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Colombia's FARC rebels ratify peace accord to end 52-year war
24 September 2016 - Colombia's FARC rebel group voted unanimously to approve a peace deal with the government on Friday, declaring an end to the five-decade war as it prepares to transition into a new political party. The peace accord is due to be signed on Monday by President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, who uses the nom de guerre Timochenko. Colombians will vote on the deal in an October 2 plebiscite, the final go-ahead for rebels to demobilize. (more)

The American diplomat who helped bring an end to Colombia's war
24 September 2016 - When the Colombian government and Marxist rebels ink a final peace accord Monday to end a 52-year guerrilla war, an American envoy will be one of the special guests at the signing ceremony. Last year, the Obama administration dispatched veteran U.S. diplomat Bernard Aronson to Havana, Cuba, the site of the Colombian peace talks. The negotiations had turned contentious and had dragged on for nearly three years. But Aronson was a reassuring presence and helped the two sides overcome numerous roadblocks as they moved toward a final accord. He called the peace treaty 'the final chapter of a very, very long drama.' The war ... began in the 1960s as the rebels pushed for land reform and social justice. But over the years, the FARC became deeply involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and illegal gold mining. The fighting ... uprooted more than 5 million from their homes. In a recent interview with NPR, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expressed his gratitude. 'The personal participation of Bernie Aronson has been a great contribution, not only to the process but to me, personally,' President Santos said. (more)

US: 6 Portland health providers give $21.5M for homeless housing
24 September 2016 - Five major hospitals in Portland, Oregon, and a nonprofit health care plan said Friday they will donate a combined $21.5 million toward the construction of nearly 400 housing units for the city's burgeoning homeless and low-income population -- a move hailed by national housing advocates as the largest private investment of its kind in the nation. Studies have shown that 70 percent of a person's health outcome is determined by social factors, such as their housing status, income, level of education, and support network, said Robert Friant, spokesman for the New York City-based Corporation for Supportive Housing. (more)

Colombia rebels unanimously approve peace accord with govt
23 September 2016 - Leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia pledged their unanimous support on Friday to a peace agreement reached last month with the government. In ... conferences on the FARC's care for the environment and interviews with international media who were invited to attend the normally clandestine conference for the first time, rebel leaders largely shunned the antagonizing, ideological rhetoric Colombians have grown to expect from them to embrace a softer, more inclusive image. President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader known as Timochenko are expected to sign the agreement Monday in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. (more)

Once little known, Colombia's peacemaker hailed as hero
23 September 2016 - Younger Colombians knew almost nothing about Humberto De la Calle in 2012 when he was named the government's chief peace negotiator for talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Many older ones were all but sure his mission to end a half-century of bloodshed would fail. Now the Bogota attorney is being roundly hailed as a hero over last month's historic peace deal with the rebels. He all but disappeared from politics until Santos tapped him for the talks. (more)

Meet the man who brought an entire English library to Tajikistan
23 September 2016 - Qurghonteppa was at the very edge of the Soviet Union, a dusty city in the baking plains of what is now southern Tajikistan, not far from the Afghan border. Paul Marchant is an entomologist who first came to Tajikistan in 1999 to research a project on the efficacy of mosquito nets. Initially, he started Sworde Teppa as an environmental organisation to help promote sustainable living. English lessons emerged as a sideline when it became clear that young people in Tajikistan had little option but to live in poverty at home or travel to Russia for low-paid, unskilled labour. Gradually, English lessons became the organisation's main activity. (more)

Safety project cuts accidents on deadly Bangladesh highway
23 September 2016 - A pilot project that installed basic road safety infrastructure such as bus stops and speed bumps on one of the world's most dangerous highways -- the N2 between Dhaka and Sylhet in Bangladesh -- has cut road deaths by more than 60 per cent in the first year, according to a study. Almost 100 per cent of local people surveyed said they thought the road was safer than it had been before. (more)

Bangkok edges out London as world's top travel destination: Mastercard
22 September 2016 - The Thai capital of Bangkok has beaten London to be crowned the world's most popular travel destination this year, according to an annual ranking by global payments and technology company Mastercard released on Thursday, 22 September. Bangkok topped the 2016 listing of 132 cities, beating London, Paris, and Dubai to become the city most visited by international travelers in the Mastercard Index of Global Destination Cities. (more)

Sweden plans green tax credits for home appliance repairs
22 September 2016 - Sweden's government plans to introduce tax breaks to make it more affordable to repair washers, dryers, and other home appliances as a way to reduce waste and protect the environment. The government also suggested lowering the value added tax for repairs of bicycles... The government also said it is investing nearly 13 billion kronor ($1.5 billion) in various measures to reduce emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases, including by promoting public transportation and cycling. (more)

US, others call for rapid phase-out of heat-trapping HFCs
22 September 2016 - The United States and other countries are ramping up pressure on world leaders to quickly phase out the use of a chemical contributing to global warming. The White House says more than 100 countries are calling for an 'early freeze date' for hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. The freeze date is when nations must cap their use of HFCs, refrigerants that are more potent heat-trapping gases than carbon dioxide. (more)

Scanning software deciphers ancient biblical scroll
21 September 2016 - The charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll sat in an Israeli archaeologist's storeroom for decades, too brittle to open. Now, new imaging technology has revealed what was written inside: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardized form. The discovery, announced in a Science Advances journal article by researchers in Kentucky and Jerusalem on Wednesday, was made using 'virtual unwrapping,' a 3D digital analysis of an X-ray scan. Researchers say it is the first time they have been able to read the text of an ancient scroll without having to physically open it. (more)

Syrian refugee musicians sell out shows in Germany
21 September 2016 - At the neoclassical Concert House in Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt, busts of German composers Beethoven, Bach, and Handel looked on as the 65 musicians took their seats for a sold-out weekend concert. The Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra settling in to play represents a much more recent chapter in German history, consisting entirely of professional musicians who fled civil war in their homeland to seek refuge in Europe. Founded in Germany a year ago . . . it has since performed concerts across the country and soon plans to tour Sweden. The musicians' hope is that their concerts will give the European audience a reference point to understand Syrian music and culture. (more)

L'Oreal USA building solar projects at Arkansas, Kentucky plants
20 September 2016 - Cosmetics maker L'Oreal USA announced Tuesday it is building thousands of solar panels at its manufacturing facilities in Kentucky and Arkansas, a move the company says will help cut carbon emissions and create two of the biggest solar-powered projects in each state. The subsidiary of the L'Oreal Group said it plans to install 5,000 solar panels at its Florence, Kentucky, plant and another 4,000 at its North Little Rock, Arkansas, plant. (more)

Israel looks for firms to build its largest solar power facility
19 September 2016 - Israel is planning a tender for building its largest ever solar power facility, which will have a capacity of up to 500 megawatts, in the southern Negev desert. The photovoltaic (PV) field will be 'unprecedented' in size for Israel, covering about 6 square kilometers (2.3 square miles) of land near the town of Dimona, the Finance Ministry said in a statement on Monday. (more)

Sweden to give tax breaks for repairs
19 September 2016 - The Swedish government is introducing tax breaks on repairs to everything from bicycles to washing machines so it will no longer make sense to throw out old or broken items and buy new ones. Per Bolund, Sweden's minister for financial markets and consumer affairs, hopes the tax break on appliances will spur the creation of a new home-repairs service industry, providing much-needed jobs for new immigrants who lack formal education. (more)

U.S. home builder sentiment index highest in 11 months
19 September 2016 - A private gauge on U.S. home builder sentiment unexpectedly rose in September to its strongest level in 11 months, prompted by renewed interest in home purchases following a summer lull. (more)

East Germany's old mines transformed into new lake district
17 September 2016 - Despite a euro 2.2 billion regeneration programme, the Lusatian Lake District project, on land once occupied by the GDR's industrial heartland, remains relatively unknown to non-east Germans. So we took a tour ... The development of this region is one of the former GDR's biggest success stories, transforming what was once one of its primary lignite-producing areas into the largest artificial lakeland in Europe. (more)

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to get humanitarian award
17 September 2016 - Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar will be honored as the 2016 humanitarian of the year by students and faculty at the Harvard Foundation. She will receive the foundation's Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award during a ceremony Saturday, 17 September. (more)

U.S. meeting on ocean conservation nets $5.3 billion in pledges
16 September 2016 - International participants at a high-level conference on the world's oceans pledged more than $5.3 billion for conservation and designated vast areas as protected waters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday. More than 90 countries took part in the two-day conference, the third of its kind, in an effort to galvanize attention to the dangers that pollution, climate change, and over-fishing may pose to the world's oceans. (more)

U.N. 'certain' Paris climate deal will enter into force by end-2016
16 September 2016 - U.N. officials have said they are confident the Paris climate change agreement will enter into force by the end of 2016, with at least 20 countries indicating they will join it at a U.N. event on Sept. 21, adding to the 27 that have already done so. The officials said it was 'remarkable' the agreement could enter into force so soon after being adopted last December -- a process that can often take years or decades. (more)

Ukraine hands back stolen paintings to Dutch museum
16 September 2016 - Kiev authorities handed over to the Netherlands on Friday five masterpieces stolen from a Dutch museum in 2005 and recovered in Ukraine earlier this year. The paintings -- part of a group of 24 works valued at 10 million euros when they went missing in 2005 -- were said in December to have been discovered in a villa in a pro-Russian separatist controlled area of eastern Ukraine. (more)

$5 billion pledged for ocean conservation at U.S. meeting: State Dept
16 September 2016 - More than 20 countries participating in a high-level oceans conference in Washington have pledged more than $5 billion for ocean conservation efforts, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told a briefing on Friday, 16 September. The countries on Thursday joined together to create 40 new marine sanctuaries around the world to protect the oceans from the threat of climate change and pollution. (more)

Australia's Qantas boosts Japan route as economic, tourism ties deepen
16 September 2016 - Qantas Airways said on Friday (16 September) it will launch daily non-stop flights from Melbourne to Tokyo from December in response to revived tourism and trade ties between Australia and Japan. A long-running decline in Japanese tourists and business travellers has reversed with trade relations strengthening and Japanese ski fields enticing Australian holiday-makers en masse. (more)

Scientists caught black holes swallowing stars -- and burping energy back up
16 September 2016 - The tremendous gravitational pull [ofblack holes] sucks in everything that gets too close, including stars. For the first time, astronomers have clearly observed at infrared wavelengths what happens after a black hole eats a star: it burps back up a brilliant flare of light that echoes through space. Two studies published this week -- one by scientists at NASA, the other by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China -- describe these 'tidal disruption flares' using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a space telescope that has photographed the entire sky in infrared light. (more)

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