Category Archives: Digital News Research

McDonald’s to Close 169 Outlets in India in Franchise Battle


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Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

McDonald’s India has announced it will close 169 McDonald’s outlets in northern and eastern India after the American fast food giant decided to terminate a franchise agreement with its Indian partner.

McDonald’s said its partner Connaught Plaza Restaurants violated the terms of the franchise agreement, including reneging on payment of royalties.

Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which runs 169 McDonald’s outlets in northern and eastern India, said Tuesday it is considering legal action in the long-drawn legal battle. In June, it shut 43 McDonald’s outlets in the capital, New Delhi, after it failed to renew their licenses.

McDonald’s said its Indian partner would have to “cease using the McDonald’s name, trademarks, designs, branding, operational and marketing practice and policies” within 15 days of the termination notice.

The decision to close nearly a third of the 430 McDonald’s outlets in India creates a challenge for the company, disrupting operations in the world’s second most populous country.

Vikram Bakshi, the managing director of Connaught Plaza Restaurants, described the McDonald’s decision as “mindless and ill-advised.”

“Appropriate legal remedies that are available under law are being explored,” Bakshi said in a statement.

McDonald’s said it is looking for a new partner to work with in north India. McDonald’s franchises in southern and western India are run by a separate company.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Dutch Build Vital New Infrastructure — World’s Biggest Bike Parking Lot


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A Bicycle Parking Lot in Amsterdam Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The city of Utrecht in the cycling-mad Netherlands opened on Monday what it said would be the world’s largest parking garage for bikes with room for 12,500 once completed next year.

The move by authorities in the city of 344,000 people aims to prevent a sprawling clutter of bicycles outside its main train station, overwhelming limited parking space.

“This is a side-effect of the success of the bicycle in our cities,” city councilor Lot van Hooijdonk told Reuters. “We are happy so many people use bikes, but it creates huge challenges for the city, especially around the station.”

A cyclist parks his bike on the street near the world’s largest bike parking garage in Utrecht, Netherlands Aug. 21, 2017.

The Dutch love for cycling is increasingly being tested by a worsening shortage of parking space. An ever-growing number of bikes is forcing municipal authorities to spend millions of euros on state-of-the art parking venues, maintaining cycling lanes, removing wrecks and impounding badly parked bikes.

Utrecht’s 40-million-euro ($47 million) garage is designed to resolve the problem of cyclists leaving their bikes anywhere they want, preferably next to the station entrance.

The three-story garage will be directly linked to the street by bicycle paths and offer access to train platforms via elevators and stairs. Parking will be free for the first 24 hours and 1.25 euro for each following day.

A cyclist rides her bike in the world’s largest bike parking garage in Utrecht, Netherlands Aug. 21, 2017.

Elsewhere, The Hague plans a garage for 8,500 bikes while Amsterdam – with 835,000 people and around 847,000 bikes – is working on a storage space for thousands under the city’s Amstel river and linked to its central station.

Parking space in Amsterdam is scarce partly because of the many bikes left behind in and around the racks. Last year the Dutch capital removed some 24,000 neglected bikes and 40,000 were seized for parking violations.

($1 = 0.8490 euros)

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Sudanese Children of IS Militants Released in Libya


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Image used for only representational purposes only Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Four children from Sudan whose parents are believed to have been killed fighting for Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte last year were handed over to the Sudanese consul on Sunday for return to their country.

Sirte was a stronghold for Islamic State from 2015-2016, when Libyan forces backed by U.S. air strikes ousted the ultra-hardline group. Hundreds of foreign militants joined Islamic State in Sirte.

Dozens of women and children detained towards the end of the fighting have been held in Misrata, the city from which the military campaign in Sirte was led.

They include nationals of Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Senegal, Chad, and Niger. Twenty-one Libyan children have been handed back to their families.

In June, eight children were handed over to the Sudanese authorities and returned to Sudan. Eleven other Sudanese women and children are still in Misrata.

The Red Crescent’s head of psychological support in Misrata, Salah Abuzreba, appealed to all countries “that haven’t responded until this moment to receive those children as a human act, so they can be returned to their relatives”.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

IS Member Behind Paris, Brussels Attacks Added to US Terrorist List


vm.jpgAhmad Alkhald, a Syrian national from Aleppo who played a key role in the Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, has been identified as a specially designated global terrorist by the United States, the U.S. State Department said.

The designation Thursday — which also included an Iraqi national who has provided close protection to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader in Iraq and Syria — imposed “strict sanctions” on the individuals and prohibited any dealings with them.

Alkhald is an IS bomb maker and the terror group’s explosives chief who helped carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, the State Department statement said.

The series of the deadly terrorist attacks on several public places killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels.

Alkhald reportedly traveled to Europe, where he made the explosive vests used in the Paris attacks.

Island a gateway to Europe

According to French media, he crossed into Europe via the Greek island of Leros in September 2015. The island has been a gateway for some other IS attackers who have reportedly sneaked in among Syrians seeking refuge in Europe in the aftermath of the country’s civil war.

Alkhald returned to Syria shortly before the Paris attacks and continued helping other IS plots in Europe, including the March 2016 attacks in Brussels.

“Alkhald is wanted internationally and a European warrant for his arrest has been issued,” the statement said.

Al-Baghdadi’s protector

Abu Yahya al-Iraqi, also known as Iyad Hamed Mahl al-Jumaily, was the second individual identified as a specially designated global terrorist in Thursday’s statement.

Al-Iraqi is a senior IS figure close to al-Baghdadi, the terror group’s leader. He is reportedly a key IS leader in Iraq and Syria and has played a major role in providing security for al-Baghdadi.

The designation “notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Alkhald and al-Iraqi have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.

The statement said the designation and action by the State Department would help expose and isolate the two men, and help law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world in their efforts against them.

A response to 9/11 attacks

Specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) is a designation established by the U.S. government in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Individuals designated as SDGTs are believed to pose a threat to U.S. national security by committing acts of terrorism.

The State Department has placed 272 individuals from different terrorist entities on the designation list, including 20 IS leaders and operatives.

“These designations are part of a larger comprehensive plan to defeat [IS] that, in coordination with the 73-member global coalition, has made significant progress toward this goal,” the State Department said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

‘Use the Force, Disney’: Obi-Wan Kenobi to Get his Own ‘Star Wars’ Movie


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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Walt Disney Co. is developing a “Star Wars” standalone movie based on the beloved character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise and noble Jedi master, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety reported Thursday.

The Hollywood trade publications cited unnamed sources as saying that the project was in the early stages of development by Disney and Lucasfilm.

The project has no script yet, but British filmmaker Stephen Daldry, best known for 2000’s ballet movie “Billy Elliott,” is in early talks to direct it, the publications said.

Disney declined to comment.

Han Solo movie, too

Disney bought “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’ Lucasfilm in 2012 in a $4 billion deal and announced a new trilogy of films following the space saga as well as three standalone “Star Wars” projects that focus on stories outside of the central tale of the Skywalker family.

Disney debuted the first standalone “Star Wars” story with 2016’s “Rogue One,” which featured new characters and a storyline tied loosely to the ongoing saga.

A Han Solo movie is in production featuring a younger version of the freewheeling space smuggler played by Harrison Ford in the original “Star Wars” trilogy of films.

Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones,” poses with Star Wars character Darth Vader and Storm Troopers in background at the Los Angeles charity premiere of the film, May 12, 2002, in Hollywood.

Who will play Kenobi?

Kenobi, a recluse played by the late British actor Alec Guinness, was the mentor to Luke Skywalker and introduced the young warrior to the Force in the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977. Kenobi was later killed by his old pupil, the evil Darth Vader.

Actor Ewan McGregor played the character in the second trilogy of “Star Wars” films from 1999 to 2005. The Hollywood Reporter said no actor was attached to the standalone project.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Disney’s first installment of the new trilogy in the revamped franchise, brought back beloved characters Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo as well as introducing a new generation. It took in more than $2 billion at the world box office after its 2015 release.

The next film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” is scheduled for release in December.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Reverence for Robots: Japanese Workers Treasure Automation


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Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Thousands upon thousands of cans are filled with beer, capped and washed, wrapped into six-packs, and boxed at dizzying speeds — 1,500 a minute, to be exact — on humming conveyor belts that zip and wind in a sprawling factory near Tokyo.

Nary a soul is in sight in this picture-perfect image of Japanese automation.

The machines do all the heavy lifting at this plant run by Asahi Breweries, Japan’s top brewer. The human job is to make sure the machines do the work right, and to check on the quality the sensors are monitoring.

“Basically, nothing goes wrong. The lines are up and running 96 percent,” said Shinichi Uno, a manager at the plant. “Although machines make things, human beings oversee the machines.”

FILE – Asahi Breweries plant manager Shinichi Uno watches the production line at an Asahi Breweries factory in Moriya near Tokyo, May 29, 2017.

The debate over machines snatching jobs from people is muted in Japan, where birth rates have been sinking for decades, raising fears of a labor shortage. It would be hard to find a culture that celebrates robots more, evident in the popularity of companion robots for consumers, sold by the internet company SoftBank and Toyota Motor Corp, among others.

Japan, which forged a big push toward robotics starting in the 1990s, leads the world in robots per 10,000 workers in the automobile sector — 1,562, compared with 1,091 in the U.S. and 1,133 in Germany, according to a White House report submitted to Congress last year. Japan was also ahead in sectors outside automobiles at 219 robots per 10,000 workers, compared with 76 for the U.S. and 147 for Germany.

‘Lifetime employment’

One factor in Japan’s different take on automation is the “lifetime employment” system. Major Japanese companies generally retain workers, even if their abilities become outdated, and retrain them for other tasks, said Koichi Iwamoto, a senior fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry.

That system is starting to fray as Japan globalizes, but it’s still largely in use, Iwamoto said.

FILE – Asahi Breweries employees work at the central control room at a factory in Moriya near Tokyo, May 29, 2017.

Although data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show digitalization reduces demand for mid-level routine tasks — such as running assembly lines — while boosting demand for low- and high-skilled jobs, that trend has been less pronounced in Japan than in the U.S.

The OECD data, which studied shifts from 2002 to 2014, showed employment trends remained almost unchanged for Japan.

That means companies in Japan weren’t resorting as aggressively as those in the U.S. to robots to replace humans. Clerical workers, for instance, were keeping their jobs, although their jobs could be done better, in theory, by computers.

That kind of resistance to adopting digital technology for services also is reflected in how Japanese society has so far opted to keep taxis instead of shifting to online ride hailing and shuttle services.

‘Human harmony with machines’

Still, automation has progressed in Japan to the extent the nation has now entered what Iwamoto called a “reflective stage,” in which “human harmony with machines” is being pursued, he said.

“Some tasks may be better performed by people, after all,” said Iwamoto.

FILE – Asahi Breweries employee Kiyoshi Sakai speaks during an interview at a factory in Moriya near Tokyo, May 29, 2017.

Kiyoshi Sakai, who has worked at Asahi for 29 years, recalls how, in the past, can caps had to be placed into machines by hand, a repetitive task that was hard not just on the body, but also the mind.

And so he is grateful for automation’s helping hand. Machines at the plant have become more than 50 percent smaller over the years. They are faster and more precise than three decades ago.

Gone are the days things used to go wrong all the time and human intervention was needed to get machines running properly again. Every 10 to 15 minutes, people used to have to go check on the products; there were no sensors back then.

Glitches are so few these days there is barely any reason to work up a sweat, he added with a smile.

Like many workers in Japan, Sakai doesn’t seem worried about his job disappearing. As the need for plant workers nose-dived with the advance of automation, he was promoted to the general affairs section, a common administrative department at Japanese companies.

“I remember the work being so hard. But when I think back, and it was all about delivering great beer to everyone, it makes me so proud,” said Sakai, who drinks beer every day.

“I have no regrets. This is a stable job.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Charlottesville Schools, Parents Address Children’s Fears After Violence


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Photo Courtesy: Twitter

When white supremacists began rallying in downtown Charlottesville last weekend, Liz Licht kept the TV off, trying to shield her three kids from the hate spewed on the streets of this normally quiet college town.

But after learning that a 32-year-old woman who joined a counterprotest had been killed by a man described as having neo-Nazi sympathies, Licht could no longer keep news of the violence from her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old twins.

“Our son went to bed scared that night,” Licht said. “He said he never really knew evil existed until that day.”

Licht joined other parents to call on the local school district to help Charlottesville children exposed to the hate and violence, especially as they leave the safe haven of home to start the school year.

“We want to work with them to develop buddy systems to pair them up with someone who is an immigrant or refugee,” Licht, 41, said Tuesday as she stood near a pile of flowers marking the street where Heather Heyer was killed. “Make it hands-on, not just talking about it.”

Charlottesville Public Schools officials said they were preparing specific plans for addressing the issue when students return to classes next week.

School leaders are tweaking their plans for the new year and preparing teachers to handle students’ questions about the violence and hate speech, schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said in an e-mail.

“If we miss these steps, we will miss an opportunity for healing and growth,” Atkins said.

FILE – A woman kneels at a makeshift memorial for the victims of a car that plowed into counter-protesters after a “Unite the Right” rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 13, 2017.

 

Series of protests

Saturday’s rally was the latest in a series of demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville in recent months. It deteriorated into street fighting that culminated in Heyer’s killing, allegedly by James Alex Field, 20, who injured 19 other people by crashing his car into a counterprotest.

Psychologists often warn that young children can be traumatized by images of violence and urge parents to limit their exposure to news accounts of events like Saturday’s rally.

But given the white nationalist ideology that drove the “Unite the Right” event, experts said parents and schools should talk directly with their children about their beliefs.

“This is a really important teaching moment,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Cornell School of Medicine.

Schools in particular could use the incident as a way to teach students to cope with bullying, by stepping up to object to bullies, rather than being passive bystanders.

“Any way that one can be helpful always relieves anxiety,” said Saltz. “You might say to a child that in your microcosm of school, it’s really important to make everyone feel respected.”

Corey Eicher, 42, stopped with his daughters, aged 7 and 4, to leave flowers at the memorial for Heyer. He said he had tried to soothe his children’s fears by talking about the police and race.

“We showed them that a lot of the police working that day were black, of every color,” Eicher said. “My older daughter is 7, so she kind of understands what is happening.”

Lila’s reaction to Saturday’s events was brief: “Scary.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

At Least 17 Killed in Restaurant Attack in Burkina Faso


Suspected Islamic extremists opened fire at a Turkish restaurant in the capital of Burkina Faso late Sunday, killing at least 17 people in the second such attack on a restaurant popular with foreigners in the last two years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the violence, which continued into the early hours Monday. Gunfire could be heard almost seven hours after the attack began.

Communication Minister Remi Dandjinou told journalists that at least 17 people were dead and eight others wounded, according to a provisional toll. The victims came from several different nationalities, he said.

Security forces arrived at the scene with armored vehicles after reports of shots fired near Aziz Istanbul, an upscale restaurant in Ouagadougou. The attack brought back painful memories of the January 2016 attack at another cafe that left 30 people dead.

Police Capt. Guy Ye said three or four assailants had arrived at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant on motorcycles, and then began shooting randomly at the crowds dining Sunday evening.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists.

The three attackers in the 2016 massacre were of foreign origin, according to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed responsibility in the aftermath along with the jihadist group known as Al Mourabitoun. But the terror threat in Burkina Faso is increasingly homegrown, experts say.

The northern border region is now the home of a local preacher, Ibrahim Malam Dicko, who radicalized and has claimed recent deadly attacks against troops and civilians. His association, Ansarul Islam, is now considered a terrorist group by Burkina Faso’s government.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Maps Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Celebrations and Protests After Kenyatta Re-elected as Kenya’s President


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Imcumbent President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta Picture Courtesy: Flickr

Both celebrations and angry protests erupted in Kenya after incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner in presidential elections.

Riots broke out late Friday in strongholds of opposition candidate Raila Odinga. Gunshots rang out in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, and well as in other poor areas of the capital and in the western city of Kisumu. Witnesses say police fired teargas in the Nairboi slum of Mathare and said police helicopters flew overhead.

The scenes were in stark contrast to strongholds of President Kenyatta, where supporters took to the streets with vuvuzelas and flags, cheering the election result.

Election results announced

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Opposition Presidential Candidate Raila Amolo Odinga Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier Friday, an almost-full hall of election observers, dignitaries, journalists, politicians, political agents and electoral officials gathered to hear Kenya’s electoral commission announce that incumbent Kenyatta had won the presidential contest, defeating Odinga.

“Having fulfilled the requirement by law and having garnered 8,203,290 votes, representing 54.27 percent of the votes and 25 percent in 35 counties, I therefore wish to declare honorable Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect and honorable William Ruto as the deputy president-elect,” Election chairman Wafula Chebukati said.

Chebukati announced that Odinga garnered 6,762,224 votes, which gave him 44.74 percent of the overall vote. He also received at least 25 percent of the vote in 29 counties.

Electoral commission results show a roughly 79 percent voter turnout, with more than 15 million Kenyans voting in an election with a pool of more than 19.6 million registered voters.

The winner of the presidential election must receive 50 percent of all votes, and 25 percent or more of votes in at least 25 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If neither candidate had hit that threshold, a run-off would have taken place.

Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the crowd after the announcement in the presidential race at the Centre in Bomas, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug.11, 2017.

Shortly after the announcement, Kenyatta and Ruto adopted a conciliatory approach to the opposition.

“As with any competition, there shall always be winners and there shall be losers, but we all belong to one great nation called Kenya, and I extend a hand of friendship, I extend a hand of cooperation, I extend a hand of partnership, knowing fully well that this country needs all of us pulling together in order for us to succeed. And Kenyans want us to succeed,” Kenyatta said.

Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, however, on Friday afternoon rejected the pending announcement, saying they will only accept the results if they are given access to data from the IEBC website. They stand by their claims that the electoral commission’s computer networks were hacked.

On Thursday, the electoral commission chief confirmed that there was an attempt to hack the system after the vote, but he said that attempt failed.

The opposition has said that its numbers showed Odinga beating Kenyatta by a margin of more than 600,000 votes.

WATCH: Uhuru Kenyatta Declared Winner of Kenya Election
“As a commission, they have made up their mind, they want to make a declaration, and therefore, we are saying that we are not going to be party to it, our issues have not been addressed, so as NASA, we shall not be party to the process that they are about to make,” said Musalia Mudavadi, leader of the opposition NASA coalition, prior to the electoral commission’s announcement.

A United Nations statement read, “I congratulate the people of Kenya for exercising their democratic rights in actively and peacefully participating” in the elections. The statement also “congratulates the IEBC for all their commendable efforts in organizing and conducting these elections.”

The election was held Tuesday, and officials spent the following three days certifying that electronic transmissions of results matched the official tallies signed by polling officers and political party agents before making the final announcement.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Hackers Demand Millions in Ransom for Stolen HBO Data


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Picture Courtesy: Genesis_3g/Pixabay

Hackers using the name “Mr. Smith” posted a fresh cache of stolen HBO files online Monday, and demanded that HBO pay a ransom of several million dollars to prevent further such releases.

The data dump included what appear to be scripts from five “Game of Thrones” episodes, including one upcoming episode, and a month’s worth of email from the account of Leslie Cohen, HBO’s vice president for film programming. There were also internal documents, including a report of legal claims against the network and job offer letters to top executives.

HBO, which previously acknowledged the theft of “proprietary information,” said it’s continuing to investigate and is working with police and cybersecurity experts. The network said Monday that it still doesn’t believe that its email system as a whole has been compromised.

This is the second data dump from the purported hacker. So far the HBO leaks have been limited, falling well short of the chaos inflicted on Sony in 2014. In that attack, hackers unearthed thousands of embarrassing emails and released personal information, including salaries and social security numbers, of nearly 50,000 current and former Sony employees.

Those behind the HBO hack claim to have more data, including scripts, upcoming episodes of HBO shows and movies, and information damaging to HBO.

In a video directed to HBO CEO Richard Plepler, “Mr. Smith” used white text on a black background to threaten further disclosures if HBO doesn’t pay up. To stop the leaks, the purported hackers demanded “our 6 month salary in bitcoin,” which they implied is at least $6 million.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

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