Did You Know
MOSCOW: A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that about 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.
"It was a completely unique situation," said Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve where the encounter in September happened. "We were all gobsmacked, to be honest."
The bears had come to feast on the carcass of a bowhead whale that washed ashore, later resting around the food source. The crowd included many families, including two mothers trailed by a rare four cubs each, Gruzdev told reporters.
Climate change means ice, where polar bears are most at home, is melting earlier in the year and so polar bears have to spend longer on land, scientists say.
This might wow tourists, but means the bears, more crammed together on coasts and islands, will eventually face greater competition for the little food there is on land.
Locals are also at risk from hungry animals venturing into villages.
Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia's Chukotka in the northeast, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.
It is also considered the birthing centre for the species, with the highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic, Gruzdev said.
"A whale is a real gift for them," he said. "An adult whale is several tens of tonnes" that many bears can feed on for several months.
Studies have shown that, compared with 20 years ago, polar bears now spend on average a month longer on Wrangel Island because "ice is melting earlier and the ice-free period is longer", said Eric Regehr, from the University of Washington, the lead American scientist on the US-Russian collaborative study of Wrangel Island polar bears.
Changing ice conditions could also be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there, Regehr said.
This autumn, the number of bears observed was 589, far exceeding previous estimates of 200-300, he said, calling it "anomalously high".
The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates there are about 26,000 polar bears in the Arctic, with a long-term "potential for large reductions" due to ice loss.
Ice is key as polar bears hunt exclusively on the ice surface, often staking out seals by their breathing holes.
NOTHING CAN REPLACE SEALS
Regehr said the polar bear population in the shared US-Russian Chukchi Sea "appears to be productive and healthy" at the moment, but as time spent on land continues to increase, the bears' nutrition and body condition will be affected.
"The question is at what point the population will begin to experience negative effects, is that at one and a half months (more time on land than normal), two months, more?" he asked.
"We don't know exactly, but there is a threshold somewhere in the future."
Despite some food sources on land - including musk oxen, lemmings, or even grass - nothing can completely replace the energy-packed seals that bears have evolved to rely on.
"They are resourceful and adaptable animals, and some bears will probably find something to eat, but the number of bears we currently have in the Arctic definitely cannot be sustained on land," Regehr said.
That made the image of hundreds of bears around the whale carcass both impressive and concerning, he said.
"There is evidence that it foreshadows the future: larger numbers spending more time on the island and ultimately less time on the sea ice with fewer prey, with a negative cascade of effects."
One effect is the increasing chance of conflict between polar bears and humans, for example in native Chukchi settlements, all of which are located on the coast.
Since mid-October, polar bears have been coming dangerously close to a Chukotka village called Ryrkaipy, which is located near Kozhevnikov Cape, an important site for walrus gatherings, or haulouts, that lies about 200 kilometres (about 124 miles) south of Wrangel Island.
With changing ice conditions, walruses can be forced to come ashore in steep unsuitable areas.
This year, hundreds died as the huge animals crushed one another, possibly after being disturbed by a predator, said Viktor Nikiforov, a polar bear specialist and coordinator of Marine Mammals expert centre.
The problem is that some walrus corpses then floated to the village, attracting polar bears. "One bear broke the window of a house," Nikiforov said.
The village went on high alert, forbade children to walk to school and cancelled some public events, reports said.
Nikiforov said scientists and locals used bulldozers to move walrus corpses away from the village. He echoed concerns that bears spend more time ashore as the ice-free period becomes longer.
"The concentration of people and animals in one area increases and there is conflict," he said.
"We cannot stop climate change, but we can sort out the situation on the shore and make life easier for the bears," he said, referring to measures such as bear patrols to minimise conflict with humans.
"With changes in nature, that has to be attended to."
WASHINGTON: An ultra-violent Latino street gang that United States President Donald Trump has vowed to wipe out beheaded a man and cut out his heart before burying him in a park near the US capital, reports said Wednesday (Nov 22).
The victim, who has not yet been identified, was stabbed more than 100 times in Wheaton, Maryland just outside Washington DC, according to a statement by the Montgomery County Police Department.
Authorities have so far arrested Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego, 19, on first-degree murder.
Charging documents obtained by Montgomery Community Media and WBALTV11 added the victim was decapitated and had his heart removed from his chest, in an attack planned for weeks and involving up to 10 people.
Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is estimated to have 10,000 members in the United States.
The gang works as an umbrella grouping of units known in Spanish as "clicas", some of which are larger and more violent than others.
It has become a focus of Trump's crackdown on crime, which he claims has surged as a result of borders easily crossed by gang members.
Most members trace their heritage to El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala, and among the members there are as many immigrants as there are US citizens. Many were born in the United States.
Authorities last week announced they had netted 214 members of the gang in a month-long nationwide sweep.
More than half of those picked up in the action which was led by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, were arrested on immigration violations. But 93 were dealt federal criminal charges including murder, robbery, drugs and racketeering.
PUEBLA, Mexico: A US mountaineer died while climbing Mexico's highest summit - the inactive Citlaltepetl volcano - with bad weather hampering efforts to recover his body, official sources said Wednesday.
The unidentified climber was part of a group of four scaling the 5,610-meter mountain located on the border between the states of Puebla and Veracruz, Ruben Dario Herrera, director of Civil Protection in the state of Puebla told reporters.
"They were separated in pairs and at some point (on Tuesday) he died," Herrera said, adding his companion descended "to make contact with the US embassy and ask for help."
According to a police report accessed by reporters his companion - named only as Marck, from Denver, Colorado - said the climber died after they "fell on a crack."
He did not provide further details about the climber, but confirmed he left the body "marked" and "secure" near the top of the volcano.
Since the early hours of the morning, mountain rescuers have searched for the body - but low temperatures and strong winds have frustrated the search.
Best known as Pico de Orizaba, the volcano is regularly climbed by professional climbers from around the world, but also attracts poorly-equipped amateurs.
In 2015, the mountain gained notoriety following the discovery of two unidentified mummified bodies at an elevation of 5,200 meters - which have not been recovered due to their precarious location - and a third which is now in a local museum.
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina: Experts ruled out Monday (Nov 20) the possibility that noise detected at sea could have come from an Argentine submarine missing with 44 people aboard, in the latest bad news to hit their relatives.
"The sound footprint could not correspond to a sub's ... it may have been a noise from a living thing," said navy spokesman Enrique Balbi.
"The search continues," he added, noting that there are 14 vessels and 10 aircraft scouring area 24 hours a day in the midst of a storm front in the South Atlantic that is expected to ease on Tuesday.
News that noises had been detected had raised hopes to find alive the 44 crew members aboard the ARA San Juan, missing for five days in the South Atlantic - after earlier apparent distress calls were dismissed as not coming from the vessel.
Argentina will still dispatch vessels with multi-beam undersea probes to explore the site where the noises were detected, some 360km offshore in shallow waters at the edge of Argentina's continental shelf that were on the sub's course, Balbi said.
The noises sounded like tools being banged on the hull of a submarine to attract the attention of rescuers, reporters said, citing an unnamed senior US navy official familiar with the international search effort.
A US Navy P-8A Poseidon plane was immediately dispatched to the site where the noises were detected by two Argentine ships. The plane dropped sonar buoys into the sea to record the noises.
A multinational air and sea search is under way with help from seven countries including Brazil, Britain, Chile, the United States and Uruguay.
Earlier in the day, the navy said the German-built TR-1700class diesel-electric submarine launched in 1983 had reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication Wednesday.
The nature of the breakdown was not immediately clear. It was the first time the navy indicated it had been aware of a problem.
"The vessel surfaced and it reported a breakdown. It was therefore asked to change course and go to Mar del Plata," said Gabriel Galeazzi, the head of the naval base in the city, located 400km south of Buenos Aires.
Balbi also told reporters that analysis has shown that seven signals received by naval bases over the weekend were not attempted distress calls from the submarine's satellite phone.
Monday's revelations were a blow to relatives of sailors aboard the sub, around 100 of whom are being housed at the Mar del Plata naval base as they await news of the crew.
"They have a lot of hope. The hours go by and the worry rate goes up. The best tranquilizer is accurate information," said Enrique Stein, a member of a psychological support unit set up for the families.
Andrea Ali, wife of Franco Ali, an electrician aboard the San Juan, added: "We don't know anything. We are waiting with a great deal of anxiety."
The submarine's fate has gripped the nation, and President Mauricio Macri visited the relatives and prayed with them.
Macri was briefed on the search during his visit to the base.
MULTINATIONAL RESCUE EFFORTS
Search efforts have been hampered by inclement weather, including a powerful storm that has whipped up waves reaching seven meters in height.
Rescuers are focusing on an ocean patch about 300km in diameter, radiating from the last point of contact.
US Southern Command has deployed the Poseidon patrol and reconnaissance plane with a crew of 21, as well as a NASA P-3 research aircraft, and other equipment and personnel.
The US Navy has deployed two unmanned underwater vehicles that use a sonar system to create an image of large sections of the sea floor.
Britain's Royal Navy said it had sent the HMS Protector, an Antarctic patrol ship.
The submarine had been returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southernmost tip of South America, to Mar del Plata.
It is one of three submarines in the Argentine fleet.
Sixty-five meters long and seven meters wide, it was built by Germany's Thyssen Nordseewerke and launched more than three decades ago.
It underwent a refit between 2007 and 2014 to extend its use by about 30 years.
Some 59,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States will no longer receive protective status starting in 18 months, opening the door for their potential repatriation to their desperately poor home country.
WASHINGTON: Some 59,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States will no longer receive protective status starting in 18 months, opening the door for their potential repatriation to their desperately poor home country.
Haitian immigrants received Temporary Protected Status after a 2010 earthquake that devastated the already impoverished Caribbean nation.
The mega-disaster killed more than 200,000 people, destroyed much of the capital Port-au-Prince and displaced 1.5 million Haitians.
TPS made it possible for Haitians in the United States to stay after their visas expired, and to work legally.
But after a review, US Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke "determined that those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist," a statement read Monday.
"Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent. Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens."
Steve Forester, coordinator of the Miami-based Institute for Justice and Democracy In Haiti, called the decision a "disgrace."
"It is completely inappropriate given the conditions in Haiti," he told reporters.
"This is the triumph of ideology over facts, because the facts on the ground are clear and this will destabilize Haiti and is bad for the United States."
In Florida, home to nearly half of the million Haitians in the US, the community's main group planned a protest for Tuesday at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.
"Come to the Mar-a-Lago and tell the Trump administration to renew TPS for Haitian and Central American immigrants and demand a clean Dream Act for the children of immigrants," Haitian Women of Miami said in a Facebook post.
Ahead of the expected end of the program, thousands of Haitians traveled across the United States' northern border with Canada in recent months to seek asylum.
Faced with the sudden influx, Canada's federal government boosted its border personnel and built temporary housing to relieve overwhelmed relief centers.
The DHS statement said Duke had met with Haitian Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Ambassador Paul Altidor in Washington in recent days to discuss the issue.
The agency insisted the 18-month delay "will provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible."
It vowed to facilitate an "orderly transition."
Delaying the end of the permits until July 22, 2019, amounted to a win for diaspora organizations and international NGOs, who had pressed the United States not to allow them to expire in January as previously planned.
DHS officials previously said there are around 58,700 Haitians living in the United States under TPS.
Many do not have up-to-date Haitian travel documents, which has posed a problem to ending their status.
In order to legally work in the United States, Haitians benefiting from the designation will have to reapply for employment authorization documents.
As part of a general crackdown on illegal immigration, the government has been deporting Haitians who do not have temporary protected status, raising protests from pro-immigrant groups.
The US government has also ended a TPS program for 5,300 Nicaraguan immigrants, effective January 2019, while tens of thousands of Hondurans had their stay extended until July.
In January, DHS is expected to announce a decision on the status of some 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador who are believed to be the largest group of TPS recipients by nationality.
Hundreds of victims of the Oct 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas filed five lawsuits on Monday (Nov 20) in a California court against the operators of the hotel from which the gunman fired, the organisers of the country music festival he targeted and the killer's estate.
The largest of the lawsuits was filed on behalf of 450 people who were either injured in or witnessed the shooting, while the other four were brought by families of people who were killed or severely injured.
All five cases were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Muhammad Aziz, a Houston-based lawyer heading the lawsuits, said they were filed in California because nearly all the plaintiffs were from the state and had been treated there. He noted that Live Nation Entertainment Inc, the event organizer, was a California-based company.
Stephen Paddock, 64, fired into the crowd gathered for the Route 91 Harvest Festival from a 32nd-floor hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on Oct 1, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Paddock also killed himself.
The victims accused the hotel operator MGM Resorts International and its subsidiary Mandalay Corp, which owns the hotel, of failing to properly monitor Paddock's activities, train staff members and employ adequate security measures.
The festival goers also alleged Live Nation was negligent for failing to provide adequate exits and properly train staff for an emergency.
Several lawsuits have previously been filed in the shooting, mostly in Nevada state court. One of those filed on Monday was brought by college student Paige Gasper, who brought the first lawsuit over the mass shooting.
Gasper voluntarily dismissed the Nevada lawsuit on Friday.
Live Nation and MGM did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The companies have previously declined to comment on lawsuits.
Plaintiffs also sued the shooter's estate for battery and assault. The reportedly wealthy shooter is thought to have had multimillion-dollar real estate investments across Texas and California.
A court hearing about who will be appointed to administer Paddock's estate is set for Dec. 7.
Slide Fire Solutions, the maker of the so-called bump stock device Paddock used to achieve a near-automatic rate of fire, was named in previous lawsuits over the shooting, but not in any of the suits filed on Monday.
Aziz said Slide Fire was not named because most of his clients supported the right to bear arms.
"We want to focus on hotel and venue security, not turn this into a gun rights case," he said.
WASHINGTON: New Orleans has elected its first female mayor in its nearly 300-year history, a city council member who helped her neighbourhood recover from Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
LaToya Cantrell received a strong mandate of 60 per cent of the vote, local media reported, in a race that pitted her against another woman, former judge Desiree Charbonnet.
"The celebration continues! I can't thank everyone who helped us get here enough!" Cantrell, 45, said on Twitter late Saturday.
She pledged to "lead with integrity" and be a voice for everyone, whomever they voted for in the city whose spicy cuisine and jazz clubs are major tourist draws.
Current mayor Mitch Landrieu also offered his congratulations to Cantrell, "the mayor-elect."
She joins a select group of women heading large American cities.
In 2016, about 19 per cent of mayors were female in United States communities with populations larger than 30,000, according to the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers university.
Cantrell is a relative newcomer to elected office, having won a council seat in 2012 after her work with a neighborhood non-profit group that helped the city recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The deadliest storm in US history, Katrina pounded the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in 2005, leading to some 1,800 deaths and inflicting more than US$150 billion worth of damage.
Around 80 per cent of New Orleans was submerged as the city's flood defenses gave way.
Ray Nagin, who was mayor during Katrina and after, is serving a 10-year sentence for bribery, money laundering and other offences while he held office.
On her website, Cantrell said New Orleans is "a city of two truths." One is where public facilities have been rebuilt and new businesses are flourishing.
The other, which she wants to rectify, "is about crime and illegal guns, pockets of blight, flooded streets that are covered in potholes."
She will take office as New Orleans' 51st mayor next year, when the city founded in 1718 turns 300.
LONDON: For the first time, some of London's buses will soon be powered by a biofuel made partly from waste coffee grounds.
The biofuel is created by mixing coffee oil extracted from coffee waste with diesel, which can be added to the London bus fuel supply chain without need for modification, Shell and technology firm Bio-bean said in a joint news release on Nov 20 (Monday).
Working with biofuel producer Argent Energy, the final fuel blend is made up of 80 per cent traditional diesel, and 20 per cent biofuel. The new fuel provides a cleaner, more sustainable energy solution for buses by decreasing emissions, the release added.
The average Londoner drinks 2.3 cups of coffee a day, producing over 200,000 tonnes of waste a year. Bio-bean aims to collect these waste coffee grounds from high street chains and factories.
So far, 6,000 litres of coffee-derived biodiesel has been produced, which could help power a bus for a whole year.
"It’s a great example of what can be done when we start to reimagine waste as an untapped resource," Bio-bean's founder Arthur Kay said.
Shell Singapore said the technology "holds much potential for heavily motorised countries".
"This is an exciting development not just for those in London, but also cities around the world looking to be powered by more sustainable and energy-efficient transport systems. We hope to see more of such inspiring and creative responses to sustainability in Asia’s own clean energy movement,” said Jason Leow, general manager of external relations at Shell Singapore.
London: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip celebrate 70 years of marriage on Monday (Nov 20), becoming Britain's first reigning couple to mark a platinum wedding anniversary.
The decades-spanning marriage of the Queen - the nation's longest serving sovereign - has outlasted those of all prior British monarchs.
The royal couple will not hold any public events, but have invited family and friends to Windsor Castle for a private dinner on Monday evening, according to media reports.
Earlier in the day the bells of Westminster Abbey, where Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh on Nov 20, 1947, will ring out in full celebratory peal.
The abbey's company of ringers - a team of 10 - will deliver the tribute uninterrupted for around three hours and 20 minutes, from 1pm GMT (9pm, Singapore time).
Also in honour of the occasion, Buckingham Palace on Saturday issued new photographic portraits of the Queen and the Prince, taken earlier this month in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle.
They are framed by Thomas Gainsborough's 1781 portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte, whose 57-year union - bridging the 18th and 19th centuries - is the next longest British royal marriage.
In one of the photographs released, the Queen poses in the same cream dress she wore at her diamond wedding anniversary thanksgiving service 10 years ago, along with a yellow gold, ruby and diamond brooch Philip gave her in 1966.
Meanwhile the Royal Mail, Britain's postal service, has issued a new set of six stamps to commemorate the historic landmark.
It includes images of the pair's engagement announcement at Buckingham Palace, their wedding amid the splendour of Westminster Abbey, and the first part of their honeymoon at a country estate in the county of Hampshire.
The fairy-tale royal wedding in 1947 was a morale boost during the tough years immediately after World War II.
Their marriage endured, as Philip accepted living in his wife's shadow, and the Queen seemingly forgiving his periodic gaffes.
They had four children - Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward - though their marriages have been less successful, with all except Edward having divorced.
The couple also boast eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, with a sixth great-grandchild expected in April, when Prince William and wife Kate Middleton's third child is due.
The 96-year-old Duke of Edinburgh retired from the public eye this summer, enjoying his newfound free time reading and painting.
For her part the Queen, at 91, is slowly passing over some of her official duties to her son Prince Charles, now aged 69.
The royal couple first met as teenagers, and eventually married when Elizabeth was a 25-year-old princess.
Philip, the son of a Greek prince banished from that country, renounced his titles and Greek Orthodox faith and became a British citizen in order to marry, adopting his mother's anglicised name, Mountbatten.
Prior to the wedding he told the Queen Mother he had "fallen in love completely and unreservedly" with her daughter.
Since described by Elizabeth as her "rock", Philip once remarked: "My job first, second and last, is never to let the Queen down.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The foundation maintaining the Amsterdam house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis during World War II said Thursday (Nov 16) that it had bought another property where her family lived in the 1930s.
But the Anne Frank Foundation said it had no plans to use the "other home" as a museum, as it does with the one in Amsterdam's canal belt where the Frank family hid for two years, and which now draws thousands of visitors each year.
"It's important for the foundation that the home where Anne Frank lived in the 1930s remains intact and is looked after in a proper way," spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker said.
"It has a very special character ... the home situated at the Merwedeplein is inextricably linked to Anne Frank," Bekker added, referring to a square in Amsterdam.
The home in southern Amsterdam formerly belonged to a housing corporation which had said it could no longer assume responsibility for its upkeep.
The Frank family lived in the modest brick building from 1934 until they went into hiding in a secret annexe at a home on Amsterdam's Prinsengracht street in 1942.
Anne Frank's father Otto bought the first house in 1933 after fleeing rising anti-semitism in neighbouring Germany, and she arrived there as a four-year-old girl.
Fuzzy black-and-white pictures show a smiling Anne looking from a window frame or sitting in a deck chair on the house's rooftop terrace.
On Jul 6, 1942, the Franks retreated into the secret annexe of the other home as the Nazis were rounding up Jewish families after invading The Netherlands in 1940.
In her diary, Anne chronicled her life in hiding until August 1944, when her family was most likely betrayed and sent to Nazi concentration camps.
She died at Bergen-Belsen in Germany in early 1945, aged 15, less than a year after her capture and just before the end of the war.
Her diary, writing during her time in hiding, is one of the most moving testimonies of the war.
More than 30 million copies have been sold, and numerous adaptations of the book have been made, including plays, television series and a film.
The home purchased by the Anne Frank Foundation has been restored to its original 1930s style.
Since 2005 it had been let out to the Dutch Foundation for Literature, which uses it as a home for writers forced to flee their countries because of persecution.
Currently Syrian writer Samer Alkadri and his family reside at the home, Bekker said.