Dublin (AFP) - Ireland's coronavirus crisis is often described as an "all-island" emergency, shared with the British territory of Northern Ireland -- a sign, some say, that the pandemic has bolstered the long-fraught case for unification.As the crisis has unfolded, death counts have often been tallied on an all-island basis -- a figure that stood at 1,684 at the start of this week."It knows no borders and we are all in this together," Irish Health Minister Simon Harris said as the contagion took hold last month."It is essential we continue to do everything we can across the island to fight thi...
The Titanic is being brought back from the deep, more than a century after its ill-fated maiden voyage, at a landlocked Chinese theme park where tourists can soon splash out for a night on a fullscale replica.
The project's main backer was inspired to recreate the world's most infamous cruise liner by the 1997 box office hit of the same name -- once the world's top-grossing film and wildly popular in China.
The original luxury vessel, the largest of its time and branded "unsinkable" by its owners, has become a byword for hubris ever since it plunged into the depths of the Atlantic in 1912 after striking an iceberg, leaving more than 1,500 people dead.
Investor Su Shaojun says he was motivated to finance the audacious, 260-meter-long (850-foot-long) duplicate to keep memories of the Titanic alive.
"I hope this ship will be here in 100 or 200 years," Su said.
"We are building a museum for the Titanic."
It has taken six years -- longer than the construction of the original Titanic -- plus 23,000 tons of steel, more than a hundred workers and a hefty one billion yuan ($153.5 million) price tag.
Everything from the dining room to the luxury cabins and even the door handles are styled on the original Titanic.
It forms the centerpiece of a Sichuan province theme park more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the sea.
The site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron's 1997 disaster epic, where Leonardo DiCaprio's fictional character Jack swings on board after winning his ticket in a bet.
Tour buses play the film's theme tune, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", on repeat.
It costs up to 2,000 yuan (around $150) to spend one night on the ship for the "five-star cruise service", Su says, adding that with a functioning steam engine guests will feel that they are really at sea.
He was so excited by the challenge that he sold his energy industry assets, including a stake in several hydropower projects, to invest in the Titanic.
- 'Inherit the great spirit' -
But even before opening, the replica has drawn plenty of controversy.
Online users have questioned whether the famous ship would attract tourists given the disaster that struck its real-life inspiration.
Others feared it would join other ambitious Chinese building projects that turned into white elephants -- including a 2008 replica of the USS Enterprise, an American aircraft carrier, which cost over $18 million and was abandoned shortly after it opened.
But Su hopes as many as five million annual visitors will come to see his Titanic.
"This tourist volume should guarantee the return of our investment," he added.
Project manager Xu Junnian said he felt it was important to preserve the vessel's memory.
"The greatest significance of building this ship is to carry forward and inherit the great spirit of Titanic," he said.
Aside from the enduring appeal of the Hollywood blockbuster, the Titanic has stolen headlines in China in recent weeks with the release of a new documentary called "The Six".
The film tells the story of a group of Chinese travelers on board when the ship sinks, of whom six survived.
"We'd like to invite Jack, Rose and James Cameron to the inauguration ceremony," Su said.
© 2021 AFP
A petition to cancel the Tokyo Olympics with more than 351,000 signatures was submitted to the city's governor on Friday, with its organizer urging officials to "prioritize life".
The online petition titled "Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives" was launched earlier this month by Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer and former candidate for Tokyo governor.
It has gathered signatures faster than any previous petition on Change.org's platform in Japan, which Utsunomiya said "reflects public opinion" on the issue.
Polls consistently show a majority of Japanese oppose holding the Games this year, favoring either a further delay or cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think the Olympics this time is about whether we prioritize life or a ceremony and event called the Olympics," Utsunomiya told reporters.
He called on Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cancel the Games.
"The IOC holds the right to make a decision on whether to cancel, but Tokyo, as the host city, should urge the IOC to cancel," he said.
The petition is also being sent to the IOC and International Paralympic Committee as well as local organisers and the national government.
It was submitted as Japan battles a fourth wave of virus infections, with Tokyo and five other prefectures under a state of emergency.
Later Friday, the measure is expected to be expanded to another three regions, including northern Hokkaido where the Olympic marathon will take place to beat Tokyo's summer heat.
Utsunomiya warned that "holding the Olympics under these circumstance means precious medical resources have to be set aside for the Games."
On Thursday, a doctors' union warned it was "impossible" to hold the Games safely during the pandemic, but organizers say virus countermeasures will keep the athletes and Japanese public safe.
Utsunomiya said the petition would continue to gather signatures "until the cancellation is announced," and brushed aside concerns about the cost of scrapping the massive event.
"People's lives are more important than money," he said.
In recent days, organizers have held a string of successful test events, including with international athletes, which they say shows their protocols will work.
But opposition shows no sign of dwindling, and several top Japanese sport stars have expressed concerns in recent days, including tennis champ Naomi Osaka and Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama.
© 2021 AFP
Indian authorities launched a probe Friday into the deaths of at least 18 elephants, as a leading conservationist raised doubts that the animals were killed by lightning.
The dead herd was found in the hilly Kandali Proposed Reserve Forest in the northeastern India state of Assam on Thursday.
Forest officials and a local lawmaker, Jitu Goswami, told AFP they believed the elephants died after lightning struck the forest.
But prominent conservationist Soumyadeep Datta, from environmental activist group Nature's Beckon, said that was unlikely based on social media images.
"Poisoning could be behind the death of the elephants," Datta told AFP. "We have to wait for the autopsy report, which the forest department will do soon."
A team of vets and officials headed to the site on Friday together with Parimal Shuklabaidya, Assam's forests and environment minister.
India is home to nearly 30,000 elephants, around 60 percent of the wild Asian elephant population.
In recent years there have been rising incidents of elephants killed by locals -- and vice-versa -- as humans encroach further into forest areas.
© 2021 AFP
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