Israel’s Holocaust memorial opens a facility to store artifacts, photos and more

JERUSALEM — Israel’s national Holocaust museum opened a new conservation facility in Jerusalem on Monday that will preserve, restore and store its more than 45,000 artifacts and works of art in a vast new building, including five floors of underground storage.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, serves as both a museum and a research institution. It welcomes nearly a million visitors each year, leads the country’s annual Holocaust memorial day and hosts nearly all foreign dignitaries visiting Israel.

“Before we opened this building, it was very difficult to exhibit our treasures that were kept in our vaults. They were kind of secret,” said Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan. “Now there’s a state-of-the-art installation (that) will help us to exhibit them.”

The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center, located at the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, will also provide organization and storage for the museum’s 225 million pages of documents and half a million photographs.

Dayan said the materials will now be kept in a facility that preserves them in optimal temperatures and conditions.

“Yad Vashem has the largest collections in the world of materials related to the Holocaust,” Dayan said. “We will make sure that these treasures are kept for eternity.”

The new facility includes advanced, high-tech labs for conservation, enabling experts to revisit some of the museum’s trickier items, such as a film canister that a family who fled Austria in 1939 brought with them. It was donated to the museum but arrived in an advanced state of decay.

“The film arrived in the worst state it could. It smelled really bad,” said Reut Ilan-Shafik, a photography conservator at Yad Vashem. Over the years, the film had congealed into a solid piece of plastic, making it impossible to be scanned.

Using organic solvents, conservators were able to restore some of the film’s flexibility, allowing them to carefully unravel pieces of it. Using a microscope, Ilan-Shafik was able to see a few frames in their entirety, including one showing a couple kissing on a bench in a park and other snapshots of Europe before World War II.

“It is unbelievable to know that the images of the film that we otherwise thought lost to time” have been recovered, said Orit Feldberg, granddaughter of Hans and Klara Lebel, the couple featured in the photo.

Feldberg’s mother donated the film canister, one of the few things the Lebels were able to take with them when they fled Austria.

“These photographs not only tell their unique story but also keep their memory vibrantly alive,” Feldberg said.

Conservation of items from the Holocaust is an expensive, painstaking process that has taken on greater importance as the number of survivors dwindles.

Last month, the Auschwitz Memorial announced it had finished a half-million-dollar project to conserve 3,000 of the 8,000 pairs of children’s shoes that are on display at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

SpaceX rocket accident leaves Starlink satellites in wrong orbit 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX rocket failed for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving the company’s internet satellites in an orbit so low that they’re doomed to fall through the atmosphere and burn up. 

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Thursday night, carrying 20 Starlink satellites. Several minutes into the flight, the upper stage engine malfunctioned. SpaceX on Friday blamed a liquid oxygen leak. 

The company said flight controllers managed to make contact with half of the satellites and attempted to boost them to a higher orbit using onboard ion thrusters. But with the low end of their orbit 135 kilometers above Earth — less than half what was intended — “our maximum available thrust is unlikely to be enough to successfully raise the satellites,” the company said via X. 

SpaceX said the satellites will reenter the atmosphere and burn up. There was no mention of when they might come down. More than 6,000 orbiting Starlinks provide internet service to customers in some of the most remote corners of the world. 

The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem must be fixed before Falcon rockets can fly again. 

It was not known if or how the accident might impact SpaceX’s upcoming crew flights. A billionaire’s spaceflight is scheduled for July 31 from Florida with plans for the first private spacewalk, followed in mid-August by an astronaut flight to the International Space Station for NASA. 

The tech entrepreneur who will lead the private flight, Jared Isaacman, said Friday that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has “an incredible track record” and as well as an emergency escape system. 

The last launch failure occurred in 2015 during a space station cargo run. Another rocket exploded the following year during testing on the ground. 

SpaceX’s Elon Musk said the high flight rate will make it easier to identify and correct the problem. 

5 injured while running with bulls in Spain

Pamplona, Spain — Five runners were injured, but none were gored on the seventh day of Pamplona’s running of the bulls in northern Spain Saturday, the Red Cross said. 

The five injured people were hurt during Spain’s traditional annual San Fermin bull running festival, with most suffering bruising, local government sources said. 

The curtain went up on nine days of festivities earlier this week as thousands of revelers dressed in white clothes and red scarves filled the city’s main square for the “chupinazo” — the firecracker that launches an event dating back to medieval times.

The run became world famous after being immortalized by U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

The festivities include concerts, religious processions and copious amounts of wine.

Each day at 8 a.m., hundreds of attendees launch themselves into a dangerous 850 meters (930 yards) race, seeking to outrun — or at least avoid — six heavy fighting bulls through the city center’s narrow streets.

During the intense “running of the bulls” — which lasts less than three minutes — the runners try to get as close as possible to the animals in their sprint to the Pamplona bullring, where bullfights are held in the afternoon.

This year’s edition saw the day of San Fermin fall on a Sunday, allowing a stronger turnout than when the saint’s day falls on a weekday.

Anyone aged 18 or above may participate.

Dozens of people are injured each year, although most are injuries resulting from falls or being stomped by animals. To date, 16 deaths have also been recorded since 1911, the last coming in 2009.

Spain, England to contest Euro 2024 final in former Nazi stadium

BERLIN — Spain and England will play the European Championship final on Sunday in an imposing stadium with a dark history.

Built for the 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin’s Olympic stadium still bears the scars of World War II and contains relics from its Nazi past.

But the Olympiastadion, as it’s known in German, is also associated with the rebirth of a democratic Germany after the war. It hosted matches during the 1974 World Cup in what was then West Germany and again at the 2006 World Cup, 16 years after German reunification.

Hitler’s involvement

Adolf Hitler was personally involved in the design and construction of the 100,000-seat track-and-field stadium after the Nazis assumed power in 1933, two years after Germany had been awarded the 1936 Games.

Initially unenthused by the idea of hosting the Games, the Nazi dictator changed his mind after being convinced of their potential for propaganda.

Plans to remodel the existing national stadium were quickly scrapped in favor of constructing a whole new sports complex, the Reich Sports Field, on the same site. Werner March is credited as the architect of Olympiastadion.

Drawing inspiration from the Colosseum in Rome, the stadium was designed to impress. The Olympic Square in front of the main entrance is tapered, with flagpoles and lines of trees on either side heightening the sense of perspective. The idea was to increase the dramatic effect, raising visitors’ expectations and making them feel part of the event.

Up to 2,600 workers toiled on the Reich Sports Field at one stage to have it ready in time for the Games, which started August 1, 1936. The Nazi regime’s racist ideology deeply influenced the project as construction companies were told to only hire “complying, nonunion workers of German citizenship and Aryan race.”

A propaganda victory

Hitler watched from his stadium-balcony as Jesse Owens, a Black American athlete, won four gold medals to become the star of the Games, dealing a blow to Hitler’s notions of racial superiority.

However, the Games also delivered a propaganda victory for Nazi Germany. It won more medals than any other country and presented to the world a carefully crafted image of peace and tolerance that Hitler and his associates wanted to show. It was arguably the world’s first major case of “sportswashing.”

Olympiastadion was decked with hundreds of Nazi flags for the Games, and a swastika adorned one of the two towers holding the Olympic rings above the entrance. The swastika was removed in 1945.

Members of the Nazi paramilitary SA, commonly known as the Brownshirts, were ordered to stop their attacks against Jews during July and August 1936.

The Nazis were already pushing Jewish athletes out of German sports, and there were only two the Nazis considered half-Jewish who were allowed compete on the German team — fencer Helene Mayer and hockey player Rudi Ball.

“It was done to try and silence the critics a little bit,” said Ryan Balmer, a tour guide with degrees in modern history and literature who has lived in Berlin since 2008.

The Nazis also used the Reich Sports Field complex after the Olympics. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini visited in 1937, when he was welcomed by thousands of torch-carrying Nazis on the May Field behind the stadium. Up to 800,000 people reportedly took part.

Olympiastadion survives WWII

Olympiastadion and the Reich Sports Field were damaged in the war, although the stadium escaped relatively unscathed compared to the devastation wrought by Allied bombers in more central areas of Berlin. Many surviving buildings were reused with their Nazi iconography removed.

Olympiastadion fell in the British sector after the city was divided between the four victorious powers — the Soviet Union, the U.S., France and Britain. The British reopened the stadium in 1946 and maintained their military headquarters in the former Reich Sports Field until 1994.

Little was done to Olympiastadion after the war. It and the former the Reich Sports Field were given protected status in 1966, when Hitler’s balcony was shortened by 1 meter. The biggest renovations were made before Germany’s 2006 World Cup, when the stadium was crowned with a roof.

The stadium today

There are no attempts to hide the stadium’s Nazi past — modern-day Germany is adamant that the atrocities of the Nazi era should not be forgotten. Information signs in English and German are placed around the stadium to inform visitors about the site’s history.

While the swastikas have been removed, some Nazi relics remain. An eagle adorns a pillar beside what is now the training ground of Hertha Berlin, which plays its home games in the stadium. The old bell from the Bell Tower still displays a Nazi eagle and Olympic rings, but the swastika has been partially covered.

In a sign of Germany’s post-war rehabilitation, a large conference room in the stadium and a road running along the sports field’s southern perimeter have been named after Owens.

Visitors have mixed feelings about the stadium, which has a capacity of 71,000 during the European Championship. Many fans who attend matches at Olympiastadion are preoccupied with their respective teams’ fortunes and pay little attention to the information signs.

Balmer said the stadium could use “a more prominent reminder of how and why places like this were built.”

America’s pioneering sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer dies at 96

NEW YORK — Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the diminutive sex therapist who became a pop icon, media star and best-selling author through her frank talk about once-taboo bedroom topics, has died. She was 96.

Westheimer died on Friday at her home in New York City, surrounded by her family, according to publicist and friend Pierre Lehu.

Westheimer never advocated risky sexual behavior. Instead, she encouraged an open dialogue on previously closeted issues that affected her audience of millions. Her one recurring theme was that there was nothing to be ashamed of.

“I still hold old-fashioned values, and I’m a bit of a square,” she told students at Michigan City High School in 2002. “Sex is a private art and a private matter. But still, it is a subject we must talk about.”

Westheimer’s giggly, German-accented voice, coupled with her 4-foot-7 frame, made her an unlikely looking — and sounding — outlet for “sexual literacy.” The contradiction was one of the keys to her success.

But it was her extensive knowledge and training, coupled with her humorous, nonjudgmental manner, that catapulted her local radio program, “Sexually Speaking,” into the national spotlight in the early 1980s. She had a nonjudgmental approach to what two consenting adults did in the privacy of their home.

Her radio success opened new doors, and in 1983 she wrote the first of more than 40 books: “Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex,” demystifying sex with rationality and humor. There was even a board game, Dr. Ruth’s Game of Good Sex.

She soon became a regular on the late-night television talk-show circuit, bringing her personality to the national stage. Her rise coincided with the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when frank sexual talk became a necessity.

“If we could bring about talking about sexual activity the way we talk about diet — the way we talk about food — without it having this kind of connotation that there’s something not right about it, then we would be a step further. But we have to do it with good taste,” she told Johnny Carson in 1982.

She normalized the use of words such as “penis” and “vagina” on radio and TV, aided by her Jewish grandmotherly accent, which The Wall Street Journal once said was “a cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse.” People magazine included her in their list of “The Most Intriguing People of the Century.”

Westheimer defended abortion rights, suggested older people have sex after a good night’s sleep and was an outspoken advocate of condom use. She believed in monogamy.

In the 1980s, she stood up for gay men at the height of the AIDS epidemic and spoke out loudly for the LGBTQ community. She said she defended people deemed by some far-right Christians to be “subhuman” because of her own past.

Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1928, she was an only child. At 10, she was sent by her parents to Switzerland to escape Kristallnacht — the Nazis’ 1938 pogrom that served as a precursor to the Holocaust. She never saw her parents again; Westheimer believed they were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

At the age of 16, she moved to Palestine and joined the Haganah, the underground movement for Israeli independence. She was trained as a sniper, although she said she never shot at anyone.

Her legs were severely wounded when a bomb exploded in her dormitory, killing many of her friends. She said it was only through the work of a “superb” surgeon that she could walk and ski again.

She married her first husband, an Israeli soldier, in 1950, and they moved to Paris as she pursued an education. Although not a high school graduate, Westheimer was accepted into the Sorbonne to study psychology after passing an entrance exam.

The marriage ended in 1955; the next year, Westheimer went to New York with her new boyfriend, a Frenchman who became her second husband and father to her daughter, Miriam.

In 1961, after a second divorce, she finally met her life partner: Manfred Westheimer, a fellow refugee from Nazi Germany. The couple was married and had a son, Joel. They remained wed for 36 years until “Fred” — as she called him — died of heart failure in 1997.

After receiving her doctorate in education from Columbia University, she went on to teach at Lehman College in the Bronx. While there she developed a specialty — instructing professors how to teach sex education. It would eventually become the core of her curriculum.

“I soon realized that while I knew enough about education, I did not really know enough about sex,” she wrote in her 1987 autobiography. Westheimer then decided take classes with the renowned sex therapist, Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan.

It was there that she had discovered her calling. Soon, as she once said in a typically folksy comment, she was dispensing sexual advice “like good chicken soup.”

In 1984, her radio program was nationally syndicated. A year later, she debuted in her own television program, “The Dr. Ruth Show,” which went on to win an Ace Award for excellence in cable television.

She also wrote a nationally syndicated advice column and later appeared in a line of videos produced by Playboy, preaching the virtues of open sexual discourse and good sex. She even had her own board game, “Dr. Ruth’s Game of Good Sex,” and a series of calendars.

Her rise was noteworthy for the culture of the time, in which then-President Ronald Reagan’s administration was hostile to Planned Parenthood and aligned with conservative voices.

Marathon wedding hosted by India’s richest man holds country in thrall

NEW DELHI — When the son of Asia’s richest man gets married, the celebrations are expected to be lavish. But the breathtaking scale of the festivities held for the youngest son of Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani has become the talk of the country.

Anant Ambani tied the knot with his fiancée, Radhika Merchant, Friday in Mumbai at a star-studded event where the guests included reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, actors Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra and John Cena, former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Boris Johnson, as well as the who’s who of India from Bollywood stars and politicians to top businessmen.

The nuptials marked neither the start nor the end of the extravaganza. More parties are in store for the weekend. They will cap monthslong prewedding bashes where international pop stars Justin Bieber and Rihanna have performed, and India’s most popular actors have shaken a leg.

In India, where weddings have long been a display of status and wealth, the Ambani gala has surpassed anything the country has seen so far. For some it marked the arrival of Indian billionaires and their growing global clout. Others saw the glitzy celebrations as shining a light on the country’s growing wealth inequalities.

Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is estimated at $124 billion, according to Forbes. The family’s sprawling business empire, Reliance Industries, spans interests in petrochemicals and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

“If you look at it, in the past, it was the great Indian maharajas who lived and celebrated on this scale. The maharajas of this new era in India are really the billionaires,” Harish Bijoor, a brand consultant, told VOA in a phone interview.

“When guests come from across continents, it shows not just that they know how to do it in style, but also the influence they command,” he added.

Declaring the wedding a public event, Mumbai police blocked key roads around the Ambani-owned Jio Convention Center where ceremonies began last Friday. Many offices in the busy business hub where it is situated declared work-from-home for their staff.

The celebrations have set off a social media frenzy, with millions of Indians transfixed by the events. They have closely scrutinized the grand, sequin-studded outfits and stunning jewelry that included outsized emeralds and diamonds worn by the Ambani family. There has been huge speculation around how much the parties cost. The wedding invitations were made of silver and gold, according to local media reports.

While the events were private, leaked videos have made the rounds on social media.

Reliance’s official Facebook page has also shared some video clips of dance performances and photographs of the events.

The list of VIP’s who have joined in the celebrations is long. In March, at a three-day prewedding event in Ambani’s ancestral hometown of Jamnagar, among the 1,200 guests were tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and a string of Bollywood stars. One hundred chefs whipped up some 500 dishes. Rihanna performed for the guests.

In May, the Ambanis went on a four-day European cruise on a chartered luxury ship that began in the Sicilian city of Palermo and ended in Rome. Videos showed performances on the liner by the Backstreet Boys, Pitbull and David Guetta and singer Katy Perry belting out numbers at a masquerade ball in Cannes.

In Indian living rooms, where cricket, Bollywood and politics usually hog the conversation, the Ambani wedding has become the hot topic of conversation, with opinion divided on whether the celebrations are too ostentatious or the billionaire family had the right to spend their money as they want in a country where the big fat Indian wedding is the norm for even the middle class.

India’s wedding industry is worth $130 billion, nearly double that of the United States, according to a report by Jefferies, a global investment firm.

“Why should the Ambanis make it a small affair? If they have the money, then why should they not splash on their wedding when the average Indian also does the same?” Bindu Sachthey, a New Delhi resident told VOA. “I don’t agree with people who criticize or troll them for this gala affair. I am enjoying having a peek into how the ultrarich celebrate.”

As the Ambani fortunes have grown in recent decades, the family has scaled up its lifestyle. Their Mumbai residence, built in 2010, is a 27-story private apartment building, with three helipads, a private movie theater and a hanging garden.

Some said the ostentatious celebrations made them uncomfortable in a country where millionaires and billionaires are multiplying as the economy grows, but the per capita annual income is still about $2,700.

India has 200 billionaires, worth around $1trillion in wealth, nearly a quarter of the country’s 2023 gross domestic product, according to Forbes.

“I am very ambivalent about these celebrations. I would rather Indian billionaires do more for philanthropy and use their wealth for society rather than spend in this manner,” said author Gurcharan Das, author and former top business executive told VOA.

“But if some of the influential and rich foreign guests who came here decide that this is the time to invest in a rising India, I would say brilliant, the wedding would have served a purpose.” 

Demand for rare elements used in clean energy could help clean up abandoned coal mines in US

MOUNT STORM, West Virginia — Down a long gravel road, tucked into the hills in West Virginia, is a low-slung building where researchers are extracting essential elements from an old coal mine that they hope will strengthen the nation’s energy future.

They aren’t mining the coal that powered the steel mills and locomotives that helped industrialize America — and that is blamed for contributing to global warming.

Rather, researchers are finding that groundwater pouring out of this and other abandoned coal mines contains the rare earth elements and other valuable metals that are vital to making everything from electric vehicle motors to rechargeable batteries to fighter jets smaller, lighter or more powerful.

The pilot project run by West Virginia University is now part of an intensifying worldwide race to develop a secure supply of the valuable metals and, with more federal funding, it could grow to a commercial scale enterprise.

“The ultimate irony is that the stuff that has created climate change is now a solution, if we’re smart about it,” said John Quigley, a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

The technology that has been piloted at this facility in West Virginia could also pioneer a way to clean up vast amounts of coal mine drainage that poisons waterways across Appalachia.

The project is one of the leading efforts by the federal government as it injects more money than ever into recovering rare earth elements to expand renewable energies and fight climate change by reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

For the U.S., which like the rest of the West is beholden to a Chinese-controlled supply of these valuable metals, the pursuit of rare earth elements is also a national security priority.

Those involved, meanwhile, hope their efforts can bring jobs in clean energy to dying coal towns and clean up entrenched coal pollution that has hung around for decades.

In Pennsylvania alone, drainage from coal piles and abandoned mines has turned waterways red from iron ore and turquoise from aluminum, killing life in more than 8,000 kilometers of streams. Federal statistics also show about 1,200 square kilometers of abandoned and unreclaimed coal mine lands host more than 200 million tons of coal waste.

The metals that chemists are working to extract from mine drainage here are lightweight, powerfully magnetized and have superior fluorescent and conductive properties.

One aim of the Department of Energy is to fund research that proves to private companies that the concepts are commercially viable and profitable enough for them to invest their own money.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from President Joe Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law is accelerating the effort.

Department officials hope that by the middle of the 2030s this infusion will have spawned full-fledged commercial enterprises.

The two most advanced projects funded by the department are the one in West Virginia treating mine drainage and another processing coal dug up by lignite mining in North Dakota.

The first could be an important source of a number of critical metals, such as yttrium, neodymium and gadolinium, used in catalysts and magnets. The latter could be a major source of germanium and gallium, used in semiconductors, LEDs, electrical transmission components, solar panels and electric vehicle motors.

Researchers at each site are designing a commercial-scale operation, based on their pilot projects, in hopes of landing a massive federal grant to build it out.

The alternative would be to develop new mines, disturb more land, get permits, hire workers, build roads and connect power supplies, tasks that take years.

“With acid mind drainage, that’s already done for you,” said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Ziemkiewicz began the mine drainage project almost a decade ago, helped by federal subsidies. He had envisioned it as a way to treat runoff, recover critical minerals and raise money for more mine cleanups in West Virginia.

But the Biden administration’s ambitious funding for clean energy and a domestic supply of critical minerals broadened that goal.

At the facility, drainage from a one-time coal mine — now closed and covered by a grassy slope — emerges from two pipes, and dumps about 3,028 liters per minute into a retention pond.

From there the water is routed through massive indoor pools and a series of large tanks that, with the help of lime to lower the acidity, separate out most of the silicate, iron and aluminum. That produces a pale powdery concentrate that is about 95% rare earth oxides, plus water clean enough to return to a nearby creek.

The Department of Energy is funding research on coal wastes in various states.

“There are literally billions of tons of coal ash and coal waste lying around, across the country. And so if we can go back in and remine those, there’s decades worth of materials there,” said Grant Bromhal, the acting director of the Department of Energy’s Division of Minerals Sustainability.

Not only coal, but old copper and phosphate mines also hold potential, Bromhal said.

The country won’t be able to recover metals from all of them right away, but technologies the department is helping develop can satisfy a substantial part of demand in the next 20 to 30 years, Bromhal said.

“So if we get into the tens of percents or 50%, I think that’s in the realm of possibility,” he said.

Other solutions to obtain more of these metals are retrieving them from discarded devices and shifting sourcing to friendly nations and away from geopolitical rivals or unstable countries, analysts say. For now, there is only a handful of critical or rare earth mineral mines in the United States, although many more are being proposed.

One final subsidy will be required from the federal government: buy the reclaimed metals at a price that guarantees a commercially viable operation, Ziemkiewicz said.

That way China can’t simply buy up the product or use its market dominance to drive down prices and scare away private investors, he said.

Quigley, a former environmental protection secretary of Pennsylvania and a one-time small-city mayor in coal country, hopes to see a facility like Ziemkiewicz’s come to the Jeddo mine tunnel system in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Jeddo has defied decades of efforts to treat its flow, which drains a vast network of abandoned underground mines.

It is a massive source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, producing an estimated 114,000 to 151,000 liters per minute.

Bringing the Little Nescopeck Creek back to life could put people to work cleaning up the stream and creating recreational opportunities from a newly revived waterway, Quigley said.

“This could mean a lot to coal communities, to a lot of people in the coal region,” Quigley said. “And to the country.”

EU accepts Apple plan to open iPhone tap-to-pay to rivals

Brussels — The EU on Thursday approved Apple’s offer to allow rivals access to the iPhone’s ability to tap-to-pay within the bloc, ending a lengthy probe and sparing it a heavy fine.

The case dates back to 2022 when Brussels first accused Apple of blocking rivals from its popular iPhone tap payment system in a breach of EU competition law.

“Apple has committed to allow rivals to access the ‘tap and go’ technology of iPhones. Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“From now on, competitors will be able to effectively compete with Apple Pay for mobile payments with the iPhone in shops. So consumers will have a wider range of safe and innovative mobile wallets to choose from,” she said.

The EU previously found that Apple enjoyed a dominant position by restricting access to “tap-as-you-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices to interconnect within a very short range, to favor its own system.

Now competitors will have access to the standard technology behind contactless payments to offer alternative tap-to-pay tools to iPhone users in the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Only customers with an Apple ID registered in the EEA would be able to make use of these outside apps, the European Commission said in a statement.

The changes must remain in force for 10 years and a “monitoring trustee” must be chosen by Apple to report to the commission during that period on their implementation.

Apple had risked a fine of up to 10% of its total worldwide annual turnover. Apple’s total revenue in the year to September 2023 stood at $383 billion.

“Apple Pay and Apple Wallet will continue to be available in the EEA for users and developers, and will continue to provide an easy, secure and private way to pay, as well as present passes seamlessly from Apple Wallet,” the company said in a statement.

The probe’s conclusion comes at a particularly difficult moment in relations between the EU and Apple, especially over the bloc’s new competition rules for big tech.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) seeks to ensure tech titans do not privilege their own services over rivals, but the iPhone maker says it puts users’ privacy at risk.

One of the DMA’s main objectives is to give consumers more choice in the web browsers, app marketplaces, search engines and other digital services they use.

The EU in June accused Apple of breaching the DMA by preventing developers from freely pointing consumers to alternative channels for offers and content outside of its proprietary App Store.

It also kickstarted another probe under the DMA into Apple’s new fees for app developers.

The company could face heavy fines if the DMA violations are confirmed.

In March, the EU slapped a $1.9 billion fine on Apple in a different antitrust case but the company has appealed the penalty in an EU court.

Brussels also forced Apple last year to scrap its Lightning port on new iPhone models, in a change that was introduced worldwide and not just in Europe.

Library of Congress awards prize for American fiction to James McBride

NEW YORK — The Library of Congress has awarded a lifetime achievement prize to James McBride, whose acclaimed novels include The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, Deacon King Kong and The Good Lord Bird. 

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Thursday that McBride, whose story lines have ranged from the crusades of abolitionist John Brown to a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, is this year’s winner of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. The award, previously given to Marilynne Robinson and Don DeLillo among others, is given to an American author who excels as a prose stylist and creative thinker. 

“I’m honored to bestow the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction on a writer as imaginative and knowing as James McBride,” Hayden said in a statement. “McBride knows the American soul deeply, reflecting our struggles and triumphs in his fiction, which so many readers have intimately connected with. I, also, am one of his enthusiastic readers.” 

McBride, 66, said in a statement that he wished his mother were alive to hear of his prize. He then joked, “Does it mean I can use the Library? If so, I’m double thrilled.” 

McBride has been among the country’s most honored authors in recent years, winning a National Book Award for Good Lord Bird, the Kirkus Prize for The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store and the Carnegie Medal for Deacon King Kong, which Oprah Winfrey chose for her book club. In 2016, he was given a National Humanities Medal. 

On August 24, he will discuss The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., a gathering hosted by the Library of Congress. 

Colombia beats Uruguay, will face Messi and Argentina in Copa America final

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Colombia is headed to the Copa America championship game for the first time in 23 years after a contentious win over Uruguay in which it played the second half a man short and players brawled with fans in the stands following the final whistle.

Jefferson Lerma scored in the 39th minute for a 1-0 win Wednesday night and a matchup with Lionel Messi and defending champion Argentina on Sunday.

“Until you overcome your weaknesses you cannot grow,” Colombia coach Nester Lorenzo said through a interpreter. “And when you overcome those obstacles, you can grow.”

Daniel Muñoz was ejected in first-half stoppage time for an elbow that led to his second yellow card. Despite Uruguay having 61.9% possession, Colombia held on to reach the championship for the first time since winning its only Copa title as host in 2001.

Colombia extended its unbeaten streak to a team record 28 games, one more than from 1992-94 and the longest current streak in men’s international football.

“They are very hungry as players and very eager and they really add many elements to their game beyond the tactical side,” Lorenzo said.

In a match that included seven yellow cards in addition to the red, players from both teams pushed and shoved in a scrum on the field at the final whistle. Darwin Núñez and about a dozen Uruguay teammates went into the stands as fans brawled.

A video showed Núñez hitting a fan in Colombian team colors.

CONMEBOL released a statement after the game saying that it strongly condemns any act of violence that affects the game.

“Our work is based on the conviction that soccer connects and unites us through its positive values,” the organization said. “There is no place for intolerance and violence on and off the field. We invite everyone in the remaining days to pour all of their passion into cheering on their national teams and having an unforgettable party.”

Defending champion Argentina and Colombia meet at Miami Gardens, Florida, in the tournament finale. The Albiceleste are seeking a record 16th Copa title and are looking to join Spain from 2008-12 as the only countries to win three straight major championships.

Uruguay stays in Charlotte to meet Canada in Saturday night’s third-place match.

Before an overwhelmingly pro-Colombia crowd of 70,644 that filled Bank of America Stadium with yellow jerseys and flags, Uruguay fell behind for the first time in the tournament.

James Rodríguez’s corner kick was headed in from short range by Lerma, who outjumped José María Giménez for his third international goal and second of the tournament. Rodríguez has six assists in the tournament — triple the total of any other player.

Muñoz received his first yellow card from Mexican referee César Ramos in the 31st minute for a reckless slide tackle on Maximiliano Araújo and his second for elbowing Manuel Ugarte in the stomach.

Rodríguez was given a yellow card in the 55th minute for arguing with Ramos when the referee failed to stop play after Richard Ríos was kicked on a shin by Darwin Núñez.

Ríos was removed on a stretcher, re-entered the match, then went down in another challenge and was substituted in the 62nd minute. Rodríguez was removed at the same time to keep him eligible for the final.

Colombia goalkeeper Camilo Vargas didn’t have to make his first save until he stopped Nicolás de la Cruz in the 68th minute.

Luis Suárez, Uruguay’s career leader with 68 goals, entered in the 66th minute and hit the outside of a post with a shot in the 71st. He grasped his head in his hands in disgust.

“The moments in which we could unbalance the game, we did not succeed,” Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa said. “We should have generated more goal situations than we did.”

Colombia’s Mateus Uribe, another second-half sub, put an open shot wide in the 88th, and Uribe’s open shot in the fourth minute of stoppage time ricocheted off the body of sliding goalkeeper Sergio Rochet and then the crossbar.

Uruguay moved Rochet up to the attacking half of the field in the final minute, desperate for a goal.

The match was played in 90-degree heat on a surface that was converted from artificial turf to grass in the weeks leading up the game.

Players on the NFL’s Carolina Panthers have been outspoken about football teams having the luxury of playing on grass on their home field. Players say NFL games on artificial turf leave them more susceptible to injuries.

With two games left, attendance of 1.48 million is just 1,663 shy of the total for the 2016 tournament in the United States.

Las Vegas hits record of fifth consecutive day of 46.1 Celsius or greater

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas baked Wednesday in its record fifth consecutive day of temperatures sizzling at 46.1 Celsius or greater amid a lengthening hot spell that is expected to broil much of the U.S. into the weekend.

The temperature climbed to 46.1 shortly after 1 p.m. at Harry Reid International Airport, breaking the old mark of four consecutive days set in July 2005. And the record could be extended, or even doubled, by the weekend.

Even by desert standards, the prolonged baking that Nevada’s largest city is experiencing is nearly unprecedented, with forecasters calling it “the most extreme heat wave” since the National Weather Service began keeping records in Las Vegas in 1937.

Already the city has broken 16 heat records since June 1, well before the official start of summer, “and we’re not even halfway through July yet,” meteorologist Morgan Stessman said Wednesday. That includes an all-time high of 48.8 C set on Sunday, which beat the previous 47.2 C record.

Alyse Sobosan said this July has felt the hottest in the 15 years she has lived in Las Vegas. She said she doesn’t step outside during the day if she can help it.

“It’s oppressively hot,” she said. “It’s like you can’t really live your life.”

It’s also dangerously hot, health officials have emphasized. There have been at least nine heat-related deaths this year in Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, according to the county coroner’s office. Officials say the toll is likely higher.

“Even people of average age who are seemingly healthy can suffer heat illness when it’s so hot it’s hard for your body to cool down,” said Alexis Brignola, an epidemiologist at the Southern Nevada Health District.

For homeless residents and others without access to safe environments, officials have set up emergency cooling centers at community centers across southern Nevada.

The Las Vegas area has been under an excessive heat warning on three separate occasions this summer, totaling about 12 days of dangerous heat with little relief even after the sun goes down, Stessman said.

Keith Bailey and Lee Doss met early Wednesday morning at a Las Vegas park to beat the heat and exercise their dogs, Breakie, Ollie and Stanley.

“If I don’t get out by 8:30 in the morning, then it’s not going to happen that day,” Bailey said, wearing a sunhat while the dogs played in the grass.

More than 142 million people around the U.S. were under heat alerts Wednesday, especially in Western states, where dozens of locations tied or broke heat records over the weekend and are expected to keep doing so all week.

Oregon has seen record daily high temperatures, with Portland reaching 39.4 C and Salem and Eugene hitting 40.5 C on Tuesday. The number of potentially heat-related deaths in Oregon has risen to 10, according to the state medical examiner’s office. The latest two deaths involved a 54-year-old man in Jackson County and a 27-year-old man in Klamath County.

On the other side of the nation, the National Weather Service warned of major-to-extreme heat risk over portions of the East Coast.

An excessive heat warning remained in place Wednesday for the Philadelphia area, northern Delaware and nearly all of New Jersey. Temperatures were around 32.2 C for most of the region, and forecasters warned the heat index could soar as high as 42.2 C. The warning was due to expire at 8 p.m. Wednesday, though forecasters said there may be a need to extend it.

The heat was blamed for a motorcyclist’s death over the weekend in Death Valley National Park. At Death Valley on Tuesday, tourists queued for photos in front of a giant thermometer that was reading 48.9 C.

Simon Pell and Lisa Gregory from London left their air-conditioned RV to experience a midday blast of heat that would be unthinkable back home.

“I wanted to experience what it would feel like,” Pell said. “It’s an incredible experience.”

At the Grand Canyon, the National Park Service was investigating the third hiker death in recent weeks. Temperatures on parts of some trails can reach 49 C in the shade.

An excessive heat warning continued Wednesday in many parts of southern and central Arizona. Forecasters said the high in Phoenix was expected to reach 45.5 C after it hit 46.6 C Tuesday, tying the previous record for the date set in 1958.

Authorities were investigating the death of a 2-year-old who was left alone in a hot vehicle Tuesday afternoon in Marana, near Tucson, police said. At Lake Havasu, a 4-month-old died from heat-related complications Friday, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department said.

The U.S. heat wave came as the global temperature in June was a record warm for the 13th straight month and marked the 12th straight month that the world was 1.5 degrees Celsius  warmer than pre-industrial times, the European climate service Copernicus said. Most of this heat, trapped by human-caused climate change, is from long-term warming from greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, scientists say.

Firefighters in Henderson, Nevada, last week became the first in the region to deploy what city spokesperson Madeleine Skains called “polar pods,” devices filled with water and ice to cool a person exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke or a related medical emergency.

Extreme heat in the West has also dried out vegetation that fuels wildfires.

A blaze burning in northern Oregon, about 178 kilometers east of Portland, blew up to 28 square kilometers by Wednesday afternoon due to hot temperatures, gusty wind and low humidity, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal. The Larch Creek Fire closed Highway 197 and forced evacuations for remote homes.

In California, firefighters were battling least 19 wildfires Wednesday, including a 117-square-kilometer blaze that prompted evacuation orders for about 200 homes in the mountains of Santa Barbara County.

EcoFlow DELTA Pro 3 Portable Power Station

EcoFlow DELTA Pro 3 Portable Power Station + 220W Solar Panel. 4kWh Capacity, 4kW Output

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EcoFlow DELTA Pro Portable Power Station

Introducing the world’s first portable home battery with an expandable ecosystem for home backup, outdoor recreations, professional production, smart energy management, lower energy bills, and more. The EcoFlow DELTA Pro is the next leap in portable power technology, offering you power security and independence, wherever you are.

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A clean energy alternative. Replace noisy, smoky generators with a silent, fume-free, portable home battery. Unlike generators, batteries are ideal for both outdoor and indoor use, running all your essentials during a blackout. And, with the help of solar energy, recharge during an extended outage.

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In ‘Rust’ trial, Alec Baldwin accused of breaking gun rules; defense blames experts

SANTA FE, New Mexico — A New Mexico prosecutor on Wednesday said Alec Baldwin broke “cardinal rules” of gun safety in the 2021 killing of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while his lawyer said he was failed by firearms experts. 

The 66-year-old Baldwin, on trial in Hollywood’s first on-set shooting fatality in three decades, took notes at the defense table and listened calmly to opening statements in his involuntary manslaughter trial. The trial is largely unprecedented in U.S. history, holding an actor criminally responsible for a gun death during filming. 

A New Mexico jury of 12 and four alternates — 11 women and five men — heard prosecutor Erlinda Johnson outline arguments that Baldwin disregarded safety during filming of the low-budget movie before pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal, cocking it and pulling the trigger as they set up a camera shot on a set southwest of Santa Fe. 

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Johnson said. 

Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Baldwin sat in the second row of the public gallery, his brother Stephen Baldwin in front of her. 

His lawyer Alex Spiro pointed to “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez — head of gun safety — and first assistant director Dave Halls — responsible for overall set safety. Both have been convicted in the shooting, and Spiro said they did not check the rounds in the gun to ensure it was safe for Baldwin to use.  

“There were people responsible for firearms safety but actor Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” said Spiro. 

Hutchins was killed, and director Joel Souza wounded when Baldwin’s reproduction 1873 Single Action Army revolver fired a live round, inadvertently loaded by Gutierrez. 

Since a police interview on Oct. 21, 2021, the day of the shooting, Baldwin has argued the gun just “went off.”  

In an ABC News interview two months later, Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger. A 2022 FBI test found the gun was in normal working condition and would not fire from full cock without the trigger being pulled. 

Spiro said during his opening arguments that no one saw Baldwin “intentionally pull the trigger,” but that it was the responsibility of firearms safety experts to ensure a firearm was safe for an actor “to wave it, to point it, to pull the trigger, like actors do.”  

State prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in January 2022. They dropped charges three months later after Baldwin’s lawyers presented photographic evidence the gun was modified, arguing it would fire more easily, bolstering the actor’s accidental discharge argument. 

Prosecutors called a grand jury to reinstate the charge in January after an independent firearms expert confirmed the 2022 FBI study. 

FBI testing broke the gun, and Baldwin’s lawyers will tell jurors that destruction of the weapon prevented them from proving the gun was modified. 

Armorer Gutierrez, whose job on the set of “Rust” included managing firearms safely, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March for loading the live round.

Prosecutors will have to persuade jurors Baldwin is also guilty of willful and reckless criminal negligence.

Astronauts confident Boeing space capsule can safely return to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Two astronauts who should have been back on Earth weeks ago said Wednesday that they’re confident that Boeing’s space capsule can return them safely, despite breakdowns.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams launched aboard Boeing’s new Starliner capsule early last month, the first people to ride it. Leaks and thruster failures almost derailed their arrival at the International Space Station and have kept them there much longer than planned.

In their first news conference from orbit, they said they expect to return once thruster testing is complete on Earth. They said they’re not complaining about getting extra time in orbit and are enjoying helping the station crew.

“I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” Williams told reporters.

The two rocketed into orbit on June 5 on the test flight, which was originally supposed to last eight days.

NASA ordered the Starliner and SpaceX Dragon capsules a decade ago for astronaut flights to and from the space station, paying each company billions of dollars. SpaceX’s first taxi flight with astronauts was in 2020. Boeing’s first crew flight was repeatedly delayed because of software and other issues.

Russian election meddlers hurting Biden, helping Trump, US intelligence warns

WASHINGTON — Russia is turning to a familiar playbook in its attempt to sway the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, looking for ways to boost the candidacy of former President Donald Trump by disparaging the campaign of incumbent President Joe Biden, according to American intelligence officials. 

A new assessment of threats to the November election, shared Tuesday, does not mention either candidate by name. But an intelligence official told reporters that the Kremlin view of the U.S. political landscape has not changed from previous election cycles.

“We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections,” the official told reporters, agreeing to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity.

The official said that preference has been further cemented by “the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.”

The caution from U.S. intelligence officials comes nearly four years after it issued a similar warning about the 2020 presidential elections, which pitted then-President Trump against Biden.

Moscow was using “a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” William Evanina, the then-head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at the time.

“Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” he added. 

A declassified post-election assessment, released in March 2021, reaffirmed the initial findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized “influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party” while offering support for Trump, the report said. 

U.S. intelligence officials said they have been in contact with both presidential campaigns and the candidates but declined to share what sort of information may have been shared.

Trump pushback

The Trump campaign Tuesday rejected the U.S. intelligence assessment as backward.

“Vladimir Putin endorsed Joe Biden for President because he knows Biden is weak and can easily be bullied, as evidenced by Putin’s years-long invasion of Ukraine,” national press secretary Karoline Leavitt told VOA in an email.

“When President Trump was in the Oval Office, Russia and all of America’s adversaries were deterred, because they feared how the United States would respond,” she said.

“The only people in America who don’t see this clear contrast between Biden’s ineffective weakness versus Trump’s effective peace through strength approach are the left-wing stenographers in the mainstream media who write false narratives about Donald Trump for a living,” she added.

The Biden campaign has so far not responded to questions from VOA about the new U.S. assessment.

Russian sophistication

Russian officials also have not yet responded to requests for comment on the latest allegations, which accuse the Kremlin of using a “whole of government” approach to see Trump and other American candidates perceived as favorable to Moscow win in November.

“Moscow is using a variety of approaches to bolster its messaging and lend an air of authenticity to its efforts,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “This includes outsourcing its efforts to commercial firms to hide its hand and laundering narratives through influential U.S. voices.”

Russia’s efforts also appear focused on targeting U.S. voters in so-called swing states, states most likely to impact the outcome of the presidential election, officials said.

Some of those efforts have already come to light.

Russia and AI

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the seizure of two internet domains and of another 968 accounts on the X social media platform, part of what officials described an artificial intelligence-driven venture by Russian intelligence and Russia’s state-run RT news network.

A Justice Department statement said Russian intelligence and RT used specific AI software to create authentic-looking social media accounts to mimic U.S. individuals, “which the operators then used to promote messages in support of Russian government objectives.”

A joint advisory, issued simultaneously by the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, warned Russia was in the process of expanding the AI-fueled influence operation to other social media platforms.

The U.S. intelligence official who spoke to reporters Tuesday described such use of AI as a “malign influence accelerant,” and warned the technology had already been deployed, likely by China, in the run-up to Taiwan’s elections this past January.

China waiting

For now, though, U.S. intelligence officials see few indications Beijing is seeking to interfere in U.S. elections, as it did in 2020 and 2022. 

China “sees little gain in choosing between two parties that are perceived as both seeking to contain Beijing,” said the U.S. intelligence official, noting things could change.

“The PRC is seeking to expand its ability to collect and monitor data on U.S. social media platforms, probably to better understand and eventually manipulate public opinion,” the official said. “In addition, we are watching for whether China might seek to influence select down-ballot races as it did in the 2022 midterm elections.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, which has denied previous U.S. allegations, responded by calling the U.S. “the biggest disseminator of disinformation.”

“China has no intention and will not interfere in the US election, and we hope that the US side will not make an issue of China in the election,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email.

‘Chaos agent’

The new U.S. election threat assessment warns that in addition to concerns about Russia and China, there is growing evidence Iran is seeking to play the role of a “chaos agent” in the upcoming U.S. vote.

“Iran seeks to stoke social divisions and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions around the elections,” according to an unclassified version of the assessment. 

It also warned that Tehran “has demonstrated a long-standing interest in exploiting U.S. political and societal tensions through various means, including social media.”

As an example, officials Tuesday pointed to newly declassified intelligence showing Iran trying to exploit pro-Gaza protests across the U.S.

“We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters,” said National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.

Haines cautioned, though, that Americans who interacted with the Iranian actors “may not be aware that they are interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government.”

Iranian officials have not yet responded to VOA’s request for comment.

 

Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket successfully launches for first time

Kourou, France — Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket successfully blasted off for the first time on Tuesday, releasing satellites into orbit and restoring the continent’s independent access to space.

European space efforts have suffered a series of blows, including four years of delays on Ariane 6, that have robbed the continent of its own way to launch missions into space for the past year. 

But with the successful inaugural flight of Europe’s most powerful rocket yet, European space chiefs were keen to move on from recent setbacks. 

“It’s a historic day for Europe,” European Space Agency head Josef Aschbacher said.  

“Europe is back,” announced Philippe Baptiste, head of France’s CNES space agency. 

Surrounded by jungle on the South American coast, the rocket launched from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 4 p.m. local time (1900 GMT). 

The crew in the Jupiter control room, located 17 kilometers from the launch site, portrayed calm. 

Then head of operations Raymond Boyce announced, “propulsion nominal,” meaning that the launch was going as planned. 

Applause rang out in the room. 

Even louder applause came a little over an hour later, when the rocket successfully delivered microsatellites into orbit. 

NASA chief Bill Nelson on X welcomed the “giant leap forward” for the ESA. 

But Martin Sion, the CEO of the rocket’s manufacturer ArianeGroup, emphasized that “the mission is not yet complete.” 

It will only be fully completed when the reusable Vinci engine in the rocket’s upper stage has fallen back into Earth’s atmosphere. 

This is expected around three hours after liftoff. 

Since the last flight of its workhorse predecessor, Ariane 5, a year ago, Europe has had to rely on rivals such as Elon Musk’s U.S. firm SpaceX. 

Ariane 6 will be able to place satellites in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers (22,369.36 miles) above Earth, as well as satellite constellations a few hundreds of kilometers up. 

The first flight was carrying a payload of university microsatellites, various experiments and two atmospheric re-entry capsules that will be jettisoned near the end of the mission. 

The last of three ignitions of the Vinci engine will be to shoot the Vinci engine back down into the Pacific Ocean, so it does not contribute to the space debris cluttering Earth’s orbit. 

After months of analyzing the rocket’s inaugural launch, a first commercial flight is expected before the end of the year. 

The next challenge will be to “successfully ramp up” the number of flights, ESA space transportation director Toni Tolker-Nielsen said. 

Six launches are scheduled for next year, and eight for 2026. 

Purdue Pharma secures litigation freeze after US Supreme Court ruling

New York — Purdue Pharma on Tuesday received U.S. court approval for a 60-day freeze on lawsuits against its owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — in its first court appearance since a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling upended its bankruptcy settlement.  

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane granted an injunction at a court hearing in White Plains, New York, saying that a litigation cease-fire will give Purdue a chance to renegotiate a comprehensive settlement of lawsuits alleging that its painkiller OxyContin spurred an opioid addiction crisis in the U.S.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 27 that Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement cannot shield the Sacklers, who did not file for bankruptcy themselves, over their role in the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic. 

The ruling sent Purdue back to the drawing board after nearly five years in bankruptcy and imperils billions of dollars in funding that the company and the Sacklers had promised to pay toward addressing the harms from the crisis. 

Lawsuits against Purdue and Sackler family members by state and local governments, as well as by individual plaintiffs, have accused them of fueling the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing of its pain medication. The company pleaded guilty to misbranding and fraud charges related to its marketing of OxyContin in 2007 and 2020.  

Purdue’s bankruptcy has stopped the opioid lawsuits from proceeding against the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker since 2019, and Purdue has extended that legal protection to the Sacklers, as well. 

Purdue’s attorney, Marshall Huebner, said the company will engage in “a high-speed, high-stakes mediation” with the Sacklers, state and local governments and other stakeholders. Protecting the Sacklers during a “modest” 60-day negotiating period will give Purdue a real chance to negotiate a new bankruptcy settlement and put money toward stopping opioid overdoses and treating addiction, Huebner said. 

“Every single day of delay continues to come at a tragic, tragic cost,” Huebner said. 

Several stakeholders expressed hope for a settlement but said mediation should not be extended beyond the 60-day schedule proposed by Purdue. 

“It is essential to all parties in this case that we bring this five-year Chapter 11 case to a conclusion,” said Kenneth Eckstein, an attorney representing a coalition of state and local governments.  

During the hearing, Lane also appointed two mediators to aid settlement talks, including retired bankruptcy judge Shelley Chapman, who brokered a previous deal under which the Sacklers agreed to pay up to $6 billion to settle the opioid lawsuits. Eric Green will serve as the other mediator.  

If mediation fails, Purdue has said a court-appointed committee representing its creditors should be allowed to sue the Sacklers over claims they drained more thabn $11 billion from the company and that their conduct made Purdue liable for other lawsuits. 

The Sacklers have said the creditors’ proposed litigation is counterproductive and based on “factual errors.” Members of the family have denied wrongdoing and would fiercely oppose any litigation if the settlement talks break down, their attorneys said.  

“No one is assured of a recovery in this court or any other court,” said Gerard Uzzi, an attorney representing members of the Sackler family.  

Purdue’s previous bankruptcy settlement was supported by attorneys general from all 50 states, local governments and most of the individual opioid victims who voted on it.  

But it has also had detractors such as Carrie McGaha, who has had repeated overdoses and said Tuesday that individuals have been placed at the “bottom of the heap” throughout Purdue’s bankruptcy.