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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Japan emperor draws record birthday crowd before abdication next year
23 December 2018, 11:00 AM

More than 75 000 well-wishers paid their respects to Emperor Akihito who turned 85 on Sunday, his last birthday celebration at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace before stepping down next year. The birthday of the emperor, whose position is ceremonial with no political power, is traditionally marked by a national holiday and an address at the palace, which opens to the public on the day.

The morning crowd of 75 490, according to the Imperial Household Agency, was the largest birthday attendance during Akihito’s three-decade reign, known as the “Heisei” era, which means “achieving peace” in Japanese.

Akihito, flanked by his wife, eldest son Naruhito and other members of the imperial family on a balcony, addressed well-wishers waving small Japanese flags and holding up smartphones.

“My thoughts go out to those who have lost family members or those close to them, or have suffered damage and whose lives are currently impaired,” he said, referring to the natural disasters that hit Japan in the past year.

Earthquakes, severe storms and heat waves killed hundreds of people, destroyed homes and disrupted supply chains; clouding the outlook for Japan’s export-reliant economy.

Along with Empress Michiko, Akihito has spent much of his reign addressing the legacy of World War Two, which was fought in the name of his father, Hirohito, and consoling victims of natural disasters.

“I would like to thank him for standing by us, the Japanese people, and would like him to rest and enjoy his time from now on,” said 46-year-old Kazuyo Toyama from Nagoya.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, is scheduled to step down on April 30, passing the Chrysanthemum Throne to 58-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito. The last time a Japanese emperor abdicated was in 1817.

Although he cannot directly influence government policy, Akihito has created a broader consciousness of Japan’s wartime past throughout his symbolic reign, experts said. In comments made to the media ahead of his birthday, Akihito said “it is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War Two…and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war.” His conciliatory stance contrasts with gestures made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has adopted a less apologetic tone over Japan’s past military aggression.

Akihito also referred to foreign workers, saying he hoped that “the Japanese people will be able to warmly welcome as members of our society those who come to Japan to work.”

Japan enacted a law this month to let in more foreign, blue-collar workers to ease a labour shortage, despite criticism it was too hastily crafted and risked exposing the workers to exploitation.

Carlos Ghosn
Japan court extends Ghosn detention by 10 days
23 December 2018, 10:37 AM

A Japanese court on Sunday extended for 10 days the detention of ousted Nissan Motor Co chairperson Carlos Ghosn, who is facing new allegations of making the car maker shoulder $16.6 million in personal investment losses. The extension announced by the Tokyo District Court means Ghosn will remain in Tokyo’s main detention centre, where he has been confined since his arrest last month on initial allegation sof financial misconduct.

Ghosn was re-arrested on Friday based on suspicions that around October 2008 he shifted personal trades to Nissan to make it responsible for 1.85 billion yen ($16.6 million) in appraisal losses, prosecutors said. They said the move inflicted damage on Nissan by having it deposit a total of $14.7 million on four occasions between June 2009 and March 2012 into a related bank account.

A Tokyo court had initially ruled not to extend Ghosn’s detention and the ex-Nissan boss was expected to be released soon after being in jail from November on charges of misconduct.

Meghan Markle
Ten celebrities that used star power for good in 2018
23 December 2018, 10:23 AM

Stars from Buckingham Palace to Bollywood and Hogwarts used their fame in 2018 to highlight a list of global challenges from climate change, to disease and women’s rights. Here are 10 celebrities who took a stand in the past year in efforts to make a positive impact on the world.

  1. Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle.

Since marrying into Britain’s royal family in May, the US actress has vowed to shine a light on women’s rights. She was also snapped wearing “slave-free” jeans from Outland Denim in Australia, which sparked a run to buy the trousers, and collaborated with survivors of London’s Grenfell Tower fire to produce a community led cookbook.

  1. Emma Watson.

Best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, Watson used 2018 to campaign for the #MeToo movement, donating one million pounds ($1.3 million) to a fund that supports charities fighting sexual abuse. In October, Watson wrote an open letter to end restrictive abortion laws from India to Ireland, while she was also photographed wearing earrings fashioned from shrapnel and undetonated bombs from Laos.

  1. David Attenborough.

The nonagenarian broadcaster of nature documentaries used 2018 and the annual United Nations’ climate talks in Poland to stand with young people and voice the need for urgent progress on climate action.

  1. Amitabh Bachchan.

Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan cemented his popularity in India when he spent more than 40 million rupees ($560 000) to clear the loans of farmers after an agricultural crisis left many of them in extreme poverty.

  1. Elton John.

The British singer-songwriter, a long-time advocate for LGBT+ rights, called for more to be done to support those living in poverty to gain better access to HIV/AIDS medical treatment, describing the lack of access a “disgrace.”

  1. Millie Bobby Brown.

The teen star of hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” became the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF’s youngest goodwill ambassador this year, vowing to raise issues around children’s rights, education, poverty and work to end bullying. “It’s a dream come true,” Brown said.

  1. Michelle Obama.

The former US first lady has been promoting her memoir globally and speaking up for women’s rights and girls’ education. Obama, who grew up in a working class household in Chicago, said she wanted to empower women to seek hope in a difficult political and social climate.

  1. David Beckham.

The former English soccer captain joined a campaign to reinvigorate the global fight against malaria, launched by charity Malaria No More UK. The retired athlete starred in a short film in which he was swarmed by mosquitoes to highlight that malaria continues to kill about 445 000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

  1. Cate Blanchett.

Australian actress and United Nations’ refugee goodwill ambassador spoke out about the Rohingya crisis, urging nations to do more to support refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh. Blanchett, who has won two Oscars, warned of a “race against time” to protect Rohingya refugees.

  1. Princess Beatrice.

The British princess, eighth in line to the throne, campaigned to tackle online abuse and cyber-bullying, especially against young women and girls. Beatrice is part of a wider anti-bullying movement promoted by celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne to “Be Cool Be Nice.”

SpaceX
SpaceX halts launch of U.S. military satellite due to winds
23 December 2018, 8:58 AM

Elon Musk’s SpaceX scrapped Saturday’s launch of a long-delayed navigation satellite for the US military due to strong upper level winds. The next launch attempt will be on Sunday according to SpaceX officials. The launch, SpaceX’s fourth attempt in a week after technical and weather delays, would have been the rocket firm’s first national security space mission for the United States. Musk’s rocket company has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches long-dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.

SpaceX sued the US Air Force in 2014 in protest over the military’s award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed. It dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open up competition.

The following year, SpaceX won an $83 million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of 15 years.

The launch would be the first of 32 satellites in production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $12.6 billion for the Air Force GPS III program, Lockheed spokesperson Chip Eschenfelder said.

The launch was originally scheduled for 2014, but has been hobbled by production delays, the Air Force said. It would have marked SpaceX’s first so-called National Security Space mission, as defined by the U.S. military, SpaceX said.

The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019.

Aaron Finch
Australia’s Finch declares himself match fit for India test
23 December 2018, 8:39 AM

Australia opening batsman Aaron Finch has declared himself fit for the Boxing Day test against India in Melbourne and said his injured finger would need to be cut off to prevent him from playing in front of his home state’s fans. Finch’s right index finger suffered a nasty blow when he was struck in the glove by a Mohammed Shami delivery in the second test in Perth, forcing him to retire hurt during Australia’s second innings. He came back to face only one more delivery before being caught behind off the same bowler, but it mattered little as Tim Paine’s Australia went on to claim a rousing 146-run win to level the four-match series at 1-1.

As a one-day specialist, Victoria batsman Finch has played to huge crowds at the MCG, including the World Cup triumph against New Zealand in 2015. But Finch has yet to savour a Boxing Day test at the ground, one of the game’s biggest carnivals.

“With a Boxing Day test, being from Victoria, it’s going to have to be cut off (to not play),” Finch joked to reporters at the MCG before training on Sunday. “It’s going to be a catch and bat today and reassess, but it feels like it’s improved 100 per cent over the last couple of days. I got sent some new bats, so I’ve been walking around the lounge room and waving them around. It feels okay…If anything changes in the next couple of days, we’ll have to sit down and chat about that but, at this stage, it’s still business as usual and I plan to field at slip and do whatever else is needed,” Finch said.

After twin failures in the first test defeat in Adelaide, Finch scored 50 in the first innings in Perth in a vital 112-run opening partnership with Victoria team mate Marcus Harris. The rookie opening pair then shored up their places in the squad with a 59-run stand in Australia’s second innings.

Compared to India, who have injuries nagging both their top spinners and major form concerns over both their opening batsmen, Australia head into the Wednesday’s Boxing Day test in a relative state of calm.

Australia are unlikely to tweak their attack for the MCG, and only middle order batsman Peter Handscomb is really sweating on his place after managing only 68 runs from his four innings.

Seam-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh could replace Handscomb and offer support for Australia’s pacemen on a drop-in wicket that did little for the bowlers in a dull draw against England last year.

But selectors would be replacing one out-of-form player with another.

Marsh has managed scores of 11, 21, 30 and six from his last four innings for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield, and was dismissed for three on Thursday in his last knock in the local ‘Big Bash’ Twenty20 competition.

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