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Prince Philip is laid to rest as sombre queen sits alone

Prince Philip laid to rest

As military bands played and a procession of royals escorted his coffin to the church, Prince Philip was laid to rest Saturday in a funeral ceremony that honoured his lifetime of service to the U.K., the crown and his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II.

The widowed British monarch, setting an example amid the coronavirus pandemic, sat alone at the ceremony, dressed in black and with her head bowed in prayer.

Philip, who died April 9 two months shy of his 100th birthday, was honoured at Windsor Castle in a service that was steeped in military and royal tradition but also pared down and infused with his own personality. The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of the castle, a 950-year-old royal residence 20 miles (30 kilometres) west of London, but was shown live on television.

Coronavirus restrictions meant that instead of the 800 mourners expected in the longstanding plans for Philip's funeral, only 30 people were allowed inside the castle's St. George’s Chapel, including the queen, her four children and her eight grandchildren.

Following strict social distancing rules during the pandemic, the queen set an example even in grief, sitting apart from family members who were arrayed around the church.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, sat opposite the monarch alongside his wife Camilla. Prince Andrew was two seats to the queen's left. Prince William and his wife Kate sat directly opposite from his brother Prince Harry, who had travelled back from California without his pregnant wife Meghan.

People across Britain observed one minute of silence in honour of Philip just before the funeral got underway. Under soft spring sunshine, some locals earlier stopped outside the castle to leave flowers, but people largely heeded requests by police and the palace not to gather because of the pandemic.

Philip's coffin travelled to the chapel on a specially adapted Land Rover designed by the prince himself. The coffin was draped in his personal standard and topped with his Royal Navy cap, sword and a wreath of flowers.

For the procession, senior military commanders lined up in front of the vehicle. The children of Philip and the queen — Charles, Princess Anne, Andrew and Prince Edward — walked behind the hearse, while the 94-year-old queen travelled to the chapel in a Bentley car.

Grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry also walked behind the coffin, although not side by side. The brothers, whose relationship has been strained amid Harry’s decision to quit royal duties and move to California, flanked their cousin Peter Phillips, the son of Anne.

For many viewers, the moment stirred memories of William and Harry at 15 and 12, walking behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin in 1997, accompanied by their grandfather Philip, in a London ceremony televised around the world.

Later the two brothers were seen walking together and chatting Saturday as the mourners left the chapel after the service.

The funeral reflected Philip's military ties, both as a ceremonial commander of many units and as a veteran of war. More than 700 military personnel took part, including army bands, Royal Marine buglers and an honour guard drawn from across the armed forces.

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was simple and sombre.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member, socially distanced choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

There was no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner said the country had been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral had a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Leading a prayer, Conner said: “Grant unto him the assurance of thine ancient promise that thou wilt ever be with those who go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters.”

As Philip’s coffin was lowered into the Royal Vault, Royal Marine buglers sounded “Action Stations,” an alarm that alerts sailors to prepare for battle. Its inclusion, after the traditional bugle call of “The Last Post,” was a personal request from Philip.

Philip was placed in the vault alongside the remains of 24 other royals, including three kings of England. But it will likely not be his permanent resting place. After the queen's death, she and Philip are expected to be buried in the Royal Burial Ground on the Frogmore Estate close to Windsor Castle.

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests included other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.

Ahead of the funeral, Buckingham Palace released a photo of the queen and Philip, smiling and relaxing on blankets in the grass in the Scottish Highlands in 2003. The palace said the casual photo was a favourite of the queen.

For decades, Philip was a fixture of British life, renowned for his founding of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards program that encouraged youths to challenge themselves and for a blunt-spoken manner that at times included downright offensive remarks. He lived in his wife’s shadow, but his death has sparked a reflection about his role, and new appreciation from many in Britain.

“He was a character, an absolute character,” said Jenny Jeeves as she looked at the floral tributes in Windsor. “He was fun, he was funny. Yes, he made quite a few gaffes, but it depends which way you took it really. Just a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, and a good example to all of us.”



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American, 2 Russians return to Earth from space station

Safe return to Earth

An American astronaut and two Russians have returned to Earth after six months aboard the International Space Station.

A Soyuz space capsule carrying NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russians Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov landed at 0455 GMT Saturday in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, said all three were feeling well after they were extracted from the capsule and began reacclimating to the pull of gravity.

The three had arrived at the orbiting laboratory complex on Oct. 14.

There now are seven people aboard the ISS: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russians Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov arrived on April 9; Americans Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, came aboard in November on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience, the first ISS docking under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.



AP Interview: Beijing says US 'too negative' toward China

Beijing says US too negative

A top Chinese diplomat said Friday that U.S. policy toward China is “too negative" and that co-operation could be critically important as the Biden administration focuses on combatting COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery.

The U.S. appears to be highlighting confrontation and playing down co-operation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

“Such an approach, I must say, is too negative,” he said, adding that it lacks “a forward-looking spirit.”

China could be a partner as Biden tackles the coronavirus and the economy, he said.

“To me it is hard to imagine the two priorities can be resolved without a co-operative and healthy China-U.S. relationship," he said.

Le also signalled that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at a climate change meeting called by President Joe Biden for next week. He spoke as Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was discussing the issue on the second day of closed-door meetings with Chinese counterparts in Shanghai.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last year that China would be carbon-neutral by 2060 and aim to reach a peak in its emissions by 2030.

“For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said. “Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”

Le said he had no details on the Kerry meetings in Shanghai.

Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Xi, to an April 22-23 virtual climate summit. The U.S. and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting emissions and pledge financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.

Le said that China would convey a positive message at the meeting, but added that China is responding to climate change on its own initiative, not because others asked it to. On whether Xi would join the summit, Le said “the Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”

The U.S. and China are increasingly at odds over a range of issues, including human rights in Tibet and the Xinjiang region, a crackdown on protest and political freedom in Hong Kong, China’s assertion of its territorial claims to Taiwan and most of the South China Sea and accusations Beijing was slow to inform the world about the COVID-19 outbreak that became a devastating pandemic.

China hoped for an improvement in relations under Biden, who succeeded President Donald Trump in January, but the new administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China. The two sides traded sharp and unusually public barbs at the start of talks in Alaska last month.

Le said that after the opening of the Alaska talks, the dialogue was constructive and useful and that both sides are following up on the issues discussed.

The two countries could team up on coronavirus response, he said, but any co-operation must be on an equal basis, an apparent reference to the U.S. pressure on China on multiple fronts.

“It is not one side drawing up a laundry list of demands to the other side,” Le said. “In co-operation, one should not be selfish and care only about one’s own interests with no regard for the well-being of the other side.”

On the same day that a number of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced, Le defended China's crackdown on protest in the semi-autonomous territory. He described the convicted as rioters and said “they deserve what they got.”

He added, “I don’t think it is anything strange if Hong Kong somehow becomes more like a Chinese city because after all Hong Kong is part of China."

The U.K., U.S. and others have accused Beijing of reneging on a commitment to run the former British colony under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years after its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

Le brushed aside such critiques, saying, “Hong Kong is always China’s Hong Kong and this is something that will not change.”

The vice minister also condemned Western sanctions against companies accused of human rights and labour abuses in Xinjiang. The U.S. blocked imports from several companies operating in the region last year, and added a blanket ban on Xinjiang's cotton and tomato products in January.

Rather than protecting workers, Le said, “the sanctions have damaged human rights in Xinjiang, resulting in forced unemployment and forced poverty in Xinjiang."

He also repeated warnings against American government contact with Taiwan, after Biden sent a delegation of former U.S. officials to meet the island's president this week. China claims self-governing Taiwan as its territory and says, like Hong Kong, it should be under Beijing's control.

“The U.S. should never try to play the Taiwan card,” Le said. “It is very dangerous. This is our red line. The U.S. should never try to cross it.”

American military officials have warned that China may be accelerating its timeframe for capturing control of Taiwan. Asked if China had a deadline, Le said only that it was a “historical process.”



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Raul Castro confirms he's resigning, ending long era in Cuba

Raul Castro resigning

Raul Castro said Friday he is resigning as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership by he and his brother Fidel Castro that began with the 1959 revolution.

Castro made the announcement Friday in a speech at the opening of the Eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

Castro didn’t say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary-general of the Communist Party, but he previously has indicated that he favours yielding control to Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018.



Guitarist is 1st suspect to plead guilty in Capitol riot

Guilty plea in Capitol riot

Jon Ryan Schaffer, the frontman of the band Iced Earth, has agreed to co-operate with investigators in hopes of getting a lighter sentence, and the Justice Department will consider putting Schaffer in the federal witness security program, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said.

This signals that federal prosecutors see him as a valuable co-operator as they continue to investigate the militia groups and other extremists involved in the insurrection on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify President Joe Biden's electoral win.

Schaffer was accused of storming the Capitol and spraying police officers with bear spray. He pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors in federal court in Washington to two counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering and remaining in a restricted building with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

An email seeking comment was sent to an attorney for Schaffer.

Schaffer is among more than 370 people facing federal charges in the deadly insurrection, which sent lawmakers into hiding and delayed the certification of Biden's win. The Justice Department has indicated it is in separate plea negotiations with other defendants.



UK military prepares for big role in Prince Philip's funeral

UK military's funeral role

British soldiers, sailors and air force personnel were practicing, polishing and making final preparations Friday for Prince Philip's funeral, a martial but personal service that will mark the death of a royal patriarch who was also one of the dwindling number of World War II veterans.

More than 700 military personnel are set to take part in Saturday’s funeral ceremony at Windsor Castle, including army bands, Royal Marine buglers and an honour guard drawn from across the armed forces.

But coronavirus restrictions mean that instead of the 800 mourners included in the longstanding funeral plans, there will be only 30 inside St. George’s Chapel for the service, including the widowed Queen Elizabeth II and her four children.

Philip, who died April 9 at age 99, was closely involved in planning his funeral, an event which will reflect his Royal Navy service and lifelong military ties — and his love of the rugged Land Rover. Philip drove several versions of the four-wheel-drive vehicle for decades until he was forced to give up his license at 97 after a crash. His body will be borne to the chapel on a modified Land Rover Defender that he designed himself, painted military green and with an open back to carry a coffin.

The children of Philip and the queen — Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward -- will walk behind the hearse. So will grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry, although not side by side. The brothers, whose relationship has been strained amid Harry’s decision to quit royal duties and move to California, will flank their cousin Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne.

The moment is likely to stir memories of the image of William and Harry at 15 and 12, walking behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin in 1997, accompanied by their grandfather Philip.

Armed forces bands will play hymns and classical music before the funeral service, which will also be preceded by a nationwide minute of silence.

Inside the gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service will include Royal Marine buglers sounding “Action Stations,” an alarm that alerts sailors to prepare for battle. That was a personal request from Philip, who spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Pacific during World War II.

Gen. Nick Carter, the head of Britain’s armed forces, said the ceremony would “reflect military precision and above all, I think, it will be a celebration of a life well-lived.”

“It will also show, I think, how much the armed forces loved and respected him,” Carter told the BBC. “The military always have a great respect for people who have their values and standards, and who indeed have shown great courage."

Along with Philip's children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.

Mourners have been instructed to wear masks and observe social distancing inside the chapel, and not to join in when a four-person choir sings hymns. The queen, who has spent much of the past year isolating with her husband at Windsor Castle, will sit alone.

People continued to lay flowers outside the castle, 20 miles (32 kilometres) west of London, as they have done all week, despite official entreaties to stay away because of the coronavirus.

Many said they were motivated by sympathy for the queen, who has lost her husband of 73 years.

“Mainly we are here for the queen," said Barbara Lee, who came with her children and grandchildren. "You know, we feel so sorry for her, the same as we would for our own grandmothers, mothers. It’s a long time to have been with somebody, a whole life, and she must be absolutely devastated. And so must they all, because at the end of the day they are a normal family.”

Prince Edward, the youngest son of Philip and the queen, and his wife Sophie stopped Friday to look at the flowers and cards. Many were written by children, others by politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The prime minister's handwritten message said: “In grateful memory of a man to whom the nation owes more than words can say. Sent on behalf of the nation.”

In a break with custom, members of the royal family who have served in the armed forces or have ceremonial military appointments will wear civilian clothes to the funeral.

The decision, signed off by the queen, means that Harry won’t risk being the only member of the royal family not in uniform. Harry lost his honorary military titles after he gave up frontline royal duties last year. As a result, protocol suggested that Harry, an army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, would only wear a suit with medals at royal functions.

The decision also sidesteps another potential controversy after reports that Prince Andrew, the queen’s second-oldest son, considered wearing an admiral’s uniform to his father’s funeral. Andrew retains his military titles even though he has been sidelined from royal duties because of scandal around his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.



Police trying to identify gunman, motive in FedEx shooting

8 dead in shooting

UPDATE 8:29 a.m.

Authorities said Friday they had not yet identified a gunman who stormed a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, killing eight people and wounding several others before taking his own life.

Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis police said the gunman started randomly shooting at people in the parking lot and then went into the building, where he shot himself shortly before police entered.

McCartt said the shooting took just a couple of minutes. Five people were hospitalized, according to police. Another two people were treated and released at the scene.

“It did not last very long,” he said. McCartt said police do not yet know the motive for the shooting.

It was the latest in a recent string of mass shootings across the U.S. Last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses across the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

It was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March.

A witness said that he was working inside the building when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20, and he and others decried the shooting, with some noting how frequent such attacks are.

“We wake up once more to news of a mass shooting, this time in Indiana. No country should accept this now-routine horror. It’s long past time to act,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who is from Indiana, tweeted.

Family members gathered at a nearby hotel to await word on loved ones — and some employees were bused there for tearful reunions. But some people said they still had no information about their relatives hours later. Most employees aren’t allowed to carry cellphones inside the FedEx building, making contact with them difficult.

“When you see notifications on your phone, but you’re not getting a text back from your kid and you’re not getting information and you still don’t know where they are … what are you supposed to do?” said Mindy Carson, holding back tears. Her daughter, Jessica, works in the facility and she had not heard from her.

Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, said that they are helping the police with the investigation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, and the White House said President Joe Biden would be. Biden’s advisors have been in touch with the city’s mayor and law enforcement officials.

A man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver's seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She's fine, she's in the hospital now.”

He said his niece did not know the shooter.


ORIGINAL 6:20 a.m.

A gunman killed eight people and wounded several others before apparently taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said, in the latest in a spate of mass shootings in the United States after a relative lull during the pandemic.

Five people were hospitalized after the Thursday night shooting, according to police. One of them had critical injuries, police spokesperson Genae Cook said. Another two people were treated and released at the scene. FedEx said people who worked for the company were among the dead.

A witness said that he was working inside the building when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

It was the latest in a recent string of mass shootings across the U.S. Last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses across the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

It was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March.

Police have not identified the shooter or said whether he was an employee at the facility. They said “preliminary information from evidence at the scene” indicated that he died by suicide.

“We’re still trying to ascertain the exact reason and cause for this incident,” Cook said.

Craig McCartt, of the Indianapolis police, told NBC Today early Friday that officers still knew “very little.” Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, said that they are helping the police with the investigation.

Family members gathered at a nearby hotel to await word on loved ones — and some employees were bused there for tearful reunions. But other relatives said they still had no information about their loved ones hours later. Most employees aren’t allowed to carry cellphones inside the FedEx building, making contact with them difficult.

“When you see notifications on your phone, but you’re not getting a text back from your kid and you’re not getting information and you still don’t know where they are … what are you supposed to do?” said Mindy Carson, holding back tears. Her daughter, Jessica, works in the facility and she had not heard from her.

Police were called to reports of gunfire Thursday just after 11 p.m., and officers “came in contact with (an) active shooter incident,” Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.

“The officers responded, they came in and did their job. A lot of them are trying to face this, because this is a sight that no one should have to see,” Cook said.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett lamented that the city was “confronted with the horrific news of yet another mass shooting, an act of violence that senselessly claimed the lives of eight of our neighbours.”

“In times like this, words like justice and sorrow fall short in response for those senselessly taken,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20.

The White House said President Joe Biden would be briefed on the shooting and that advisors have been in touch with the city’s mayor and law enforcement officials.

A man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver's seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She's fine, she's in the hospital now.”

He said his niece did not know the shooter.



The pandemic has upended the Oscars. Good, producers say

Pandemic upends Oscars

Ninety seconds. That’s how quickly Steven Soderbergh believes the Academy Awards will convince viewers that this year’s telecast is different.

The concept for the show, which Soderbergh is producing with Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, is to treat the telecast not like a TV show but a movie. And he’s convinced he’s got a doozy of an opening scene.

“We’re going to announce our intention immediately,” says Soderbergh. “Right out of the gate, people are going to know: ‘We’ve got to put our seatbelt on.’”

Changing the Academy Awards, a 93-year-old American institution, has typically proven an exercise in futility. Tweaks have been tried along the way, yet the basic format has been stubbornly immutable.

But this year, the pandemic has shaken the Oscars like never before. When the broadcast begins April 25 on ABC, there won’t be an audience. The base of the show won’t be the Academy Awards’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre (though the Dolby is still a key location), but Union Station, the airy, Art Deco-Mission Revival railway hub in downtown Los Angeles.

For the producers, the challenges of COVID are an opportunity to, finally, rethink the Oscars.

“At any step in the creative process of making a movie, when I ask a question about why something is being done a certain way and the answer is, ‘Because that’s the way it’s always been done’ — that’s a real red flag for me,” Soderbergh said in a recent Zoom interview with Collins and Sher. “All of us this year have taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been presented to us to really challenge all the assumptions that go into an award show.”

No matter how good a job they do, ratings are all but certain to fall from last year’s 23.6 million viewers. Award show viewership has cratered during the pandemic, and this year’s Oscar nominees — while widely streamed and more diverse than ever — lack the kind of buzz generated in a normal year. Soderbergh praises the best-picture nominees as “one of the most auteur-driven set of films."

“If the teams in the Super Bowl are from small markets, it’s still a great game, people still care,” says Collins, who produced The Weeknd’s halftime show at this year's Super Bowl.

Collins was also a producer of last month’s Grammy Awards, a telecast that drew praise for its personal, jam-session feel. That sense of community is something the Oscars want to exude, too.

“My big thing has always been: It’s not intimate. It doesn’t feel personal,” Soderbergh says. “We’re in a COVID world. It has to be that way. Nominees, guests, presenters. That’s it. Those are the only people in the room. That was just a weird alignment of catastrophe and my personal preoccupation.”

The Oscars, most assuredly, will differ greatly from February’s largely virtual Golden Globes. The producers have made a stand against both Zoom and casual wear. This is the Oscars, after all; there will be no acceptance speeches made in a hoodie. The producers pressed the nominees to attend in person, with appropriate safety precautions.

Some bristled at the academy’s stance — lockdown regulations are in effect in some countries and cases are persistently high in Europe and elsewhere — leading to compromise. There will be a hub for nominees in London, and, as of late last week, about a dozen remote satellite hook-ups. Some material will be pre-taped; every nominee has spent 45 minutes with the producers.

Soderbergh envisions the broadcast as a three-hour movie, not a webinar. But what does that mean, exactly? If the Oscars are a movie, what kind will it be? From the director of “Ocean’s 11” and “Logan Lucky,” should we expect a heist film?

“It’s going to feel like a movie in that there’s an overarching theme that’s articulated in different ways throughout the show. So the presenters are essentially the storytellers for each chapter,” says Soderbergh. “We want you to feel like it wasn't a show made by an institution. We want you to feel like you’re watching a show that was made by a small group of people that really attacked everything that feels generic or unnecessary or insincere. That’s the kind of intention when I watch shows like this that is missing for me. A voice. It needs to have a specific voice.”

Technically, the broadcast will have a more widescreen look and a more cinematic approach to the music. (Questlove is music director.) Presenters are considered the ensemble cast. One thing you won’t see, says Collins, is standard banter before an award is handed out.

“When you see cast members go up to give awards, you’ll see a connection,” Collins says. “It won’t be two people walking up that just met in the greenroom who are struggling to stick with the teleprompter.”

It’s undeniably a lot to pull off, with ever-fluctuating COVID-19 conditions and restrictions. The logistics are “mind-numbing,” Soderbergh says. The egos, a whole other fascinating component. “Oh, it’s a chapter for the memoir, for sure,” he says. But the show is coming together. “I’m feeling pretty amped,” he says.

The role of Academy Awards saviour is an unlikely one for Soderbergh, who dramatically bid Hollywood goodbye eight years ago. His criticism then was that the studios weren’t innovating and that movies had drifted from the cultural centre. But after returning to moviemaking in a restless sprint of adventurous, conceptually daring films (some shot on iPhones, one made on an ocean liner ), Soderbergh helped lead the industry back to production during the pandemic, mapping out safety protocols — including the kinds of testing and quarantining that will be in effect for attending nominees next week.

The Oscars are an annual meeting, of sorts, for Hollywood — a moment of reflection, aspiration and backslapping for the industry. This year’s awards, postponed by two months, follow a punishing pandemic year for the industry that saw movie theatres shuttered and streaming services proliferate. Soderbergh hopes the Oscars will be cathartic, and a shot in the arm for Hollywood.

“The cliche when you go into to pitch a movie is to say it’s about hope and scope,” he says. “That is kind of what we want to do, to show what’s possible.”

That includes an affectionate celebration of each category’s craft and nominees.

“Snark is something that we didn’t want,” says Sher, the veteran producer of “Get Shorty,” “Django Unchained” and Soderbergh films like “Out of Sight” and “Erin Brockovich.” “Instead of looking at it from the outside in with a high degree of cynicism and stark, we’re pulling the curtain back and letting them into our community. There are a lot of misperceptions about the business. It’s a predominantly blue-colour industry, with unions.”

On Oscar night, Soderbergh — who typically serves as his own cinematographer under the alias Peter Andrews — plans to be in the production truck alongside the show’s director, Glenn Weiss.

“There’s been so much resistance to make any big moves, but at least what we’ll have done, coming out the other end, is give the academy, the network and the viewers some real information about what they like and what they don’t like because we made some big moves,” Soderbergh says. “That means it will evolve, and it needs to evolve.”



List of mourners attending the funeral of Prince Philip

List of Royal mourners

Here is the full list of mourners who will attend the funeral of Prince Philip on Saturday at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle:

1. Queen Elizabeth II

2. Prince Charles, eldest child of the queen and Prince Philip

3. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Charles’ wife

4. Princess Anne, second child of the queen and Prince Philip

5. Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence, Anne’s husband

6. Prince Andrew, third child of the queen and Prince Philip

7. Prince Edward, youngest child of the queen and Prince Philip

8. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Edward’s wife

9. Lady Louise Windsor, Edward and Sophie’s daughter

10. James, Viscount Severn, Edward and Sophie’s son

11. Prince William, eldest son of Charles and the late Princess Diana

12. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, William’s wife

13. Prince Harry, younger son of Charles and Diana

14. Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and her first husband Mark Phillips

15. Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips

16. Mike Tindall, Zara’s husband

17. Princess Beatrice, elder daughter of Prince Andrew and ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York

18. Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, Beatrice's husband

19. Princess Eugenie, younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah

20. Jack Brooksbank, Eugenie’s husband

21. Lady Sarah Chatto, daughter of the queen’s late sister Princess Margaret

22. Daniel Chatto, husband of Lady Sarah Chatto

23. David Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, son of Princess Margaret

24. Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, a cousin of the queen

25. Edward, Duke of Kent, a cousin of the queen

26. Princess Alexandra, a cousin of the queen

27. Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden, a German great-nephew of Prince Philip

28. Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse, a German cousin of Prince Philip

29. Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a German great-nephew of Prince Philip

30. Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, a friend of Prince Philip, married to the grandson of Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten



Iran starts enriching uranium to 60%, its highest level ever

Weapons-grade uranium

Iran began enriching uranium Friday to its highest level ever, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on its main atomic site.

A top official said only a few grams an hour of uranium gas would be enriched up to 60% purity — triple the level it once did but at a rate far slower than what Tehran could produce. International inspectors already said Iran planned to do so above-ground at its Natanz nuclear site, not deep within its underground halls hardened to withstand airstrikes.

The move is likely to raise tensions even as Iran negotiates in Vienna over a way to allow the U.S. back into the agreement and lift the crushing economic sanctions it faces. However, its scope also provides Iran with a way to quickly de-escalate if it chose.

The announcement also marks a significant escalation after the attack that damaged centrifuges at Natanz, an attack this past weekend suspected of having been carried out by Israel. While Israel has yet to claim it, it comes amid a long-running shadow war between the two Mideast rivals.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Iran's parliament speaker, announced the move in a Twitter post later acknowledged by Iranian state television.

“The young and God-believing Iranian scientists managed to achieve a 60% enriched uranium product,” Qalibaf said. "I congratulate the brave nation of Islamic Iran on this success. The Iranian nation’s willpower is miraculous and can defuse any conspiracy.”

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country's civilian nuclear arm, later acknowledged the move to 60%, according to state TV. Ali Akbar Salehi said the centrifuges now produce 9 grams an hour, but that would drop to 5 grams an hour in the coming days.

“Any enrichment level that we desire is in our reach at the moment and we can do it at any time we want,” Salehi said.

State TV later referred to the decision as a “show of power against terrorist rascality.” Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff for Iran's president, similarly said it sent the message that Iran's atomic program ”will not be stopped through the assassination of nuclear scientists and sabotage in nuclear facilities.”

It wasn't clear why the first announcement came from Qalibaf, a hard-line former leader in the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard already named as a potential presidential candidate in Iran's upcoming June election.

While 60% is higher than any level Iran previously enriched uranium, it is still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Iran had been enriching up to 20% — even that was a short technical step to weapons grade. The deal limited Iran’s enrichment to 3.67%.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's nuclear program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this week, it sent its inspectors to Natanz and confirmed Iran was preparing to begin 60% enrichment at an above-ground facility at the site.

The heightened enrichment could inspire a further response from Israel amid a long-running shadow war between the nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon and his country has twice preemptively bombed Mideast nations to stop their atomic programs.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on a visit to Cyprus, brought up Iran in a tweet after meeting his Cypriot counterpart.

“We discussed the bilateral ties between Israel and Cyprus as well as regional issues, most significantly the importance of stopping Iran’s aggressive activities in the Middle East, which undermine regional stability and pose a danger to the entire world,” he wrote.

Israeli army radio reported the country’s security crisis council would convene Sunday to discuss Iran's decision.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003. An annual U.S. intelligence report released Tuesday maintained the American assessment that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.

The threat of higher enrichment by Iran already had drawn criticism from the U.S. and three European nations in the deal — France, Germany and the United Kingdom. On Friday, European Union spokesman Peter Stano called Iran's decision “a very worrisome development.”

"There is no credible explanation or civilian justification for such an action on the side of Iran,” Stano said. The Vienna talks aim to “make sure that we go back from such steps that bring Iran further away from delivering on its commitments and obligations.”

Diplomats reconvened Friday for talks in Vienna. After talks Thursday, Chinese negotiator Wang Qun called for doing "away with all disruptive factors by moving forward as swiftly as we can on the work of negotiations, especially by zeroing in on sanction lifting.”

The 2015 nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from in 2018, prevented Iran from stockpiling enough high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon if it chose in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The weekend attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding both its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.

Alireza Zakani, the hard-line head of the Iranian parliament’s research centre, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by The Associated Press show no apparent above-ground damage at the facility.

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China's growth surges to 18.3% but rebound levelling off

China's growth surges

China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% over a year earlier in the first quarter of 2021 but an explosive rebound in factory and consumer activity following the coronavirus pandemic is levelling off.

The figures reported Friday were magnified by comparison with early 2020, when the world’s second-largest economy suffered its deepest contraction in decades. Growth compared with the final quarter of 2020, when a recovery was under way, was only 0.6%, among the past decade’s lowest.

The latest headline figures “mask a sharp slowdown” as government stimulus is withdraw, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital economics in a report. He said 0.6% growth compared with the previous quarter was the past decade’s second-lowest after the plunge at the start of 2020.

“China’s post-COVID rebound is levelling off,” Evans-Pritchard said.

Manufacturing and consumer activity has returned to normal since the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the coronavirus last March and allowed factories and stores to reopen. Restaurants and shopping malls are filling up, though visitors still are checked for the virus’s telltale fever.

The economy “delivered a stable performance with a consolidated foundation and good momentum of growth,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a report.

The jump in growth was in line with expectations due to the low basis for comparison in early 2020. Then, the economy shrank by 6.8% in the first quarter, China’s worst performance since at least the mid-1960s.

Activity started to recover in the second quarter of 2020, when the economy expanded by 3.2% over a year earlier. That accelerated to 4.9% in the third quarter and 6.5% in the final three months of the year.

For the full year, China eked out 2.3% growth, becoming the only major economy to expand while United States, Europe and Japan struggled with renewed disease outbreaks.

Government data indicate consumer spending are accelerating while growth in factory output and investment are slowing.

First quarter retail spending rose 33.9% over a year earlier, while growth in March rose to 34.2%, according to the NBS. Factory output rose 24.5% while investment in real estate, factories and other fixed assets rose 25.6%.

Slowing manufacturing growth “implies a normalizing growth path in the months ahead,” said Chaoping Zhu of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report. “The focus should be on consumption data, which kept improving in March in comparison with the previous month.”

Spending on restaurants jumped 75.8% over a year ago, a period when most were closed for weeks. Online retail sales rose 29.9%.

Overall growth shrugged off the impact of a government appeal to China’s public to avoid travel during February’s Lunar New Year holiday, usually the busiest travel and consumer spending period.

The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8%. The ruling party’s official growth target for the year is “above 6%.”

Still, some warn a Chinese recovery still isn’t certain because global demand is weak as some governments re-impose anti-disease curbs that are disrupting business and trade.

March exports, reported earlier, rose 30.6% over a year earlier as global consumer demand revived. Exports to the United States jumped 53.6% despite tariff hikes still in place on Chinese goods in a trade war launched by former President Donald Trump.

Exporters and high-tech manufacturers face uncertainty about how President Joe Biden, who succeeded Trump in January, will handle conflicts over trade, technology and security. Biden says he wants better relations with Beijing but has given no sign tariff hikes or sanctions on Chinese companies including tech giant Huawei will be rolled back.



Senior royals to skip uniforms at Prince Philip's funeral

Royals go casual for funeral

Senior royals will wear civilian clothes to Prince Philip’s funeral, defusing potential tensions over who would be allowed to don military uniforms.

Queen Elizabeth's decision means Prince Harry won’t risk being the only member of the royal family not in uniform during Saturday’s funeral for his grandfather, who died last week at the age of 99.

Members of the royal family often wear uniforms to public events by virtue of their honorary roles with the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. But Harry lost his honorary military titles when he decided to give up frontline royal duties last year.

As a result, protocol suggests that Harry, an army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, may only wear a suit with medals at royal functions, Britain’s Press Association reported.

The decision also sidesteps another potential controversy after reports that Prince Andrew considered wearing an admiral's uniform to his father’s funeral. Andrew retains his military titles even though he was forced to step away from royal duties after a disastrous interview with the BBC about his acquaintance with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The funeral is scheduled to take place Saturday at Windsor Castle, with attendance limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions.

Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, served in the Royal Navy for 12 years and maintained close ties to the armed forces throughout his life. Military personnel will have a large role in honouring him Saturday despite the attendance limit.

Members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Royal Air Force and the British Army plan to take part in the funeral procession. 

Military personnel rehearsed for the event Wednesday at Army Training Centre Pirbright, near London.



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