Day: May 28, 2017

Takuma Sato First Japanese Driver to Win Indianapolis 500

Takuma Sato on Sunday became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500, in a race that featured a horrific crash involving the driver who started from the pole position.

In the 101st running of the iconic U.S. auto race in the midwestern state of Indiana, Sato passed three-time winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil in the closing laps of the 200-lap drive around the oval track, and held on to win by the slim margin of two-tenths of a second.

“Unbelievable feeling!” a jubilant Sato, 40, declared. Five years ago, the Japanese driver had a great chance to win the prestigious event, but on the final lap collided with eventual champion Dario Franchitti of Scotland.

“He drove unbelievable,” said Michael Andretti, head of the team Sato drives for, Andretti Autosport.

“I couldn’t do what he was doing (on the closing laps),” said Castroneves, who barely avoided two crashes.

The most horrific crash involved pole sitter Scott Dixon of New Zealand, the 2008 Indy 500 winner. With just over a quarter of the 500-mile (805 km) race completed, Briton Jay Howard’s car made contact with the outside wall after turn one and slid down into Dixon’s.

Dixon’s car was sent flying and sliding sideways on the inside safety barrier, flames shooting out as the back end of the car was ripped away. Miraculously, Dixon climbed out of the race car and walked away, as did Howard.

“I’m a little beaten up there. It was a bit of a rough ride,” said Dixon.

Sunday’s race featured 35 lead changes among a race record 15 drivers.

Twenty-two-year-old rookie Ed Jones of Britain placed third, and last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi of the United States, ended up seventh.  The only female driver in the annual event, Pippa Mann of Britain, climbed from 28th at the start and overcame a pit stop penalty to finish 17th in the 33-car field.


‘Biofortified’ Seeds Can Help Combat Malnutrition 

Scientists are helping to combat the world hunger crisis by breeding nutrient-packed crops that will fill stomachs and lessen the effects of malnutrition.

It’s called biofortification.

It sounds complicated, but the concept is simple: create smarter seeds that grow into more nutrient-dense staple crops than regular ones. Then distribute the seeds on a large scale to farmers in developing countries, so they can grow crops that are more nutritious.

Seeds with more nutrients

This is what researchers at HarvestPlus, a Washington-based nonprofit, have been doing on a large scale since 2003, feeding an estimated 20 million people in 30 countries.

Their biofortified seeds pack one or more vital nutrients, such as iron, zinc and Vitamin A, said Bev Postma, HarvestPlus’ CEO.

“It’s very important that the seeds are not just high in nutrition, but that they are still high-yielding, they are pest resistant, they are climate resistant — because these are the things a farmer still wants more,” she said.

Deficiencies of these nutrients can leave people more vulnerable to illness and infections, and in extreme cases cause blindness and stunt growth. Children are especially affected.

The organization’s research has found that many of these effects can be reversed in a matter of months once nutrient-packed foods are introduced into the local diet.

150 varieties of 12 staples

HarvestPlus scientists have produced 150 varieties of 12 staple foods, including corn, beans, rice, lentils and wheat.

In 2003, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the organization a $25 million grant over four years to help them scale up. This year, they are one of eight finalists for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which could help them realize their goal of reaching 1 billion people with biofortified crops by 2030.

“We’re not trying to change behavior, we are looking to see what people are eating and we are just switching out to make that food more nutritious,” Postma said.

Biofortified seeds are produced in a traditional manner, and they are not genetically modified.

Seed distribution

The seeds are distributed through seed companies and sometimes directly to farmers.

“We’ve learned that in some countries, if we give the seed away, we can encourage the farmers to not just grow this new variety, but then ask them to give the next year’s seed that they harvest to four new farmers,” Postma said.

In other instances, she said, they work with seed companies to persuade them to adopt biofortified seeds and sell them as part of a package of options to farmers.

“We find in some instances it is better if farmers are paying for these seeds, because then there is a perceived value and adoption is higher,” she said. Postma said they try to make sure that their seeds are not more expensive than regular varieties.

The organization works with government agriculture and health ministries in developing countries to encourage them to adopt biofortified seeds as a cost-effective way to solve some of their major health problems.


Swedish Satire Takes Top Prize at Cannes

The Swedish satire The Square has taken the top honors at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival.

The art world satire by Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, France, Sunday. Dominic West, Elisabeth Moss and Claes Bang star in the movie.  Bang plays the curator of an art museum, who sets up “The Square,” an installation inviting passers-by to acts of altruism. But after he reacts foolishly to the theft of his phone, the father of two finds himself dragged into shameful situations.

Sofia Coppola became only the second woman to win the prize for best director for her film The Beguiled, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell.  Soviet director Yuliya Ippolitovna Solntseva was the first woman to win the prize in 1961.

Diane Kruger was named best actress for her performance in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade. In the drama, she plays a German woman whose son and Turkish husband are killed in a bomb attack.

Joaquin Phoenix was named best actor for his role in Lynne Ramsay’s thriller You Were Never Really Here, in which he played a tormented war veteran trying to save a teenage girl from a sex trafficking ring.

The French AIDS drama 120 Beats Per Minute won the Grand Prize from the jury. The award recognizes a strong film that missed out on the top prize.

Kidman was awarded a special prize to celebrate the festival’s 70th anniversary.  She wasn’t at the French Rivera ceremony, but sent a video message from Nashville, saying she was “absolutely devastated” to miss the show.

Jury member Will Smith made the best of the situation, pretending to be Kidman. He fake cried and said in halting French, “merci beaucoup, madames et monsieurs.”

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar presided over the competition jury that included Smith, German director Maren Ade, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, American actress Jessica Chastain and South Korean director Park Chan-wook.


US Considering Laptop Ban on All International Flights

The U.S. Homeland Security chief says he’s considering banning laptop computers from the passenger cabins of all international flights to and from the United States.

John Kelly says there are signs of a “real threat” against civilian aviation from carry-on electronic devices.

Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Kelly said terrorists are “obsessed” with the idea of “knocking down an airplane in flight.”

The ban would expand a March order that affects about 50 flights per day to the United States from 10 cities, in the Middle East and North Africa. The ban requires all electronics larger than a smartphone to be checked in.

About 3,250 flights a week are expected this summer between European Union countries and the United States, according to aviation industry figures.

Britain has taken similar measures targeting flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

In Europe last week, during President Donald Trump’s nine-day foreign trip, Kelly met with European Commission officials in Brussels to discuss a possible laptop ban in airplane cabins.




British Airways Is ‘Near-Full Operation’ After Computer Failure

British Airways passengers continue to face delays, cancellations, and overcrowding Sunday at Heathrow Airport as the airline reels from a computer failure.

The airline said that all long-haul flights will continue Sunday, but to avoid further overcrowding, passengers will only be allowed to enter the airport terminal 90 minutes before their scheduled departure.

Passengers should still expect delays and cancelations for shorter flights, British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz said, adding that the airline was at “near-full operation” Sunday.

“I know this has been a horrible time for customers,” Cruz said, apologizing in a video statement posted online.

The airline was forced to cancel flights Saturday at Heathrow and Gatwick airports as officials tried to fix a global computer failure.

British Airways has not said what caused the glitch, but did report there is no evidence pointing to a cyber attack.

The failure occurred on a particularly busy weekend in Britain, where a public holiday will be observed on Monday and when many children are starting their mid-term school breaks — prompting some stranded travelers to express their frustration on Twitter.

British Airways has experienced other recent computer glitches. Passengers were hit with severe delays in July and September last year because of problems with the airline’s online check-in systems.



Medical Tourism on the Rise in Turkey

Turkey is fast becoming a top destination for medical tourism. Tens of thousand of people a year are flocking to Istanbul and other Turkish cities for procedures ranging from gynecology to orthopedics to plastic surgery. Tan Cetin reports for VOA’s Turkish service from Istanbul.


US Military Veterans Trying to ‘Cultivate Peace’ in Afghanistan, Where They Served

Saffron has long been one of the world’s most expensive spices. The saffron crocus that produces the spice grows mostly in parts of Europe, Iran and India. Now, a U.S. company seeking to “cultivate peace” is attracting attention to this historic spice and trying to develop new markets for saffron grown in Afghanistan. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more from Chicago.


Report: Trump Tells ‘Confidants’ US Will Leave Paris Climate Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump has told “confidants,” including the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave a landmark international agreement on climate change, the Axios news website reported Saturday, citing three sources with direct knowledge.

On Saturday, Trump said in a Twitter post he would decide whether to support the Paris climate deal next week.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A source who has been in contact with people involved in the decision told Reuters that a couple of meetings were planned with chief executives of energy companies and big corporations and others about the climate agreement ahead of Trump’s expected announcement later in the week. It was unclear whether those meetings would still take place.

“I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” Trump tweeted on the final day of a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Italy at which he refused to bow to pressure from allies to back the 2015 agreement.

Six against one

The summit of G-7 wealthy nations pitted Trump against the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan on several issues, with European diplomats frustrated at having to revisit questions they had hoped were long settled.

Trump, who has previously called global warming a hoax, came under concerted pressure from the other leaders to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement on curbing carbon emissions.

Although he tweeted that he would make a decision next week, his apparent reluctance to embrace the first legally binding global climate deal, signed by 195 countries, clearly annoyed German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” she told reporters. “There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”


Long Shunned By Foreigners, Iran Looks to Tourism to Boost Ailing Economy 

Iran’s potential as a holiday destination is vast, with its stunning landscapes and numerous World Heritage sites, but foreign tourists have largely avoided the country ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The reasons are numerous. The visa process can be lengthy and complex. Some female visitors object to customary restrictions on dress. Alcohol consumption is heavily restricted. And, fears of detention and political upheaval enter the minds of many foreigners considering holidays in the Islamic republic.

Under President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate who won a second term in office with a convincing first-round victory in Iran’s May 19 presidential election, the country has welcomed foreigners as part of an effort to improve its international image and boost an economy battered by low oil prices and years of crippling international sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the signing of a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015 that was the crowning achievement of Rohani’s first term, tour companies have launched holiday packages and major European airlines have resumed regular flights to Iran.

The number of foreign tourists has increased accordingly, and the cash-strapped government is planning to build on its tourism revival by easing visa restrictions and spending heavily to spruce up tourist accommodations and shabby transportation networks.

‘Tsunami of tourists’

In 2015, Masoud Soltanifar, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said he was expecting a “tsunami of tourists” once sanctions were lifted following the deal under which Iran’s nuclear program would be curbed in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The World Bank said the number of visitors to Iran increased from 2.2 million in 2009 to 5.2 million in 2015, and Iranian officials expect that trend to continue.

The influx of tourists has brought the country billions of dollars in revenue and created badly needed jobs. In 2015, Iran earned $7.5 billion in tourism revenue; the government hopes to attract 20 million foreign tourists by 2025 and gross $30 billion.

Business Insider and Bloomberg have named Iran among the top destinations to visit in 2017 because of security and the country’s ancient architecture, famous bazaars, and natural beauty.

To put Iran on the map for tourism in the region, authorities have announced sweeping plans that include easing visa restrictions.

Issuing visas on arrival at the airport for nationals of 190 countries as well as issuing electronic visas are among the initiatives being considered by Iranian officials. Citizens from the United States, Canada and Britain would still only be allowed to travel on escorted tours.

The government has also announced plans to create sufficient accommodation and transportation for the growing number of tourists. There is a plan to increase the number of higher-end hotels from 130 to more than 1,000 in 10 years.

Iran also plans to add 400 new passenger planes to its domestic fleet to compensate for shortages due to international sanctions over the past three decades.

The plan is to make Iran a hot spot that would rival regional destinations. Like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, Iran is blessed with natural wonders.

The Islamic Republic has a sun-baked coast with hundreds of kilometers of beaches. Iran is also a haven for culture buffs, with 19 World Heritage sites, including the ancient desert city of Bam and the ruins of Persepolis.

Tourist hub

Key to the government’s plans to boost tourist numbers is Kish Island, one of a handful of free-trade zones in Iran. The southern island in the Persian Gulf is known for its newly built, multistory malls; sparkling jewelry stores; and swanky, five-star hotels hugging the coast.

The island is a tourist hot spot that attracts an estimated 1 million people every year, mostly Iranians. But Tehran is stepping up its efforts to make the island, located 16 kilometers from the mainland, a destination for foreign visitors as well.

Iran’s first cruise ship since 1979 made its maiden voyage on April 13, docking at another Iranian Gulf resort island, Qeshm, with more than 200 passengers on board.

The seven-floor, Swedish-built cruise liner, named Sunny, is equipped with two cinemas, restaurants, a swimming pool and a conference hall. With the capacity to carry up to 1,600 passengers and 200 vehicles between the two islands, the ship is intended to help launch a “boom [in] marine tourism,” according to Iran’s state IRNA news agency.

Luxurious spot

Kish Island is known as an oasis of luxury and relative freedom in the otherwise conservative Islamic republic.

Women can be seen dipping their bare legs in the warm sea, alcohol is easier to come by, and even prostitutes can be seen on the promenades. It is a world away from the mainland, where a strict ban on alcohol and prostitution is enforced and women must be covered.

Visitors to Kish are attracted by the duty-free shops, resort hotels, water sports and an opportunity to escape the strict social norms on the mainland. A small number of foreigners are also going to Kish, where they do not need a visa and where they can mingle freely in foreigners-only parts of the island.

Authorities occasionally crack down on cinemas playing Western films, shops displaying mannequins that are deemed too exposed, and restaurants selling alcohol, but that is the exception.

Mina, a 21-year-old Iranian student who has visited Kish Island twice, says Iranians go there to escape the social restrictions on the mainland. But she added, “I saw more foreigners coming to Kish, and as long the infrastructure improves, more will come.”