U.N.: Two-thirds of world population will live in cities by 2050

May 16 (UPI) — Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, a United Nations report on sustainable urban planning, said Wednesday.

The Revision of World Urbanization Prospects report, by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, says 35 percent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050 will be in only a few countries — notably China, India and Nigeria.

Asia and Africa will account for 90 percent of the increase in urban population, the report said.

The report adds that the world will have 43 “megacities,” or urban areas with a population over 10 million, by 2050. It currently has 31, led by metropolitan Tokyo with 37 million inhabitants.

The study predicts New Delhi, India, now second on the most-populated list with 29 million people, will be the world’s largest city by 2028.

Fifty-five percent of all people on Earth presently live in urban areas.

The U.N. report adds that the expected increase to 68 percent by 2050 will place extra demands on resources and services.

“Many countries will face challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including for housing, transportation, energy systems and other infrastructure; as well as for employment and basic services such as education and health care,” it noted.

The report recommends governments to adopt better integrated policies on infrastructure and social services to improve the lives of urban and rural dwellers.

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Russian police detain Alexei Navalny supporters ahead of Putin inauguration

May 4 (UPI) — Russian police arrested supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny ahead of protests against President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration.

Navalny, a staunch opponent of Putin — who is scheduled to assume his fourth presidential term Monday — called on supporters to gather in at least 90 cities for “He’s Not Our Tsar” protests on Saturday.

Moscow’s City Hall granted permission for opposition representative to hold a rally on Saturday in downtown Moscow.

However, supporters of Navalny were detained in six Russian cities leading up to the protests — including in St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk, Tambov, Krasnodar and Cheboksary.

Some of the opposition supporters were being held on charges of violating public assembly laws and resisting arrest.

Other volunteers were apprehended and eventually released in Kemerovo and Ryazan.

Navalny was barred from running in Russia’s March presidential election due to a criminal conviction and was detained in January during a rally to support a boycott of the elections.

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Report: North Korea tourism project takes toll on citizens

May 4 (UPI) — Construction for a “marine tourism” zone in North Korea is becoming a burden on ordinary North Koreans who are being taxed to finance the project.

The plan to convert parts of Wonsan, a port city in North Korea’s Kangwon Province, into a resort began recently, Radio Free Asia reported.

A North Korean source in North Hamgyong Province told RFA earlier this week the “central leadership,” meaning Kim Jong Un, has made national construction a main goal.

As part of this goal, North Korea wants to build an “international tourist destination,” the source said.

The apple of Kim’s eye might be the planned “Wonsan maritime tourist zone” or district, the source said.

To meet the needs of construction, the regime has issued a “mobilization order” and has imposed a new construction tax.

Local-level North Korean cooperatives, organized by neighborhood across the country, have been asked to donate manpower and financial support for the construction of the marine tourism zone, according to the source.

In the city of Chongjin, each household has been asked to donate about $ 1 for the tourism drive.

A source in South Hamgyong Province said people were informed that, though the building of the resort area will entail billions of dollars of investment, the country will earn back the money in higher numbers.

North Korea previously allowed South Korean tourists to travel to Mount Kumgang in Kangwon Province, but it is not clear whether South Koreans will be allowed to travel leisurely to the country.

North Korea has previously announced a goal to draw 1 million foreign tourists annually.

The recent inter-Korea summit has also had a substantial impact on South Korean tourism to the Korean demilitarized zone.

South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported Friday visitors to the South’s side of the DMZ are up by about 30 percent, year on year, for the first week of May.

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Chemical weapons experts collect samples from Syrian city

April 21 (UPI) — International chemical weapons inspectors retrieved samples Saturday from a Syrian town two weeks after the suspected attack.

The fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons left Damascus for the nearby town of Douma. In a release, OPCW said the samples collected will be transported to its lab in Rijswijk, Netherlands, and then dispatched to the OPCW’s designated labs for further analysis.

The OPCW, which has been investigating use of toxic chemicals in Syria’s civil war since 2014, said it will decide whether to return to Douma for additional samples. Its report will be submitted to the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Syria and Russia have denied they were responsible for the attack, which killed more than 80 people. On April 13, the United States, Britain and France fired 105 missiles at three Syrian government sites in retaliation.

“Early on April 21, a special OPCW mission for finding traces of chemical weapons left for the city of Douma to the place of suspected use of toxic chemicals on April 7,” Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “We consider such delays in a notable case like that, for whatever reasons, to be unacceptable, since the security of the OPCW staff was ensured not only by the Syrian side, but also by the command of the Russian military forces in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The nine-member OPCW team had been waiting in the Syrian capital for clearance to visit the town. They were supposed to enter the town on Wednesday but the visit was delayed because U.N. risk assessment team came under fire while checking sites Tuesday.

“We appeal to western colleagues to refrain from actions obstructing efforts to establish the truth regarding the provocation in Eastern Ghouta on April 7,” Zakharova said.

Jaish al-Islam group controlled the city on the day of the suspected chemical attack.

After the attack, the rebels withdrew under a deal with the Russian military.

Zakharova said Moscow expects OPCW’s investigation to be impartial.

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Trump to skip White House Correspondents dinner for 2nd time

April 6 (UPI) — President Donald Trump has decided again to skip what has traditionally been one of the year’s most humorous events in Washington, D.C. — the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the organization said Friday.

Trump chose not to attend last year’s event, his first in office, and became the first president since Ronald Reagan to decline the invitation.

Reagan skipped the 1981 event because he was recovering from an assassination attempt. He did, however, telephone well wishes and a few jokes during the dinner.

“The White House has informed us that the president does not plan to participate in this year’s dinner but he will actively encourage members of his executive branch to attend,” WHCA President Margaret Talev said Friday.

Talev said Trump’s press officer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, instead will represent the White House at the head table.

The dinner, an annual feature in Washington since 1921, is billed as a celebration of the First Amendment. It includes acknowledgement of award-winning reporting and the presentation of journalism scholarships.

Traditionally, the event is attended by the president and vice president — and typically features self-satirizing skits and speeches. The WHCA is an organization of journalists assigned to cover the president of the United States.

Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush appeared alongside impersonators, with Obama’s serving as his “anger translator.”

Trump had told a New York City radio station Friday he probably would not attend this year’s dinner.

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Poisoned Russian spy Skripal no longer critical, 'improving rapidly'

April 6 (UPI) — Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, who was attacked with a nerve agent in Britain last month, is now “improving rapidly,” officials said Friday.

An update on Skripal’s condition came one day after his daughter, Yulia Skripal, said she also is improving by the day.

“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement.

Britain, the United States and other nations have blamed Russia for the attack, while the Kremlin has denied responsibility. The row has inflamed tensions and led to the expulsions of diplomats from a number of countries.

British scientists said this week they can’t prove Russia definitively manufactured the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.

The Russian Embassy in Britain again denied involvement in a tweet about Skripal’s progress.

“We welcome the news of progress in Sergei Skripal’s recovery,” it said. “We are grateful to the medical staff treating him and his daughter Yulia and wish them to get well soon.”

“We hope the improvement of Sergei and Yulia Skripal’s health will contribute to the investigation of the crime perpetrated against them. We are confident that an objective probe will ultimately establish that the claims against Russia by U.K. government are null and void,” it added.

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