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Friday
Jun142019

Fate of world's fattest parrot species threatened by fungal infection

omersukrugoksu/iStock(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- Veterinarians in New Zealand are working to save the critically endangered kakapo parrot species, which is at risk of being wiped out due to a fungal infection spreading among the birds.

Less than 150 birds are left, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and seven of them have recently died of aspergillosis, a serious lung infection that affects the respiratory system, according to the Auckland Zoo.

Staff at the Auckland Zoo are currently caring for five kakapo adults and 12 chicks, all at different stages of the illness. Nora-1-A, a 100-day-old chick, is the most recent kakapo to die after receiving a "last chance" procedure to allow her to breed.

"At this time 16 birds have been officially diagnosed with aspergillosis so Nora-1-A is highly unlikely to be the last chick we lost to this disease," zoo staff wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Kakapos are characterized by their green feathers, waddling gait and "distinctive owl-like face," according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The flightless birds are known as the heaviest parrot species in the world, with males typically weighing just under 5 pounds and females about 3 pounds. They also may be the longest-living bird species in the world, estimated to reach an age of 90 years.

The species has been teetering "on the edge of extinction" since the mid-1990s, and faces "major challenges" due to infertility and inbreeding, according to the Department of Conservation.

The fungal infection began to spread during the bird's breeding season, according to the zoo.

The care for the kakapos has been so critical that earlier this month, the zoo put a call out to any experienced vets or vet nurses for help.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun142019

Looking to move? Picturesque Irish island is calling for new residents

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- If the hustle of city life is taking its toll, you could turn to the luck of the Irish.

A small island community off the northwest coast of the Emerald Isle is making a push to attract more residents, using their newly revamped internet service as a selling point.

Arranmore Island's community council has released open letters calling for people to come to their picturesque town and work remotely.

While they're open to any new residents, the letters have so far been targeted to residents of Australia and New York, where some residents of Arranmore moved during the Irish diaspora.

Adrian Begley, the chair of the Arranmore Island Community Council, told ABC News that they have received “hundreds and hundreds” of inquiries since publishing the letters, and he understands the appeal.

“It’s a beautiful place. One of the best things about the place is its people – it’s second to none,” said Begley, who has lived on the island for more than 20 years.

Other areas looking to draw in new residents have made similar appeals, like the state of Vermont, which announced in 2018 that they would reimburse up to $10,000 for those who moved to the state to work remotely.

The Arranmore push doesn’t come with a financial payout, but Begley said that some people see it as “sort of a romantic place to be.”

The island is three miles from the mainland and has daily ferry service to the town of Burtonport, which has an airport nearby with a 45-minute flight to Dublin. The last census said that there are 469 people on the island, where there are five bars.

Begley noted that the island even has its own hot dog stand, which may be a reminder of home for any Americans who choose to relocate.

In the letter addressed to New Yorkers, which was initially shared on Facebook and has since been shared with ABC News, the people of Arranmore write that while they have had internet for years, connectivity had always been an issue -- but now the island has been upgraded to high-speed broadband, which provides “connectivity that is as good as any office in New York City.”

The letter urges people who work remotely to consider moving to the island, which is about eight square miles.

“Your commute, no matter where you are, will only ever be five minutes. You’ll have the best diving in Ireland on your doorstep, and seafood to rival the tastiest of Manhattan Clam Chowders," the letter states. "There are less people here than would fit in a couple of subway cars, but enough musicians and good Irish whiskey to keep the party going well into the night."

For his part, Begley said he favors the local delicacy of “crab toes,” which he explained are known as crab claws by the rest of the world. Crab and lobster are local to the region, and in the summer the local fishermen are known to bring in an excellent catch, he said.

The island currently has two elementary schools that run up to age 12, and one junior school that runs up until college. Additionally, many students come to the island in the summer to learn the Irish language, which is spoken by many on the island. Addressing any concerns that people would have about the language options, Begley said "everyone speaks English, and most people speak Irish ... you'd never struggle with it."

Begley said that the larger picture for the push is that by bringing in more people to work and live on the island, it “makes the island sustainable, makes the community sustainable.”

“Island life is a very unique way of being. It’s a very unique experience,” Begley said, noting that the calm and quiet offered there stand out compared to busier cities.

"But because of the connectivity we now have, we’re in a very unique position to offer the best of both worlds,” he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Pompeo blames Iran for attack on two tankers in Gulf of Oman, US details evidence 

Manakin/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday blamed Iran for the attack on two commercial tanker ships sailing in international waters in the Gulf of Oman earlier in the day.

"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today. This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high-degree of sophistication," Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.

"Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted," he said, adding that the U.S. "will defend its forces, interests and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability."

Some of the intelligence that Pompeo referred to includes overhead images taken by a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance craft that shows Iranians on small boats alongside the Kokuka Courageous attempting to remove an unexploded mine that they had previously attached to the ship, a U.S. official told ABC News.

Late Thursday, U.S. Central Command released video it claimed showed Iranians successfully removing the mine from the ship.

Iranian officials flatly denied any involvement in the attacks.

Iran's mission to the United Nations issued the country's first response to the U.S. assertion that Iran is behind Thursday's oil vessel attacks, calling it part of an "Iranophobic campaign."

"Iran categorically rejects the U.S. unfounded claim with regard to 13 June oil tanker incidents and condemns it in the strongest possible terms," Alireza Miryousefi, head of the press office at Iran's Mission to the U.N., said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. "immediately jumped to makes allegations against Iran," in a tweet late Thursday.

A distress call was received from the Kokuka Courageous at 6:12am local time in Bahrain, forty five minutes later a second ship, the Front Altair issued its own distress signal after a series of explosions set fire to the ship.

The 21 mariners aboard the Kokuka Courageous were picked up by a nearby Dutch tugboat before being transferred to the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge that had been in the vicinity. U.S. Central Command said that transfer occurred after the Bainbridge beat an Iranian vessel in a race to the Dutch tug and the master of the Kokuka Courageous asked that his crew be placed aboard the U.S. Navy ship.

According to a U.S. official, after a mine exploded on the ship's hull, during a hull damage inspection the ship's crew spotted an unexploded mine attached to the hull. The crew of the USS Bainbridge and a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft verified the presence of an unexploded mine attached to the ship.

Later, that aircraft spotted the crews of some of the Iranian small boats attempting to remove the unexploded mine in an attempt to recover evidence that could connect Iran to the attacks, said a U.S. official.

The Bainbridge is staying close to the Kokuka Courageous as another destroyer the USS Mason is enroute to the area to provide assistance, U.S. Central Command said in a statement late Thursday.

The other tanker, the Norwegian-flagged Front Altair, suffered significant damage after the explosion of two to three mines triggered a massive fire on board the ship. A U.S. official said the ship is in jeopardy of sinking with its cargo of naptha, a flammable hydrocarbon.

The 23 mariners aboard the Front Altair were rescued by the crew of the nearby Hyundai Dubai before they were transferred to an Iranian port. Images on Iranian television showed the ship's crew in a holding room watching television.

The attacks come at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran after an American aircraft carrier was deployed to the Middle East in what the U.S. said was an effort to deter possible Iranian attacks against U.S. forces or interests in the region.

A statement from U.S. Central Command issued late Thursday called the attacks "a threat to maritime shipping and international commerce," but also sought to ease tensions in the region.

"We have no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East," said the statement. " We will defend our interests, but a war with Iran is not in our strategic interest, nor in the best interest of the international community."

U.S. officials have publicly blamed Iran for explosive sabotage attacks using magnetic mines in mid-May against four commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Prior to that attack, there had been sightings of about 20 Iranian fast attack vessels moving through the Strait of Hormuz to the general area where those attacks occurred, said one U.S. official.

That attacks came nearly a week after the U.S. had accelerated the deployment to the Middle East of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and sent B-52 bombers to deter possible Iranian attacks to U.S. forces and interests in the region. The Lincoln was in port in Oman, but pulled out back into open waters on Thursday morning, an official said.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters recently that the deployment had led Iran to “step back and recalculate” though the U.S. still saw “possible imminent threats.”

Zarif tweeted that the timing of attack on the tankers was suspicious because it occurred during a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Ayatollah Khameini, Iran's supreme leader.

"Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning," he tweeted.

Earlier, Khameini had said during his meeting with Abe that that while Tehran doesn't want an atomic bomb, "America could not do anything" to stop Iran if it did.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Notre Dame to hold first mass since April blaze

ABC News(PARIS) -- The Notre Dame Cathedral is opening its doors to worshipers on Saturday, marking the first time since a devastating fire tore through its halls in April.

The Archdiocese of Paris announced that a mass will be held “on a very small scale” on Saturday with a “restricted” number of people in a “side chapel,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit will deliver the mass, which will be televised live, on June 15, the agency reported.

The date signifies an anniversary of sorts for the cathedral: the consecration of the church’s altar is normally celebrated annually on June 16.

On April 15, a blaze that took hours to extinguish tore through the 850-year-old building in the heart of France’s capital.

The fire was ignited during an evening mass at the start of Holy Week, the busiest and most important period of the liturgical year.

Millions mourned the extent of the destruction in the landmark of Gothic architecture, but miraculously, much of the relics and structure of the cathedral survived, including its famous rose windows.

On the evening of the blaze, rescuers were intent on saving the relics inside — including what Catholics believe is the crown of thorns that Jesus wore during the Passion — as well as Notre Dame's great organ and its 8,000 pipes, along with the building itself.

Retired French Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin was chosen by French President Emmanuel Macron to lead the cathedral’s restoration.

"Nothing is impossible to a French general," Georgelin told ABC News’ David Muir in an exclusive interview, saying that he agrees with Macron that Notre Dame could reopen within five years. But, he said, "When there's a will, there's a way."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

French anesthetist suspected of poisoning 24 patients, killing 9: Authorities 

gpointstudio/iStock(PARIS) -- An anesthetist in France is accused by police of poisoning 24 patients, killing nine, allegedly in an effort to ruin the reputation of his colleagues because of personal conflicts he had with them, according to authorities.

On Wednesday, the French court of appeals confirmed that Dr. Frederic Pechier, 47, is to remain free under legal supervision while the investigation continues. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

Pechier denies any implication he was part of the poisonings, according to his lawyer, Randall Schwerdorffer.

The investigation into Pechier began two years ago when seven cases of poisoning were discovered at two French medical clinics in Besancon, a city in Eastern France. Investigators found 17 other "serious adverse events" occurring between October 2008 and December 2016, Besancon police revealed last month.

Pechier became a suspect, according to prosecutors, because he was "the common denominator of these events.” The motive behind the alleged poisonings was Pechier’s personal conflicts with his colleagues, according to prosecutors.

Pechier allegedly polluted the IV bags of 24 of his colleagues’ patients, ranging in ages from four to 80 years old, to cause cardiac arrests, according to authorities.

The cardiac arrests often happened during routine surgeries, Besancon prosecutors said during a press conference last month. One 4-year-old patient, Teddy, suffered two cardiac arrests during a tonsil operation.

Most of Pechier’s alleged victims have formed an association called Avapolvi, headed by Sandra Simard, a 38-year-old woman who spent five days in a coma after a back operation, and still has cognitive after-effects, from what she claims is poisoning by Pechier.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei rejects Trump's offer to talk

iStock/BornaMir(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Amid renewed high tensions in the Persian Gulf, Iran's Supreme Leader says he has rejected an offer from President Donald Trump to talk, blasting the U.S. as insincere in its offer and untrustworthy.

"I do not consider Trump as a person worth exchanging any message with," Ayatollah Khamenei reportedly said.

Khamenei met with Japan's Shinzo Abe on Thursday in Tehran, saying that the prime minister carried a message from the president that "negotiations with the U.S. would lead to Iran's progress."

The White House has not responded to questions about whether Trump gave Abe a message, but the president himself has previously said, "If they'd like to talk, we'd like to talk also."

The public rejection of talks with the U.S. came as two oil tankers were reportedly attacked in international waters in the Gulf of Oman. One ship reportedly was on fire, and the other suffered damage. Twenty-one mariners from one of the ships were taken aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer after having abandoned ship, while 23 mariners from the other vessel were reportedly taken to Iran.

Last month, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East and set B-52 bombers in what the Trump administration called an act of deterrence amid heightened threats from Iran and its proxies to U.S. personnel in Iraq, Syria, and on the high seas. Iran denied threatening U.S. personnel, in turn accusing the U.S. of ratcheting up tension with its military deployments.

Tensions between the two countries have remained fierce, but the visit of Abe -- a close ally of Trump and the first Japanese leader to visit Iran in over 40 years -- marked a possible off-ramp. Trump spoke by phone with Abe days before he arrived in Tehran, where he was welcomed as a potentially stronger economic partner amid Iran's crumbling economy.

"I would like to give you a message from the President of the United States," Abe told Khamenei at the start of their meeting, according to Khamenei's office.

"We do not doubt your sincerity and goodwill. However, regarding what you mentioned about the President of the U.S., I do not consider Trump as a person worth exchanging any message with and I have no answer for him, nor will I respond to him in the future," Khamenei reportedly said in response.

In particular, Khamenei said the U.S. has shown itself not to be trustworthy or genuine in its peace talks offer by continuing to ramp up economic sanctions on his government, including sanctioning Iran's petrochemical industry last Friday.

"We do not believe at all that the U.S. is seeking genuine negotiations with Iran; because genuine negotiations would never come from a person like Trump. Genuineness is very rare among U.S. officials," Khamenei added in a series of tweets Thursday.

While Khamenei repeated that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, he also asserted Iran's right to pursue them if it wanted to, adding, "America could not prevent us."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Hong Kong postpones extradition bill debate again after dozens injured in protests

Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- The president of Hong Kong's legislature has again suspended a debate on a polarizing proposal to change the city's extradition law, following violent clashes between police and thousands of protesters.

Mass protests in the streets shut down Hong Kong's Legislative Council complex in Admiralty district on Wednesday, the day lawmakers were set to debate the extradition law amendment, which would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial. The situation turned violent when riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the throngs of demonstrators, who hurled bottles, umbrellas and other objects at them.

At least 72 people were injured, including two who remained in intensive care Thursday morning, according to Hong Kong's Hospital Authority. The conditions of the others were unknown.

Twenty-two police officers were among those injured, according to Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, who defended his officers' actions.

"We have guidelines and training to use appropriate level of force in certain situation. The whole morning from 8 a.m. until 3 o'clock, our officers were very restrained," Lo told reporters. "We tried to keep a distance between our forces and the protesters to let them express the views."

"Not until they used weapons to charge our officers did we respond," he added.

Lo said he has received 19 complaints against his officers, and he vowed to investigate all of them.

Police arrested 11 people for disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, assaulting officers and riot-related activities stemming from Wednesday's protests, according to Lo.

More than a dozen opposition lawmakers marched up to the official residence of Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, in Central district on Thursday morning to demand that she withdraw the bill.

The streets of Hong Kong were otherwise quiet, as cleaning crews and some protesters began picking up debris from the previous day's demonstrations in Admiralty, Central and Wan Chai districts.

Lawmakers were able to get into the Legislative Council building, where police have set up barricades and checkpoints, but all scheduled meetings were canceled for both Thursday and Friday, pushing the debate to next week.

Government offices in the complex are closed for the rest of the week, and police have shuttered the nearby Admiralty mass transit railway station.

The bill is scheduled to be voted on June 20. Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, has said she plans to sign it.

Under the extradition law amendment, any country -- including China -- could request extradition of an individual to their home country from Hong Kong for trial. Many who oppose the proposed legislation fear that China could use it to arrest political dissidents.

The protests have brought into sharp focus the contrasts between the judicial systems in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Concern has been mounting in recent years in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that the central government in Beijing is undermining the freedoms guaranteed to its citizens under the terms of the territory's 1997 handover from the United Kingdom to China.

Mass protests against changes to the territory's electoral system in 2014 saw demonstrators occupy and paralyze parts of the city's government and commercial district for about six months.

In 2016, six pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified from their offices in a controversy over protests inserted into their oaths of office. Last year, a political party calling for independence from China was also banned by the local government.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Duchess Kate attends gala for Addiction Awareness Week

Ian Vogler - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, attended the first annual gala dinner for Addiction Awareness Week Wednesday night, wearing a white dress by designer Barbara Casasola that she wore to another event three years ago.

Duchess Kate, patron of Action on Addiction, a U.K.-based charity, paired the dress this time around with metallic glittery pumps and a metallic clutch.

Her attendance at the gala came the night before her appearance on a long-running BBC children's show, Blue Peter, to highlight the importance of nature for kids and families.

The special, airing Thursday on CBBC, shows Duchess Kate gardening and building a den with children.

She tells the presenter how important she thinks it is for children to play outside.
 
“It encourages creativity, confidence and even a short amount of time, 10 to 15 minutes outside, makes a huge difference to physical well-being but also to our mental well-being," Kate said, adding that she drags her own children outdoors "rain or shine.”

Kate made a big splash last month with the "Back to Nature" garden she helped design at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London. The garden was created to encourage children to play outside.

Kate, a mother of three, has made early childhood development the focus of her work, advocating for the benefits of the outdoors on improving mental health, particularly for kids.

Kate's collaboration with Blue Peter also includes a competition that asks viewers to design a sculpture that will go in Kate's "Back to Nature" garden when it moves to RHS Garden Wisley, a garden run by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

Amanda Knox returns to Italy for first time since her acquittal

Paula Lobo/ABC(ROME) -- Amanda Knox arrived in Italy Thursday for the first time since her 2015 acquittal in a years-long murder case there.

Knox will take part in a three-day conference on criminal law in Italy, according to the conference's organizers. She landed at an airport in Milan, in the country's north, emerging to a throng of reporters.

The Italy Innocence Project, founded in 2013, is a non-profit organization that studies issues related to wrongful convictions in Italy and is part of the Law Department of the University of Roma.

Before she arrived in Italy, Knox posted a photo on Instagram appearing to show her hanging from a cliff, saying she created her "own inspirational workplace poster" because she felt "frayed."

"Hang in there!" she wrote.

She also penned an essay published on Medium Wednesday discussing her interaction with the public amid intense media scrutiny. Entitled "Your Content, My Life," Knox called on media outlets to be "compassionate," "brave," and to " treat its subjects like the human beings they are."

"Someone’s life may make a great story, but it’s still their life," she wrote.

Knox was a 20-year-old college student studying abroad in Italy when she was accused of murdering her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher, in November 2007. After a long judicial ordeal, which involved two appeal court trials and two Supreme Court decisions, Knox, along with Raffaele Sollecito, her Italian boyfriend at the time, were finally acquitted of murder in 2015.

Knox left Italy immediately after the acquittal and has not returned to the country.

Rudy Guede was found guilty of Kercher's murder in a separate trial in 2008 and is serving a sentence of 16 years.

Martina Cagossi, a criminal lawyer and one of the founders of The Italy Innocence Project, told ABC News that she met Knox at a conference in the U.S. and said Knox had shown interest in her organization.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jun132019

US sends envoy to Sudan to defuse crisis amid reports of rapes during military crackdown 

pawel.gaul/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. said on Wednesday that a new special envoy for Sudan has been named to lead diplomatic efforts to resolve a political crisis in that country, two months after its repressive leader was forced from power by mass protests.

The increased U.S. involvement comes after a major crackdown on protest camps in the capital Khartoum last week, during which militias with ties to the ruling military authorities raped at least 70 people, according to a doctors' group affiliated with the protest movement.

The State Department announced it had appointed Donald Booth, who served as U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan under the Obama administration, to be special envoy again. A former ambassador to Liberia, Zambia, and Ethiopia, Booth was dispatched Wednesday to Khartoum with the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy.

The two met with opposition leaders and authorities from the Transitional Military Council, which assumed power after President Omar al Bashir was forced out in April. The TMC, as the military authority is known, has promised to lead a transition to elections, but in recent weeks has overseen a violent crackdown on protesters who are demanding civilian rule.

The U.S. diplomats were sent to "call for a cessation of attacks against civilians and urge parties to work toward" resuming talks, the State Department said Monday.

That call came after violence erupted last week, with militias known as the Rapid Support Forces and tied to the military, attacking protesters' camps. At least 70 people reportedly were raped, according to accounts compiled from hospitals by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors.

The total number may end up being even "higher than what have been already documented," according to Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the opposition alliance called the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces.

The death toll from those attacks is now at least 129 people, with over 700 injured, Madani told ABC News.

In response to the violence, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum tweeted last week, "The TMC cannot responsibly lead the people of Sudan." It later deleted the tweet, but added a new one that said, "Sudanese security forces' attacks against protesters and other civilians is wrong and must stop."

During their visit, Booth and Nagy would be "urging the Sudanese security forces to end the attacks on civilians, of course withdraw the militias, the RSF militia from Khartoum, and of course to allow an independent investigation for the recent violence," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday.

She again stopped short of calling on the TMC to relinquish power, but she added praise for the Sudanese people's "remarkable determination. They've been committed to peacefully protesting and civil disobedience, which continues today."

Opposition leaders welcomed the U.S. visit and support, according to Madani: "We have not yet seen the nature of the U.S. envoy visit, but we will certainly deal with it in a positive and serious way in order to reach an agreement that would lead to the formation of a civilian authority."

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