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Dubai ruler, princess in London court over welfare of kids

July 30, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A dispute between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over the welfare of their two young children will play out over the next two days in a London courtroom amid reports the princess has fled the Gulf emirate.

The case beginning Tuesday in Britain’s High Court pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. The princess is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in Dubai’s ruling family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned.

Dubai’s ruler, estranged wife headed for court clash in UK

July 04, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A legal battle between the powerful, poetry-writing ruler of Dubai and his wealthy estranged wife is leading toward a showdown in a London courtroom later this month. The family division court case scheduled on July 30 pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and an accomplished Olympic equestrian on friendly terms with horse aficionado Queen Elizabeth II.

The hearing is expected to focus on who will have custody of their two young children now that the princess has left Dubai. She is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens, a private street lined with some of the world’s most expensive homes and cars.

When The Associated Press asked via intercom for an interview with Princess Haya or one of her representatives, a man emerged to say there would be no comments made on her behalf. He didn’t indicate whether she was in the residence.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in his extended family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned on and off for several years and had been abused. Her friends say she was forcibly returned after commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India when she tried to flee the Emirates.

The sheikh, who is the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates in addition to being the ruler of Dubai, is among the most influential figures in the Middle East. He also composes poetry, a long tradition among Gulf Arabs, and it was his own words that sparked the initial rumors that Haya had fled Dubai.

The talk started after a verified Emirati Instagram account followed by the Dubai ruler’s son posted a poem last week attributed to Sheikh Mohammed. The poem, titled “You Lived and You Died,” is about disloyalty, leading to speculation it is about Princess Haya.

“You betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed,” the poem says. “Your time of lying is over and it doesn’t matter what we were nor what you are.” The harsh words caused reverberations and speculation throughout royal circles in the Middle East and beyond.

The princess, 45, and Sheikh Mohammed, 69, were married in 2004 and have a daughter, 11, and son, 7, together. Both were educated at elite English universities and they share a love for horses. Media reports indicate she took the children with her when she left Dubai. Under Islamic law, a woman can at least nominally retain custody of her children in a divorce. Nonetheless, decisions about schooling, travel and lifestyles of the children often remain with the father in the Middle East. Given the Dubai ruler’s power, it is unlikely Princess Haya would have had a say in her children’s ability to leave the UAE had she not reportedly fled with them.

Haya’s half-brother is Jordan’s current monarch, King Abdullah, who was pictured at her side when she wed Dubai’s ruler, reportedly becoming his sixth wife. She is a former Olympic athlete who competed in equestrian show jumping in the 2000 Sydney Games, a taboo-breaking feat for women from traditional Muslim countries. Her love of sports and horse riding began early — she was just 13 when she became the first female to represent Jordan internationally in equestrian show jumping.

Haya has long stood out from other wives of Gulf Arab rulers not only because of her Jordanian royal background and Olympic ambitions, but because she was seen and photographed in public. Most rulers’ wives in the Gulf are never photographed and their faces and names aren’t known to the public. But Princess Haya wasn’t only visible at humanitarian events, often seated front row in Dubai by her husband’s side, but was a stylish fixture in glossy magazines and at prestigious equestrian events in the U.K,, like the Royal Ascot and Epsom Derby.

In a 2009 Daily Mail interview, the princess said she deliberately postponed marriage until she could meet a man “who doesn’t feel he has to mold me.” She was quoted as saying, “You have to accept that you’re in control of yourself but not your destiny.”

The government of Dubai hasn’t commented on the media reports about Princess Haya fleeing with her children to Europe.

Britain approves $3.3M for consortium to develop drone swarm technology

By Allen Cone

APRIL 1, 2019

April 1 (UPI) — Britain’s government has awarded a $3.3 million contract for a consortium to develop drone swarm technology for the military as part of the Many Drones Make Light Work project.

The swarms are planned to operate alongside Britain’s F-35 and Typhoon combat aircraft, Britain’s Defense Ministry announced Thursday. Funding comes from the Defense and Security Accelerator.

The consortium is led by Blue Bear Systems Research, a world leader in autonomous system solutions. IQHQ, Plextek, Airbus and the University of Durham are also part of the contracted team.

The 18-month “integration concept evaluation” phase will culminate in live flight demonstrations to the military. Twenty unmanned aerial systems will be produced into the final stage of development and will ultimately be managed by the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory.

“The MOD continues to invest in pioneering technology that enhances capability, reduces risk to personnel and enables us to better perform our tasks,” Defense Minister Stuart Andrew said in a news release. “Drone swarm technology can revolutionize how we conduct intelligence gathering, humanitarian aid, disposal of explosives and supply our troops on the battlefield.

Currently, operational systems require one or more operators to pilot the aircraft or to closely manage the flight mission.

Swam systems operate collaboratively to achieve a common goal, which the government said is a “great benefit to defense.”

A swarm provides increased efficiency, lower costs and greater resilience in situational awareness, medical assistance, logistics resupply, explosive ordnance detection and disposal, and confusion and deception.

“The ability to deploy a swarm of low-cost autonomous systems delivers a new paradigm for battlefield operations,” Blue Bear Systems Managing Director Ian Williams-Wynn said. “During this project, we will deploy next-generation autonomy, machine learning, and AI to reduce the number of operators required, the time it takes to train them, and the cognitive burden on any operator during active operations.”

Britain’s defense ministry sees the swarm system as one possible solution to a multiple domain requirement in which robotic solutions utilize fewer people and equipment. That includes removing the operator from potentially harmful situations.

“The Phase 3 competition requirements were deliberately very challenging, as we wanted to drive rapid innovation and encourage imaginative solutions,” Antony Grabham, the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory project technical lead, said. “The winning consortium really highlights the best of U.K. Industry, showcasing how our world-leading small and medium enterprise companies can be harnessed to deliver a transformation in military capability.

In February, the British government authorized $40.7 million for new mini-drones from the $210 million Transformation Fund.

The mini-drones will provide soldiers with an “eye-in-the-sky,” the Ministry of Defense said in a news release. The Times reported that the drones will be “smaller than a hand” and weigh less than 200 grams. Some funding will be used to convert existing fighting vehicles into remote-controlled driverless systems.

The Transformation Fund is part of its 2018 Modernizing Defense Program, including two new Littoral strike ships.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has launched the Gremlins program, named for the imaginary, mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II. Groups of drones would be launched from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms. C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home for their next use within 24 hours.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Dynetics are designing prototypes.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/01/Britain-approves-33M-for-consortium-to-develop-drone-swarm-technology/2331554129836/.

Johnson denies lying to queen, wins Brexit court case

September 12, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The British government insisted Thursday that its forecast of food and medicine shortages, gridlock at ports and riots in the streets after a no-deal Brexit is an avoidable worst-case scenario, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied misleading Queen Elizabeth II about his reasons for suspending Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union.

In better news for the embattled British leader, a Belfast court rejected claims that the Conservative government’s Brexit strategy should be ruled illegal because it risked undermining Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Johnson took office in July vowing to get Brexit done on the scheduled Oct. 31 date, even if there is not a divorce deal to smooth the way. But many lawmakers, economists and businesses fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and are fighting him every step of the way.

This week, Parliament forced the government to publish its official assessment of the impact of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. The six-page classified document, dated Aug. 2, said customs checks meant the number of trucks crossing the main freight route between Calais and Dover would drop by between 40% and 60% within a day of a no-deal Brexit, with disruptions lasting up to three months. The supply of certain types of fresh foods and essential medicines would decrease, prices would go up and the poor would be hit hardest, it said.

The paper also described major disruptions for travelers between Britain and the EU and uncertainty for U.K. citizens living in Europe, and it said attempts to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would probably fail. It also said a no-deal exit could trigger major protests and even riots.

Johnson insisted the bleak scenario was “not where we intend to end up.” “This is a worst-case scenario which civil servants obviously have to prepare for, but in the last few months, and particularly in the 50 days since I’ve been prime minister, we’ve been massively accelerating our preparations,” he said.

Opposition politicians said the “Operation Yellowhammer” document — the government’s code name for its Brexit preparations — proved that Johnson is reckless to consider leaving the bloc without a deal.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said it was extraordinary that a U.K. government “is content on inflicting on the British public the level of disruption which is set out in the Yellowhammer papers.”

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the scenario was a “planning assumption” and would only come true if the government did nothing to offset it. “We are spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions,” he told the BBC.

The government said it would publish an updated version of the assessment soon that would show how much progress had been made. The government refused to comply with another part of Parliament’s demand — that it hand over email and texts among officials and aides discussing the government’s decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to the Brexit deadline. Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit planning, said the request was inappropriate and disproportionate.

The order to release the Yellowhammer document was one of a series of blows to the government by opposition lawmakers and rebel Conservatives. They also passed a law that orders the government to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if no agreement has been reached by late October, and rejected Johnson’s call for a snap general election.

After suffering six defeats in the House of Commons in as many days, Johnson suspended Parliament for five weeks until Oct. 14, sparking outrage among legislators and several legal challenges. The U.K. Supreme Court is set to consider next week whether the shutdown should be reversed, after conflicting rulings in lower courts.

Last week, the High Court in London said the decision was inherently political and “not a matter for the courts.” But Scotland’s highest civil court ruled Wednesday that the shutdown was illegal “because it had the purpose of stymieing Parliament.”

Johnson insists he suspended Parliament so that he can launch a fresh domestic agenda at a new session next month. He said he had “absolutely not” misled the queen — whose formal approval was needed to suspend Parliament — about his motives. Critics say Johnson must resign if it turns out he lied to the monarch, who is Britain’s head of state and is bound to act on the advice of her prime ministers.

In Northern Ireland, claimants had argued that a no-deal Brexit would undermine agreements between the British and Irish governments that were struck during the peace process. A no-deal Brexit could lead to the return of a hard border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. An open border is crucial to the regional economy and underpins the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Judge Bernard McCloskey ruled that the “claim and counterclaim, assertion and counter-assertion, allegation and denial, blow and counter-blow” of the raging Brexit arguments belonged in the world of politics, not law.

“Virtually all of the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supra-national,” he said. If the claimants appeal the ruling, the case could join the two other legal challenges to Johnson’s Brexit plans before the Supreme Court next week.

Johnson said Thursday he was “working very hard” to strike a new deal with the bloc after the agreement made by his predecessor Theresa May was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. Johnson’s envoy David Frost has been holding talks in Brussels this week but no breakthrough has been made, and the EU says it is still waiting for firm proposals from the U.K.

“The U.K. hasn’t proposed any alternatives and anything that’s been legally credible and workable,” said European Parliament President David Sassoli. The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told reporters that “we are still ready to examine objectively any concrete and legally operational proposals from the U.K.”

Associated Press writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.

Prince Charles opens new London hospital for virus patients

April 03, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prince Charles remotely opened a vast temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients at London’s main exhibition center Friday, as the number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in the U.K. surpassed China’s official total.

While confirmed virus cases and deaths continued to rise steeply, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he remained in isolation with a fever eight days after testing positive for the new virus. Charles, who on Monday completed a week of self-isolating as he recovered from COVID-19, said via video link that he was “enormously touched” to be asked to open the new Nightingale Hospital, which was built in just nine days at the vast ExCel conference center in east London, with corridors stretching a full kilometer (just over half a mile).

It opens with around 500 beds but when at its expected full capacity of 4,000 beds, it will be the biggest hospital facility in the U.K.. Charles, 71, paid tribute to everyone, including military personnel, involved in its “spectacular and almost unbelievable” construction.

“An example, if ever one was needed, of how the impossible could be made possible and how we can achieve the unthinkable through human will and ingenuity,” he said from his home in Scotland, Birkhall.

The new National Health Service hospital will only care for people with COVID-19, and patients will only be assigned there after their local London hospital reaches its capacity. Charles described himself as one of “the lucky ones” with only mild symptoms but noted “for some it will be a much harder journey.”

He expressed his hope that the hospital “is needed for as short a time and for as few people as possible.” The hospital is named after Florence Nightingale, who is widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing. She was in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers during the Crimean War of the 1850s, her selfless care earning her the reputation of the “Lady with the Lamp.”

Further new hospitals are being planned across the U.K., including in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester, to alleviate pressure on the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. “In these troubled times with this invisible killer stalking the whole world, the fact (that) in this country we have the NHS is even more valuable than before,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who also contracted COVID-19 and emerged from his own self-isolation on Thursday.

Hancock said the peak of the epidemic in Britain is likely to be in the “coming weeks” and could be as soon as next weekend. The number of virus-related deaths in Britain has sharply increased in the past two weeks. Government figures provided Friday showed that a total of 3,605 people who tested positive have died in British hospitals, an increase of 684 from a day earlier.

The government’s updated count would make the U.K. the latest country with a higher death toll from the worldwide pandemic than China, which according to a Johns Hopkins University tally officially reported 3,326 deaths from the outbreak that emerged there in December.

Buckingham Palace said Charles’ 93-year-old mother, Queen Elizabeth II, has recorded an address to the nation and the Commonwealth about the coronavirus pandemic to be broadcast on Sunday. Like many other countries, Britain is in effective lockdown, with bars and nonessential shops closed in order to reduce the rate of transmission, the hope being that ithis will eventually reduce the peak in deaths.

In a video message, the prime minister warned people not to break self-isolation rules on what is expected to be a warm, sunny weekend. Johnson acknowledged that “everybody may be getting a bit stir-crazy” but urged Britons not to flout rules against gathering in groups. He said the country “has made a huge effort, a huge sacrifice” and people should continue to follow rules in order to save lives.

Johnson, who appeared flushed and red-eyed in the video, has been working from quarantine in his Downing Street apartment since testing positive on March 26. He continues to hold daily meetings on the virus crisis by video conference.

Johnson said Friday that although he was “feeling better,” he still had a fever and was following guidance to stay in isolation until his temperature returned to normal.

China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

January 24, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China is swiftly building a hospital dedicated to treating patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities home to millions of people during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least eight cities with a total of about 25 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and seven of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province: Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao.

The Wuhan government said Friday it was building a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic. The hospital will be erected on a 25,000 square-meter lot and is slated for completion Feb. 3, municipal authorities said.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei. The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia. The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms. The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation. Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits. Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

Puerto Rico opens only 20% of schools amid ongoing quakes

January 28, 2020

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico opened only 20% of its public schools on Tuesday following a strong earthquake that delayed the start of classes by nearly three weeks as fears linger over the safety of students.

Only 177 schools were certified to open after engineers inspected them for damage caused by the magnitude-6.4 earthquake that killed one person and damaged hundreds of homes on Jan. 7. But the inspections were not to determine whether a school could withstand another strong earthquake or had structural shortcomings such as short columns that make it vulnerable to collapse, further worrying parents.

“Of course I am afraid,” said 38-year-old Marién Santos, who attended an open house on Monday at her son’s Ramón Vilá Mayo high school in the suburb of Río Piedras where officials gave her a copy of the inspection report and evacuation plans.

Her concerns were echoed by the director of the school, Elisa Delgado. While she believes engineers did a thorough inspection of the school, built in the early 1900s, they warned her not to use the main entrance in an evacuation because it leads to an area filled with gas lines. The problem is that the other exits are too narrow to handle the school’s 450 students, she told The Associated Press.

“It’s not ideal,” she said. Overall, engineers have inspected 561 of the island’s 856 public schools, finding at least 50 too unsafe to reopen, leaving some 240,000 students out of school for now. Ongoing tremors also are forcing crews to automatically re-inspect schools following any quake of 3.0 magnitude or higher, according to Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Financing Authority.

Since the 6.4 quake, there have been several strong aftershocks, including a 5.9 magnitude one that hit on Jan. 11 and a 5.0 that struck on Saturday. The biggest quake flattened the top two floors of a three-story school in the southern coastal city of Guánica on Jan. 7, two days before classes were scheduled to start.

Overall, experts say that some 500 public schools in Puerto Rico were built before 1987 and don’t meet new construction codes. A plan to retrofit all schools that need it, an estimated 756 buildings, would cost up to $2.5 billion, officials have said, noting those are preliminary figures.

Education Secretary Eligio Hernández noted that another 51 schools are scheduled to start classes on Feb. 3 and that his department is reviewing recommendations on how best to proceed with the other schools.

“The Department of Education is going to take the time it needs and will take all necessary actions so that parents … feel satisfied,” he told reporters on Monday. Elba Aponte, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers, told the AP that she has received complaints and pictures from parents and school employees of at least 10 schools that are reopening but that they feel are still unsafe.

Most of the pictures are of cracks in the walls and roofs of those schools, she said. “Their concerns are quite valid,” Aponte said, adding that she would share them with the island’s education secretary.

Meanwhile, school and government officials are trying to figure out what to do with the roughly 240,000 students who aren’t able to go to school yet, either because their building was deemed unsafe or has not yet been inspected. No schools in the island’s southern and southwest region will reopen for now, officials say.

Options include placing students in other schools with revised schedules or holding classes in refurbished trailers or outdoors under tarps, Aponte said as she lamented the situation. “It’s terrible,” she said. “If there was one place where they could feel safe, it was at school.”

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