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New gold rush: Energy demands soar in Iceland for bitcoins

February 11, 2018

KEFLAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland is expected to use more energy mining bitcoins and other virtual currencies this year than it uses to power its homes. With massive amounts of electricity needed to run the computers that create the precious bitcoins, large virtual currency mining companies have established a base in Iceland, a chilly North Atlantic island blessed with an abundance of renewable energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

The relatively sudden growth of the new industry has prompted Smari McCarthy, a lawmaker for Iceland’s Pirate Party, to suggest taxing the profits of bitcoin mines. The initiative is likely to be well received by Icelanders, who are skeptical of speculative financial ventures after suffering a catastrophic banking crash in 2008.

“Under normal circumstances, companies that are creating value in Iceland pay a certain amount of tax to the government,” McCarthy told The Associated Press. “These companies are not doing that and we might want to ask ourselves whether they should.”

The energy demand has developed because of the soaring cost of producing virtual currencies. Computers are used to make complex calculations that verify a running ledger of all the transactions in virtual currencies around the world. In return, the miners claim a fraction of a coin not yet in circulation. In the case of bitcoin, a total of 21 million can be mined, leaving about 4.2 million left to create. As more bitcoin enter circulation, computers need to get more powerful to keep up with the calculations — and that means more energy.

The serene coastal town of Keflavik on Iceland’s desolate southern peninsula has over the past months boomed as an international hub for mining bitcoins and other virtual currencies. Local fishermen, chatting over steaming cups of coffee at the harbor gas station, are puzzled by the phenomenon, which has spawned oversize construction sites on the outskirts of town.

Among the main attractions of setting up bitcoin mines here, at the edge of the Arctic Circle, is the natural cooling for the computer servers and the competitive prices for Iceland’s abundance of renewable energy.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a business development manager at the energy company Hitaveita Sudurnesja, said he expected Iceland’s virtual currency mining to double its energy consumption to about 100 megawatts this year. That is more than households use on the island nation of 340,000, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

“Four months ago, I could not have predicted this trend — but then bitcoin skyrocketed and we got a lot more emails,” he said at the Svartsengi geothermal energy plant, which powers the southwestern peninsula where the mining takes place.

“Just today, I came from a meeting with a mining company seeking to buy 18 megawatts,” he said. At the largest of three bitcoin “farms” currently operating within Keflavik — called “Mjolnir” after the hammer of Thor, the Norse god of thunder — high metal fences surround 50 meter-long (164 foot) warehouse buildings stacked with computer rigs.

The data centers here are specially designed to utilize the constant wind on the bare peninsula. Walls are only partial on each side, allowing a draft of cold air to cool down the equipment. “What we are doing here is like gold mining,” said Helmut Rauth, who manages operations for Genesis Mining, a major bitcoin mining company. “We are mining on a large scale and getting the gold out to the people.”

Genesis Mining, founded in Germany, moved to Iceland in 2014 when the price of bitcoin fluctuated from $350 to $1000. Today, one bitcoin is valued at about $8,000, according to tracking site Coindesk, after peaking at almost $19,500 in December.

The currency took a hit in January when China announced it would move to wipe out its bitcoin mining industry, following concerns of excessive electricity consumption. Rauth said bitcoin should not be singled out as environmentally taxing. Computing power always demands energy, he argues.

“How much energy is needed for credit card transactions and internet research? Cryptocurrencies have the same global impact,” he said. In the capital, Reykjavik, some are more skeptical about bitcoin.

The last time Iceland was an international hub for finance, the venture ended with a giant bank crash, making the country one of the symbols of the 2008 global financial crisis. The political turmoil following the crash swept the upstart Pirate Party into Iceland’s parliament, where it currently holds 10 percent of seats.

Pirate Party legislator McCarthy has questioned the value of bitcoin mining for Icelandic society, saying residents should consider regulating and taxing the emerging industry. “We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,” he said. “That can’t be good.”


Danish prince visits ailing father after leaving Olympics

February 10, 2018

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik has returned from the Winter Olympics in South Korea to visit his ailing father at a Copenhagen hospital. The royal household said Saturday that Frederik, the heir to Denmark’s throne, was joined by his mother, Queen Margrethe, and his wife during the visit late Friday.

The queen’s French-born husband, 83-year-old Prince Henrik, was hospitalized with a lung infection on Jan. 28. Last year, the palace announced Henrik was suffering from dementia. The palace said Friday that Frederik, an International Olympic Committee member, left the Winter Games in Pyeongchang because his father’s condition had “seriously worsened.”

Israel downs Iranian drone and strikes Syria, F-16 crashes

February 10, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria. Responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter jet.

Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further action against unprecedented Iranian aggression. The military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly. Syrian officials reported large explosions in the center of the country and the Syrian counter fire set off warning sirens throughout northern Israel.

The Israeli strikes marked its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011 and said Iran would be held responsible for its outcome. “This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

Gen. Hossein Salami, acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, did not acknowledge Israel’s claim it shot down the drone. “We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” he said. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem called the Israeli claim “ridiculous.”

But the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants. Syria’s Defense Ministry said in statements on its website that its air defenses responded successfully to the Israeli operation and hit more than one plane. “The Israeli enemy has once again attacked some of our military bases in the southern area and our air defenses responded and foiled the aggression,” it said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were convening the top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss further response. Israel has mostly stayed out of the prolonged fighting in Syria, wary of being drawn into a war in which nearly all the parties are hostile toward it. It has recently been warning of the increased Iranian presence along its border, but military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s incident marked the most “blatant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty” yet.

He said Israel has no interest in further escalation but that it would “extract a heavy price” for such aggression. Conricus said Iran was “playing with fire” by infiltrating Israeli airspace, and said the unmanned aircraft Israel shot down was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces.” He said Israel recovered the dispatched drone, which was clearly Iranian.

In response, Conricus said Israeli jets destroyed the Iranian site in central Syria that launched it. Upon their return, the jets came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire and the pilots of one of the F-16s had to escape and the plane crashed. It’s unclear whether the plane was actually struck or if the pilots abandoned their mission for a different reason.

If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it could mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war. Regardless, Damascus residents celebrated the news. Wassim Elias, 39, a government employee, called it retribution for the many Israeli raids on Syrian soil before. “This earned the Syrian army and every Syrian citizen prestige. This is what we have always demanded,” he said.

Firas Hamdan, 42, a public servant, said such Syrian responses will ensure no more Israeli attacks in Syria. “Such attacks should be confronted and the response should be tougher to give the Israelis a lesson.”

In subsequent attacks, Israel struck four additional Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites in Syria. The military said significant damage was caused. Conricus said the Israeli jets faced between 15 to 20 anti-aircraft missiles fired by SA-5 and SA-17 batteries. All the Israeli jets in those sorties returned home safely.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said Israel targeted the edges of a military air base, called T-4, in the Homs desert near Palmyra, where Iranian and Hezbollah forces are based alongside Syrian troops. The Observatory said the raids resulted in casualties, but didn’t specify. It also said Israeli raids targeted areas in southwestern Damascus, bordering the southern provinces. This was followed by raids on Syrian government posts along the Damascus-Beirut road, close to the border between Syria and Lebanon.

Syrian state TV said air defenses hit more than one Israeli plane and that a girl was injured when Israeli missiles fell near a school in a neighborhood in Damascus’ countryside. A Syrian lawmaker, Feras Shehabi, said the response marked a “major shift in the balance of power in favor of Syria and the axis of resistance.” He said “Israelis must realize they have no longer superiority in the skies or on the ground.”

Retired Lt. Col. Reuven Ben-Shalom, a former Air Force pilot, said the fierce Israeli response was meant not only to counter the immediate threat but also to send “very clear messages” to show Iran how deep Israel’s knowledge was of its activity in Syria.

“The fact that a drone like this is identified, tracked and intercepted so smoothly by the Israeli air force demonstrates our capabilities, demonstrates our resolve not to allow the breach of Israeli sovereignty,” he said. “I think it’s good that our enemies learn and understand these capabilities.”

Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.

Israel has been warning of late of the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. It fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.

The Israeli Cabinet recently held a meeting on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria to highlight new threats, which are attributed to Iran’s growing confidence given Assad’s apparent victory in Syria thanks to their help.

Israel has shot down several drones that previously tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. The targeting of Iranian sites in response, however, marks an escalation in the Israeli retaliation. The military confirmed that the initial target in Syria — the unmanned aircraft’s launch components — was successfully destroyed.

El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.

Royal audience as SpaceX launches satellite for Luxembourg

February 01, 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX had a royal audience as it launched a satellite for Luxembourg. The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off late Wednesday afternoon from Cape Canaveral, Florida, hoisting GovSat-1 for the government of Luxembourg and SES, the European country’s prime satellite operator. The satellite will support both military and civilian security efforts.

Witnessing the launch were Luxembourg’s Prince Guillaume and his wife, Stephanie. The country’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, and other high-ranking officials also were present. The rocket’s first-stage booster — which also flew last spring — was not recovered this time. Instead, it dropped into the Atlantic.

With GovSat-1 now in orbit, SpaceX can focus on next week’s debut of its new, big Falcon Heavy rocket. The test flight is scheduled for Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia frees wealthy prince held in anti-graft drive


RIYADH – Saudi Arabia released billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal on Saturday nearly three months after his arrest in an anti-corruption drive targeting the kingdom’s elite, a business associate said.

“He (Prince Al-Waleed) is out,” the associate said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Prince Al-Waleed, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was among some 350 suspects rounded up since November 4, including billionaire tycoons and ministers who were detained in Riyadh’s luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Prince Al-Waleed is the latest in a series of high-profile detainees to be freed from the hotel. The terms of his release were not immediately clear.

Authorities have previously said most of those detained struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, which could earn state coffers about $100 billion.

Another high-profile detainee, former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was released recently following his “settlement” with authorities which reportedly exceeded $1 billion.

Saudi Arabia also on Friday released the owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC nearly three months after his arrest, sources said.

Waleed al-Ibrahim was among the suspects rounded up since November 4.

Ibrahim held a family gathering at his residence after his release, three MBC employees said on condition of anonymity. The staff also received an official e-mail congratulating them on his freedom.

The Financial Times reported earlier Friday that authorities had ordered Ibrahim to hand over his controlling stake in MBC to secure his release.

Authorities have so far not commented on his case.

The government on Friday also released a number of other detainees including Khaled Tuwaijri, former chief of the Saudi royal court, and Turki bin Nasser, former head of the country’s meteorology agency, a source close to the government said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family, as he consolidates his grip on power in the kingdom.

The windfall settlements agreed with those detained will help the government finance a multi-million dollar package announced by King Salman this month to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Al Arabiya television in Davos on Wednesday.

Some critics have labelled the campaign a shakedown, but authorities insist the purge was aimed to target endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The Ritz-Carlton is set to re-open for business next month as the campaign draws to an end, sources at the hotel have said. Its website lists rooms as available from February 14.

Source: Middle East Online.


Fireworks, crystal ball help usher in 2018 around the world

January 01, 2018

From spectacular fireworks in Hong Kong and Australia to a huge LED lightshow at the world’s tallest building in Dubai, a look at how revelers around the world are ringing in 2018: LAS VEGAS Las Vegas police officers surrounded hundreds of thousands of tourists gathered to welcome the new year on the Strip, where just three months earlier 58 people died in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Police cruisers, dump trucks and other large vehicles blocked key intersections to try to prevent anyone from plowing into crowds filled with people wearing glittery hats, tiaras and other 2018-themed paraphernalia.

The Nevada National Guard activated about 350 soldiers and airmen, while federal authorities also deployed additional personnel. A roughly eight-minute fireworks display at the top of seven of the city’s world-famous casino-hotels started ten seconds before midnight Monday. Sprays of gold, red and green lightened the sky on time for 2018.

Tourism officials expected 330,000 people to come to Sin City for the festivities on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown’s Fremont Street. Rosy-cheeked visitors took selfies and livestreamed the celebration amid temperatures in the mid-40s (4 Celsius), much warmer than most of the U.S.


With a burst of confetti and fireworks, throngs of revelers ushered in 2018 in a frigid Times Square as the glittering crystal ball dropped.

It was the second-coldest on record, with the temperature only 10 degrees (minus 12 degrees Celsius) in New York at midnight.

Partygoers bundled up in extra layers, wearing warm hats and face masks, dancing and jogging in place to ward off the cold.

There was also tighter security than ever after two terrorist attacks and a rampaging SUV driver who plowed into a crowd on the very spot where the party takes place. The party went off with no major problems.

“Auld Lang Syne” and “New York, New York” played as the crowds cheered.

The coldest ball drop celebration was in 1917, when it was only 1 degree (minus 17 Celsius).


Rio de Janeiro’s main party was celebrated with fireworks erupting on Copacabana beach after the clock struck midnight to usher in the new year.

After 17 minutes of a multicolored show in the skies, singer Anitta led the party on stage with her single “Vai Malandra,” a song that scored 84 million views on YouTube in two weeks. Some of the city’s most traditional Carnival samba schools performed later.

New Mayor Marcelo Crivella said he believed the celebrations would bring 3 million people to the iconic beach, which would mean nearly half of Rio’s population. But locals said Brazil’s economic crisis is still impacting one of the city’s biggest parties. In 2017, 2 million people showed up at Copacabana beach, a number that hasn’t changed much over the years.

Almost 2,000 policemen patrolled the Copacabana region after yet another violent year on the streets. Rio’s hotel association said occupation is nearly total, but mostly by Brazilian tourists.


Germans rang in 2018 under tight security from police mindful of widespread sexual abuse of women in Cologne two years ago and of a terrorist attack on a Christmas market about a year ago.

Police in Berlin added 1,600 officers on duty and said that large bags and knapsacks would not be allowed on the Party Mile leading from Brandenburg Gate, where thousands of people celebrated at midnight. Police in Frankfurt imposed similar restrictions in the celebration area along the Main River in the country’s financial capital.

Two years ago, New Year’s in Cologne was marred by groping and theft committed against hundreds of women, in most cases by migrants. On Dec. 19, 2016, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri drove a stolen truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people.


Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, has again served as the focal point of New Year’s Eve celebrations — though this year authorities decided against fireworks and chose a massive LED lightshow on it.

That was in part due to safety in the city-state in the United Arab Emirates, which saw a massive skyscraper fire on New Year’s Eve in 2015.

The display, running down the east side of the 828-meter-tall (2,716-foot-tall) tower, showed Arabic calligraphy, geometric designs and a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s first president.

But a display of neighboring nations’ flags didn’t show Qatar’s flag. The UAE joined Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in boycotting the tiny energy-rich nation in June over allegations Doha supports extremists and has too close ties to Iran. Qatar, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, denies supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.


Bidding 2017 farewell, Pope Francis has decried wars, injustices and environmental decay which he says have “ruined” the year.

Francis on Sunday presided at a New Year’s Eve prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica, a traditional occasion to say thanks in each year’s last hours.

He says God gave to us a 2017 “whole and sound,” but that “we humans in many ways ruined and hurt it with works of death, lies and injustices.”

But, he added, “gratitude prevails” thanks to those “cooperating silently for the common good.”

In keeping with past practice, the pope on New Year’s Day will celebrate Mass dedicated to the theme of world peace.


Fireworks lit up the sky above Sydney Harbor, highlighting the city’s New Year’s celebrations.

The massive fireworks display included a rainbow waterfall cascade of lights and color flowing off the harbor’s bridge to celebrate recently passed legislation legalizing gay marriage in Australia.

More than 1 million people were expected to gather to watch the festivities. Security was tight, but officials said there was no particular alert.

Sydney officials said the event would generate about $170 million for the city and “priceless publicity.” Nearly half the revelers were tourists.


Tens of thousands of New Zealanders took to streets and beaches, becoming among the first in the world to usher in 2018.

As the new year dawned in this southern hemisphere nation, fireworks boomed and crackled above city centers and harbors, and party-goers sang, hugged, danced and kissed.

In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as five minutes of nonstop pyrotechnics exploded from the top of the structure.

But on nearby Waiheke Island, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, authorities canceled the planned fireworks display because of drought conditions and low water supplies for firefighters.


Thousands of Ugandans gathered at churches across the country to mark the end of 2017.

The raucous events, during which some preachers are known to make dubious predictions, have become such a staple of New Year’s Eve festivities that the country’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni, sometimes makes time to make an appearance at a church.

Still, many in this East African country prefer to celebrate at crowded beaches on the shores of Lake Victoria or in darkened halls listening to the music of pop stars who take turns offering crowd pleasers until midnight.

Police warned revelers not to burn car tires in celebration, citing safety reasons, to discourage a favorite activity of those, especially in the countryside, who cannot afford fireworks.


As Russians counted down the last moments before 2018 ticked over into each of the country’s 11 time zones, President Vladimir Putin called on them to be considerate and conciliatory with each other in the new year.

“Say the most cherished words to each other, forgive mistakes and resentment, admit love, warm up with care and attention,” Putin said in a televised message broadcast on Sunday just before midnight.

Moscow had fireworks and outdoor gatherings despite weather that was less than festive. Usually festooned with snow at New Year’s Eve, the Russian capital slogged through a long spell of intermittent rain and constant gray skies.


Many Japanese celebrated the arrival of the Year of the Dog in the traditional way of praying for peace and good fortune at neighborhood Shinto shrines and eating New Year’s food such as noodles, shrimp and sweet black beans.

Barbecued beef and octopus dumpling stalls were out at Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple, where people took turns striking the giant bell 108 times at midnight, an annual practice repeated at other Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs cast a shadow over Japan’s hopes for peace, said cab driver Masaru Eguchi, who was ready to be busy all night shuttling shrine visitors.

“The world situation has grown so complex,” Eguchi said, adding that he also worried about possible terrorism targeting Japan. “I feel this very abstracted sense of uncertainty, although I really have no idea what might happen.”


Security was tight in the southern Indian city of Bangalore to prevent a repeat of incidents of groping and molestation of several women during New Year’s Eve celebrations a year ago.

Police Commissioner Sunil Kumar said at least 15,000 police officers were on duty and were being aided by drones and closed-circuit television cameras.

A year ago, police first denied that any sexual harassment had taken place during the celebrations in Bangalore, India’s information technology hub. But later, police detained at least six men after several video clips of women being attacked by groups of men spread on social media.


Scores of people were injured by celebratory firecrackers in the Philippines, which has some of the most raucous New Year’s celebrations in Asia.

Although the number of injuries has tapered off in recent years, largely due to hard economic times and government scare campaigns, the figures remain alarming. President Rodrigo Duterte signed an order confining the use of firecrackers to community-designated areas, such as near shopping malls and parks.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding dangerously large firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.


Security measures were ramped up across Turkey, which a year ago was hit by a New Year’s attack that killed dozens of people.

In Istanbul, 37,000 officers were on duty, with multiple streets closed to traffic and large vehicles barred from entering certain districts. Several New Year’s Eve street parties were canceled for security reasons.

Early on Jan. 1, 2017, an assailant shot his way into Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, where hundreds of people were celebrating New Year’s. Thirty-nine people, mostly foreigners, were killed, and 79 were wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

On Sunday, about 100 people gathered outside the nightclub to remember the victims of the attack.


The Golden State will go green when the calendar turns to 2018.

Starting at midnight, California will join the growing list of states to legalize recreational marijuana. The moment is a significant but small step that will not be met with a non-stop pot party.

California has allowed medical marijuana for more than a decade, and the state is generally tolerant of the drug, so major changes are not expected as the laws are further eased. At least not on New Year’s Day.

More than 70 outlets received licenses to sell in time for Jan. 1. None of those outlets is holding a midnight opening, but some in San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area will be open for business starting at 6 a.m. Monday.

Some cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, will have to wait at least until later in the week before licensed outlets start selling there.


Tens of thousands of revelers will ring in the new year in Las Vegas under the close eye of law enforcement just three months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Tourism officials expect about 330,000 people to visit Las Vegas for the festivities, which are anchored by a roughly eight-minute fireworks display at the top of seven casino-hotels.

Acts including Bruno Mars, Britney Spears, Celine Dion and the Foo Fighters will keep partiers entertained before and after midnight at properties across Sin City.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had every officer working Sunday, while the Nevada National Guard activated about 350 soldiers and airmen.

The federal government sent dozens of personnel to assist with intelligence and other efforts.

American actress Meghan Markle to be a new kind of royal

November 28, 2017

LONDON (AP) — She is an entertainment figure in her own right, and an outspoken woman comfortable talking about her background and her passions. American actress Meghan Markle will be a new type of royal when she weds Prince Harry in the spring.

In some ways, Markle — a mixed-race American raised in California, and a divorcee — makes a surprising addition to Britain’s monarchy. But the institution has moved on with the times, and the romance between Markle and Harry has a decidedly unstuffy, modern feel to it.

Markle, best known for her role as an ambitious paralegal in the hit U.S. legal drama “Suits,” surprised many when she shared her feelings for Harry in a September cover story for Vanity Fair. Asked about the media frenzy surrounding their courtship, the 36-year-old said: “At the end of the day I think it’s really simple … we’re two people who are really happy and in love.”

Describing Harry as her “boyfriend,” Markle said that while she expected that she and Harry would have to “come forward” about their relationship at some point, the two were just a couple enjoying time spent with each other.

“Personally, I love a great love story,” she said. It is unusual for a royal love interest to speak so publicly — and candidly — before becoming engaged. Harry’s past reported girlfriends all shied away from the media limelight, and his sister-in-law, formerly known as Kate Middleton, stayed silent until she and Prince William gave a formal televised interview at Buckingham Palace after their engagement became public.

But then, unlike some other “commoners” romantically linked to Britain’s royals, Markle is no stranger to media exposure and the world of show business. The actress’s most successful role is the feisty Rachel Zane in the TV legal show “Suits,” now in its seventh season. Her career has also included small parts on TV series including “Fringe,” ”CSI: Miami,” ”Knight Rider” and “Castle,” as well as movies including “Horrible Bosses.”

Outside of acting, Markle founded a lifestyle blog called (which closed down in April without explanation), and has lent her celebrity status to humanitarian causes. She has campaigned for women’s equality for UN Women as an “Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership.” At a 2015 star-studded event for the U.N. women’s agency, she said: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”

UN Women said in a statement late Monday that it “trusts and hopes that in her new and important public role she will continue to use her visibility and voice to support the advancement of gender equality.”

Markle has written in Time magazine about girls’ education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has traveled to Rwanda as global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada. She has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.

She has campaigned with the United Nations on gender equality, written in Time magazine about girls’ education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has traveled to Rwanda as global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada. She has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.

Harry and Markle held hands for their first official appearance together in September in Toronto at the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded service personnel that Harry spearheaded. Both were dressed casually in jeans, smiling and chatting as they arrived for a tennis match. Several days later, Harry was photographed kissing Markle on the cheek as he joined the actress and her mother in a luxury box to watch the event’s closing ceremony.

Markle said she met Harry through friends in London in July 2016, and that they had been dating quietly for several months before the romance hit the headlines. The media attention then became so intense that Harry took the unusual step of officially confirming the romance in order to warn the media off. In a strongly-worded statement issued through the palace, the prince pleaded for reporters to stop intruding on his girlfriend’s privacy. He condemned “outright sexism and racism” in some online comments, and said some articles with “racial undertones” had crossed the line.

Some tabloids had alluded to Markle’s mixed-race heritage, pointing out she has an African-American mother and a white father. Markle herself has spoken out about coming to terms with being biracial — both growing up, and in her Hollywood career.

In a March interview with Allure magazine, she said studying race at college was “the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community and too mixed in the white community. “For castings, I was labeled ‘ethnically ambiguous’,” she said.

Markle was born Aug. 4, 1981, to a clinical therapist mother and television lighting director father. She grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto. She studied at a girls’ Roman Catholic high school before attending Northwestern University in Illinois, where she studied theater and international relations.

Markle married film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011, but the pair divorced two years later. It wouldn’t be first time that a British royal has married an American — or a divorcee. In 1936, Edward VIII famously abdicated after he was forced to choose between the monarchy and his relationship with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

In her Vanity Fair interview, Markle made clear the world’s attention on her romance did not faze her. “I’m still the same person that I am, and I’ve never defined myself by my relationship,” she said. “The people who are close to me anchor me in knowing who I am. The rest is noise.”

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