Thieves pilfer 700 blocks of cheese in French city

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(MUROL, France) -- It wasn't an armed robbery at the Ritz, but you could put it on a Ritz – and it stinks a lot more.

Local police from central France’s Auvergne region told ABC News today that around 700 blocks of Saint-Nectaire cheese were stolen Monday night in the city of Murol.

Thieves broke the door of a cellar where the cheese was located, according to police.

The owner and producer of the cheese, Caroline Borrel, told the France Bleu radio network that the losses totaled an estimated €10,000 ($12,000). Borrel said she wanted to install CCTV cameras and alarms in her cellar.

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American tourist dies while hiking in Australia

iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY, Australia) -- An American tourist died Wednesday while hiking the Larapinta Trail in Australia, Northern Territory Police said. The unidentified 33-year-old man was from California, police said.

Senior Sergeant Michael Potts of the Southern Desert Division said police had received a report at 3:50 p.m. local time of a man who had gone missing on the trail.

“Northern Territory Police from Southern Command with the assistance of Park Rangers responded to the call and initiated a search,” Potts said in a statement.

Potts said the man was found dead at the base of Mount Sonder at 5 p.m. local time.

“Investigations are ongoing, however police do not believe there are any suspicious circumstances surrounding the death,” he added.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the man had been descending Mount Sonder with a 40-year-old companion, but the two had become separated.

Northern Territory division duty superintendent Rob Burgoyne told ABC Australia, "[Mount Sonder is] about 1,300 meters tall and the actual walk that they undertook was about 16 kilometers there and back — so quite a hike."

ABC Australia also reported that the temperature at Alice Springs, where Mount Sonders is located, reached 42 degrees Celsius, or about 108 degrees Fahrenheit, on Wednesday, which Burgoyne said would have made trekking conditions difficult.

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Vladimir Putin hits campaign trail ahead of Russia's presidential election

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin hit the campaign trail Wednesday, kicking off his re-election bid against a field effectively cleared of serious competitors and amid grumbles of a shaky economy.

Flying in by helicopter, a relaxed-looking Putin visited a railway carriage factory in the provincial city of Tver, about 90 miles from Moscow. For around an hour, he toured the plant, which he had ordered rescued from financial difficulties several years ago, and met with a group of workers.

After taking questions, Putin asked, “Colleagues, do you support me?”

"Of course!" they chorused. "Of course!”

Putin announced in late December that he was running for re-election, a move all but guaranteeing he'll remain in power until at least 2024. With an approval rating around 80 percent, Russia’s opposition marginalized, and media dominated by the Kremlin, he is expected to win with ease.

With a seemingly clear path to victory, the Kremlin is instead worried about enthusiasm around the election for Putin. Despite recent signs of recovery, many Russians are still feeling the economic crisis brought on by low oil prices and exacerbated by Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

The Kremlin -- which has focused much of its election rhetoric on the economy -- chose the Tver Wagon Factory strategically. The formerly Soviet enterprise that employs 6,000 workers has recently recovered from several years of crisis, the beneficiary of one of Putin’s signature televised interventions.

In 2009, Putin visited the plant in front of news cameras, before ordering an emergency bailout package for it.

On Wednesday, the plant’s director, Andrey Solovey, said that the workers at the plant will be free to vote their conscience. And not everyone at the plant said they backed Putin. Oleg, 37, a worker who refused to give his last name to avoid inviting trouble at the factory, said he joined the plant after the economic crisis cost him his flower shop business, and he would no longer vote for Putin.

"I am disappointed," said Oleg, while installing electronics on a tramcar. “The constitution is violated a lot, while our economic partners are only Third World countries and Asian ones -- Venezuela, Iran, etc. It’s not normal.”

His co-worker, Kirill Smirnov, 22, disagreed, lauding Putin.

“He at least has done something with our foreign policy,” he said. “OK, so for now things aren’t so great in the country, but I think at some point we’ll achieve a higher level.

“The only shame is it seems I won’t see him,” Smirnov said.

“It’s a shame there’s no legal opposition in this country,” Oleg interjected.

Putin is facing little competition in the election. Putin’s most substantial challenger, Alexey Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who has led national protests this year, has been removed from the ballot because of a fraud conviction.

Navalny, who claims the charges were trumped up, has called for the other candidates to boycott the election.

Those candidates who are allowed to run are a familiar cast of figures: some whom Putin has already defeated in previous elections, and a celebrity journalist who has said she has no chance of winning.  

Ksenia Sobchak is a TV personality and the daughter of Putin’s political mentor. One of Russia’s best-known celebrities, Sobchak is running as a protest vote, criticizing pressure on the opposition and official corruption. But she has been accused of coordinating her run with the Kremlin, which has hinted it is pleased that her involvement will spice up the race.

Sobchak’s entry has been followed by a flood of other candidates -- 67 in all, according to Russia's electoral commission, a record number under Putin. Commentators have begun to refer to a “Sobchak effect.” Many are novelty candidates -- among them, a man called Lucky Lee, who says his strip club can bring about world peace.

Many of them will not meet the threshold of 300,000 signatures needed to make it onto the ballot.

Putin himself is running as an independent, distancing himself from his ruling party, United Russia, which has become increasingly unpopular, blamed for corruption and economic malaise.

So far, the Kremlin’s efforts to inject interest into the election seem to have had mixed results. This week, the usually Kremlin-leaning tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Russia’s most-read newspaper, ran an article decrying that the elections have become a "show."

"If you decorate a funeral car with ribbons and flowers, then from a distance it will seem like a wedding car," the paper wrote. "But on closer inspection, it will turn out that there’s nothing wedding-like about it."

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State Department overhauls travel warning system for Americans abroad

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department is overhauling its travel warning system for Americans abroad for the first time in years in an effort to streamline information on threats overseas and present it in a clearer, more direct fashion, it said.

The changes come at a time of global upheaval that’s difficult for many travelers to keep tabs on, but also a time of increased travel –- 2017 was on track to be a record year for the number of Americans traveling abroad. In 2016, there were over 80 million Americans who went overseas.

Instead of travel warnings and travel alerts, as well as country specific pages with details like what dangers may await and how to secure a visa, the State Department will combine all of that onto one country page –- accompanied by a travel advisory at one of four levels for each country:

Level 1 -– Exercise Normal Precautions –- lowest level of risk
Level 2 -– Exercise Increased Precautions –- heightened risk
Level 3 -– Reconsider Travel –- avoid travel due to serious risk
Level 4 –- Do Not Travel –- highest level, with greater likelihood of life-threatening risks

Every country -- and plenty of non-nations -– now have a page, including Antarctica (a Level 2), Hong Kong (Level 1) and Jerusalem (Level 2).

The new rollout also includes an interactive map for travelers to more easily determine the warnings in each country.

There are 11 Level-4 countries –- Afghanistan, Central African Republic, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Department advises that U.S. citizens do not travel to these countries, and advise to leave as soon as it is safe to do so.

While the State Department may warn against all travel, they cannot bar citizens from traveling abroad or going to a specific country. Instead, what they can do is ban the use of a U.S. passport to enter a country –- what’s called a geographical travel restriction.

A Level-4 designation does not mean there is a travel ban on the country. North Korea is the only country currently under a geographical travel restriction.

In addition, these new travel advisories are accompanied by icons meant to make it easier to indicate what the risk is, including "C" for Crime, "T" for Terrorism or "U" for Civil Unrest.

Nothing about how the safety and security situation in each country is evaluated has changed -– that’s still done by the State Department in consultation with intelligence agencies, host governments and local U.S. embassies. Level 3 and 4 countries will be reassessed every six months, and Level 1 and 2 countries once a year.

Security and emergency messages are also changing, replaced by alerts -– but those will continue to go out through the Smart Traveler enrollment program and through the State Department’s travel website.

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Pentagon's top enlisted leader suggests fatally beating ISIS fighters with a shovel

icholakov/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Facebook post written by a senior enlisted U.S. military leader raised eyebrows this week after it instructed troops to beat ISIS fighters with a shovel if they don't surrender.

Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, wrote Tuesday that ISIS has two options: "surrender or die."

"If they surrender, we will safeguard them to their detainee facility cell, provide them chow, a cot and due process," Troxell wrote. "HOWEVER, if they choose not to surrender, then we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools."

An entrenching tool is a collapsible shovel-like tool often carried by military personnel.

The post included the hashtag: #ISIS_SurrenderOrDie.

When asked by ABC News about the post, Master Sgt. Robert Couture said Troxell's comments "emphasized the sincerity of the coalition's resolve in defeating ISIS, or Daesh, who over the past four years, have committed countless atrocities against men, women and children around the world."

"[Troxell's] intent is to communicate the tenacity of the warrior ethos, that even when faced with the brutal and unforgiving nature of combat, will use every resource available to fight and win," Couture added.

Asked about the hashtag, Couture said that Troxell came up with it while doing a USO Holiday Tour in December with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.

"He delivered this message to primarily service member audiences at their various stops to include Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Poland and aboard the carrier U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt underway," Couture said.

He added that the hashtag reinforces the larger slogan used by U.S. Central Command: #DefeatDaesh.

Troxell did deliver a nearly identical message to troops in Afghanistan while on the USO Holiday Tour. A video, first identified by The Washington Post and shot by a Stars and Stripes reporter, shows Troxell telling service members that ISIS must be "annihilated."

He goes on to repeat the line used in Tuesday's Facebook post, telling troops, “That may be through advising, assisting and enabling the host-nation partners. It may be by dropping bombs on them. It may be by shooting them in the face. And it even might be beating them to death with your entrenching tool, but we are going to beat this enemy!”

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Armed robbery at jewelry store in the Ritz hotel in Paris -- A jewelry store inside the Ritz hotel in Paris was the victim of an armed robbery Wednesday evening, according to French police.

No one was injured in the heist, officials said.

Police said three men, armed with axes, were arrested at the scene, while two escaped with about $5 million worth of jewelry. The thieves dropped some of the jewels at the scene, police said, but they did not specify the amount.

Davy Parker, who works near the hotel said there was a commotion outside after hearing what sounded like gunshots.

"Everyone was in panic in the street.” Parker said, “But the police arrived really quickly.”

The Ritz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Lemurs steal the spotlight from BBC news reporter trying to record zoo piece

Anolis01/iStock/Thinkstock(BANHAM, England) -- What should have been a quick and easy TV news piece at the zoo instead became a version of Animal House for one reporter recently.

The BBC's Alexander Dunlop was visiting England's Banham Zoo to report on its annual counting of animals, when he was mobbed by a group of lemurs.

In the 46-second video, Dunlop starts to speak on camera, but the animals jump on him and in front of him. Two lemurs then rest on his shoulders and one appears to bite him.

"And I'm at one of the -- ow!" Dunlop says. "Ow! God, you little nipper."

He then tries to distract the lemurs by waving his hand, but that doesn't seem to work.

Finally, Dunlop, with lemurs in tow, on his shoulders and at his elbow, decides to take a stab at taping his piece along with his new striped-tail friends.

"And I'm at one of the region's zoos where they're doing their annual stocktakes of animals," he says, laughing. "Ow! Ow! Ow! ... I think it's one of the more enjoyable parts of the job, counting lemurs."

For lemur fans looking for an experience slightly similar to Dunlop's, the Banham Zoo offers a "Lemur Encounters" walk-through enclosure so animal lovers can get "up close with the charismatic but endangered lemurs of Madagascar."

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Pregnant Duchess Kate visits with schoolchildren a day after celebrating 36th birthday

Eddie Mulholland - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Duchess Kate, pregnant with her third child, was met by flowers and singing while visiting a school today in Feltham, a suburb of London.

Kate, who celebrated her 36th birthday Tuesday, wore a Seraphine dress over her baby bump as she joined some of the nursery school children in a painting activity.

The school Kate visited, Reach Academy, works in partnership with Place2Be, the mental health charity for which Kate has been royal patron since 2013.

Reach Academy is a college-preparatory school founded on the principles that all students, regardless of their backgrounds or means, can achieve great things and live productive lives.

Kate took a brief tour of the school before sitting down with students, parents and administrators to discuss emotional well-being and support programs, including those for young people struggling with their sexuality in the LGBT community. The decision to highlight programs that support resources for the LGBT community is another example of the young royals modernizing the monarchy.

Kate's mother-in-law, the late Princess Diana, was the first member of the royal family to offer support to the gay community when she helped destigmatize the misconceptions surrounding AIDS and HIV in the gay community.

Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, have vowed to carry on her legacy through their work with the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

William, 35, has taken over the patronage of Centrepoint, a homeless charity supported by Diana. William is also today visiting Royal Marsden Hospital, a London hospital where he succeeded his mother as president.

Harry, 33, has carried on his mother’s work by founding Sentabale, a charity devoted to the vulnerable children of Lesotho and Botswana, many of whom struggle with HIV/AIDS. In December, Harry used his first official royal event with his fiancee, Meghan Markle, to introduce her to the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV/AIDS charity with which Diana was closely associated.

Kate’s visit to Reach Academy today came after a milestone for her daughter, Princess Charlotte.

Kate took Charlotte, 2, on Monday to her first day of nursery school. Kensington Palace later shared new photographs of the toddler shot by Kate.

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Japanese astronaut apologizes for 'fake news' after saying he grew 3 inches in space

NASA(TOKYO) -- After Norishige Kanai, a Japanese astronaut, initially measured over 3 inches taller since arriving in space, he worried he wouldn't be able to return home.

Kanai, who arrived at the ISS on Dec. 19, according to a press release, first posted on Twitter that he thought he'd grown more than 3.5 inches in the three weeks since his arrival at the International Space Station.

In his tweet, Kanai said the crew had their bodies measured after reaching space and initial measurements put him at over 3.5 inches taller than on Earth, making the astronaut fearful because the Soyuz spacecraft he needs to use to come home has a height limit of 6-foot-4.

However, Kanai re-measured himself and, in a follow-up tweet, said he came in at a much more normal 0.79 inches. (Astronauts grow anywhere from .79 inches to 1.97 inches in space on average.)

In a later tweet, Kanai clarified the initial measurement was an error and apologized for sending out "fake news" after some news reports said he'd grown more than 3 inches.

Clayton Anderson, a former NASA astronaut, told ABC News that getting taller in space is normal. During his last trip in April 2010, he said he grew 2 inches.

“On Earth, gravity pulls on you, and so your spine is compressed,” Anderson said. “When you go into space, gravity is lessened and so your body begins to stretch.”

Seats in the space capsule are molded for a custom fit, so any growth in size can make for a tough squeeze.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who grew two inches on his 138-day stay on the International Space Station in 2017, told ABC News it was a very uncomfortable ride home from the space station.

But taking measurements in space is far from scientific. As Anderson explained it, one must lie as stiff as a board and someone else holds the person by their feet so they don’t float away. Then a third person measures the first person's height. He said what likely happened is Kanai’s height was measured incorrectly the first time.

When asked if Kanai should be concerned about making it back to Earth, Anderson said he is not worried because once you return to Earth your spine shrinks back to normal.

“[Kanai] won’t be dunking in the NBA anytime soon,” he said, “but he’ll come back just fine.”

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South Korea's Moon credits Trump for 'big' role in North Korea talks -- South Korean President Moon Jae In credited President Donald Trump for playing a “big” role in facilitating Tuesday’s groundbreaking talks between South and North Korea in a press conference Wednesday.

“I extend my gratitude to President Trump,” said Moon, speaking to reporters at his New Year’s address.

High-level officials from North and South Korea agreed in an almost 12-hour set of talks on Tuesday to send a North Korean delegation of officials, athletes and cheerleaders to the Winter Olympics starting Feb. 9.

The countries also struck a deal to hold future military talks to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula while agreeing to “resolve national matters” through dialogue between the two Koreas.

When asked by ABC News what would happen if he had to takes sides between his country’s strongest ally, the United States, and the South’s "brother country" North Korea, Moon said there is “no disagreement whatsoever between the U.S. and South Korea.”

“The ultimate goal is to find a diplomatic solution together and lure them [North Korea] out to talks through strong international sanctions and pressure,” Moon said.

The South Korean president said both his country and the United States feel threatened by a nuclear North and “without a strong push on international sanctions led by the U.S., [yesterday’s high-level talks] could not have happened.”

During his opening remarks, Moon reassured reporters that denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a goal that could “never be given up” and he is open to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve the nuclear standoff.

“But to have the summit, some conditions must be established,” Moon said. “I think a certain level of success must be guaranteed.”

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