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NASA’s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft nears planned impact with its target

Sept 26 (Reuters) - Ten months after launch, NASA's asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft neared a planned impact with its target on Monday in a test of the world's first planetary defense system, designed to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth.
The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.
The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.
It marks the world’s first attempt to change the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body.
DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, has made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control to be handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey.
Monday evening’s planned impact is to be monitored in real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.
Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test cannot create a new existential hazard by mistake.
Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs.
Smaller asteroids are far more common and pose a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts.
Also, their relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission of DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.
The mission represents a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft must ultimately crash to succeed.
The plan is for DART to fly directly into Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kph), bumping it hard enough to shift its orbital ...

Meloni Wins Big in Italian Election to Turn Page on Draghi Era

(Bloomberg) -- Giorgia Meloni won a clear majority in Sunday’s Italian election, setting herself up to become the country’s first female prime minister at the head of the most right-wing government since World War II.
Her alliance, which also includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, claimed about 43% of the vote, according to projections for RAI, the public broadcaster. That would give the bloc at least 114 seats in the Senate, where 104 votes are required for a majority.
Meloni emerged from the political fringes after leading the opposition to Mario Draghi’s technocratic administration which stabilized the country over the past 18 months following the trauma of the pandemic. Yet the charismatic 45-year-old has little experience of governing and she would be taking office at a perilous moment for her country.
The next Italian government will face a series of overlapping crises as the energy shortages triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fuel rampant inflation and undermine growth. The hit to Italy’s finances and the prospect of more interest-rate hikes from the European Central Bank have pushed the yield on Italy’s 10-year bonds to more than 4.3% compared with less than 1% in December.
“We haven’t arrived,” Meloni told supporters in the small hours of Monday in a sober speech at a hotel in downtown Rome. “This is a starting point. And tomorrow we will have to show what we are worth.”
Traders shrugged off the result in Asian hours, with attention focused on the pound’s declines. Sterling fell as much as 3.7% against the euro, its biggest intraday decline against the single currency since the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016.
Read More: Giorgia Meloni Makes Markets Edgy, But Italy Wants Her in Charge
Once the final results are in, the next step in the constitutional process will see President Sergio Mattarella consulting with party leaders before, almost certainly, nominating Meloni to form the next government. That process could still last weeks. The new parliament, which has been downsized to 200 senators and 400 lower house lawmakers, will meet for the first time on Oct. 13.
Meloni cut her teeth in politics as a far-right activist in the 1990s and her campaigning is still marked by fiery attacks on the European Union, immigrants and LGBTQ groups. But she has also tried to reassure voters and investors that she will keep Italy’s mammoth debt under control and won’t question the country’s foreign alliances or ...

Iran criticises Western support of mass protests over death of Mahsa Amini

Iran summoned the British and Norwegian ambassadors over what it called interference and hostile media coverage of the nationwide unrest triggered by the death of a woman detained by morality police.
British ambassador summoned over coverage by London-based media
Norwegian envoy called in over ‘interventionist’ speaker
Teachers’ union calls for strikes Monday and Wednesday
Iranian TV says 41 people killed in more than a week of unrest
Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also criticised US support for “rioters” – the label Tehran has used for many who have joined the protests which have swept the country, prompting a security crackdown and curbs on internet and phones.
Demonstrations which erupted more than a week ago at the funeral of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini, who died in detention after being arrested by police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress, have turned into the biggest protests in years.
Clashes continued between security forces and protesters in several northwestern regions, according to sources in the cities of Tabriz, Urmia, Rasht and Hamedan. Activists said there were also protests in districts of the capital, Tehran.
A main teachers’ union, in a statement posted on social media on Sunday, called for teachers and students to stage the first national strike since the unrest began, on Monday and Wednesday.
It urged teachers, trade unions, military veterans and artists to “stand with pupils, students and people seeking justice in these difficult but hopeful days”.
Details of casualties have trickled out slowly, partly because of the restrictions on communication.
The sister of a 20-year-old woman identified as Hadis Najafi told a US-based activist that she died on Wednesday after being shot by security forces. Videos of Najafi had been shared on Twitter, showing her without hijab and protesting in Karaj, 30km northwest of Tehran.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Iran should “immediately stop the violent crackdown on protests and ensure internet access”. He also called for information on the number of people killed and arrested, and an investigation into “the killing of Mahsa Amini”.
President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran ensures freedom of expression and that he has ordered an investigation into Amini’s death. He also said that “acts of chaos” were unacceptable and that Iran must deal decisively with the unrest. At the United Nations, he said extensive coverage of Amini’s case was “double standards”, pointing to deaths in US police custody.
Amirabdollahian said the United States was supporting “rioters” and seeking to ...

Iranian state-sponsored marchers call for execution of rioters

DUBAI, Sept 23 (Reuters) - State-organised demonstrations to counter nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody kicked off in several Iranian cities on Friday, with marchers calling for the execution of rioters.
Demonstrators condemned the anti-government protesters as “Israel’s soldiers”, live state television coverage showed. They also shouted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, common slogans the country’s clerical rulers use to try and stir up support for authorities.
“Offenders of the Koran must be executed,” the crowds chanted.
Iranians have staged mass demonstrations over the case of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died last week after being arrested by the morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire”.
Amini’s death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, strict dress codes for women and an economy reeling from sanctions.
Iran’s army on Friday sent the toughest warning yet from the authorities to protesters enraged by the death, saying they would “confront the enemies” to ensure security.
The army said “these desperate actions are part of the evil strategy of the enemy to weaken the Islamic regime”.
The military said it would “confront the enemies’ various plots in order to ensure security and peace for the people who are being unjustly assaulted.”
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also on Friday warned “seditionists” that their “dream of defeating religious values and the great achievements of the revolution will never be realized,” according to the AsrIran website.
Iran’s clerical rulers fear a revival of the protests that erupted in 2019 over gasoline price rises, the bloodiest in the Islamic Republic’s history. Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed.
In the latest unrest, protesters in Tehran and other cities torched police stations and vehicles as outrage over Amini’s death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.
Iranian media reported the arrest of 288 rioters on Thursday.
In Madrid, four topless activists from the Femen women’s movement protested on Friday in front of the Iranian embassy over Amini’s death, carrying signs reading “Women, Life, Liberty” and “Mahsa Amini was assassinated”.
The protest took place peacefully and there were no arrests.
In Athens, angry protesters demonstrating over Amini’s death tried to approach the Iranian embassy on Thursday before being forced back by police wielding shields. Demonstrators chanted slogans and held placards reading “Homophobia and sexism kill.”
Protests over Amini’s death were also held in Canada and the Netherlands on Thursday.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing ...

Families mourn as at least 71 die on Lebanon migrant boat

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Sept 23 (Reuters) - At least 71 people died when the migrant boat they were aboard sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week, the Lebanese transport minister said, as search operations continued on Friday.
It marks the deadliest such voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting economic desperation has led many to board often rickety and overcrowded boats in the hope of reaching Europe.
Syrian authorities began finding bodies off the coast of Tartus on Thursday afternoon. The Syrian transport ministry has quoted survivors as saying the boat left from Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people onboard, bound for Europe.
The family of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who was on the boat with his wife and three young children, were accepting condolences at their apartment in the impoverished Bab Al-Rangel neighborhood of the northern city of Tripoli.
“We have no one but God,” an elderly relative cried as mourners paid their respects.
People who feared their relatives were among the dead gathered at the border crossing with Syria, where the bodies were due to be brought later in the day.
Lebanese transport minister Ali Hamiye said 20 survivors were being treated in Syrian hospitals, the bulk of them Syrians – around 1 million of whom live in Lebanon as refugees.
Palestinians living at a refugee camp in the north said several dozen people on board came from the camp.
Hamiye said the boat was “very small” and made of wood, describing such sailings as an almost daily occurrence organised by people who did not care for safety.
Samer Qubrusli, the Syrian director general of ports, said rescue efforts were continuing on Friday.
The spate of such voyages has been fuelled by Lebanon’s financial collapse in the last three years – one of the worst ever recorded globally. Poverty rates have sky-rocketed among the population of some 6.5 million.
Cyprus scrambled search and rescue crews late on Monday and Tuesday when in the space of hours two vessels carrying migrants from Lebanon put out distress signals; there were 300 in one vessel, 177 in the other. In those cases, all on board were rescued, the island’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center said.
The number of people who have left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020, the United Nations refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month.
It rose again by more than 70% in 2022 compared ...

UPDATE 1-Lula slightly boosts lead over Bolsonaro ahead of Brazil first round -poll

SAO PAULO, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's presidential frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva slightly boosted his lead over incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro to 14 percentage points in a poll published on Thursday by pollster Datafolha, less than two weeks before the Oct. 2 first-round vote.
The Datafolha survey showed Lula with 47% voter support versus 33% for Bolsonaro in the election’s first round, compared with 45% and 33%, respectively, in the previous poll.
In an expected second-round run-off, Lula would garner the support of 54% of voters versus 38% for Bolsonaro, a 16 point advantage, according to the poll, the same result from a week ago.
Bolsonaro’s approval rating edged up to 32%, compared to 30% one week ago; and still above the 22% he held in December, after which his popularity ticked up thanks to welfare programs and measures to tackle inflation.
His disapproval came in at 44%, according to the poll, the same result from one week ago but down from the 53% seen in December.
Datafolha conducted 6,754 in-person interviews between Sept. 20-22. The poll has a margin of error of 2 percentage points up or down.

Defiant Russia Shows Up Late to UN, Walks Out Early

(Bloomberg) -- The UN Security Council gave Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov an icy reception when he went before it to defend his nation’s invasion of Ukraine. The veteran diplomat made sure he didn’t stick around to hear the criticism.
In a show of defiance toward Western condemnation, Lavrov arrived well after the council opened a special meeting to discuss the Ukraine conflict on Thursday. He gave his speech — accusing the West of forcing Russia to invade to protect itself — and then walked out.
“He has left the chamber — I’m not surprised,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told the members after Lavrov departed. “I don’t think Mr. Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council.”
It was another moment of diplomatic drama at a venue that’s seen plenty of them over the years: the US-Soviet showdown during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program; a Ukrainian envoy’s warning the day the invasion started on Feb. 24 that war criminals “go straight to hell.”
The scene was a familiar one for Lavrov, who was Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1994 to 2004, years when Russia and the US worked alongside each other in occasional comity and the council closed ranks around the US after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Lavrov, foreign minister since he left the UN job, has stood by President Vladimir Putin’s side as he’s become more and more isolated by the West. Thursday’s display highlighted the deep divisions that have emerged within the UN over that time.
Those cracks were evident at this week’s annual gathering of the UN General Assembly, and underscored how Western condemnation of Russia isn’t universal. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at the same session, kept up his nation’s support for Russia’s right to remain on the Security Council and in the UN despite some nations’ efforts to get it expelled.
And perhaps more disheartening to the US, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar declined to call out Russia, instead urging a negotiated solution. India has declined to ally itself with the West’s campaign against Russia and has so far resisted a push to cut trade.
All that even though Putin, who skipped the General Assembly, accelerated the war this week with plans to annex Ukrainian territory and mobilize 300,000 additional troops.
Moscow has still struggled to marshal support outside the Security Council in ...

Raytheon Beats Lockheed, Boeing for $1 Billion Hypersonic Cruise Missile

(Bloomberg) -- Raytheon Technologies Corp. beat Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. for a $1 billion contract to design, develop and produce a new hypersonic weapon for the US Air Force, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Raytheon was awarded the “task order” for the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile that calls for weapon system design, development and initial delivery expected to be completed by March 2027.
The HACM, which has been co-developed with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will use air-breathing propulsion to reach five times the speed of sound. It will be the Air Force’s second hypersonic missile after Lockheed’s ARRW, which is a hypersonic weapon that’s boosted into the atmosphere and then glides to its target.
Air Force officials have indicated that the HACM might be used on both fighters and bombers, with one official saying a B-52 bomber potentially could carry as many as 20, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
At least eight hypersonic weapons are in development, the service said.
Russia said in February that it had test-fired a hypersonic missile, sending a message to the US and NATO allies just before its invasion of Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has asserted that hypersonic weapons will make up the core of Russia’s non-nuclear deterrence capability in the future. The US says Russia has deployed its Avangard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle and its Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship and land-attack missile.
China is investing heavily in hypersonic weapons as well, putting one in orbit last year that flew 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) in more than 100 minutes of flight, according to the top US nuclear commander.
Russia and China are able to press ahead on new weapons without the oversight by lawmakers and the public that can slow testing and deployment under the Pentagon’s acquisition system.

Federer and Nadal team up for doubles on Friday at Laver Cup

LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Swiss icon Roger Federer will bring the curtain down on his glittering career by teaming up with great rival Rafa Nadal at the Laver Cup on Friday.
The 41-year-old announced last week that the team event being played at London’s O2 Arena would be his last.
Federer’s suspect right knee, the injury that forced him to call time on a 24-year career that included 20 Grand Slam singles titles and worldwide admiration, means he will feature in only one match at the three-day clash between a Bjorn Borg-captained Europe and John McEnroe’s the Rest of the World.
But the fact he will bow out for his last competitive match with record 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal alongside him is a dream scenario. They will take on American duo Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe in Friday’s last match.
“It’s going to be a different kind of pressure to be part of this historic moment,” Nadal, who has shared an epic career-long rivalry with Federer, told reporters.
“It’s going to be something amazing and unforgettable for me. I’m super excited. maybe we can create a good moment and maybe win the match.”
Federer cut a relaxed figure as he sat with his European team mates including 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic and three-time major winner Andy Murray.
He had said previous day that it would be beautiful to play his last match on the same side of the net as Spaniard Nadal and captain Borg, unsurprisingly, obliged.
“I’m not sure if I can handle (all the emotions) but I will try,” Federer, whose presence had fans flocking to watch practice sessions on Thursday, said.
“This one feels a whole lot different. I’m happy to have him on my team and not playing against him.
“To be able to do it one more time, I’m sure it will be wonderful and I’ll try my very best.”
By Martyn Herman
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Venezuela arrests ‘Fat Leonard’ contractor in US Navy bribery case

Sept 22 (Reuters) - Venezuelan police have arrested a fugitive Malaysian businessman nicknamed 'Fat Leonard' who is at the centre of a major U.S. Navy bribery scandal, as he prepared to leave the country for Russia, Venezuelan Interpol said.
Leonard Glenn Francis was detained at the country’s main international airport on Wednesday under a red notification requested by the United States for crimes of corruption and bribery, the Interpol chief in Venezuela said in a statement posted on Instagram.
The Malaysian businessman removed his monitoring anklet and escaped his house arrest in the United States earlier this month ahead of his impending sentencing, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Prosecutors in the case said that in exchange for classified information and contracts, Francis had plied Navy officers with cash, gourmet food, expensive cigars, rare cognac and wild sex parties in fancy hotels.
Francis pleaded guilty to bribery in January 2015 and agreed to forfeit $35 million in ill-gotten gains. According to that plea agreement, Francis paid about $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials.
He arrived in Venezuela from Mexico, with a stopover in Cuba, and was planning to continue to Russia, the Interpol statement said. Authorities will now initiate his extradition procedure, it added.
U.S. authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Joan Faus, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel)

Uganda has confirmed seven Ebola cases so far, one death

KAMPALA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Uganda has confirmed seven cases of Ebola including that of a 24-year-old man who died earlier this week, and an additional seven deaths are being investigated as suspected Ebola cases, a health ministry official said on Thursday.
The man who died had developed a high fever, diarrhoea and abdominal pains, and was vomiting blood. After initially being treated for malaria, he was diagnosed as having contracted the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus.
“As of today, we have seven confirmed cases, of whom we have one confirmed death,” Dr Kyobe Henry Bbosa, Ebola Incident Commander at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, told a briefing.
“But also we have seven probable cases that died before the confirmation of the outbreak.”
Uganda last reported an outbreak of Ebola Sudan strain in 2012.
In 2019, the country experienced an outbreak of Ebola Zaire. The virus was imported from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo which was battling a large epidemic in its north-eastern region.
In August, a new case of Ebola virus was confirmed in the city of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. An Ebola vaccination campaign was launched last month in the Congolose city of Beni last month.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema and George Obulutsa; Writing by James Macharia Chege; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)

Finland says traffic ‘intensifying’ on border with Russia

HELSINKI, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Traffic arriving at Finland's eastern border with Russia "intensified" overnight and remained elevated into daytime hours on Thursday, the Finnish Border Guard said, although the situation was under control.
Finland, whose 1,300-km (800-mile) border with Russia is the longest in the European Union, is closely monitoring the situation in its neighbour after President Vladimir Putin’s order of military mobilisation for the war in Ukraine, Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen said on Wednesday.
Finnish land border crossings have remained among the few entry points into Europe for Russians after a string of Western countries shut both physical frontiers and their air space to Russian planes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Traffic at the Finnish-Russian border intensified during the night,” the border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, said in a tweet. He told Reuters thatborder guards were ready at nine checkpoints.
Traffic from Russia was busier than normal at the Vaalimaa border crossing – one of nine with Russia – with three lanes of cars each stretching for 300-400 metres (yards), a border official there told Reuters.
A border guard spokesperson said the traffic situation remained elevated at midday (0900 GMT), although a separate border guard statement said it had not changed “alarmingly” in recent days compared with pre-pandemic times.
The statement warned that “incorrect and misleading” information was circulating on social media.
Putin’s announcement, made in an early-morning television address on Wednesday, raised fears that some men of fighting age would not be allowed to leave Russia and prompted one-way flights out of the country to sell out fast.
Finland opted to keep its frontier with Russia open following Moscow’s February invasion of Ukraine although it has cut back the number of consular appointments available to Russian travellers seeking visas.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the other EU countries that border Russian territory, began turning away Russian citizens from crossings at midnight on Monday, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine.
The three Baltic nations will offer no refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilisation of troops, their ministers said on Wednesday.
Finland is working on its own national solution to limit tourist traffic from Russia, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said during a visit to New York late on Wednesday.
“Finland does not want to be a transit country for (EU) Schengen visas issued by other countries. This is the traffic we want to get under control,” Haavisto told ...

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