Indiana Students Win Future City Competition

In this year’s Future City competition, more than 45,000 middle school students from around the U.S. and abroad participated in a contest to come up with a concept for a city with a reliable supply of clean water. The teams pitched their presentations in Washington, D.C., where the winning team and four runners-up were awarded prizes. Sahar Majid has more in this report narrated by Laurel Bowman. 

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Coronavirus Cases Surge in South Korean City; Thousands Screened

South Korea on Saturday reported an eight-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 433, most of them linked to a church and a hospital in and around the country’s fourth-largest city, where health workers scrambled to screen more than 9,000 worshipers.There’s concern that the death toll, currently at two, could grow. Virus patients with signs of pneumonia or other serious conditions at the Cheongdo hospital were transferred to other facilities, 17 of them in critical condition, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.He said the outbreak had entered a serious new phase, but still expressed cautious optimism that it can be contained to the region surrounding Daegu, where the first case was reported Tuesday.Medical workers wearing protective gear carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Chuncheon, Feb. 22, 2020.Latest front: DaeguOf the 229 new cases in South Korea, 200 are from Daegu and nearby regions, which have emerged as the latest front in the widening global fight against the virus.By Saturday morning, the city of 2.5 million and nearby areas counted 352 cases, including the two fatalities in the Cheongdo hospital.The central government has declared the area as a “special management zone” and is channeling support to ease a shortage in hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment.“Although we are beginning to see some more cases nationwide, infections are still sporadic outside of the special management zone of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province,” Kim said during a briefing. He called for maintaining strong border controls to prevent infections from China and elsewhere from entering South Korea.FILE – A man wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus walks past a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu, South Korea, Feb. 21, 2020.Ballooning problemNationwide, the numbers told of a ballooning problem. There were 20 new cases reported Wednesday, 53 on Thursday and 100 on Friday.Around 230 of those have been directly linked to a single house of worship, a Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where a woman in her 60s attended two services before testing positive for the virus.Officials are also investigating a possible link between churchgoers and the spike in infections at the Cheongdo hospital, where more than 110 people have been infected so far, mostly patients at a mental illness ward.Health officials were screening some 9,300 church followers, and said that 1,261 of them have exhibited cough and other symptoms.Among them, four had traveled abroad in recent months including one to China, although that trip came in early January and was away from Hubei.All 74 sites operated by the Shincheonji Church have been closed and worshipers have been told to instead watch services online for a sect whose leader claims to be an angel of Christ, but who is dismissed by many outsiders as a cult leader. Its teachings revolve largely around the Book of Revelation, a chapter of the New Testament known mostly for its apocalyptic foreshadowing.Health and city officials say the woman who first tested positive had contact with about 1,160 people, both at the church, a restaurant and a hospital where she was treated for injuries from a car accident.But officials say it’s unlikely that the woman set off the chain of infections, and that she was probably just the first person to be detected in an area where the virus was circulating in the population.Police officers wearing face masks stand guard during a rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 22, 2020. South Korea on Saturday reported a six-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 433.Military casesAnxiety is also palpable in other parts of the country. In the capital, Seoul, the fear of the virus led many to avoid shops and restaurants and instead eat at home and order necessities online. Buses and subways were full of mask-clad commuters.Seoul City banned rallies downtown but hundreds went ahead with an anti-government protest at Gwanghwamun boulevard Saturday.The first three cases in the country’s 600,000-member military also sprung up on separate bases Friday, bringing added concern. A sailor on Jeju Island and an army officer in North Chungcheong province both tested positive. Both had made recent visits to Daegu, officials said. A third infection was reported in an air force officer who is based in Daegu but who had recently traveled to military headquarters in central South Korea, the defense ministry said, prompting the quarantine of 80 soldiers there.A U.S. Army garrison in Daegu restricted access and imposed self-quarantine for American troops.ElsewhereAmong a dozen new cases in Japan was a middle school teacher in her 60s, prompting concern for the health of other teachers and students in Makuhari in Chiba prefecture southeast of Tokyo. Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai said the school was closed and all teachers will be tested and students monitored.Globally, more than 77,000 people have been infected in 29 countries, and more than 2,300 have died. Italian authorities say a 78-year-old man died of the disease and the number of people infected has more than quadrupled because of an emerging cluster of cases in the country’s north. Many of the new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and brought the country’s total to 19.In the United States, 35 people have tested positive for the virus, including 18 who returned home from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan and one new case reported Friday in California.The United Arab Emirates on Saturday said two more people, a Filipino and a Bangladeshi, were infected, bringing the country’s toll to 11 cases.Saudi Arabia barred travel to Iran and said anyone coming from there can enter only after a 14-day quarantine. The decision directly impacts thousands of Iranians who travel to Mecca and Medina for Islamic pilgrimages, effectively barring them from the kingdom.Iran has reported four deaths for a total of 18 cases.China new cases slow In some positive news, China said Saturday the daily count of new virus cases there fell significantly to 397, though another 109 people died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus. Most of the new cases and all but three of the deaths were in Hubei province, where the outbreak started.The new figures, along with an upward revision of Hubei’s earlier count, brought the total number of cases in mainland China to 76,288 with 2,345 deaths. China has severely restricted travel and imposed strict quarantine measures to stop the virus from spreading.
 

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In Togo, Voters Head to the Polls

Voters in Togo are going to the polls Saturday to cast their ballots in a presidential election.Political observers say incumbent president Faure Gnassingbe will likely be the winner. His family has ruled the West African nation for more than 50 years.Gnassingbe took over Togo’s top position in 2005, following the death of his father, Eyadema, who had ruled for nearly 40 years.Gnassingbe was instrumental in enacting constitutional changes last year that would limit presidents in the deeply impoverished country to two five-year terms.The constitutional changes are not, however, retroactive and Gnassingbe could be in office until 2030.In the lead up to the vote, the president promised to improve the country’s health, education and agricultural sectors.Jean-Pierre Fabre, opposition presidential candidate of the National Alliance for Change, casts his vote during the presidential election in Lome, Togo, Feb. 22 2020.Six challengers are facing off against Gnassingbe, including Jean-Pierre Fabre who came in second in elections in 2010 and 2015.The opposition has not backed any of the candidates, in an attempt to force a second round of voting.Togo faced major protests from the opposition in 2017 and 2018 that were effectively squashed by the government.
 

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Angry Iranians Use Social Media to Encourage Election Boycott 

Iran’s parliamentary elections Friday were marred by low voter turnout as hundreds of activists used social media to ask people to boycott the ballots in a sign of protest against the regime. Iranian authorities have reportedly barred hundreds of moderate candidates in favor of hardliners supported by the regime. 

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Backpackers to Boost Australian Bushfire Recovery

Australia hopes visa changes will encourage foreign backpackers to join the mammoth bushfire recovery effort. The working vacationers would be allowed to stay longer under new rules if they help in disaster-hit areas.The scale of Australia’s recovery from the bushfire crisis is immense. Since July, almost 16 million hectares of land have been scorched. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, along with thousands of homes.The government says overseas backpackers will be crucial in helping to rebuild homes, roads and farms, as well as helping with demolition, land clearing and repairing railways.Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says young foreign travelers have a big part to play in the recovery effort.“There is so much work to do,” Tudge said. “We need all hands on deck and that includes the international backpackers who we know want to make their contribution as well.”FILE – A bushfire burns in Bodalla, New South Wales, Jan. 25, 2020. Wildfires destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26 million acres) since September.Temporary visa changes will make it easier for working vacationers to stay longer in Australia if they work or volunteer in a disaster area. The measures have gone down well.“I think it is wonderful because Australia needs this thing to reforest all the bushfires,” one backpacker said.“I am thrilled,” a woman added. “I think it is a great idea. I just wished it would have happened sooner whether it is planting trees, helping the animals, something like that.”Australia’s working holiday visa program gives young people between the ages of 18 and 30 the chance to take up short-term employment for up to three years.The scheme is popular with travelers from many countries, including Britain, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea and France.

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Wells Fargo to Pay $3B to Settle Fake-Accounts Scandal 

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay U.S. regulators $3 billion to settle three investigations into the bank’s damaging fake accounts scandal, the Department of Justice said Friday. The fine settles criminal and civil liability in the case in which the nation’s fourth-largest bank between 2002 and 2016 pressured employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led to creating millions of accounts or credit cards without consent. Wells Fargo admitted it collected millions of dollars in fees and interest, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers and misused personal information, the Justice Department said in a statement. “As a result of the wrongful sales practices, which went on for years, Wells Fargo earned millions of dollars in fees and interest that it should not have collected,” Nick Hanna, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said at a news conference in Los Angeles. “Wells Fargo traded its hard-earned reputation for short-term profit and harmed untold numbers of customers along the way,” he added. Hanna said $2.5 billion of the settlement would go to the federal government while the rest would be returned to investors. He declined to say if future prosecutions would occur in the case, but noted the investigation was continuing. FILE – Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf.”The conduct at the core of today’s settlements — and the past culture that gave rise to it — are reprehensible and wholly inconsistent with the values on which Wells Fargo was built,” Charlie Scharf, the bank’s chief executive, said in a statement after the settlement’s announcement. “While today’s announcement is a significant step in bringing this chapter to a close, there’s still more work we must do to rebuild the trust we lost.” Change in strategyThe allegations stem from a shift in Wells Fargo’s strategy in 1998 to emphasize increased sales. The Justice Department said that move led bank employees to resort to unlawful means to sell financial products, including fraud, identity theft and the falsification of bank records. Within Wells Fargo, the practice was referred to as “gaming,” the Justice Department said. Employees went as far as “forging customer signatures to open accounts without authorization, creating PINs to activate unauthorized debit cards, moving money from millions of customer accounts … opening credit cards and bill pay products without authorization,” prosecutors said. Bank executives were aware that this was going on, and an internal investigator in 2004 referred to it as a “growing plague.” In 2005, another internal investigator said the problem was “spiraling out of control.” Nonetheless, it continued. “Today’s announcement should serve as a stark reminder that no institution is too big, too powerful, or too well-known to be held accountable and face enforcement action for its wrongdoings,” Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in the statement. Terms of accordUnder the terms of the Justice Department agreement, Wells Fargo acknowledged the allegations and agreed not to commit similar offenses for three years, in exchange for prosecutors waiving filing charges. The San Francisco-based bank set aside $3.9 billion at the end of June last year to settle legal disputes, including those related to its business practices. U.S. authorities last month fined John Stumpf, who served as Wells Fargo’s chief executive from 2005 to October 2016, $17.5 million and banned him for life from the banking sector. Two CEOs and other senior executives at the bank have lost their jobs amid the probe into the scandal and outrage over claims the bank was slow to correct it. Scharf, who took over as CEO last October, has promised to revive the bank, whose 2019 results were hit by the scandal. The bank already has paid out $4 billion in financial penalties related to its business practices. 

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Tibetans Mark 80th Anniversary of Dalai Lama Enthronement

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is celebrating the 80th anniversary of his enthronement Saturday.The 14th Dalai Lama, who was born Lhamo Thondup, was just a toddler when he was identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor. Tibetan Buddhists believe that senior Buddhist monks can after death choose to be reborn in the body of a child.The Dalai Lama was enthroned as Tibet’s most important spiritual leader on Feb. 22, 1940, at the age of 4.Since then, he has been a spiritual leader to Tibetans, strongly advocating nonviolence and winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts to bring about an autonomous Tibet.Born in Tibet in 1935, the 85-year-old spiritual leader has spent most of his life in neighboring India. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and now lives in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala, where his supporters run a government-in-exile.The Dalai Lama said he is seeking greater autonomy for his remote mountain homeland and not independence, while China accuses him of being a dangerous separatist. China has used its influence on the world stage to urge international leaders not to meet with the spiritual leader.In April 2019, the Dalai Lama was admitted to the hospital in the Indian capital of New Delhi with a chest infection and has since reduced his public audiences. However, aides said he is doing well.The question of the next Dalai Lama’s reincarnation has political implications. China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, as a legacy inherited from China’s emperors.However, the Dalai Lama’s own website said that a person who reincarnates has “sole legitimate authority” over where the rebirth takes place and how the reincarnation is recognized.The Dalai Lama himself has made several statements about his next rebirth, saying he might choose not to be reincarnated at all, and also saying that if he does choose to take rebirth, it will be in a free country.

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Greece Scraps Asylum Requests for Migrant ‘Troublemakers’

Greece says it will deport “migrant troublemakers” to their homelands in a bid to combat rising crime and surging migration inflows that have reached a breaking point for the refugee-swollen country.The announcement by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis follows the recent deadly shooting of a 23-year-old Afghan man in a heated standoff with a rival Pakistani gang in central Athens. It also follows violent clashes between police and thousands of asylum seekers who took to the streets of Lesbos earlier this month to protest living conditions on the island’s overcrowded camp, and tougher asylum regulations enforced by the new conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis, arrives to participate on the first cabinet meeting of the new government, in Athens, on July 10, 2019.“These troublemakers and criminal offenders have no place in Greece,” Chrysochoidis said. “They have chosen the wrong country and society to behave criminally against.”“Rest assured,” he told Apotipomata, a leading current affairs program, “that migrant troublemakers will be hunted down and forced to leave.”More than 100 migrant arrests have been made in the past days in Athens alone. An additional 40 asylum seekers have been rounded up in Lesbos, the start of what authorities call sweeping operations to crack down on rival ethnic groups’ criminal activities, including sex trafficking and drug trafficking, while waiting for their asylum requests to be processed.“For years,” Chrysochoidis said, “there was no real attempt to penalize them. They would be rounded up, detained and then released, allowing them to resume their criminal conduct while waiting for their asylums to be processed.”Now, under new legislation adopted by the government, offenders will instantly be stripped of their asylum rights and detained until deportation, in closed facilities on a host of Greek islands.“You cannot expect a country to be rewarding criminal offenders and troublemakers with asylum,” Chrysochoidis said.Riot police scuffle with migrants during a protest in Mytilene port on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Feb. 4, 2020.Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees illegally crossed to the Greek islands from Turkey last year, roughly double the rate recorded in 2017 and 2018, according to the U.N. refugee agency.  The dramatic rise adds to more than 100,000 asylum seekers already in the country, mainly on the Greek mainland, waiting for their legal claims to be processed, with a backlog expected to last more than five years.Mitsotakis’ government surged to power in July vowing to combat rising crime and enforce a tougher stance on migration. That position includes plans to set up a floating barricade off the coast of Lesbos and reject 95% of asylum claims. Officials say it is a bid to sift through some 75,000 requests in fast-track procedures intended to ease overcrowded camps on five Greek islands at the forefront of Europe’s lingering refugee crisis.State data released this week showed authorities approving 79 of a total of 1,881 cases reviewed in the last month alone.Children play next to the fence of the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Feb. 18, 2020.The government’s hardened stance has stoked concerns by human rights and aid organizations that say the new fast-track asylum rules would allow only days for requests to be reviewed — a process that ordinarily requires months to be fairly considered.Aid works and charity groups have urged the government to ease overcrowded conditions at islands camps, adding that asylum procedures must be fair.”The government must urgently implement its plan to move people to the mainland, improve conditions and enforce a fast and fair asylum procedure,” said Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesperson for UNHCR Greece. He said it was also important for other regions in the country to accept migrants and that the EU should re-open an ill-fated relocation scheme.Meanwhile, residents of refugee-swollen islands are voicing anger over the government’s intention to set up new camps there, to serve as migrant holding centers.Locals on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros warn that their economies have already been shattered by the migration crisis with the business of many hotels and restaurants falling off by more than 50% in recent years.A new camp for migrants with a capacity of 1200 people is pictured in Zervou, on the island of Samos on Feb. 21, 2020.Tensions with the local communities are expected to heighten in the coming weeks as the government plans to use emergency legal powers to requisition large swathes of forest land on the five islands to create the contentious detention centers as it also speeds up deportations.Greece has been grappling with rising tides of illegal migration since the summer, receiving the biggest inflow in four years, or since the EU signed a landmark accord with Turkey to stem a mass migration move of some 1.2 million mainly Syrian refugees to Europe.While the 2016 deal has helped dramatically decrease illegal arrivals by as much as 97%, the contentious measures now adopted by the new government underscore how four years since the landmark EU agreement deal, Greece still remains ground zero for Europe’s migration crisis.“We’re changing the rules,” Chrysochoidis said. “And it’s not out of spite or because of some racist belief. We finally have to defend out people from the fallouts of this crisis.”
 

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UN Chief Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Syria’s Idlib

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Friday for an immediate cease-fire in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib to end a humanitarian crisis “and avoid an uncontrollable escalation” in the area. Guterres told reporters in New York that Russian-supported Syrian military campaigns waged in the area for nearly a year had been compounded by “repeated deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces.” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Russian-backed offensive were being packed into increasingly smaller areas near Turkey’s border “under horrendous conditions,” a scenario confirmed Friday by Guterres. “Nearly 900,000 people — the vast majority women and children — have fled in the latest fighting under the most tragic circumstances,” Guterres said. “Hundreds have been killed. Many have been uprooted multiple times. Young children are freezing to death.” 2.8 million in needGuterres said about 2.8 million people in the Idlib region needed humanitarian aid, a much greater number than the 800,000 the U.N. thought earlier would need assistance. The crisis has forced the U.N. to appeal for an additional $500 million “to cover the needs of the newly displaced people over the next six months.” The United States, Germany, Britain and other countries have emphasized that negotiations among Syrian allies Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey have been ineffective. German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told the council that since the talks were not working, “it’s time also for the secretary-general … to step up to the plate.” U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council, “The clearest path we see to an immediate end to violence in northwest Syria is for the U.N. to take full charge of a new cease-fire initiative.” On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the Syrian government’s violence in Idlib. 
 

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