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UK parliament’s ‘Big Ben’ bell marks 160 years with silence amid restoration work

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, July 11th, 2019

(London, England, UK) Big Ben’s clock face | Courtesy: Reuters

Britain’s parliament marks 160 years on Thursday (July 11) since its “Big Ben” bell first chimed. But the familiar bongs will not ring out to celebrate the occasion as the famous clock-tower is half way through a major restoration project.

That work has seen the 96-metre-tall Elizabeth Tower, one of the most photographed buildings in Britain, enveloped in scaffolding as the four clock dials are reglazed, ironwork repainted and intricately carved stonework cleaned and repaired.

It is the most extensive conservation programme ever carried out on the tower and has also involved removing the whole of its cast iron roof, made up of 3,433 pieces, for repairs.

The 13.7-tonne Big Ben bell will remain in place throughout the restoration works, which began in 2017 and are due to be completed in 2021, but has been largely silenced, sounding only for important events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The Victorian clock mechanism has been removed to be serviced and to ensure it is not damaged by dust and dirt generated during the works, with an electric motor installed to drive the clock’s 4.2 metre-long hands while it is gone.

Specialist tradesmen clad in high-vis vests and hard hats working with panoramic views across the London skyline have completed the clock’s north dial, with 324 individual new pieces of mouth-blown and hand-cut glass installed into the frame.

The Palace of Westminster on the bank of the River Thames, home to parliament and Big Ben, is a world heritage site and major tourist attraction.

A 4 billion pound ($5 billion) restoration programme of the entire building, which suffers from crumbling stonework, leaking roofs and failing plumbing, is due to begin in the mid-2020s and will see lawmakers moved out into a temporary building nearby. (REUTERS)

(Production: Chris Read)

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World’s longest electric vehicle trip ends in New Zealand

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Dutch adventurer Wiebe Wakker posing beside his vehicle the ‘Blue Bandit’, to celebrate the completion of his three-year drive across more than 30 countries in an electric vehicle. | Courtesy: Reuters

A Dutch sustainability advocate completed the longest ever journey in an electric vehicle in New Zealand on Friday (July 19) after a three-year drive that took him through more than 30 countries.

Wiebe Wakker set off from the Netherlands in March 2016 in his “Blue Bandit” to showcase the potential of sustainable transport, funded by donations from those following his trip on social media.

“So I wanted to do my bit to promote this technology and show that sustainability is a viable way of transport. So I wanted really to do something that really speaks to the imagination which is driving an electric car from Amsterdam to literally the other side of the world to show that it can be done,” he said.

The 101,000 kilometers (62,800 miles) trip took Wakker through Eastern Europe, Iran, India, Southeast Asia, before traveling around much of Australia and across to New Zealand.

Wakker gave regular updates on his blog and social media throughout the journey, detailing visiting Iran’s biggest car manufacturer in Tehran, a breakdown on the Indonesian island of Java and visits to Australia’s outback and world-famous Uluru.

The drive had relied on the support of strangers across the globe who offered the traveler food, a place to stay and the essential means to charge his car along the way. (REUTERS)

(Production: James Redmayne)

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South Koreans boycott Japanese brands and cancel trips as diplomatic row intensifies

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Angry South Korean consumers are taking action after Tokyo imposed curbs on exports to South Korea, promoting a widespread boycott of Japanese products and services, from beer to clothes and travel.

“We decided to cancel (the trip to Japan) because it went against our beliefs. I’m actually feeling relieved,” said Lee Sang-won, a 29-year-old designer, who canceled his Japan trip for a 130,000 won ($110.15) fee.

Screenshots of Japan trip cancellations are trending on social media. Lee and his friends, who have changed their holiday destination to Taiwan, ‘proudly’ presented their canceled ticket to Japan on his social media account.

“I believe it is very significant for South Korean citizens to show them (the Japanese government) their thoughts and actions. These boycotts are not about how much economic damage we can inflict, but about how we can raise their awareness,” said Lee, scheduling his trip to Taiwan with his friend.

Diplomatic tensions have been simmering again since a South Korean court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans who were forced to work during the war. Then on July 4, Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea, denying the move was related to the compensation issue. Tokyo cited “inadequate management” of sensitive exports, with Japanese media reporting some items ended up in North Korea. Seoul has denied that.

Meanwhile, some local supermarkets pulled Japanese beers off the shelves, which was their way of taking a stance against Japan as a quickly worsening political and economic dispute between the two East Asian neighbors rekindles lingering animosity since Japan’s World War Two occupation of Korea.

“Of course we should (boycott Japanese products). There are so many good, tasty products, domestic and overseas alike, so why bother (consuming Japanese products) when we have this problem with Japan?” said a 55-year-old South Korean customer at a local market where he can’t find Japanese beers, said he has plenty of other options which can replace Japanese products.

Economists say the tech export curbs could shave 0.4% off South Korea’s gross domestic product this year. The boycott – if it proves to be more than just a brief burst of nationalistic fervor – could marginally add to that, unless consumers spend on something else.

“We are pleased to see this has turned consumers’ favor towards our pens,” said Park Seol, assistant manager at stationery maker Monami, whose online sales have risen five-fold since the curbs.

Japan’s Fast Retailing fashion brand Uniqlo, which sells clothes worth around 140 billion yen – 6.6% of its revenue – in 186 Korean stores, is also feeling the anger as its chief financial officer said last week there was a certain impact on sales. (REUTERS)

(Production: Daewoung Kim & Heejung Jung)

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Pentagon removing Turkey from F-35 program after its purchase of Russian missile defense

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2019

F-35 Fighter Jet | Courtesy: Lockheed Martin / Reuters

The United States said on Wednesday (July 17) that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.

The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military airbase northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” said Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Used by NATO and other U.S. allies, the F-35 stealth fighter jet is the world’s most advanced jet fighter. Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of the stealth system.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Washington has long said the acquisition may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the program, including halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft. (REUTERS)

(Production: Labib Nasir)

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