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Japan to start releasing Fukushima water into sea in 2 years

Fukushima water into sea

Japan's government decided Tuesday to start releasing massive amounts of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years — an option fiercely opposed by local fishermen and residents.

The decision, long speculated but delayed for years due to safety concerns and protests, came at a meeting of Cabinet ministers who endorsed the ocean release as the best option.

The accumulating water has been stored in tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged its reactors and their cooling water became contaminated and began leaking.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., says its storage capacity will be full late next year.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the ocean release was the “most realistic” option and that disposing the water is “unavoidable” for the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which is expected to take decades.

TEPCO and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release. Some scientists say the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown.

Under the basic plan adopted by the ministers, TEPCO will start releasing the water in about two years after building a facility under the regulatory authority’s safety requirements. It said the disposal of the water cannot be postponed further and is necessary to improve the environment surrounding the plant so residents can live there safely.

TEPCO says its water storage capacity of 1.37 million tons will be full around the fall of 2022. Also, the area now filled with storage tanks will have to be freed up for building new facilities that will be needed for removing melted fuel debris from inside the reactors, a process expected to start in coming years.

In the decade since the tsunami disaster, water meant to cool the nuclear material has constantly escaped from the damaged primary containment vessels into the basements of the reactor buildings. To make up for the loss, more water has been pumped into the reactors to continue to cool the melted fuel. Water is also pumped out and treated, part of which is recycled as cooling water, and the remainder stored in 1,020 tanks now holding 1.25 million tons of radioactive water.

Those tanks that occupy a large space at the plant complex interfere with the safe and steady progress of the decommissioning, Economy and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said. The tanks also could be damaged and leak in case of another powerful earthquake or tsunami, the report said.

Releasing the water to the ocean was described as the most realistic method by a government panel that for nearly seven years had discussed how to dispose of the water without further harming Fukushima’s image, fisheries and other businesses. The report it prepared last year mentioned evaporation as a less desirable option.

About 70% of the water in the tanks exceeds allowable discharge limits for contamination but will be filtered again and diluted with seawater before it is released, the report says. According to a preliminary estimate, gradual releases of water will take about 30 years but will be completed before the plant is fully decommissioned.

Japan will abide by international rules for a release, obtain support from the International Atomic Energy Agency and others, and ensure disclosure of data and transparency to gain understanding of the international community, the report said. China and South Korea have raised serious concern about the discharge of the water and its potential impact.

The government has said it will do the utmost to support local fisheries, and the report said TEPCO would compensate for damages if they occur despite those efforts.

Kajiyama is set to visit Fukushima on Tuesday afternoon to meet with local town and fisheries officials to explain the decision. He said he will continue to make efforts to gain their understanding over the next two years.





Police: Officer wounded, 1 dead in Tennessee school shooting

Officer wounded, 1 dead

A confrontation in a Tennessee high school that involved police officers responding to a report of a possible armed man, left one person dead and an officer wounded, authorities said.

No other persons were killed or wounded, police said, adding the scene had been secured at the Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville following the afternoon shooting. Authorities said only that a male was deceased but added another person was detained for -further investigation.

The Knoxville Police Department posted on Facebook that officers responded to reports of a male subject who was possibly armed at the school around around 3:15 p.m.

“Upon approach of the subject, shots were fired,” the post said. “A Knoxville Police officer was struck at least one time and transported to the hospital with injuries that are not expected to be life threatening. One male was pronounced dead at the scene."

The school was the subject of media reports in February after three students were shot to death over a three-week span. Those earlier shootings did not take place in the school, and administrators at the time said students felt the arts magnet school was a safe space, according to a story in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The Knoxville Police Department tweeted that authorities were at the site of the shooting at Austin-East Performing Arts Magnet High School. The online posting said a Knoxville Police Department officer was reported among the victims.

Bob Thomas, the superintendent of Knox County Schools, tweeted later Monday that a shooting had occurred but the building had been secured.

“The school building has been secured and students who were not involved in the incident have been released to their families," Thomas said. He added in a separate tweet that authorities were gathering information and about “this tragic situation" and that additional information would be provided later.

Police urged people to avoid the area, adding a reunification site had been set up on a baseball field behind the school for students to be reunited with family.

Details about the shooting remained sketchy and news outlets showed numerous police and emergency vehicles at the scene.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it was sending agents to the scene.

Gov. Bill Lee mentioned the shooting at a news conference but said he had little information. “I just wanted to make reference to that and ask, for those who are watching, online or otherwise, to pray for that situation and for the families and the victims that might be affected by that in our state," he said.

Last week, the Republican governor signed off on legislation that would make Tennessee the latest state to soon allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns – openly or concealed -- without first clearing a background check and training. Lee backed the legislation over objections from law enforcement groups, who argued that the state’s existing permit system provided an important safeguard for knowing who should or shouldn’t be carrying a gun.

The law, which does not apply to long guns, will take effect July 1. The new measure also increases certain penalties. For example, theft of a firearm — now a misdemeanour that carries a 30-day sentence — will become a felony with a mandatory six month incarceration. It also makes exceptions for people with certain mental illnesses and criminal convictions.

When asked earlier this year whether recent mass shootings in Georgia, Colorado and others gave him any concern about timing, Lee has previously said the increased penalties mean that “we in fact will be strengthening laws that would help prevent gun crimes in the future.”



George Floyd's brother sheds tears on the stand

Floyd's brother takes stand

George Floyd's younger brother took the witness stand Monday and lovingly recalled how George used to make the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches, how George drilled him in catching a football, and the way George used to mark his height on the wall as a boy because he wanted to grow taller.

Philonise Floyd, 39, shed tears as he was shown a picture of his late mother and a young George.

“That’s my oldest brother, George. I miss both of them,” he testified at the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd by putting his knee on the 46-year-old Black man's neck during an arrest last May.

Philonise Floyd took the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to humanize his brother in front of the jury and make him more than a crime statistic. Minnesota is a rarity in allowing “spark of life" testimony during the trial stage.

Philonise Floyd described growing up in a poor area of Houston with George and their other siblings.

“He used to make the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches. And he used to make the best syrup sandwiches because George couldn’t cook, he couldn’t boil water,” he said.

He said Floyd also played football and deliberately threw the ball at different angles so Philonise would have to practice diving for it. “I always thought my brother couldn’t throw. But he never intended to throw the ball to me,” he said, smiling.

He said that as a child, George loved sports and wanted to get taller. And he said his brother was someone he went to for advice.

Earlier Monday, the judge refused a defence request to immediately sequester the jury, the morning after the killing of a Black man during a traffic stop triggered unrest in a suburb just outside Minneapolis.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson had argued that the jurors could be influenced by the prospect of what might happen as a result of their verdict.

“Ultimately, your honour, the question becomes: Will the jury be competent to make a decision regardless of the potential outcome of their decision?" he said.

But Judge Peter Cahill said he will not sequester the jury until next Monday, when he anticipates closing arguments will begin. He also denied a defence request to question jurors about what they might have seen about Sunday’s police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.

In the wake of the shooting, hundreds of protesters broke into about 20 businesses, jumped on police cars and hurled rocks and other objects at officers in Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles from the heavily fortified Minneapolis courthouse.

The Brooklyn Center police chief later called the shooting accidental, saying the officer who fired apparently meant to draw a Taser, not a handgun.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher argued against sequestering the Chauvin jury, saying: “I don’t think that would be an effective remedy.” He also opposed questioning the jurors: "We can’t have every single world event that might affect somebody’s attitude or emotional state or anything be the grounds to come back and re-voir dire all the jurors.”

The judge previously told the jury to avoid the news during the trial.

The ruling came as the trial entered its third week, with the prosecution close to wrapping up its case and giving way to the start of the defence. Prosecutors built their case on searing witness accounts, experts condemning Chauvin's use of a neck restraint, and medical authorities attributing Floyd's death to a lack of oxygen.

A use-of-force expert testified Monday that the officers who subdued Floyd should have known he was not trying to attack them when he struggled and frantically said he was claustrophobic as they tried to put him in a squad car.

Seth Stoughton, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, also testified that there was no reason to pin Floyd to the pavement on his stomach because he was handcuffed, already had been searched and didn't pose a threat of escape or harm to the officers.

“I don’t see him presenting a threat of anything," Stoughton said. “There’s no specific, articulable facts that ... a reasonable officer in the defendant’s position could use to conclude that he had the intention of causing physical harm to the officers or others.”

Stoughton's testimony — including that officers should have known that pressing a knee to someone's neck could cause serious injury or death — is similar to that offered by previous witnesses. But it gave prosecutors a chance to again play several snippets of body-camera video of Floyd’s pleas for help.

Earlier, Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiology expert from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, echoed earlier witnesses in saying Floyd died of low oxygen levels from the way he was held down by police.

He rejected defence theories that Floyd died of a drug overdose or a heart condition. Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system and had high blood pressure and narrowing of the heart arteries, according to previous testimony.

“It was the truly the prone restraint and positional restraints that led to his asphyxiation,” Rich said.

In fact, the expert said, "Every indicator is that Mr. Floyd had actually an exceptionally strong heart.”

Rich said he had reviewed Floyd’s autopsy report. He said that some narrowing of the arteries is extremely common, and that Floyd had a mildly thickened or mildly enlarged heart but that that would be normal in someone with high blood pressure.

Rich said that as one officer noted on video that Floyd was passing out, police probably still could have saved his life if they had repositioned him so that his lungs could expand again. And once an officer noted that Floyd's pulse had stopped, police still had a significant opportunity to save his life by administering CPR, he said.

On cross-examination, Nelson tried to shift blame onto Floyd, asking Rich if Floyd would have survived if he had “simply gotten in the back seat of the squad car."

But Rich quickly reiterated the death was caused by the officers' actions: “Had he not been restrained in the way in which he was, I think he would have survived that day. I think he would have gone home, or wherever he was going to go.”

Derek Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s May 25 death. Police had been called to a neighbourhood market where Floyd was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit bill.

Prosecutors say Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck as he lay pinned to the pavement for 9 1/2 minutes. Bystander video of Floyd crying “I can't breathe!” until he finally went limp sparked protests and scattered violence in Minneapolis and around the U.S.

Chauvin's attorney is expected to call his own medical experts to make the case that it was not the officer's knee that killed Floyd. The defence has not said whether Chauvin will testify.





Daunte Wright death in Minnesota traffic stop sparks unrest

Meant to pull Taser

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.

Police in a Minneapolis suburb where a Black man was fatally shot during a traffic stop say the officer who fired intended to use a Taser, not a handgun.

Police Chief Tim Gannon described the shooting as “an accidental discharge.”

The man identified by relatives as 20-year-old Daunte Wright died Sunday in Brooklyn Center, a city of about 30,000 people on the northwest border of Minneapolis. His death sparked violent protests, with officers in riot gear clashing with demonstrators into Monday morning.

The Minneapolis area was already on edge because of the trial of the first of four police officers charged in George Floyd’s death.


ORIGINAL: 7:15 a.m.

A Black man died after being shot by police in a Minneapolis suburb during a traffic stop and crashing his car several blocks away, sparking violent protests that lasted into the early hours Monday as officers in riot gear clashed with demonstrators and the man’s mother called for calm.

The man was identified by family as 20-year-old Daunte Wright, and he died Sunday in a metropolitan area already on edge and midway through the trial of the first of four police officers charged in George Floyd’s death. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz tweeted he was praying for Wright’s family “as our state mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.”

Speaking before the confrontation in Brooklyn Center between protesters and law enforcement, Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, attempted to curb any unrest.

“All the violence, if it keeps going it’s only going to be about the violence. We need it to be about why my son got shot for no reason,” she said to a crowd near the shooting scene. “We need to make sure it’s about him and not about smashing police cars, because that’s not going to bring my son back.”

Police didn’t immediately identify Wright, but protesters who gathered near the scene waved flags and signs reading “Black Lives Matter.” Others walked peacefully with their hands held up. On one street, written in multi-colored chalk: “Justice for Daunte Wright.”

Brooklyn Center police said in a statement that officers had stopped a motorist shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday. After determining the driver had an outstanding warrant, police tried to arrest the driver. The driver re-entered the vehicle and an officer fired at the vehicle, striking the driver, police said. The vehicle travelled several blocks before striking another vehicle.

The account of the shooting from Wright’s family differed, with Katie Wright saying he was shot before getting back into the car.

Police said the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office will release the person’s name following a preliminary autopsy and family notification. A female passenger sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the crash. Brooklyn Center is a city of about 30,000 people located on the northwest border of Minneapolis.

Katie Wright said that passenger was her son’s girlfriend. Wright said her son called her as he was getting pulled over.

“All he did was have air fresheners in the car and they told him to get out of the car,” Wright said. During the call, she said she heard scuffling and then someone saying “Daunte, don’t run” before the call ended. When she called back, her son’s girlfriend answered and said he had been shot.

Demonstrators gathered shortly after the shooting and crash, with some jumping on top of police cars and confronting officers. Marchers also descended upon the Brooklyn Center police department building, where rocks and other objects were thrown at officers, Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington said at a news conference. The protesters had largely dispersed by 1:15 a.m. Monday, he said.



French police hunt for gunman who killed person near Paris hospital

Police hunt for gunman

Paris police are hunting for a gunman who opened fire Monday near a hospital in the wealthy 16th district of the French capital, killing one person and injuring another. Witnesses at the scene suggest it could be a case of tragic score-settling, while authorities have not made any links with terrorism.

Paris police, who opened a murder inquiry Monday, said the shooter fired several shots before fleeing on a two-wheeled vehicle. Police had no other immediate details.

Noura Berrahmouni, DSPAP Alliance, said the injured person, a woman, was a security agent for the hospital.

“It was so fast we suppose it was a score settling … If not, we think there would be more victims,” she said.

The shooter wore a hood, fired several times, according to witnesses on BFM-TV.



Investigation finds Syria likely behind 2018 chlorine attack

Syria likely behind attack

An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog found “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Syrian air force military helicopter dropped a chlorine cylinder on a Syrian town in 2018, sickening 12 people, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Monday.

It is the second time that the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team has concluded that Syrian government armed forces likely were responsible for a gas attack. Last year, the team also found reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for attacks using chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in March 2017 in the town of Latamneh.

Syria has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons during the country's grinding civil war. The government of President Bashar Assad denies the claims.

In the latest report, the OPCW investigation team said it found evidence that a military helicopter belonging to the Tiger Forces of the Syrian air force dropped at least one chlorine cylinder on the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Saraqeb on Feb. 4, 2018.

“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals,” the watchdog said in a statement. Those affected all survived, the report said.

As part of the investigation, experts interviewed witnesses, analyzed samples and remnants collected from the town as well reviewing symptoms reported by casualties and studying satellite imagery and modeling gas dispersion patterns.

The OPCW can't hold individuals criminally responsible for attacks. The report will be shared with the organization's member states and the United Nations. The report will likely be discussed at a meeting of the OPCW member states later this month.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned the use of chemical weapons by Syria and said those responsible must be held accountable.

“It is now up to the International Community to duly consider the reports and take appropriate action,” Borrell said in a statement.

The investigative team was established after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigation mechanism set up by the U.N. and OPCW in 2015. That team accused Syria of using chlorine in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and of unleashing sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people.



Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz nuclear site

Sabotage at nuclear site

Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges, an assault that imperils ongoing talks over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal and brings a shadow war between the two countries into the light.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility.

While the nature of the attack and the extent of the damage at Natanz remains unclear, a former Iranian official said the assault set off a fire while a spokesman mentioned a "possible minor explosion."

The attack also further strains relations between the U.S., which under President Joe Biden is now negotiating in Vienna to re-enter the nuclear accord, and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop the deal at all costs.

Netanyahu met Monday with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose arrival in Israel coincided with the first word of the attack. The two spoke briefly to journalists but took no questions.

“My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear: I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel," Netanyahu said. "And Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism.”

At an earlier news conference at Israel’s Nevatim air base, Austin declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden administration’s efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.

“Those efforts will continue,” Austin said. The previous American administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning the limits on its atomic program set by the accord.

But German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed concern that it could affect the talks. “All of what we are hearing from Tehran is not a positive contribution to this,” Maas told reporters.

In a statement, the White House said it was aware of the Natanz attack and that “the U.S. was not involved in any manner,” without elaborating.

Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.

A former chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack had set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second assault at Natanz in a year signalled “the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei did not say where he got his information.

The facility seemed to be in such disarray that, following the attack, a prominent nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi walking above ground at the site fell 7 metres through an open ventilation shaft covered by aluminum debris, breaking both his legs and hurting his head.

“A possible minor explosion had scattered debris,” Kamalvandi said, without elaborating.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the site, which saw new advanced centrifuges turned on there Saturday.

“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.



Huawei, HSBC agree on document deal in Meng extradition case

Deal for Meng documents

Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei said Monday that it has reached an agreement with HSBC in Hong Kong to obtain documents that its chief financial office Meng Wanzhou hopes will help prevent her extradition to the U.S.

Meng, who was detained in Canada in 2018 at the behest of U.S. authorities, has been fighting a legal battle over the last two years as the U.S. seeks to extradite her over allegations of bank fraud and violations of sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng committed fraud by misleading HSBC about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

An earlier request by Meng’s legal team for documents from HSBC was rejected by a court in Britain.

In a court hearing Monday, Hong Kong High Court judge Linda Chan approved the document-sharing agreement between Huawei and HSBC.

“An agreement has been reached with HSBC in relation to the Hong Kong legal proceedings for document production and an order has been approved by the court,” Huawei said in a statement on Monday.

It is not clear which documents Huawei has obtained or what the scope of the agreement covers. Meng’s team have sought internal compliance documents pertaining to Huawei and Skycom.

During extradition proceedings in Canada, Meng’s lawyers have argued that the U.S. has no jurisdiction to bring the case.

Final hearings of Meng’s extradition battle are expected to conclude in May in Vancouver, although appeals could prolong the process.



Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made pioneering spaceflight 60 years ago today

The day man went to space

Crushed into the pilot's seat by heavy G-forces, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin saw flames outside his spacecraft and prepared to die. His voice broke the tense silence at ground control: “I’m burning. Goodbye, comrades.”

Gagarin didn’t know that the blazing inferno he observed through a porthole was a cloud of plasma engulfing Vostok 1 during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and he was still on track to return safely.

It was his quiet composure under pressure that helped make him the first human in space 60 years ago.

Gagarin’s steely self-control was a key factor behind the success of his pioneering 108-minute flight. The April 12, 1961, mission encountered glitches and emergencies — from a capsule hatch failing to shut properly just before blastoff to parachute problems in the final moments before touchdown.

From the time 20 Soviet air force pilots were selected to train for the first crewed spaceflight, Gagarin’s calm demeanour, quick learning skills and beaming smile made him an early favourite.

Two days before blastoff, the 27-year-old Gagarin wrote a farewell letter to his wife, Valentina, sharing his pride in being chosen to ride in Vostok 1 but also trying to console her in the event of his death.

“I fully trust the equipment, it mustn’t let me down. But if something happens, I ask you Valyusha not to become broken by grief,” he wrote, using a nickname for her.

Authorities held onto the letter and eventually gave it to Gagarin's widow seven years later after he died in an airplane crash. She never remarried.

Gagarin's pioneering, single-orbit flight made him a hero in the Soviet Union and an international celebrity. After putting the world's first satellite into orbit with the successful launch of Sputnik in October 1957, the Soviet space program, rushed to secure its dominance over the United States by putting a man into space.

“The task was set, and people were sleeping in their offices and factory shops, like at wartime,” Fyodor Yurchikhin, a Russian cosmonaut who eventually made five spaceflights, recalled.

As the Soviet rocket and space program raced to beat the Americans, it suffered a series of launch failures throughout 1960, including a disastrous launch pad explosion in October that killed 126 people. Missile Forces chief Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin was among the victims.

Like Gagarin, Soviet officials were prepared for the worst. No safety system had been installed to save the cosmonaut in case of another rocket explosion at blastoff or after.

Authorities drafted three versions of a bulletin about Gagarin’s flight for the official TASS news agency: one announcing a successful flight, another in case of problems, and the third one for a mission ending in disaster.

Apart from potential engine failures and other equipment malfunctions, scientists questioned an individual's ability to withstand the conditions of spaceflight. Many worried that a pilot could go mad in orbit.

Soviet engineers prepared for that situation by developing a fully automatic control system. As an extra precaution, the pilot would receive a sealed envelope containing a secret code for activating the capsule's manual controls. The theory was that a person who could enter the code must be sane enough to operate the ship.

Everyone in the space program liked Gagarin so much, however, that a senior instructor and a top engineer independently shared the secret code with him before the flight to save him the trouble of fiddling with the envelope in case of an emergency.

Problems began right after Gagarin got into Vostok 1, when a light confirming the hatch's closure did not go on. Working at a frantic pace, a leading engineer and a co-worker removed 32 screws, found and fixed a faulty contact, and put the screws back just in time for the scheduled launch.

Sitting in the capsule, Gagarin whistled a tune. “Poyekhali!” — “Off we go!” — he shouted as the rocket blasted off.

As another precaution, the orbit was planned so the spacecraft would descend on its own after a week if an engine burn failure stranded the ship. Instead, a glitch resulted in a higher orbit that would have left Gagarin dead if the engine had malfunctioned at that stage.

While the engine worked as planned to send the ship home, a fuel loss resulted in an unexpected reentry path and a higher velocity that made the ship rotate wildly for 10 agonizing minutes.

Gagarin later said he nearly blacked out while experiencing G-forces exceeding 10 times the pull of gravity. “There was a moment lasting two or three seconds when instruments started fading before my eyes,” he recalled.

Gagarin returned to a hero’s welcome, hailed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and greeted by enthusiastic crowds cheering his flight as a triumph on par with the victory in World War II.

Gagarin was killed in a training jet crash on March 27, 1968. Not quite 16 months later, the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in the space race, putting an astronaut on the moon.



Cyclone damages Australian towns and cuts power to 31,500

Cyclone hammers Australia

A destructive cyclone has damaged several towns on Australia's western coast, shattering windows, snapping trees and knocking out power. There have been no reports of serious injuries.

Tropical Cyclone Seroja crossed the Western Australia state coast south of the tourist town of Kalbarri with winds gusting up to 170 km/h shortly after dark Sunday, officials said Monday.

Around 70% of buildings in Kalbarri, a town of 1,400 people, had been damaged, Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said.

About 30% of that damage was “significant,” Klemm said.

Other coastal towns sustained less damage. Government utility Western Power reported 31,500 customers had lost power.

Such powerful cyclones are rare in subtropical Australia.

Wind gusts recorded in Kalbarri and nearby areas were likely to have been the “strongest in more than 50 years,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.

The last comparable cyclone in the region struck in 1956. It brought 140 km/h gusts to the port town of Geraldton, 160 kilometres south of Kalbarri, where there was no weather station at the time.

Cyclone Seroja caused flooding and landslides that killed at least 174 people and left 48 missing in Indonesia and East Timor last week.

The damage was worse in some parts of Kalbarri than others, but the whole town had been impacted, local State Emergency Service manager Steve Cable said.

Powerlines and trees were toppled, homes lost roofs and streets were strewn with debris.

“Some of the older buildings didn’t stand up very well. But even some of the modern buildings, they just couldn’t hold it,” Cable said.

“Large trees with quite substantial limbs just snapped off like carrots,” he added.

Debbie Major weathered the storm in a room of a Kalbarri tourist trailer park that she manages, clutching a door to prevent it blowing open as broken tree limbs shattered windows.

“I’ve never experienced anything in my life that we experienced last night,” Major said. ”It was terrifying.”

Cyclone Seroja lost power and was downgraded to a tropical low before blowing out to sea near Esperance on Monday.



Greece pins hopes on mandatory home testing, opens schools

Mandatory home testing

High schools have reopened in Greece to students in the final three grades with the mandatory use of test kits for COVID-19 being rolled out across the country to help with mass screening for infections, with an eye to further reopening the economy and tourism.

Students from grades 10 to 12 were allowed to return to class Monday — most for the first time in five months — if they provided a negative test result using the kits being distributed at pharmacies. Some teachers chose to hold classes outdoors.

Students in other grades continued online classes.

The kits “are a valuable screening tool,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “Some 613 students and teachers were found to be positive, most of them showing no symptoms, and are staying at home and not exposing their classmates and colleagues to danger.”

Greece’s centre-right government is keen to start reopening the economy and its crucial tourism industry after lockdown measures were imposed in early November. But the rate of infections and death has remained high since early February, with mortality currently above the European Union average.

Self-test kits are being made available on a weekly basis at no charge to all residents registered with the public health service, with the use to be made mandatory for workers in various sectors including food delivery and retail.

The government plans to officially launch the tourism season in mid-May. With less than 7% of the population fully vaccinated, the government has promised to ramp up its campaign through the rest of April.



Man kills self after standoff at Honolulu hotel

Man kills self after standoff

A standoff between Honolulu police and an armed man who fired shots through the door of his room at a luxury resort ended when the man was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, local media reported Sunday.

A SWAT team entered the fourth-floor room at The Kahala Hotel & Resort about 3:30 a.m. Sunday and found the man dead, local television stations and a newspaper reported, citing unnamed police officials. All reported police didn’t release further information, including the man’s name.

Messages sent to spokespersons for the Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu mayor’s office seeking confirmation and further details were not immediately returned Sunday to The Associated Press.

Shots were fired at around 6 p.m., according to police. Hotel security staff went up to the room where the man was located and knocked on the door. He then fired through the door multiple times, police said.

No one outside the door was hurt, Honolulu police Capt. Brian Lynch told news outlets. The luxury resort said in a statement that hotel security and law enforcement evacuated the area around the room.

“Everybody is accounted for,” Lynch said.

Authorities have not released any details about the events leading up to the standoff.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy Pacific Submarine Force told news outlets the man was one of its sailors. He was not immediately identified but the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and KITV said he was 40 years old.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a shipmate,” U.S. Navy Commander Cindy Fields said in the statement. “This is a tragic loss to our force and the Navy family.”

Photos and videos shared by local media showed about 100 people locked down in the hotel’s ballroom. Displaced guests were provided with food, blankets and pillows. Hours after the standoff began, guests sheltering in place were allowed to leave.

Images from outside the resort showed a large police presence, including a SWAT team.



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