Earthquake swarm triggers volcano alert on Spain’s La Palma

MADRID (Reuters) – Authorities on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma have warned that a sudden increase in seismic activity could herald a volcanic eruption in the coming days or weeks.

Spain’s National Geographic Institute has detected 4,222 tremors in a so-called “earthquake swarm” in the Cumbre Vieja national park, around the Teneguia volcano in the far south of the island.

As the quakes intensified and moved closer to the surface, the Canary Island’s regional government on Tuesday put the island on a yellow alert for an eruption, the second of a four-level alert system.

It said on Thursday there was no clear evidence for an immediate eruption, though warned the situation could evolve rapidly.

“More intense earthquakes are expected in the coming days,” it said in a statement.

More than 11 million cubic meters (388 million cubic feet)of magma have seeped into Cumbre Vieja in recent days, swelling the peak by around 6 centimeters, the Volcanic Institute of the Canaries said on Thursday.

Rising sharply out of the Atlantic around 100 kilometers to the west of southern Morocco, the Canary Islands are home to Spain’s most active and best known volcanoes, including Teide in Tenerife and Timanfaya in Lanzarote.

Teneguia last erupted in 1971 – the last surface eruption to occur in Spain – while a volcano off the tiny island of El Hierro erupted underwater in 2011.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Emma Pinedo, editing by Inti Landauro and Steve Orlofsky)

Taiwan plans $9 billion boost in arms spending, warns of ‘severe threat’

By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan proposed on Thursday extra defense spending of T$240 billion ($8.69 billion) over the next five years, including on new missiles, as it warned of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from giant neighbor China.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernizing the armed forces – well-armed but dwarfed by China’s – and increasing defense spending a priority, especially as Beijing ramps up military and diplomatic pressure against the island it claims as “sacred” Chinese territory.

The new money, which comes on top of planned military spending of T$471.7 billion for 2022, will need to be approved by parliament where Tsai’s ruling party has a large majority, meaning its passage should be smooth.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said China’s military strength had grown rapidly and it had continued to invest heavily in defense.

“In the face of severe threats from the enemy, the nation’s military is actively engaged in military building and preparation work, and it is urgent to obtain mature and rapid mass production weapons and equipment in a short period of time,” it said in a statement.

Deputy Defense Minister Wang Shin-lung told reporters the new arms would all be made domestically, as Taiwan boosts its own production prowess, though the United States will probably remain an important provider of parts and technology.

Taiwan has been keen to demonstrate that it can defend itself, especially amid questions about whether the United States would come to its aid if China attacked.

“Only if we ensure our security and show determination will the international community think well of us,” said Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng. “Others will only help us if we help ourselves.”

The additional cash will likely be well received in Washington, which has been pushing Taiwan to modernize its military to make it more mobile so it can become a “porcupine,” hard for China to attack.

Ingrid Larson, one of Washington’s unofficial representatives for Taiwan, stressed there was “a real and urgent need” for Taiwan to pursue defense reforms.

“As allies and partners in the region and around the globe increasingly push back on China’s aggressive action, it is important that Taiwan remain committed to the changes that only it can make for itself,” she told the Center for a New American Security think tank.

“Taiwan must build as strong a deterrent as possible and as quickly as possible. Taiwan needs truly asymmetric capability, and a strong reserve force. Asymmetry means systems which are mobile, survivable and lethal.”

Larson is managing director of the Washington office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which handles U.S. relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic links.

The weapons Taiwan aims to buy with the money include cruise missiles and warships, the defense ministry said.

Taiwan has been testing new, long-range missiles off its southern and eastern coasts, and while it has not given details, diplomats and experts have said they are likely to be able to hit targets far into China.

Taiwan has already put into service a new class of stealth warship, which it calls an “aircraft carrier killer” due to its missile complement, and is developing its own submarines.

The announcement comes as Taiwan is in the middle of its annual Han Kuang military drills.

On Thursday, its army simulated fending off an invasion, firing artillery out to sea from a beach on its southern coast.

($1 = 27.6330 Taiwan dollars)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Roger Tung and Jeanny Kao and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Sam Holmes and Jonathan Oatis)

Ford, Walmart and Argo AI team up to launch autonomous vehicle delivery service

(Reuters) – Self-driving startup Argo AI, automaker Ford Motor Co and Walmart Inc will together launch an autonomous vehicle delivery service in Miami, Austin, and Washington, D.C, the companies said on Wednesday.

Initial integration testing is expected to begin later this year, the companies added.

The move comes as consumer expectations shift to next-day or same-day delivery, particularly in urban areas with a higher concentration of deliveries.

The multi-city service will allow Walmart customers to place online orders of groceries and other popular items for autonomous delivery to their homes.

Argo’s cloud-based system will integrate with Walmart’s online ordering platform to route orders and schedule package deliveries. Ford’s self-driving test vehicles with Argo’s self-driving system will then deliver the orders to customers.

“This collaboration will further our mission to get products to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery at Walmart in the United States.

Walmart had previously partnered with General Motor’s Cruise on a self-driving delivery pilot and with self-driving vehicle startups Gatik and Nuro to explore delivery through autonomous vehicles.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

SpaceX set to make history with first all-civilian crew launched into orbit

By Julio-Cesar Chavez and Steve Gorman

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – The latest in a recent line of space-obsessed billionaires was set for liftoff on Wednesday with three less wealthy private citizens along for the ride aboard a SpaceX rocket ship, seeking to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.

The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, Jared Isaacman, were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight, Benji Reed, told reporters at the Cape on Tuesday that “everything looked great” following a final “static” test-firing of the rocket engines on Monday morning.

“Right now the weather is trending well” for an on-time launch, he said.

The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.

They will fly aboard a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.

Isaacman, 38, the trip’s benefactor, has forked over an undisclosed but presumably hefty sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.

The so-called Inspiration4 mission was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.

It marks the debut flight of Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration, and bragging rights, of spaceflight.

Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.

LEAP AHEAD OF RIVALS

Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/virgin-galactics-branson-ready-space-launch-aboard-rocket-plane-2021-07-11 and Jeff Bezos https://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-exploration-blueorigin-idAFKBN2EQ0EP, each going along for the ride.

But those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s spaceflight profile.

SpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are docked there already.

Despite some largely honorary titles, the Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.

Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while geoscientist Sian Proctor, 51, a former NASA astronaut candidate, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”

Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor turned St. Jude physicians’ assistant, and mission “specialist” Chris Sembroski, 42, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.

The four crewmates have spent five months in rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.

Inspiration4 officials stress that the mission is more than a joyride.

Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights,” the group said in media materials.

Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.

“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

North and South Korea conduct duelling missile tests as arms race heats up

By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea and South Korea test fired ballistic missiles on Wednesday, the latest volley in an arms race https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-southkorea-analys-idUSKBN2BM0G8 that has seen both countries develop increasingly sophisticated weapons while efforts to get talks going on defusing tension prove fruitless.

South Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-blazes-new-path-with-most-potent-conventional-missile-submarine-2021-09-08(SLBM), becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system.

South Korean President Moon was attending that test firing when word came of the North Korean launches, its first ballistic missile tests since March https://tmsnrt.rs/2PFT4eW.

North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles that landed in the sea off its east coast, according to officials in South Korea and Japan, just days after it tested a cruise missile https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-test-fires-long-range-cruise-missile-kcna-2021-09-12 that is believed to have nuclear capabilities.

Japan’s defence ministry said late on Wednesday the missiles had landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), contradicting earlier government comments that they fell outside its waters.

North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems amid a stand-off over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief. The negotiations, initiated between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, have stalled since 2019.

“North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region towards the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

The missiles were fired just after 12:30 p.m. (0330 GMT), flying 800 km (497 miles) to a maximum altitude of 60 km (37 miles), the JCS reported.

‘THE STRONGEST KOREA’

The United States condemned North Korea’s missile launch, saying it was in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and posed a threat to Pyongyang’s neighbours, a State Department spokesperson said, without mentioning South Korea’s tests.

The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s missile launches did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory or allies, but highlighted the destabilising impact of its illicit weapons programme.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous” and strongly condemned it as a threat to peace and security in the region.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing that China hoped “relevant parties” would “exercise restraint”.

South Korea has been splurging on a range of new military systems, including ballistic missiles, submarines and its first aircraft carrier. It has a stated policy of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The arms race has accelerated under Moon for a number of reasons, including his push for more foreign policy autonomy, wariness of relying on the United States after Trump’s presidency and military developments in both North Korea and China, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London.

“South Korea would face many political and legal obstacles to develop nuclear weapons, both internal and external,” he said. “So it will develop all other capabilities to deter North Korea and show who the strongest Korea is.”

President Moon cited the nuclear-armed North’s “asymmetric capabilities” as a reason for South Korea to develop better missiles.

“Enhancing our missile capability is exactly what’s needed as deterrence against North Korea’s provocation,” he said, while stressing that the SLBM test had been planned and was not in response to the North’s launches.

‘FOOLISH ATTITUDE’

In a statement carried by state media, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticised Moon’s speech, saying his talk of North Korean provocations was inappropriate.

Without mentioning the latest launches by the North, Kim Yo Jong said North Korea’s activities were routine defensive measures, and that inter-Korean ties could break down if Moon continues to “slander” the North.

She complained of an “illogical… foolish attitude” that portrayed South Korean behaviour as a legitimate action to support peace and North Korea’s actions as a threat to peace.

Unlike the South, North Korea’s ballistic missile systems have been banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In November 2017, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the entire United States and declared it had become a nuclear power.

North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend. Analysts say that weapon could be its first cruise missile with a nuclear capability.

The latest launch came as foreign ministers of South Korea and China held talks in Seoul amid concern over North Korea’s tests and the stalled denuclearisation negotiations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the cruise missile tests, said all parties should work to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

“Not only North Korea but other countries are carrying out military activity,” he told reporters.

In a meeting with Wang on Wednesday, Moon asked for China’s support to restart dialogue, saying North Korea had not been responding to South Korean and U.S. offers for talks or engagement such as humanitarian aid, Moon’s spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo, Emily Chow in Beijing, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Tears, joy and surprise guests as Broadway’s big musicals return

By Alicia Powell

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Broadway’s biggest musicals roared back to life on Tuesday, banishing the eerie silence of the last 18 months in New York’s pandemic-hit theater district with screams, tears and standing ovations.

Emotions were giddy as the curtain rose again on top musicals “Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” before packed audiences welcoming back live theater after the coronavirus shutdown.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda received a standing ovation when he appeared on stage before the start of his Tony Award-winning hip-hop show about America’s founding fathers.

“I don’t ever want to take live theater for granted ever again, do you? It’s so sacred,” said Miranda, tearing up with emotion. “I’m so grateful to you and I hope you go see as many shows as you can and keep supporting our industry.”

A few blocks away, Kristin Chenoweth made a surprise appearance before the start of “Wicked,” in which she originated the role of Glinda about 20 years ago. Composer Steven Schwartz joined a prolonged curtain call.

“There’s no place like home,” said Chenoweth, to wild cheers and audible weeping. “I wanted to be here to welcome New York and all of the theatergoers back to what is my favorite show.”

Julie Taymor, director of “The Lion King,” opened the show by telling the audience, “As Rafiki says, it is time.” The long-running musical “Chicago” also re-opened to long applause after every song.

“I didn’t think I would be so emotional, but you really felt everything in such a different way coming back in. Being back on Broadway was amazing,” said Richard Saenz, who was in the audience for “The Lion King.”

Broadway was one of the first institutions to close when the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and is the last to re-open in the United States.

It has taken months to upgrade air filter systems and ensure social distancing on stages full of blood, sweat and tears. Audiences, actors, musicians and backstage crew must show proof of full vaccinations and wear masks.

“Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” were the biggest box office earners, each taking in more than $1 million a week, before the pandemic shut about 40 theaters, throwing thousands of actors, stagehands, musicians and dancers out of work.

“Every single nerve is tingling with joy and world peace. How lucky we are to be back at work,” “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller said on Tuesday.

“It has been 700,000, 100 and 25 minutes since we’ve last been able to perform for a live audience.”

Musicals “Hadestown” and “Waitress” returned 10 days ago, and the first new play, “Pass Over,” opened its doors in August. The discount TKTS ticket booth in Times Square also re-opened on Tuesday.

Another dozen musicals and plays will re-open during September, bringing back one of the city’s biggest cultural attractions.

City authorities hope their return will spur tourism and revitalize once-crowded restaurants, bars and hotels near Times Square.

(Reporting by Alicia Powell and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez)

Pope rejects German archbishop’s resignation after abuse scandal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of the Archbishop of Hamburg who had offered to step down after a report named him among several senior officials in Germany’s Catholic Church to have breached their duty in handling sexual abuse cases.

In a statement, the Vatican said it had thoroughly examined documents relating to the archbishop, Stefan Hesse, formerly head of personnel and administration at the Cologne archdiocese.

While it had identified deficiencies in the organisation of his office and personal procedural errors, it had not found any intention to cover up abuse, the Vatican said in a statement posted on the German Bishops’ Conference website.

“The basic problem, in the larger context of the administration of the archdiocese, was the lack of attention and sensitivity towards victims of abuse,” it said.

The archbishop offered to resign in March after the publication of an 800-page report into the handling of abuse cases in the archdiocese of Cologne which found more than 200 abusers and more than 300 victims between 1975 and 2018.

“In view of the fact that the Archbishop recognises mistakes he made in the past with humility and offered his resignation, the Holy Father has … decided not to accept the resignation,” said the Vatican.

Bishops have said that a row over the report into abuse in the Cologne archdiocese, which has the largest membership of any diocese in the German-speaking world, is damaging the Catholic Church across the country.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by William Maclean)

Biden to meet Disney chief, other CEOs in ‘rallying cry’ for vaccine mandates

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will meet on Wednesday with business leaders as he pushes companies to require workers to be vaccinated amid a surge in COVID-19 infections among those without a dose.

Participants in the meeting include the chief executives of Walt Disney Co, Microsoft Corp and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, the White House said.

Biden last week announced https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-deliver-six-step-plan-covid-19-pandemic-2021-09-09 vaccine mandates for nearly all federal employees, federal contractors, and larger companies as the number of U.S. infections continued to rise, hospital beds in some parts of the country filled up and mask requirements returned.

Some Republican-led states are defying recommendations from health officials, citing economic or freedom-of-choice arguments. Biden, a Democrat, has chosen to dig in on the issue, embracing vaccine requirements despite fierce opposition.

Still, opinion polls have shown a majority Americans support some form of mandates.

Biden told reporters https://www.reuters.com/world/us/white-house-says-it-is-encouraging-state-local-covid-vaccine-mandates-2021-09-14 on Tuesday that he had seen “positive support for mandates, by and large,” although he conceded that there would always be a small percentage of people who would refuse to get inoculated.

The White House hopes Wednesday’s meeting will serve “as a rallying cry for more businesses across the country to step up and institute similar measures,” an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The meeting involves business leaders and chief executives who have instituted vaccine requirements or are working to implement the new rules, the person said.

The policies announced last week require nearly all federal workers and federal contractors to get COVID-19 vaccinations and push large employers to have workers inoculated or tested weekly. The new measures would apply to businesses with more than 100 employees, about two-thirds of all U.S. workers.

Also among those slated to meet with Biden are the CEOs of the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Josh Bolten, president of the Business Roundtable representing employers of 20 million workers, will attend, the White House said. The Business Roundtable has welcomed Biden’s announcement on mandates. Bolten was a chief of staff to Republican former President George W. Bush.

The fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus has sparked a new wave of sickness and death, posing increased risk not just to the country but to a president who as a candidate promised to get control of the pandemic.

Some small employers have voiced frustration with the mandate. Large employers like U.S. automakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co and rare-earths producer MP Materials Corp said they are encouraging employees to get the vaccine, but they were quiet about Biden’s executive order.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

Biden to announce alliance with Britain, Australia on tech, cyber, defense -Politico

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday plans to announce a plan to share advanced technologies in a working group with Britain and Australia, Politico reported, in a possible move to push back on China.

Biden was due to give a 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) address on national security, but the White House would not provide details.

The working group, to be known as AUUKUS, will enable the three countries to share information in areas including artificial intelligence, cyber, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities, Politico reported, citing a White House official and a congressional staffer.

As part of the pact, the U.S. and U.K. share their knowledge of how to maintain nuclear-defense infrastructure, one of the unidentified sources said.

Both characterized the plan as a move by Western allies to counter China’s rise in the military and technology sectors.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Taliban seize $12.4 million from former top Afghan officials

LONDON (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled central bank said it had seized nearly $12.4 million in cash and gold from former top government officials on Wednesday, including former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

In a statement, the central bank said the money and gold had been kept in officials’ houses, although it did not yet know for what purpose.

Saleh’s whereabouts are unknown. He has vowed to resist the Taliban, who stormed to power a month ago, and last week a family member said the Taliban had executed his brother Rohullah Azizi.

In a separate statement, the bank urged Afghans to use the country’s local Afghani currency. It comes amid growing worries that the country’s banks and firms are running short of money, especially dollars, which are widely used.

In a sign that the Taliban are looking to recoup assets belonging to former government officials, the central bank issued a circular to local banks last week asking them to freeze the accounts of politically exposed individuals linked to the previous government, two commercial bankers said.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Tom Arnold and Mike Collett-White)