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Former Bon Jovi Bassist, Founding Member Alec John Such Dies

Alec John Such, the bassist and a founding member of the iconic rock band Bon Jovi, has died. He was 70.

The group on Sunday announced the death of Such, the New Jersey band’s bassist from 1983 to 1994. No details on when or how Such died were immediately available. A publicist for singer-songwriter Jon Bon Jovi didn’t immediately respond to messages.

“He was an original,” Bon Jovi wrote in a post on Twitter. “As a founding member of Bon Jovi, Alec was integral to the formation of the band.”

Bon Jovi credited Such for bringing the band together, noting that he was a childhood friend of drummer Tico Torres and brought guitarist and songwriter Richie Sambora to see the band perform. Such had played with Sambora in a band called Message.

The Yonkers, New York-born Such was a veteran figure in the thriving New Jersey music scene that helped spawn Bon Jovi. As manager of the Hunka Bunka Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, Such booked Jon Bon Jovi & The Wild Ones before joining the singer-songwriter’s band. He played with Bon Jovi through the group’s heyday in the 1980s.

Such departed the band in 1994, when he was replaced by bassist Hugh McDonald. He later rejoined the band for its induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

“When Jon Bon Jovi called me up and asked me to be in his band many years ago, I soon realized how serious he was and he had a vision that he wanted to bring us to,” said Such at the Hall of Fame induction. “And I am only too happy to have been a part of that vision.”  

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3 Chinese Astronauts Arrive at Tiangong Space Station

Three Chinese astronauts arrived at the country’s space station on Sunday, the Chinese space agency for human flights said, the latest stride in Beijing’s aim to become a major space power.

The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket at 0244 GMT from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China ‘s Gobi desert, reported state broadcaster CCTV.

The team is tasked with “completing in-orbit assembly and construction of the space station,” as well as “commissioning of equipment” and conducting scientific experiments, state-run CGTN said Saturday.

The astronauts entered the central module of the Tiangong station at around 1250 GMT, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said. The journey took about “seven hours of flight,” CCTV reported. 

Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace,” is expected to become fully operational by the end of the year. 

China ‘s heavily promoted space program has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the Moon.

The Shenzhou-14 crew is led by air force pilot Chen Dong, 43, the three-person crew’s main challenge will be connecting the station’s two lab modules to the main body.

Dong, along with fellow pilots Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, will become the second crew to spend six months aboard the Tiangong after the last returned to earth in April following 183 days on the space station.

Tiangong’s core module entered orbit earlier last year and is expected to operate for at least a decade.

The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001.

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The country has made large strides in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily promoted “space dream” have been put into overdrive.

In addition to a space station, Beijing is also planning to build a base on the Moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030.

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Beijing to Allow Indoor Dining, Further Easing COVID Curbs

Beijing will further relax COVID-19 curbs by allowing indoor dining, as China’s capital steadily returns to normal with inflections falling, state media said on Sunday.

Beijing and the commercial hub Shanghai have been returning to normal in recent days after two months of painful lockdowns to crush outbreaks of the Omicron variant.

Dine-in service in Beijing will resume on Monday, except for the Fengtai district and some parts of the Changping district, the Beijing Daily said. Restaurants and bars have been restricted to takeaway since early May.

Normal work will resume and traffic bans will be lifted on Monday in most areas of Beijing, the newspaper reported. Employees in some areas have been required to work from home.

Residents will need to show a PRC test taken within 72 hours to enter public spaces and take public transport, as part of steps to normalize COVID testing, the newspaper reported.

Beijing reported 16 new local symptomatic cases, up from five a day earlier, and three new local asymptomatic cases, up from one, according to the local government.

Shanghai reported six new local symptomatic cases, up from five, and 16 new local asymptomatic cases versus nine the previous day, local government data showed.

Mainland China recorded 162 daily coronavirus cases, of which 56 were symptomatic and 106 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said. That compares with 171 new cases a day earlier – 46 symptomatic and 125 asymptomatic, which China counts separately.

There were no new deaths, leaving the nation’s death toll at 5,226. As of Saturday, mainland China had confirmed 224,310 cases with symptoms.

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A Long-Dead Muslim Emperor Vexes India’s Hindu Nationalists

Narendra Modi rose from his chair and walked briskly towards the podium to deliver another nighttime address to the nation. It was expected the speech would include a rare message of interfaith harmony in the country where religious tensions have risen under his rule.

The Indian prime minister was speaking from the historic Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi, and the event marked the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru who is remembered for championing religious freedoms for all.

The occasion and the venue, in many ways, were appropriate.

Instead, Modi chose the April event to turn back the clock and remind people of India’s most despised Muslim ruler who has been dead for more than 300 years.

“Aurangzeb severed many heads, but he could not shake our faith,” Modi said during his address.

His invocation of the 17th century Mughal emperor was not a mere blip.

Aurangzeb Alamgir remained buried deep in the annals of India’s complex history. The country’s modern rulers are now resurrecting him as a brutal oppressor of Hindus and a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists who believe India must be salvaged from the taint of the so-called Muslim invaders.

As tensions between Hindus and Muslims have mounted, the scorn for Aurangzeb has grown, and politicians from India’s right have invoked him like never before. It often comes with a cautionary warning: India’s Muslims should disassociate themselves from him as retribution for his alleged crimes.

“For today’s Hindu nationalists, Aurangzeb is a dog whistle for hating all Indian Muslims,” said Audrey Truschke, historian and author of the book “Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth.”

Hating and disparaging Muslim rulers, particularly Mughals, is distinctive to India’s Hindu nationalists, who for decades have strived to recreate officially secular India into a Hindu nation.

They argue that Muslim rulers like Aurangzeb destroyed Hindu culture, forced religious conversions, desecrated temples and imposed harsh taxes on non-Muslims, even though some historians say such stories are exaggerated. Popular thought among nationalists traces the origin of Hindu-Muslim tensions back to medieval times, when seven successive Muslim dynasties made India their home, until each were swept aside when their time passed.

This belief had led them on a quest to redeem India’s Hindu past, to right the perceived wrongs suffered over centuries. And Aurangzeb is central to this sentiment.

Aurangzeb was the last powerful Mughal emperor who ascended to the throne in the mid-17th century after imprisoning his father and having his older brother killed. Unlike other Mughals, who ruled over a vast empire in South Asia for more than 300 years and enjoy a relatively uncontested legacy, Aurangzeb is, almost undoubtedly, one of the most hated men in Indian history.

Richard Eaton, a professor at the University of Arizona, who is widely regarded as an authority on pre-modern India, said that even though Aurangzeb destroyed temples, available records show it was a little more than a dozen and not thousands, as has been widely believed. This was done for political, not religious reasons, Eaton said, adding that the Muslim emperor also extended safety and security to people from all religions.

“In a word, he was a man of his own time, not of ours,” said Eaton, adding that the Mughal emperor has been reduced to “a comic book villain.”

But for Aurangzeb’s detractors, he embodied evil and was nothing but a religious bigot.

Right-wing historian Makkhan Lal, whose books on Indian history have been read by millions of high school students, said ascribing political motives alone to Aurangzeb’s acts is akin to the “betrayal of India’s glorious past.”

It is a claim made by many historians who support Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, also known as the BJP, or its ideological mothership, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a radical Hindu movement that has been widely accused of stoking religious hatred with aggressively anti-Muslim views. They say India’s history has been systematically whitewashed by far-left distortionists, mainly to cut off Indians — mostly Hindus — from their civilizational past.

“Aurangzeb razed down temples and it only shows his hate for Hindus and Hinduism,” said Lal.

The debate has spilled over from academia to angry social media posts and noisy TV shows, where India’s modern Muslims have often been insulted and called the “progeny of Aurangzeb.”

Last month, when a Muslim lawmaker visited Aurangzeb’s tomb to offer prayers, a senior leader from Modi’s party questioned his parentage.

“Why would you visit the grave of Aurangzeb who destroyed this country,” Hemanta Biswa Sarma, northeastern Assam state’s top elected official, thundered during a television interview. Referring to the lawmaker, he said: “If Aurangzeb is your father, then I won’t object.”

The insults have led to more anxieties among the country’s significant Muslim minority who in recent years have been at the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists, emboldened by a prime minister who has mostly stayed mum on such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.

Modi’s party denies using the Mughal emperor’s name to denigrate Muslims. It also says it is merely trying to out the truth.

“India’s history has been manipulated and distorted to appease minorities. We are dismantling that ecosystem of lies,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a spokesman of the BJP.

The dislike for Aurangzeb extends far beyond Hindu nationalists. Many Sikhs remember him as a man who ordered the execution of their ninth guru in 1675. The commonly held belief is that the religious leader was executed for not converting to Islam.

Some argue that Modi’s invocation of Aurangzeb’s name at the Sikh guru’s birth anniversary in April serves only one purpose: to further widen anti-Muslim sentiments.

“In so doing, the Hindu right advances one of their key goals, namely maligning India’s Muslim minority population in order to try to justify majoritarian oppression and violence against them,” said Truschke, the historian.

Despite referencing Aurangzeb routinely, Hindu nationalists have simultaneously tried to erase him from the public sphere.

In 2015, New Delhi’s famous Aurangzeb Road was renamed after protests from Modi’s party leaders. Since then, some Indian state governments have rewritten school textbooks to deemphasize him. Last month, the mayor of northern Agra city described Aurangzeb as a “terrorist,” whose traces should be expunged from all public places. A politician called for his tomb to be levelled, prompting authorities to shut it to the public.

A senior administration official, who didn’t want to be named because of government policy, compared efforts to erase Aurangzeb’s name to the removal of Confederate symbols and statues — viewed as racist relics — in the United States.

“What is wrong if people want to talk about the past and right historical wrongs? In fact, why should there be places named after a zealot who left behind a bitter legacy?” the official asked.

This sentiment, fast resonating across India, has already touched a raw nerve.

A 17th-century mosque in Varanasi, Hinduism’s holiest city, has emerged as the latest flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims. A court case will decide whether the site would be given to Hindus, who claim it was built on a temple destroyed on the orders of Aurangzeb.

For decades, Hindu nationalists have laid claim to several famous mosques, arguing they are built on the ruins of prominent temples. Many such cases are pending in courts.

Critics say it could lead to long legal battles, like that of the Babri mosque, which was ripped apart by Hindu mobs with spades, crowbars and bare hands in 1992. The demolition set off massive violence across India and left more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. In 2019, India’s Supreme Court gave the site of the mosque to Hindus.

Such worries are also felt by historians like Truschke.

She said the “demonization” of Aurangzeb and India’s Muslim kings is in “bad faith” and promotes “historical revisionism,” which is often backed by threats and violence.

“Hindu nationalists do not think about the real historical Aurangzeb,” said Truschke. “Rather, they invent the villain that they want to hate.”

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Elvis Wedding Crackdown Leaves Las Vegas All Shook Up

Every year thousands of visitors to Las Vegas can’t help falling in love — at least long enough to get married by an Elvis impersonator.

But the company that controls the rights to the King’s likeness has sparked outrage in Sin City by cracking down wedding chapels offering Elvis-themed nuptials.

Authentic Brands Group, which bought a controlling stake in Elvis Presley’s estate in 2013, last month sent cease-and-desist letters to companies offering the kitschy weddings.

The move triggered angry responses from Elvis impersonators, chapel owners, and even the mayor of Las Vegas, who called for a little more open conversation — and less legal action — from the group.

“Elvis Presley long called Las Vegas his home and his name has become synonymous with Las Vegas weddings,” Jason Whaley, president of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce, told AFP.

“The Vegas Wedding Chamber shares a concern that many of our chapels and impersonators livelihoods are being targeted, especially as many are still trying to recover financially from the hurdles we all endured with Covid shutdowns.”

ABG on Thursday apologized for its initial approach, saying it was committed to protecting Presley’s legacy.

“We are sorry that recent communication with a small number of Las Vegas based chapels caused confusion and concern. That was never our intention,” the company said in a statement to AFP.

“We are working with the chapels to ensure that the usage of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are in keeping with his legacy.”

It added: “From tribute artists and impersonators to chapels and fan clubs, each and every one of these groups help to keep Elvis relevant for new generations of fans.”

But a day earlier, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that ABG was now offering chapels financial “partnerships,” including annual licensing deals to continue business as usual.

“That is their solution, to pay $20,000 a year to do what we’ve been doing for the past nine years,” said Kayla Collins, co-owner of the Las Vegas Elvis Wedding Chapel.

“This was not on the table a few days ago. Frankly, I think this thing going to the public has changed their minds.”

‘Elvis Pink Caddy’

The move comes weeks before the release of Baz Luhrmann’s new big-screen biopic “Elvis” — a large-scale Warner Bros production expected to boost interest in the singer.

Elvis-themed weddings have been a lucrative business in Las Vegas since the 1970s.

Packages today run as high as $1,600 for the Elvis Pink Caddy Luxury Model Wedding Package, which offers couples the chance to be driven up the aisle of the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel by Elvis in a 1964 pink Cadillac convertible.

Weddings are a $2.5 billion industry in Las Vegas, according to the Wedding Chamber of Commerce.

But while Elvis musical tribute acts are freely allowed under Nevada law, businesses using Presley’s likeness simply to attract publicity and customers are not protected.

Harry Shahoian, one of dozens of Elvis impersonators in the city, who officiates at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal that people just “love to be married by Elvis.”

“I did the whole day Sunday, 22 ceremonies. I’ve done more than 30 in one day, 100 in a week, all of those Elvis-themed.”

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China Sends 3 Astronauts To Complete Space Station

China on Sunday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts on a mission to complete construction on its new space station, the latest milestone in Beijing’s drive to become a major space power.

The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket at (0244 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China’s Gobi desert, said state broadcaster CCTV, with the team to spend six months expanding the Tiangong space station.

Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace,” is expected to become fully operational by the end of the year.

China’s heavily promoted space program has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.

The Shenzhou-14 crew is tasked with “completing in-orbit assembly and construction of the space station,” as well as “commissioning of equipment” and conducting scientific experiments, state-run CGTN said Saturday.

Led by air force pilot Chen Dong, 43, the three-person crew’s main challenge will be connecting the station’s two lab modules to the main body.

Dong, along with fellow pilots Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, will become the second crew to spend six months aboard the Tiangong after the last returned to Earth in April following 183 days on the space station.

Tiangong’s core module entered orbit earlier last year and is expected to operate for at least a decade.

The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001.

Space ambitions

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the moon.

The country has made large strides in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily promoted “space dream” have been put into overdrive.

In addition to a space station, Beijing is also planning to build a base on the moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030. 

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