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Musk Visits Brazil’s Bolsonaro to Discuss Amazon Rainforest Plans 

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk met with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday to discuss connectivity and other projects in the Amazon rainforest. 

The meeting, held in a luxurious resort in Sao Paulo state, was organized by Communications Minister Fabio Faria, who has said he is seeking partnerships with the world’s richest man to bring or improve internet in schools and health facilities in rural areas using technology developed by SpaceX and Starlink, and also to preserve the rainforest. 

“Super excited to be in Brazil for launch of Starlink for 19,000 unconnected schools in rural areas & environmental monitoring of Amazon,” Musk tweeted Friday morning. 

Illegal activities in the vast Amazon rainforest are monitored by several institutions, such as the national space agency, federal police and environmental regulator Ibama. 

But deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged under Bolsonaro, reaching its highest annual rate in more than a decade, according to official data from the national space agency. Bolsonaro’s critics say he is largely to blame, having emboldened loggers and land grabbers with his fervent support for development of the region. 

During the event, Bolsonaro said the region was “really important” to Brazil. 

“We count on Elon Musk so that the Amazon is known by everyone in Brazil and in the world, to show the exuberance of this region, how we are preserving it, and how much harm those who spread lies about this region are doing to us,” he said. 

Bolsonaro and Musk appeared in a video transmitted live on the president’s Facebook account, standing together on a stage and answering questions from a group of students. 

“A lot can be done to improve quality of life through technology,” Musk told the crowd. 

Although none of the students asked about Musk’s prospective purchase of Twitter, Bolsonaro said that it represented a “breath of hope.” 

“Freedom is the cement for the future,” he said, calling the billionaire a “legend of freedom.” 

Musk has offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion, but said this week the deal can’t go forward until the company provides information about how many accounts on the platform are spam or bots. 

Like Musk, Bolsonaro has sought to position himself as a champion of free speech and has opposed the deplatforming of individuals including his ally, former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

The meeting with Bolsonaro occurs just five months before the far-right leader will seek a second term in a hotly anticipated election.

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African Scientists Baffled by Monkeypox Cases in Europe, US 

Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America. 

Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa. But in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, U.S., Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously traveled to Africa. 

France, Germany, Belgium and Australia confirmed their first cases Friday. 

“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several World Health Organization advisory boards. 

“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said. 

To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, a rash and lesions on the face, hands or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to 1 in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective, and some antiviral drugs are being developed. 

British health officials are exploring whether the disease is being sexually transmitted. Health officials have asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases but said the risk to the general population is low. The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all suspected cases be isolated and that high-risk contacts be offered smallpox vaccine. 

Nigeria reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, WHO said. Outbreaks are usually in rural areas, when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels, Tomori said. He said many cases are likely missed. 

Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, head of the country’s Center for Disease Control, said none of the Nigerian contacts of the British patients have developed symptoms and that investigations were ongoing. 

WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, described the outbreak as “atypical,” saying the appearance of the disease in so many countries across the continent suggested that “transmission has been ongoing for some time.” He said most of the European cases are mild. 

On Friday, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases, saying that “a notable proportion” of the most recent infections in the U.K. and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa who had sex with men. Authorities in Spain and Portugal said their cases were the same. 

Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex or other close contact related to sex. 

Nigeria hasn’t seen sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he noted that viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread. 

The same could be true of monkeypox, Tomori said. 

In Germany, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government was confident the outbreak could be contained. He said the virus was being sequenced to see if there were any genetic changes that might have made it more infectious. 

Rolf Gustafson, an infectious diseases professor, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that it was “very difficult” to imagine the situation might worsen. 

“We will certainly find some further cases in Sweden, but I do not think there will be an epidemic in any way,” Gustafson said. “There is nothing to suggest that at present.” 

Scientists said that while it’s possible the outbreak’s first patient caught the disease while in Africa, what’s happening now is exceptional. 

“We’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in Europe,” said Christian Happi, director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases. “We haven’t seen anything to say that the transmission patterns of monkeypox have been changing in Africa. So, if something different is happening in Europe, then Europe needs to investigate that.” 

Happi also pointed out that the suspension of smallpox vaccination campaigns after the disease was eradicated in 1980 might inadvertently be helping monkeypox spread. Smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox, but mass immunization was stopped decades ago. 

“Aside from people in west and Central Africa who may have some immunity to monkeypox from past exposure, not having any smallpox vaccination means nobody has any kind of immunity to monkeypox,” Happi said. 

Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said a detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, was now critical. 

“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction,” he said. “In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.” 

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Scanning the Corpse’s Face: Ukrainians Using Facial Recognition Technology to Identify Russian Soldiers

The Ukrainian government is using facial recognition software to identify Russian soldiers captured and dead. VOA’s Julie Taboh spoke with one software company CEO and an official with the Ukrainian national police about how the technology is contributing to the war effort

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Rosmarie Trapp, Whose Family Inspired ‘Sound of Music,’ Dies

Rosmarie Trapp, whose Austrian family the von Trapps was made famous in the musical and beloved movie “The Sound of Music,” has died.

She died Friday at the age of 93 at a nursing home in Morrisville, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge announced. Her brother Johannes is president of the Stowe resort.

Rosmarie was the first daughter of Austrian naval Capt. Georg von Trapp and Maria von Trapp, and a younger half-sibling to the older von Trapp children portrayed on stage and in the movie. The family escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 and performed singing tours throughout Europe and America. They settled in Vermont in the early 1940s and opened a ski lodge in Stowe.

“She traveled and performed with the Trapp Family Singers for many years, and worked at the Trapp Family Lodge in its infancy when the family first began hosting guests in their home,” Trapp Family Lodge said in a statement.

“Her kindness, generosity, and colorful spirit were legendary, and she had a positive impact on countless lives,” the statement said. 

“The Sound of Music,” was based loosely on a 1949 book by Maria von Trapp. Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp, had seven children. After his first wife died, Georg married Maria, who taught the children music.

Georg and Maria von Trapp had three more children, Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes, who were not portrayed in the movie. Eleonore “Lorli” von Trapp Campbell died in October in Northfield, Vermont.

When she became a U.S. citizen in 1951, she signed her name as Rosmarie Trapp, leaving out von, according to the lodge.

Rosmarie worked for five years as a missionary and teacher in Papua New Guinea with her sister Maria, her relatives said. In Stowe, she was known for walking everywhere, frequently pulling her purchases home in a wagon or cart. She also wrote frequent letters to the local newspaper, where she was given her own space, “Rosmarie’s Corner,” for her stories, they said. She led sing-alongs, knitting circles, spun wool, owned multiple thrift shops and loved to teach people to sing, they said.

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In Paris, Green Forum Traces More Durable Footprint for the Planet

People suffering from eco-anxiety — the fear of environmental catastrophe — may get a boost from a green forum in Paris this week. Gathering hundreds of eco-entrepreneurs, companies and activists, ChangeNOW aims to trace a sustainable blueprint for the future.

From food to fashion, technology to transport, a raft of green solutions for our resource-sucking society is parked through Saturday inside a massive events venue — made of sustainable materials — in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s 35 days to reach Madagascar from Marseille. Going through the Suez Canal. And we are using the wind. It helps us to save up to 60 percent energy,” says Louise Chopinet who heads a Brittany-based shipping startup called Windcoop. Its wind-powered sailing vessels carry about 14,000 tons of cargo per trip. For now, that means spices from Madagascar farmers. With the shipping industry challenged to become carbon neutral by 2050, sailing is taking off.

“It’s really a growing interest now. Everyone is getting into sails and wind,” she noted.

Berlin-based Noa Climate also works in Africa. It sells systems that recycle organic waste into energy in places far from power grids. Noa’s Janine Gadke says the company works with financial partners so poor communities can buy products on credit.

“In Kenya, we have a project in an orphanage, they have a system on location … they can get electricity and everything. And they feed the system with kitchen waste,” Gadke expressed.

ChangeNOW is considered one of the biggest global green events of the year. This 5th edition includes CEOs and celebrity activists, like British primatologist Jane Goodall.

Being Paris, representatives of a greening fashion industry are also here, like luxury group LVMH. Also companies pitching natural textiles like silk, cotton, hemp and mohair.

“We can feel a boom in terms of demand,” says Eva Pujol who works for British textile nonprofit The Sustainable Angle; adding that “more and more people are coming and we have brands asking more and more about sustainable material … I think the pressure mostly comes from customers to buy better.”

The forum offers a bicycle parking lot, recyclable waste containers, and a stand cooking up veggie burgers. Those who couldn’t find climate-friendly transport to get here can make a contribution to offset their carbon emissions.

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North Korea Hails ‘Good Results’ On COVID as Fever Cases Pass 2 Million

North Korea said Friday it was achieving “good results” in its fight against its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, as the number of people with fever symptoms rose past 2 million.

A wave of COVID infections, which North Korea first confirmed last week, has fanned worry about a lack of medical resources and vaccines in the isolated country heavily sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has not responded to offers from its old enemies, South Korea and the United States, to send help, a South Korean official said.

South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, and U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in South Korea on a visit Friday, are expected to discuss help.

North Korea reported 263,370 more people with fever symptoms, and two more deaths, taking its total fever caseload since late April to 2.24 million as of Thursday evening, including 65 deaths, according to its KCNA state news agency.

North Korea lacks COVID testing capacity and it has not specified how many of those people with fever have been confirmed to have contracted COVID.

Despite the caseload, the North has said farming continues and factories are working. It is also planning a state funeral for a retired general.

“Even under the maximum emergency epidemic prevention situation, normal production is kept at key industrial sectors and large-scale construction projects are propelled without let-up,” KCNA reported.

“Good results are reported steadily in the ongoing anti-epidemic war,” it said.

The U.N. human rights agency has warned of the “devastating” consequences of COVID for North Korea’s 25 million people, while World Health Organization officials worry an unchecked spread could lead to the emergence of deadlier new variants.

But North Korea said on Wednesday its outbreak was taking a “favorable turn.”

‘Consultations’

Officials in South Korea say it is hard to draw conclusions, partly because it is not clear how North Korea is calculating the number of fever and COVID patients.

Cases of fever reported by the government have declined in the capital, Pyongyang, but risen in rural provinces.

But Martyn Williams, a researcher at the U.S.-based 38 North monitoring group, said North Korea’s figures were unlikely to give an accurate account of what is going on, either through error or deliberate manipulation.

“I doubt they represent the exact picture,” he said on Twitter.

South Korea and the United States have both offered to help North Korea fight the virus, including sending aid, but have not had a response, South Korea’s deputy national security adviser said.

But the allies, who North Korea denounces as its main enemies as it justifies its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, would likely be North Korea’s last resort in seeking help, said South Korean legislators who were briefed by its main security agency on Thursday.

South Korea’s foreign minister, Park Jin, told parliament Yoon and Biden would discuss help for North Korea when they meet Saturday.

“South Korea and the United States are continuing consultations on providing humanitarian assistance, especially over COVID-19, to the North,” Park said.

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1955 Mercedes Sells For Record $143 Million: Sotheby’s

A 1955 Mercedes-Benz, one of only two such versions in existence, was auctioned off earlier this month for a whopping $143 million, making it the world’s most expensive car ever sold, RM Sotheby’s announced Thursday.

The 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe was sold to a private collector for almost triple the previous record, which was set in 2018 by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that fetched over $48 million.

The invitation-only auction took place on May 5 at the MercedesBenz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, the auction house said.

The car is one of just two prototypes built by the Mercedes-Benz racing department and is named after its creator and chief engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, according to RM Sotheby’s.

“The private buyer has agreed that the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe will remain accessible for public display on special occasions, while the second original 300 SLR Coupe remains in company ownership and will continue to be displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart,” the auction company added.

RM Sotheby’s said the proceeds from the auction will be used to establish a worldwide Mercedes-Benz Fund that will fund environmental science and decarbonization research. 

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Boeing Crew Capsule Launches to Space Station in 2nd Test 

Boeing’s crew capsule rocketed into orbit Thursday on a repeat test flight without astronauts, after years of being grounded by flaws that could have doomed the spacecraft.

Only a test dummy was aboard. If the capsule reaches the International Space Station on Friday and everything else goes well, two or three NASA test pilots could strap in by the end of this year or early next for the company’s first crew flight.

It’s Boeing’s third shot at the high-stakes flight demo.

At least this time, Starliner made it to the proper orbit, quickly giving chase to the space station. But the all-important rendezvous and docking loomed.

Starliner’s first test flight in 2019 was stricken by software errors so severe that the capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and had to skip the space station. The spacecraft came close to being destroyed as ground controllers hastily cut short the mission.

After dozens of safety fixes, Boeing returned a different capsule to the launch pad last summer. Corroded valves halted the countdown, resulting in another round of repairs.

The drawn-out test flight program has cost Boeing about $600 million.

“We’re not going to fly (crews) unless we feel like we’ve bought down the risk,” NASA space operations chief Kathy Lueders stressed on the eve of liftoff.

Boeing is seeking redemption as it attempts to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other contracted taxi service. Elon Musk’s company has been flying astronauts to and from the space station for two years and delivering cargo for a full decade.

Eager to reduce its high-priced dependency on Russia for crew transport, NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the space station after the shuttle program ended in 2011. That’s why it’s so important for Boeing’s Starliner to succeed, said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“We always, in this case, want to have a backup,” Nelson told The Associated Press hours before liftoff.

Different in looks but similar in function to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Boeing’s fully automated capsule will attempt to dock at the space station on its own. Station astronauts will be ready to steer the capsule by remote control, if necessary.

Starliner will spend close to a week at the space station before aiming for a touchdown in the New Mexico desert.

NASA has yet to finalize which astronauts will be on the first Starliner crew. The program is so far behind that the original three have stepped aside. The leading candidates gathered at Cape Canaveral for the evening launch of Starliner atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

“We’re thrilled for this because the next one is us,” said astronaut Butch Wilmore.

Besides Rosie the Rocketeer — a space-age version of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter — the capsule is carrying groceries and spacewalking gear for the seven station residents. U.S. spacewalks have been on hold since an astronaut’s helmet took on water in March. NASA is sending up extra absorbent pads for use in helmets, in case an emergency spacewalk is required as the investigation continues.

Boeing also is flying mementos from historically black colleges and universities and tree seeds similar to those Apollo astronauts took to the moon that became so-called moon trees here on Earth.

 

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