked with the studio or acted as a go-between.

38 North said files found on the server related to a range of projects, including Season 3 of "Invincible." The report said a document on the server carried the name of the series and "Viltruminte Pants LLC," part of the Skybound group.

Working with Mandiant, the researchers examined access logs for the server, which included three internet addresses in China.

Two of the latter were registered to China's Liaoning Province, which neighbors North Korea and where there are many North Korean-operated businesses and North Korean IT workers.

Mandiant's Barnhart told Reuters he assessed "with high confidence" that the animation contracts had been outsourced to North Korea by a front company, apparently in China.

China's Washington embassy said Beijing strictly implemented UN prohibitions on dealings with North Korea but added that sanctions were not a solution to the North Korea issue. North Korea's UN mission did not respond to a request for comment.

BETTER PAY IN CHINA

Choi Seong-guk, a North Korean defector web cartoonist who worked at SEK Studio between 1996 and 2002, told Reuters the studio had a team assigned for joint work with foreign studios.

Choi, who quit the state-run studio over low pay, said some fellow North Korean cartoonists also left and went to work overseas, mostly in China, where they were construction workers on paper but in reality created animation for Chinese clients.

"By doing that in China, they are paid $100 per month ... compared to $1 back home," he said.

In 2022, the US Departments of State and Treasury and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an advisory warning businesses about the risk of inadvertently hiring North Korean IT workers and said this could put them in violation of US and UN sanctions.

A spokesperson for the US Treasury said it does not comment on "potential investigations or sanctions violations as general practice" but North Korea's efforts to generate revenue for its weapons programs through cybercrime and abuse of contractors was a concern.