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New baguette price sparks ire of some in France

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(PARIS) -- The new price of baguettes at a leading French supermarket is sparking outrage from some.

As of last week, customers in Leclerc stores were greeted with the new baguette price -- 29 cents (in Euros).

The president of the Leclerc supermarket chain, Michel-Édouard Leclerc, announced Jan. 11 that baguettes would remain at that price in Leclerc stores across France for a minimum of four months.

"Yes, blocking the price of the baguette at 29 cents is quite a symbol!" Leclerc tweeted Wednesday, officially launching the initiative, adding that: "The baguette is a benchmark for the evolution of prices and purchasing power for consumers."

That is 10 cents cheaper than Leclerc competitors Intermarché and Super U, and 16 cents less than at Carrefour stores. Meanwhile, the average baguette price in France is 90 cents.

This new price stirred the ire of five key players in the industry that branded the measure as "shameful" and "destructive" in a joint press release signed by the national farmers' union FNSEA, the National Association of French Milling (ANMF), the National Confederation of French Bakery and Pastry shops (CNBPF), the organization representative of the French cereals sector Intercéréales and the General Association of Wheat Producers (AGPB) on Wednesday.

"In France, there are 450,000 people doing all this work in the cereal sector. It's not just bread, but the whole cereal industry. I think it's denigrating the whole industry!" the president of Intercéréales Jean-François Loiseau said to ABC News, arguing that "every day, a French person eats 30 cents worth of bread on average. When Leclerc sells his baguette for 29 cents, if I follow the same proportion, it means that he offers the French to eat bread for 10 cents every day. That's a 20-cent difference every day. Is the subject of purchasing power in France at 20 cents a day, on bread?"

In the joint statement, the five organizations emphasized the difficult circumstances they said they are facing. For many years now, they said they have been fighting to be paid more fairly, while the price of wheat has exploded worldwide in recent months, and production costs are also increasing "strongly."

Some customers had mixed reactions to the pricing announcement.

To Youssef Aïtbaila, 39, who just bought a baguette at the boulangerie Les Pyramides in Colombes, a northwestern suburb of Paris, Leclerc "is right" because "everything has become very expensive."

"It's always good to be able to give everyone access to a cheap baguette because it's true that bread has increased a lot," said Emilie Péré, 38, a client and mother of one.

At the Leclerc store across the street, 30-year-old Justine Grangette wasn't too thrilled about the decision, insisting that it's part of Michel-Edouard Leclerc's "mentality" of cutting prices. "Anyway, I will continue to buy from my local baker."

After an increase in 2021, the purchasing power per household in France is expected to fall by 0.5% in the first half of the year according to an assessement by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee).

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Huge asteroid safely passes close to Earth

NASA

(NEW YORK) -- A comet more than three times the size of the Empire State Building got up close to Earth's orbit Tuesday afternoon but was far enough to avoid turning into a sci-fi disaster movie, according to astronomers.

Asteroid 7482 (1994 PC1) flew by Earth around 4:51 p.m., according to NASA, which has been tracking the object for decades through its planetary defense systems.

Researchers say the asteroid, which measures 1 kilometer in diameter, came around .01325 Astronomical Units, or 1.2 million miles, away from Earth's atmosphere.

That distance didn't pose any threat to the Earth, according to researchers.

The last time the asteroid was this close to Earth's orbit was 89 years ago when it flew 0.00752 AU, roughly 699,000 miles, away from the planet, NASA data showed.

The next time the asteroid will come this close to Earth will be in 2105 when it will fly 0.01556 AU, roughly 1.4 million miles, away from Earth.

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Tonga government releases 1st statement since volcanic blast, described huge mushroom plume

Handout/New Zealand Defense Force via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- For the first time since a massive undersea volcano erupted and caused widespread damage, the government of Tonga released its first statement on Tuesday morning, describing a huge mushroom plume that covered the entire South Pacific island kingdom and nearly 50-foot tsunami waves that crashed ashore and devastated villages.

International and domestic communication, including the Internet, had been severed since the blast of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday. According to the government's statement, the volcanic eruption damaged an underwater fiber optic cable, cutting off communication to the outside world.

"As a result of the eruption, a volcanic mushroom plume was released reaching the stratosphere and extending radially covering all Tonga Islands, generating tsunami waves rising up to 15 meters, hitting the west coast of Tongatapu Islands, 'Eue and Ha'apai Islands," the government statement said.

The eruption occurred in the South Pacific, about 40 miles south of Tonga.

A damage assessment was underway on Tuesday and the government was relying on satellite phones and high-frequency radio to establish communication between the multiple islands that comprise the Polynesian kingdom. Government officials said communication with at least one island, Niuas, had yet to be restored.

At least three deaths have been confirmed, including the death of a British national, the government said. Also killed was a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka Island, according to the statement.

Two people remain unaccounted for and numerous injuries have been reported, the government said.

The government said it is particularly concerned about the damage caused to the islands of Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka after receiving initial reports from first responders deployed to those islands.

"The first consignment is headed for these islands as all houses were destroyed on Mango Island; only two houses remain on Fonoifua Island with extensive damage on Nomuka Island," the government said.

It was not immediately clear how many houses and people occupied the islands of Mango, Nomuka and Fonoifua. Many of Tonga's 170 islands are uninhabited or sparsely inhabited.

At least eight houses were completely destroyed and 20 others were severely damaged in the village of Kolomotu on Tonga's most populated island, Tongatapu, the government said.

On 'Eua Island, two houses were completely destroyed and 45 were severely damaged, according to the government.

The government said that evacuations are underway from the small island of 'Atata near the capital city of Nukuʻalofa, throughout Tongatapu, Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka islands.

"Water supplies have been seriously affected by the volcanic ash," the government statement said. "Government efforts have to be made to ensure the continuity of the supply of drinking water."

Sea and air transportation have also been affected due to continuing large waves and volcanic ash covering airport runways.

"Domestic and international flights have been deferred until further notice as the airports undergo clean-up," the government said.

The volcanic eruption was so strong it caused a sonic boom that could be heard and felt more than 6,000 miles away in Alaska, officials said.

The blast also triggered tsunami warnings from Fiji to Hawaii and the California coast.

The large waves caused by the volcanic eruption were being blamed for an oil spill off the Peruvian coast roughly 6,600 miles from Tonga. The Peruvian Civil Defense Institute released a statement on Monday saying a ship was loading oil into La Pampilla refinery on the Pacific coast of Puru on Sunday when waves moved the vessel and caused the spill.

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Teens arrested in England are children of alleged hostage-taker in Texas, sources say

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(LONDON) -- Two teenagers have been arrested in England as part of an ongoing investigation into Saturday's hostage-taking incident at a synagogue in the United States, British authorities said.

The pair were detained in southern Manchester on Sunday evening and "remain in custody for questioning," according to a statement from the Greater Manchester Police. Multiple law enforcement sources in the U.S. told ABC News that the teens are the children of the alleged hostage-taker.

The arrests were made in connection with a 10-hour standoff between American authorities and a hostage-taker at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, about 27 miles northwest of Dallas. An armed man claiming to have planted bombs in the synagogue interrupted Shabbat services on Saturday just before 11 a.m. local time, taking a rabbi and three other people hostage, according to Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller.

The suspect, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, died in a "shooting incident," according to Miller and FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno, neither of whom provided further details.

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the initial indication is that Akram was shot and killed by the FBI team. The FBI said in a statement Sunday that its Shooting Incident Review Team "will conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of the events."

A motive for the incident is under investigation.

Assistant Chief Constable Dominic Scally of the Greater Manchester Police said in a statement Sunday that counterterrorism officers are assisting their U.S. counterparts in the probe. Akram was from the Blackburn area of Lancashire, about 20 miles northwest of Manchester, according to Scally.

During the negotiations with law enforcement, Akram "spoke repeatedly about a convicted terrorist who is serving an 86-year prison sentence in the United States on terrorisms charges," the FBI said in a statement Sunday.

"This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force," the agency added. "Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI. Due to the continuing investigation we are unable to provide more details at this time."

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the suspect was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, about 16 miles southwest of Colleyville. Siddiqui, who has alleged ties to al-Qaida, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after being convicted of assault as well as attempted murder of an American soldier in 2010.

One hostage was released uninjured at around 5 p.m. CT on Saturday. The standoff ended hours later, when Cytron-Walker and the other two hostages executed an escape plan that included Cytron-Walker throwing a chair at the suspect and bolting to an exit door with his fellow hostages, the rabbi told CBS News.

Law enforcement sources also told ABC News that after arriving in the United States, Akram stayed at homeless shelters at various points and may have portrayed himself as experiencing homelessness in order to gain access to the Texas synagogue during Shabbat services, sources said.

Biden told reporters Sunday that he was briefed on the incident at the Texas synagogue by Attorney General Merrick Garland. Biden confirmed that the suspect had only been in the country for a couple of weeks and spent at least one night in a homeless shelter.

Bide said investigators suspect Akham purchased a gun on the street. While Akham is alleged to have claimed he had bombs, investigators have found no evidence that he was in possession of explosives, according to Biden.

"This was an act of terror," Biden said.

ABC News' Luke Barr, Meredith Deliso, Bill Hutchinson, Aaron Katersky and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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North Korea launches fourth missile test in two weeks

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(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea Monday morning, its fourth test in less than a month.

“South Korea’s military detected two projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles launched into the East Sea to the northeast from the Sunan Airfield in Pyongyang, North Korea, around 08:50 a.m. and 08:54 a.m.,” South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff told reporters Monday.

The missiles traveled about 236 miles and reached an altitude of about 26 miles, said South Korea’s military, which was analyzing details of the launch.

It was the fourth missile launch this year, following two self-claimed hypersonic missile tests on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11 and last Friday’s short-range ballistic missile that the secluded regime’s state news agency, KCNA, claimed was launched from a rail car.

Pyongyang’s consecutive showcases of its military capabilities came as the United States discussed sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.

“North Korea probably believes they pulled out a response from the U.S. by firing hypersonic missiles in the new year because the U.S. acted with new sanctions,” Moon Keun-sik, a military expert at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, told ABC News. “North Korea claims that ballistic missile test-launch is a part of the training, but it also acknowledges that their action is a UN violation.”

North Korea has said its weapons development is a rightful act of self-defense. The country blames the U.S. for escalated tensions.

“The DPRK's recent development of new-type weapon was just part of its efforts for modernizing its national defense capability. Nevertheless, the U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK's just activity to the UN Security Council,” KCNA said on Friday, citing North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

North Korea expressed open discontent about the sanctions imposed last Wednesday on North Korean individuals and entities who support the country's ballistic-missile program.

“We could say that the situation has escalated as the United States took out the sanctions card in response to North Korea's recent missile test launch,” Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul-based Dongguk University, told ABC News. “Through missile experiments, Kim Jong Un intends to highlight North Korea’s presence while the United States is mainly taking care of Ukraine issues, and at the same time maintain solidarity among their people.”

Some experts saw the recent tests as planned drills on North Korea’s side. Kim Jong Un announced at the 8th Party Congress in January 2021 that the country planned to strengthen its weapon systems, including hypersonic missiles.

“Pyongyang’s missile tests will take rounds and rounds for the next three years, not mainly intended to send a political message, which is only part of the motivation,” Bong Young-shik of Yonsei University told ABC News. “It would be a mistaken belief to think that the North Korea military can be bought out with massive immediate concessions because North Korea is moving on its own schedule by military capability.”

Analysts in South Korea agreed that North Korea was following its own schedule to ramp up military capabilities in a time when there's a slim chance of negotiating with other countries in person.

“North Korea is in the direction of enhancing the technical completeness of their missile program and knocking on the United States, trying to persuade them they should reach out to North Korea in any way,” Kim told ABC News.

It isn’t the first time North Korea has scaled up in its weapons experiments. Back in 2019, North Korea fired over 20 short-range ballistic missiles between May and November.

ABC News' Chae Young Oh contributed to this report.

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Senior citizens go digital as Korea moves toward contact-free culture

ABC News

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Jae-Yeol Tae recalls the time he broke into a cold sweat after noticing a long line behind him as he struggled to order a hamburger on a local fast-food restaurant's self-order kiosk.

“I kept reading the instructions on the kiosk, but they were difficult to follow. I asked for help from an employee, but she flat-out rejected me and told me to use the machine,” Tae, 78, said. “But now that I’ve practiced how to use a kiosk many times, I have no problem ordering a burger or fries on my own.”

The South Korean senior is not the only one who has felt powerless and at the mercy of such self-serve digital kiosk machines. Adults ages 65 and older have enrolled in the senior digital education program at Seoul-based Seocho Joongang Senior Welfare Center to learn how to use the devices in this modern digital era.

Seocho District’s senior community center has been providing digital education classes and resources for willing seniors over the past two years. Since September 2019, more than 1,500 senior citizens have learned how to use digital machines and devices like self-serve kiosks through the program.

The educational kiosks at the welfare center provide various scenarios for the students to practice real-life simulations. The scenarios are divided into nine different themes, which range from purchasing tickets at movie theaters, airports and bus terminals to ordering food at fast-food restaurants and cafes.

“We’ve significantly expanded educational programs focused on maneuvering digital devices to help better the livelihood of senior citizens since the start of the pandemic,” Yu-rim Kang, 25, a social worker at the welfare center who guides seniors in more active digital use, told ABC News. “Elders often have a hard time in public places due to the sudden shift towards a more contact-free culture.”

After two years of enduring the pandemic, a large number of restaurants and stores have adopted self-service electronic kiosks as alternatives to keep personnel costs down while continuing to keep their businesses running. The size of the domestic kiosk market is expected to grow 5.7% annually by 2023, according to the report from Shinhan Investment Corporation.

Digital education for senior citizens has become a necessity as South Korea continues to accelerate the digitization of its public sectors in accordance with the nation’s pandemic regulations. Anyone who wants to enter any sort of public facility must check in using their personal QR code on their smartphones to provide proof of vaccination.

At the start of 2022, Seoul introduced the “cash-free bus” initiative designating 418 buses to only accept transportation cards or mobile tickets. The project offers passengers instant mobile tickets by scanning QR codes at bus stations, but it makes public transportation more complicated for less tech-savvy senior citizens who typically carry around cash only.

“I’d like to say if we senior citizens don’t want to fall way behind the rest of society, we need to be prepared for any future changes,” Hye-sook Park, a 74-year-old student who once had technophobia, told ABC News. “Don’t be afraid to try and learn new technologies.”

Seocho District’s senior community center is not the only one promoting digital education for older adults. In an effort to support digitally-isolated senior citizens and diversify accessibility to these programs, Seoul runs educational programs on various digital devices including smartphones, kiosks and even virtual reality sets.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government also recently announced that it will invest over $1.68 million to further expand education resources necessary for senior support.

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US accuses Russia of 'fabricating a pretext' to invade Ukraine

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(WASHINGTON) -- After a week of high-stakes diplomacy, the U.S. on Friday accused Russia of "fabricating a pretext" to invade its neighbor Ukraine.

It's another sign that the "drumbeats of war" are getting louder, in the words of one U.S. ambassador, after three key meetings this week to defuse tensions raised by Russia massing approximately 100,000 troops on its borders with Ukraine.

But whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will act on a long-held desire to consume Ukraine, or whether his posturing is a bluff to strengthen Moscow's hand and therefore its influence, is still an open question, according to senior U.S. officials.

A "massive" cyberattack against Ukrainian government sites on Friday sparked new fears that the very kind of sabotage plot that U.S. officials have described could already be underway.

"Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine," a U.S. official said Friday.

U.S. intelligence has "information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," the official added, saying the group was trained in urban warfare and the use of explosives.

The alleged plot would begin several weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which he attacked in 2014 by annexing Crimea and fomenting a war in its eastern provinces known as Donbas. That conflict has killed as many as 14,000 people in the last eight years, with artillery and sniper fire still exchanged weekly between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-led separatists.

Not long after, White House press secretary Jen Psaki spelled out the U.S. accusations in public.

"We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives," Psaki told reporters at her daily briefing. "As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion, and we've seen this before.

She repeated the U.S. official's assertion that Russian action could occur sometime between the middle of this month and mid-February.

"We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine," Psaki continued. "The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia's own proxy forces. Our information also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sew divisions in Ukraine."

The Kremlin dismissed the accusations, saying no proof has been presented.

"All these statements still have just the character of hearsay and haven't been confirmed by anything," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state news agency TASS.

The buildup since last fall of nearly 100,000 Russian forces, with potential plans for as many as 175,000, according to U.S. officials, has heightened fears of a full-scale invasion or new attack. In addition to the troops, Russia has stationed artillery systems and electronic warfare systems, according to U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter.

"The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill," Carpenter said Thursday after the third and last round of talks with Russia. "We have to prepare for the eventuality that there could be an escalation."

That rhetoric - accusing Ukraine of abusing human rights and increasing belligerence - has dominated on Russia-language social media, according to the U.S. official. In December, it increased roughly 200 percent to nearly 3,500 posts per day, they said, in order "to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine."

That appeared to include a "massive" cyberattack against Ukrainian government sites on Friday. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said theirs and other sites were temporarily down, with a message posted on the site by the attackers, address to "Ukrainians!"

"All your information will become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future," it said in part.

Andrei Yermark, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said later Friday that approximately 90 percent of sites have been restored and that critical infrastructure was not affected.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Yermak said the country's security service was investigating now.

"Of course, we have some thoughts," he added, saying this kind of attack was "one of the potential parts of the destabilization" that officials have warned about.

With partners like the U.S. and the U.K., "We will be ready to answer to this attack and continue to work with our partners to protect," he said.

Psaki said President Joe Biden was briefed about the cyberattack against Ukrainian government sites, but held back from naming who might be behind it.

"We don't have attribution at this time, and I can't point to any more specifics … I would just note that we will take necessary and proper steps, of course, to defend our allies, support our partners, and support the Ukrainian people, but we're still assessing that at this point in time," she said.

ABC News' Justin Gomez and Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.

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Ukraine says 'massive cyberattack' hits government websites

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(LONDON) -- Ukraine said Friday a “massive cyber attack” has knocked offline the websites of most of its government ministries.

The websites of the government’s cabinet office, the foreign ministry, emergency services minister, as well as the ministries of energy, education, agriculture and several others, were down on Friday, according to Ukrainian media. The country’s public services platform Diia, which holds Ukrainians’ tax numbers and COVID-19 vaccination certificates, was also hit.

A message was posted on the targeted websites reading, “Ukrainians! All your personal data will be uploaded onto the general web. All data on your computer will be destroyed, it will be impossible to restore them. All your information will become public, be afraid and expect the worse. This is for your past, present and future.”

Ukraine’s government has not said who is behind the attack. It comes amid fears of a Russian invasion of the country, as Moscow has massed around 100,000 soldiers at the border, and follows warnings from Ukraine and the United States that Russia might launch cyberattacks amid the tensions.

A day earlier, talks between Moscow and NATO countries aimed at averting a possible Russian military attack concluded with no progress, with Russia saying they were reaching a “dead-end.”

Ukraine’s government did not say whether the attack had caused damage beyond taking down the websites.

“As a result of a massive cyber attack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said. “Our specialists are already working on restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyber police opened an investigation.”

The message posted on the affected websites included a list of historical grievances.

“This is for your past, present and future. For Volyn, for the OUN UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army], for Halychyna, for Polissya and for historical lands,” it read.

The two groups named in the post refer to Ukrainian nationalist partisan fighters that collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War. Russia frequently accuses Kyiv’s government of embracing fascist groups.

On Friday, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, said the bloc’s political and social committees as well as its cyber units would meet to try to assist Ukraine.

“We are going to mobilize all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyberattack. Sadly, we knew it could happen,” Borrell was quoted as saying by Reuters at an E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Brest, France. “It’s difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine.”

Russian officials on Thursday suggested the talks with the U.S. and NATO countries this week were at an impasse, since Western countries are refusing to accept Moscow’s key demands for binding guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO and that the alliance pull back troops from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War. The U.S. and NATO have rejected those demands as “non-starters.”

Russia’s lead negotiator, deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov, on Thursday said he saw no grounds for more talks in the near future as long as the U.S. and NATO were refusing Moscow’s key demands.

But Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said the country will now wait for written responses from the U.S. and NATO, which it expects next week, before deciding next steps.

Russia has denied it has any plans to attack Ukraine. It warned that if the U.S. and NATO fail to give security guarantees, it will take alternative measures that will have unspecified consequences for European security.

Lavrov on Friday told reporters that Russia would not wait endlessly for the U.S. to accept Russia’s security demands on NATO.

“Our patience is at an end,” he said at a pre-scheduled press conference in Moscow

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North Korea test-fires missile for third time in 2022 alone

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(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea Friday afternoon, three days after the regime claimed a successful launch of a newly developed hypersonic missile.

“South Korean military detected two projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles fired northeast towards the East Sea from Uiju, North Pyonganbuk-do,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters Friday.

Pyongyang has tested its missile capabilities three times this month. On Wednesday, North Korea’s state media, Korean Central News Agency, hyped the test-fire of the claimed hypersonic missile by reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected the launch himself.

North Korea’s show of force took place on the same day the regime expressed discontent over new sanctions implemented by the U.S.

"If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take a stronger and certain reaction to it," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

Cheong Seong-Chang of Seoul-based Sejong Institute said these missile launches were an expression of frustration over U.S. sanctions on the regime’s mass destruction weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Considering that North Korea has been testing new weapons at dawn or early morning, it's reasonable to assume that North's missile test launch this afternoon was improvised to showcase backlash against the U.S. sanctions,” he told ABC News.

Shin Beom Chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, saw the consecutive missile launches as an effort to gain more bargaining chips by North Korea.

“Considering that political dialogue is restricted due to COVID-19 at the moment, it seems North Korea intends to strengthen its nuclear capabilities in the meantime,” Shin told ABC News. “At the same time, this consecutive military provocation has more than one purpose – to neutralize the U.S. efforts with stronger sanctions and also to secure the status of a de facto nuclear powerhouse.”

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Teachers in France strike over COVID-19 health and safety protocols

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(NEW YORK) -- A nationwide strike took place in schools across France on Thursday as teachers and other school staff demonstrated against the government’s management of COVID-19 protocols in schools.

Teachers, other school staff and parents in the country have been complaining for months, saying the health protocols in schools are confusing and continually changing. The government changed the rules twice for schools in the past week.

They argued that they are facing the crisis with inapplicable measures, a growing work overload, teachers not being replaced when sick, no additional resources or staff to alleviate the issues and a lack of transparency from the education minister.

Teachers unions had called for a walkout to denounce the "indescribable mess" in schools as COVID-19 cases have surged and pharmacies have reported shortages of self-test kits since the beginning of the year.

The primary school teachers’ union, SNUipp-FSU, announced an estimated 75% participation rate among their ranks, and the secondary school union, SNES-FSU, said 62% mobilized. However, the Ministry of National Education claimed that 38.5% of primary school teachers and 23.7% of secondary school teachers participated.

“The teachers express their anger at this minister who does not hear them, who does not listen to what’s going on in the field, who does not listen to the distress present in schools and to all the possible dysfunctions, and above all a minister who addresses the press first before addressing the students," a SNUipp-FSU representative told ABC News. "And so, the teachers are very angry."

The leading parent association, the FCPE, also joined the movement in support of the teachers, and earlier this week called for a "white day" in schools, urging parents to keep their children at home Thursday.

FCPE co-president Nageate Belahcen said while the COVID-19 protocols look "pretty" on paper, there is "no pedagogical continuity."

"Nothing is put in place because the means are not there, and there are no substitute teachers," Belahcen told ABC News, adding that she is also concerned about exams occurring this year. "All this means that the parents are still very, very worried for the future of their children, for the well-being of their children, and above all, we cannot take this situation any longer."

For weeks now, education professionals have been asking Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer for more staff and reinforced measures -- including FFP2 masks for the teachers, CO2 sensors and air purifiers for classrooms -- to fight against the growing cases of COVID-19.

Blanquer has come under fire multiple times since the beginning of the pandemic due to concerns over the way he has handled the COVID-19 crisis.

“When will you present your resignation, Mr. Minister?" Sylvie Tolmont, a national assembly deputy from Sarthe, asked Tuesday during a government questioning session. This isn’t the first time his resignation has been asked for since he took office in 2017.

In a bid to appease the demonstrators, Prime Minister Jean Castex met with the unions Thursday evening, along with the health and education ministers.

After a discussion that lasted three hours, Blanquer announced he had agreed to some of the unions' requests, including the distribution of 5 million FFP2 masks to schools, the recruitment of 3,300 contractual substitute teachers and additional non-teaching and administrative staff.

There has been a similar dispute over health and safety in schools in the United States. After five days of canceled classes, the Chicago Teachers Union voted, with 56% in favor, to approve a COVID-19 agreement with Chicago Public Schools that included expanded testing, masks and a plan to shut down schools during outbreaks.

Thursday's strike was a "historic mobilization" for France, according to SNUipp-FSU, considering the number of strikers, the unity between teachers' unions and the fact that the FCPE participated as well.

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Egypt to mark centenary of Tutankhamun tomb discovery by inaugurating new, lavish museum

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images

(GIZA, Egypt) -- Sharm El-Sheikh -- Egypt said the best way to mark the centenary of Tutankhamun tomb's discovery would be inaugurating a new state-of-the-art museum later this year to house the ancient boy king's vast treasures.

The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), a mega project on the outskirts of the capital that Egypt said would be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization, nears completion as the country applies the finishing touches ahead of its opening.

"If the coronavirus-related conditions are stable, then the (museum's) opening would be in the second half of the year," Egypt's antiquities and tourism minister Khaled el-Anany told ABC News on the sidelines of the World Youth Forum, an annual international youth conference that the country hosts in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

"We will be ready by the middle of this year … but we want to make sure that our guests can arrive in large numbers. We aim to invite presidents and kings from all over the world," el-Anany said.

The nearly 480,000 square meter museum, which overlooks the famed Giza Pyramids, will hold more than 100,000 artifacts. About 5,000 belong to Tutankhamun, the famous 18th dynasty ruler who died at the age of 19 after a 10-year reign.

The Egyptian Museum, a 120-year-old red storied structure built in Cairo's central Tahrir square, housed less than 3,000 of those objects, including Tutankhamun's golden burial mask. Other artifacts were kept in the museum's storerooms.

However, a century after British archeologist Howard Carter discovered those treasures in Luxor's Valley of the Kings in 1922, they will be displayed in full for the first time when the Grand Egyptian Museum opens.

"The GEM is distinguished by its location, architecture and the full collection of Tutankhamun," el-Anany added.

"We are celebrating the 200-year anniversary of Egyptology and 100-year anniversary of Tutankhamun tomb's discovery in many parts of the world through Egyptian institutions. However, I believe that the best celebration of Tutankhamun would be opening the Grand Egyptian Museum," he said.

String of discoveries

Egypt made a string of discoveries over the past few years as it seeks to lure back tourists following the adverse effects of the political turmoil that followed the 2011 revolution and 2013 mass protests along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The highlight of 2021, according to el-Anany, was the unearthing of a 3,000-year-old city in the southern province of Luxor, which Egypt had termed the "Lost Golden City." It dates back to the 18th-dynasty of King Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt from 1391 till 1353 B.C.

Egypt also held two lavish ceremonies to transfer 22 mummies from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir to a newly-inaugurated museum in the old Islamic city of Fustat in a "royal procession" and to celebrate the opening of a 3,000-year-old sphinx-filled avenue in Luxor.

"The numbers of tourists were increasing last year until December when the new coronavirus variant emerged … we are in the recovery phase, but we hope there would be no more variants," El-Anany said.

El-Anany told ABC News that Egypt plans to announce another significant discovery in February or March, which he said will "capture the world's attention." However, he refused to disclose further details.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rocket hits Green Zone, US Embassy in Iraq: 'We're still assessing the damage'

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Embassy and other parts of the Green Zone in Baghdad were attacked by "terrorist groups" Thursday, according to the embassy.

"The U.S. Embassy compound was attacked this evening by terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty and international relations," the embassy said in a tweet. "We have long said that these sorts of reprehensible attacks are an assault not just on diplomatic facilities, but on the sovereignty of Iraq itself."

This is the latest rocket or drone attack on the U.S. presence in Iraq and neighboring Syria in recent weeks, though so far none have caused any American casualties.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran-backed militias have conducted previous attacks, including last Thursday, calling them retribution for the U.S. strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani two years ago this month.

Security sources told ABC News that three rockets were fired from the Dora area, south of Baghdad. Two were intercepted, and one landed inside a school in the Green Zone, causing damage and injuring a woman and a girl.

"In a cowardly terrorist act, the innocent residents of the Green Zone in Baghdad and the headquarters of the diplomatic missions that the Iraqi security forces bear the responsibility of protecting were attacked by a number of missiles launched from the Dora area south of the capital, which led to the injury of a girl and a woman," the Iraqi government said.

The Green Zone is a heavily fortified area of Iraq that is home to various governmental buildings as well as several foreign embassies.

"We're still assessing the damage," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "We're still assessing the health and safety of our people."

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prince Andrew returns military titles, royal patronages to Queen Elizabeth amid Epstein scandal

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(LONDON) -- Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, has lost his military titles and royal patronages just one day after his attempt to have a lawsuit dismissed from alleged Jeffrey Epstein victim Virginia Giuffre was denied.

Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that Andrew's titles and patronages have been returned to his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

"With The Queen's approval and agreement, The Duke of York's military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen," the palace said in a statement. "The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen."

Prince Andrew, the second youngest of Queen Elizabeth and the late Prince Philip's four children, served for 22 years in the Royal Navy.

Stripping him of his military titles is "hugely significant," according to ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson.

Andrew's honorary military titles included Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, one of the oldest regiments in the British Army; Honorary air commodore of RAF Lossiemouth; Colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment; Colonel-in-chief of the Small Arms School Corps; Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm; Royal colonel of the Royal Highland Fusiliers; Deputy colonel-in-chief of The Royal Lancers; and Royal Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

"It's clear to me there's no way back from this for Andrew as a public figure," Jobson said. "The reality is, as the queen is not only head of state but also of the armed forces, she will have taken note of the unrest amongst the military affiliated with the duke and acted appropriately."

"The last sentence, referring to him as a private citizen in an official statement, is unheard of and shows that he has clearly been cut adrift by the royal family," Jobson added.

The Duke of York will no longer use the style "His Royal Highness" in any official capacity, a royal source told ABC News.

Andrew's military and patronage roles will be redistributed among members of the royal family, according to the source.

The last time Andrew, the father of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, appeared in a public capacity with the royal family was last April, when the family gathered in London for Prince Philip's funeral.

In November 2019, Andrew stepped back from public duties, saying in a statement at the time that his, "former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family's work and the valuable work going on in the many organizations and charities that I am proud to support."

The scrutiny over Andrew's relationship with Epstein, a convicted sex offender, increased even more in 2020, when Epstein died in prison from an apparent suicide.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York rejected Prince Andrew's claim that a 2009 settlement agreement between Giuffre and Epstein exempted him from civil litigation.

The settlement agreement releases from legal liability "other potential defendants" and attorneys for the Duke of York had argued that prevents her from suing him because he was a potential defendant in her earlier lawsuit.

The judge called the agreement "ambiguous" and lacked "clear and precise" drafting.

ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy said the ruling is likely what led the monarchy to establish more distance from Andrew.

"They are now going even further than they have gone previously in distancing themselves from him," she said. "It sends the message they understand the latest ruling has escalated the reputational damage and they want to put every last bit of distance they can between him and the monarchy."

Giuffre alleges Epstein trafficked her to Prince Andrew, who took advantage and sexually abused her when she was under 18.

Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied the allegation.

In response to the judge's ruling, a source close to Andrew told ABC News the duke "will continue to defend himself."

"Given the robustness with which Judge Kaplan greeted our arguments, we are unsurprised by the ruling. However, it was not a judgement on the merits of Ms Giuffre’s allegations," the source said. "This is a marathon not a sprint and the Duke will continue to defend himself against these claims.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday, telling ABC News, "We would not comment on what is an ongoing legal matter."

Andrew's U.S.-based legal team had previously signaled its intent to seek dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, arguing Giuffre cannot take advantage of the U.S. federal court system while she lives in Australia.

ABC News' Zoe Magee, Aaron Katersky and James Hill contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russian troops begin leaving Kazakhstan after government restores control

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(ALMATY, Kazakhstan) -- Russian-led troops sent to help Kazakhstan’s government quell violent protests have begun leaving the country, according to Russia’s defense minister.

Roughly 2,300 troops were dispatched to Kazakhstan last week by a Moscow-dominated alliance of former Soviet countries, after Kazakhstan’s president appealed for assistance amid the protests that saw his government lose control in the country’s biggest city, Almaty.

Kazakhstan’s government has since re-established its grip after its security forces forcibly ended the unrest, using live fire to clear the streets in Almaty, where over a hundred were killed. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev this week announced the foreign troops from the alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), had completed their mission and could leave now that the situation in the country was stable.

Russia’s defense ministry on Thursday said the first Russian paratrooper units had taken off from Almaty. Four Il-76 transports would fly the troops and their equipment to their base in the Russian city Ivanovo, the ministry said.

Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said the withdrawal was ongoing and would be completed by Jan. 19. In a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shoigu said the several hundred troops from other CSTO countries -- Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia -- would all leave on Russian aircraft on Friday. A contingent sent from neighboring Kyrgyzstan would leave by land, Shoigu said.

Putin in the meeting said the troops had completed their mission and thanked Russia’s military command.

“On the whole we need to return home -- we’ve completed our task,” Putin said.

Video published by Kazakh news media on Thursday showed CSTO troops taking part in a farewell ceremony in Kazakhstan, marching on a parade ground at a military institute in Almaty. Photos also showed Russian paratrooper boarding transport planes at the city’s airport.

Russia sent the largest contingent from the CSTO alliance, which was established as Moscow’s answer to NATO following the fall of the Soviet Union. The deployment was the first time Russia has acted through the alliance to assist a friendly regime against street protests in one of its former Soviet neighbors.

Peaceful protests began in Kazakhstan over fuel prices but they escalated into a violent uprising against Tokayev’s regime in the middle of last week. Armed mobs stormed government buildings and there was widespread looting in Almaty. Tokayev and Putin have claimed foreign-backed forces inside the country sought to exploit the unrest to stage an “attempted coup” against Tokayev.

Russia deployed soldiers as well as armored vehicles from the 45th Guards Special Purpose brigade, the 98th Guards Airborne Division and the 31st Separate Guards Order.

The Russian-led troops were not used in combat operations or against protesters, according to Kazakhstan’s authorities. Instead the foreign soldiers were used to guard key facilities, freeing up Kazakh security forces to restore order elsewhere, the government said. Russia’s defense ministry released video of Russian troops patrolling a power station.

Western countries, worried about Russian intervention in Kazakhstan, expressed concerns about whether Moscow might seek a more permanent presence in the country and whether its independence could be eroded. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last week told reporters: "One lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

The situation in Kazakhstan has calmed and Tokayev’s government appears to be back in control. In Almaty, normal life is returning, although there remains a heavy security presence in the city, according to an ABC reporter there.

Kazakhstan’s authorities said they arrested nearly 10,000 people during the protests. The interior ministry on Thursday said 524 people were currently in pre-trial detention and that 412 of them had been charged with offenses relating to the unrest. At least 164 people died, including 18 police officers, and over two thousand were injured, according to the government.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


French voting app Elyze matches users with presidential candidates that share their values

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(PARIS) -- What would you do if your ideal presidential candidate was only a few swipes away?

That's the promise of the French app Elyze, which was created by students Grégoire Gazcarra, 22, and François Mari, 19, who will participate in their first presidential election in less than three months.

Elyze is for voting, not dating, but like the popular dating app Tinder, it asks users to swipe right or left -- right to agree, left to disagree -- with more than 500 anonymous propositions. It then ranks each user's matches by affinity to each of the dozen candidates. In addition, the app offers a short explanation tab for each topic, and a third option if the user wants to pass rather than agree or disagree.

With the first round of the French presidential elections around the corner, Elyze's founders want to convince young French people to vote on April 10.

"I see around me that my friends have a more distanced, even more critical relationship with the political class, and that many people do not go to vote because they have the impression that politics no longer has an impact on their daily lives, that it is no longer able to improve our lives, and that their voices, their votes, will not change anything or even are not legitimate," Gazcarra told ABC News.

Elyze was invented to convince citizens, particularly young ones, "whatever their political sensitivity, their personal background, that their voice is worth hearing," Gazcarra added.

The app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times since its launch on Jan. 2.

Abstention, especially among young voters, regardless of the type of election, has been a major issue in France for many years now, with notably 82% of young people ages 18 to 35 having abstained from voting during the regional elections last year.

"Our generation is disconnected from social issues and presidential elections … and multiple initiatives tried to resolve these problems, but they did not use our generation's codes, like the swipe … So we try to use new codes," Mari, who first got interested in politics during the first lockdown, told ABC News.

Gazcarra, who founded the non-partisan movement "Les Engagés" in 2017 to "give young people a taste for politics," and co-created the NGO A Voté for "the defense of civil rights and democratic progress," is convinced that, even though many French politicians are on social media, education is to blame for young people's lack of interest and involvement in politics today.

"Our belief is that our generation is no less engaged than the previous ones, but it engages differently. … And we are convinced that to reconcile our generation with politics, we must reclaim its codes," Gazcarra said. "We must talk to young people where they are, especially in digital spaces. … there is still a challenge for politicians to truly understand how young people interact on these platforms and what they expect from them. That said, our drive with Elyze was … to explain that the real issue is that of pedagogy."

Since the start of his mandate, French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated his mastery of social media, and in recent months has increased his efforts toward connecting with young people. Back in May, in an unprecedented communication exercise, the president shot a video with famous YouTubers McFly and Carlito at the Élysée palace, following a challenge to reach 10 million views on their video about barrier measures against COVID-19.

Last summer, in a counter-offensive after the anti-health pass mobilization, he defended, phone in hand, the COVID-19 vaccination from Fort Brégançon, in a virtual Q&A with young people on TikTok and Instagram, while wearing a T-shirt.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases amid the omicron surge in France, the presidential candidates have had to adjust their campaigns to follow the recent health guidelines. In the opposition, The Republicans (LR) cancelled a 5,000-person gathering to induct their candidate, Valérie Pécresse, on Dec. 11.

While Elyze's creators hope to soon reach 1 million users, a recent Ifop poll revealed that more than half (59%) of 18- to 30-year-olds plan to not vote in the presidential election.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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