Martial law threatens new blow to beleaguered Thai tourism

The Thai army's imposition of martial law is another blow to the country's tourist industry, adding to the economic pain from six months of destabilizing street protests as class="mandelbrot_refrag">airlines cut back on flights and concern over insurance adds to travelers' worries.

Tourism officials put a brave face on the latest twist in the long-running civil strife, saying it was too early to gauge the impact on tourist arrivals, which already dipped nearly 6 percent in the first three months of the year.

"It might look scary and to outsiders it might sound violent, but if we look at it from another angle it should bring more security and peace which should reassure tourists," said Supawan Tanomkieatipume, vice-president of the Thai class="mandelbrot_refrag">Hotels Association.

 
 
 

But some travel agencies said they expected a further fall in bookings after Tuesday's news, especially from corporate travelers, who can be more sensitive to political risks.

Inadequate insurance cover may also put some off: most travel policies have exemptions specifying that claims will not be paid if they are a result of martial law or civil unrest.

Many governments updated their travel advisories to citizens on Tuesday, warning of an increased military presence and some roadblocks in and around the capital Bangkok.

On Internet travel forums, potential visitors voiced concern about the situation and asked whether they should cancel trips.

As soldiers fanned out onto the streets of Bangkok - hailed by Time Magazine only last year as the world's most visited city - most shops and businesses stayed open and transport ran normally. The caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra said it was still running the country and the army said it was not staging a coup.

Winthai Suvaree, an army spokesman, said that the public "need not be worried. You can go about your lives as normal."

Tourism makes up about 10 percent of Thailand's class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy and the ebbing number of visitors contributed to a fall in gross domestic product in the first three months of the year, adding to fears the country is sliding into recession.

Tourism outside Bangkok has held up but overall arrivals to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Thailand still fell 5.85 percent in January-March from a year before. Asian tourists fell the most, with visitors from class="mandelbrot_refrag">China, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan and class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea and Taiwan down a fifth from a year ago.

Kellie Carty, a spokeswoman for Australian travel agency Flight Centre Ltd, said visitors were unlikely to cancel trips altogether but would avoid stays in Bangkok.

BANGKOK SUFFERS

The Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents President Hamzah Rahmat said any impact was likely to be short-term and mostly affect the capital.

"The riot is only in Bangkok - Phuket is booming," he said.

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But Dynasty Travel, one of Singapore's biggest travel agencies, said it had seen a growing trend of cancellations by corporate travelers in recent months and expected more.

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"We can foresee that it will definitely affect the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) sector as Bangkok is a favorite destination for corporate travelers," said Alicia Seah, director of communications at Dynasty, which has seen a 50 percent slump in Thai bookings since September.

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The Philippines raised its alert level for Filipinos in Thailand on Tuesday, warning them to prepare for evacuation if necessary and advising against non-essential travel to the country famous for its pristine beaches and gold-tiled temples.

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"There is a significant decline in travel to Thailand at this time," said Ramon Jimenez, the Philippines' secretary of tourism, adding that business travel would be hardest hit.

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Philippine Airlines said it has cut its daily flights from Manila to Thailand to two from three from May 15. Indonesia's Garuda airline told Reuters it will also cut flights from two to three from June 1.

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The region's biggest budget carrier, AirAsia, said on Tuesday that its second-quarter bookings to Thailand may decline due to the political unrest.

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Singapore Airlines and budget carriers Jetstar and Scoot said there were no changes to their flight schedules.

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A spokeswoman for JTB Corp, Japan's largest travel agency, said it was seeing an "ordinary" number of cancellations while the country's largest airline, ANA Holdings, said there had been no impact so far from martial law.

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The Tourism Council of Thailand estimates cancellations will cut earnings in the tourism industry by 83 billion baht in the first half of 2014. Last week, the tourism body cut its foreign tourist arrivals target for this year to 26.3 million, the lowest in five years, from 28 million.

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The council's vice president, Pornthip Hirunkate, said there had already been some cancellations since the announcement of martial law and predicted a further 9 percent fall in arrivals in the April-June period from a year earlier.

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"The martial law will have some impact on tourists but this year is not a good year for tourism anyway because of the protracted unrest," Pornthip said.

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(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila, Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok, Lincoln Feast in Sydney, Jonathan Thatcher in Jakarta, Anshuman Daga and Brian Leonal in Singapore, Trinna Leong in Kuala Lumpur and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Writing by Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Pope to visit a land of disappearing Christians

When Pope Francis visits the birthplace of Jesus next week, he will address a dwindling population of faithful whose exodus from the Holy Land could turn the shrines of Christendom into museum pieces.

While ever growing numbers of Christian tourists pour into Bethlehem and the adjacent Jerusalem to visit the plethora of sites associated with Jesus, many Palestinian Christians hope to join a legion of relatives who have already moved out.

Christian communities have been in relative decline across the Middle East for generations, with the recent Arab revolts and the rise of radical Islam only accelerating the process.

 
 
 

The cradle of Christianity has not suffered the bloody mayhem seen in nearby class="mandelbrot_refrag">Syria or class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iraq, but still the Christians look to leave, blaming the Israeli occupation for withering their economic prospects and hobbling their freedom of movement.

Local worshippers hope Pope Francis will use his fleeting trip to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel and the West Bank on May 25-26 to recognize their plight, but doubt that he can do much to help just weeks after the collapse of the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"We cannot expect much from the Pope ... but we need a message of justice, of peace, of encouragement, of hope for the future," said Father Jamal Khader, a spokesman for the visit.

The statistics are stark.

In the last year of British rule over the region in 1947, some 85 percent of Bethlehem's population was Christian, while in Jerusalem, the figure was around 19 percent. Today, those numbers are put at some 20 percent and 1.8 percent respectively.

Just 10 minutes apart by car, the two iconic cities are now divided by a hulking concrete wall which class="mandelbrot_refrag">Israel erected a decade ago during a Palestinian uprising. The violence has subsided but the barrier remains, an enduring symbol of separation.

While some of the population decline can be explained by lower birth rates for Christians by comparison with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors, a lot of it is down to emigration.

"Everyone wants to leave. Why? In a nutshell because the economic situation is terrible," said Bassem Giacaman, who runs a souvenir shop next to Bethlehem's Milk Grotto, where legend says Virgin Mary spilt some milk while feeding the baby Jesus.

Giacaman, 35, is something of a rarity in the Palestinian Territories. He actually returned home after spending more than 20 years in New Zealand to take charge of the olive wood factory and adjoining shop established here by his grandfather.

His father, mother and four siblings remain on the other side of the world and Bassem said he has a simple message for them if they try to follow in his footsteps. "I would tell my own family to go away and not to come back."

PLIGHT AND FLIGHT

Arab Christians living within the boundaries of Israel after its foundation in 1948 have fared much better than brethren in the adjacent occupied territories - their numbers rising from an initial 34,000 to some 125,000 today and their communities benefiting as Israel's open class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy has flourished.

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There are no official population statistics in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but churchmen say they believe there has been no real growth in Christian numbers and a precipitous decline in overall percentage terms.

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In the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Islamist group Hamas and lives under a rigid Israeli-Egyptian blockade, locals say the Christian population has halved to around 1,400 in 20 years.

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A survey carried out in April by Palestinian researchers at Near East Consulting suggests the outlook is bleak. It showed that 62 percent of Christians in Jerusalem said they wanted to emigrate, with a third saying they knew of at least one entire family who had moved abroad in the last five years.

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As with most things here, the reasons for the emigration are disputed. Israeli officials say that strife with the growing Muslim populace is a significant factor. Some Christians acknowledge occasional friction, but say the enduring Israeli occupation and its resulting woes are the overriding concern.

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Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 war. It unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2005 but remains the military master of the West Bank and annexed its Jerusalem gains in a move not internationally recognized.

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"You need a special permit to get to Jerusalem, the class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy is being suffocated, we don't have our own airport to travel freely, the (Jewish) settlers are stealing our land," said Anglican priest Ibrahim Nairouz.

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"I fear that one day, there might no longer be a Christian community here," he says, in a book-filled study located beneath his neat stone church in the West Bank's third city, Nablus.

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Some 4,000 Christians lived in Nablus in 1967, but their community has now shrunk to just 650.

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Three of Nairouz's siblings already live abroad - in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, Canada and the United States. Now his last sibling, his little sister, is set to emigrate, having seen other family members thrive away from the limitations of the West Bank.

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While per capita GDP in Israel is an estimated $36,200, according to the latest data in the CIA handbook, in the surrounding Palestinian Territories it is put at just $2,900.

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Palestinian Christians belong mainly to the aspiring middle classes and are highly educated. They blend easily into Western society and find it relatively easy to obtain foreign work visas - often sponsored by their ever-growing family networks.

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"The Church has to find ways to give hope to people and persuade them to stay. The problem is, Christians are losing their hope," said Nairouz, uttering a refrain heard repeatedly in conversations with Palestinian congregations.

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STRINGS ATTACHED

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Church leaders say they are doing what they can.

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In Jerusalem, Catholics have helped build housing for those struggling to get apartments in a city where class="mandelbrot_refrag">construction permits are notoriously difficult for Arab residents to obtain.

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The Catholic Church also offers scholarships to local youngsters to train abroad, but with strings attached.

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"They wanted to make sure we come back, so in my contract I promised to return for at least two years," said Meera Mauge, 25, who studied dentistry in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy for five years and is now home with her family in Jerusalem looking for a job.

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Bright and motivated, she speaks five languages and has received job offers in Italy. She says she wants to live in Jerusalem, but Israeli bureaucrats are not making life easy.

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She had to struggle to persuade the authorities to let her sit an exam to convert her Italian diploma into a valid work license in Israel, and has also battled not to be stripped of her residency rights in East Jerusalem and be banished.

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Like the vast majority of Arabs in East Jerusalem, her family did not apply for Israeli citizenship, arguing this would legitimize the occupation and also prevent them inheriting family land in the West Bank. Because she studied in Europe, Israel said Jerusalem was no longer the center of her life.

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"Jews from anywhere in the world have a right under Israeli law to come and live here. But I, who was born here, have to justify my right to remain. It is humiliating," she said.

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Bassem Giacaman can see Jerusalem from his Bethlehem shop, plus the separation barrier and settlements that fan out across the rocky hills. But since returning home from New Zealand, he has not received permission from Israel to visit Jerusalem.

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He believes the Church could do more to help their flock, but also believes that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which rules all large West Bank cities, could do much more to help businesses struggling to survive in a harsh climate.

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He said corruption is rife and complained that he has to pay for his private security to keep his store safe, despite the fact that he works next to a much-visited chapel.

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Asked what he misses about his old life in New Zealand, he answered without hesitation. "I miss peace, that is all."

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A fraction later, he added: "I miss the New Zealand police, the health system, a clean environment and freedom."

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(Additional reporting from Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Book Talk: Irish author was told 'didn't fit niche'

At 27, Eimear McBride was a young Irish author with a string of rejections from agents and publishers.

“They said my writing was very bold, and brave, but they didn’t know how to sell it. It didn’t fit into any niche,” she told Reuters.

One publisher even offered to produce her novel as memoir.

"They didn’t seem concerned that this hadn’t happened to me. The attitude was, 'Oh well, some of it’s true'."

Ten years later she is holding a clutch of nominations for literary prizes for the same debut book: "A Girl is a Half–formed Thing."

 
 
 

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2013, shortlisted for the Folio Prize, the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award; and longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize - what does all that recognition feel like?

"Wonderful. I thought it would be in the drawer forever, so to have recognition, see people react and know that I have achieved the effect I wanted to achieve, is great."

McBride’s work is a dark story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, set in an class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ireland of religious oppression and sexual abuse. Her protagonist goes on a journey of spectacular self-destruction in an attempt to flee her demons.

“I really didn’t want to write that sort of character,’ McBride said. “Especially I didn’t want to write about sex and religion in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ireland, but it just became that story that I had to tell, so I just had to go with it. Maybe there are some things you have to get out of your system.”

What is remarkable about McBride as an author is not her subject matter, but the style of her prose, which is almost alchemical in effect. Sentences are disordered, word order reinvented, words themselves created new.

To read her work requires both intense concentration and letting go of convention. As McBride says, you have to “experience the book from the inside out”.

Hailed as a brave new voice in fiction, she has been likened to another Irish literary great, James Joyce. Eventually finding an outlet in micro-publisher Galley Beggar Press, (it was their second book, and she was paid an advance of 600 pounds ($1,000)) she has now been championed by Faber & Faber, who have recently published "A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing" to a wider readership.

This is what else McBride had to say about her writing:

Q: What an extraordinary book. Did you set out to write something that challenges the perceived view of what good writing is?

A: I was interested to explore if there was another way for a reader to experience a book: to experience reading. What I wanted was for the writing to be visceral. I use simple vocabulary, it’s not worthy, or complicated. It was making the language work harder, constructing the phrases. So that the book is not in the words, it’s in the phrase.

Q: You have been compared to James Joyce because of a similarity in style to his novel "Ulysses" and your Irish upbringing. What are your influences?

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A: Really, Joyce. Really, "Ulysses". It changed how I thought about writing. He pointed the way that there was this part of human experience that can’t be described in grammatical, in literal ways. That caught my interest. But I think we’re after very different things. I’m after a more human experience for the reader, than intellectual.

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Q: Why this tortured character?

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A: When I was writing the book I was very angry and disillusioned and wanted to write about what was happening in Ireland, what religion has done to the women in my country. At the time, there was a case where a teenage girl was raped but prevented from travelling to England for an abortion. It made an impression on me.

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Q: Do you see sexual abuse as a particular problem in Ireland?

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A: Sexual abuse is not more prevalent in Ireland, but how hidden it is can be a problem. The Irish response to a problem is denial, which links back to religion: the inability to have an adult conversation about sex, let alone talk about sexual abuse.

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Q: Religious guilt and sexual abuse – critics might say this is familiar territory for an Irish writer?

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A: That’s a lazy, easy thing to say. She’s not a victim. She’s constantly trying to make choices, even though it goes disastrously wrong. She suffers, but she’s not just a weak, wounded female. She grows up in a society where there is no vocabulary to speak about sex. Her promiscuity is her trying to keep control. She chooses: she can make this choice. Whatever people’s moral perspective on that, it is her choice to make.

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Q: The novel is about a relationship between a brother and sister. How would you describe that relationship?

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A: I think it is a love story between a brother and sister and they are emotionally bound up. It’s about love and the complexities of that. Often people think that sibling relationships are simple, but actually sibling relationship can be complicated as well. It never tips over into incest.

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Q: Publishers in the past have offered to produce the book as memoir. Is there anything autobiographical in the book?

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A: I did lose one of my brothers in a similar way. He was ill with a brain tumour and died. But it is definitely not memoir; it is fiction. Memoir is the monster of class="mandelbrot_refrag">publishing; it’s taking over everything. As if because you say ‘it happened’ it gives your writing legitimacy: you have something for nothing because the reader is on your side and believes every word.

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Q: You no longer live in Ireland. Why?

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A: No particular reason. Although Ireland is a difficult place to live. It’s a country that’s very approachable when you visit – but there’s a point of cut-off that unless you are family, or part of that community for generations, you are always on the outside.

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Q: How does it feel to create so much expectation about what you next publish?

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A: It is odd. Because I haven’t worked my way through class="mandelbrot_refrag">publishing, there are lots of things I don’t know. I’m very naive. I’m always asking at Faber, ‘What do you do?’ I feel like a complete beginner.

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(Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Heinrich)

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Chicago man faces 120 years in beating of exchange student

A Chicago man convicted in the savage beating of an Irish exchange student, which left her unable to walk or speak, faces up to 120 years in prison when he is sentenced on Thursday.

Heriberto Viramontes, 35, was found guilty last October of bashing two young women over the head with a wooden bat and robbing them in April 2010, including Natasha McShane, then 23, a graduate student from Northern class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ireland.

The attack, which took place in a neighborhood popular with young adults, brought international attention to the problem of violent crime in Chicago, the country's third-largest city. It also stirred Chicago's large Irish-American community, which held fundraisers on McShane's behalf.

 
 
 

Viramontes was convicted by a jury of two counts of attempted murder, among other felony counts, and prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 120 years in prison.

The beating left the second woman, Stacy Jurich, with ongoing health problems, including seizures, according to local media reports.

McShane and Jurich were headed home from a night of dancing and celebrating when Viramontes attacked them under a viaduct in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood.

Jurich testified against Viramontes, as did Marcy Cruz, a former stripper who confessed to driving the getaway van for Viramontes. Cruz was sentenced to 22 years in prison under a plea agreement, prosecutors said.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski, editing by G Crosse)

Nepal opens peaks named after Hillary, Tenzing to foreign climbers

Nepal has named two Himalayan peaks near Mount Everest after Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and opened them to foreigners for climbing, a month after a deadly avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides.

The conquest of Everest by New Zealand’s Hillary and his Nepali guide Tenzing in 1953 popularized Nepal as a destination for mountain climbers. The Himalayan country is home to eight of the 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 meters (26,247 ft).

Tilakram Pandey, a senior official at the Tourism Ministry, said the peaks - Hillary at 7,681 m (25,200 ft) and Tenzing at 7,916 m (25,971 ft) - were unclimbed so far.

 
 
 

Last month's tragedy forced hundreds of foreign climbers to abandon their attempts on Everest, and the renaming exercise marked an attempt to revive Nepal's appeal to mountaineers.

"We believe climbers will be attracted to these peaks and help promote mountaineering activities," Pandey told Reuters on Thursday. "Many foreign Alpine clubs and climbers have shown interest in the opening of these mountains."

Separately, the Tourism Ministry said two Nepali guides and an Indian climber were missing in snow since Tuesday while climbing the Yalung Kang peak in east Nepal.

A search was being conducted "very sincerely" to find the missing climbers, it said in a statement.

Tourism accounts for 4 percent of Nepal's gross domestic product, and fees paid by climbers for permits are a major source of income for the cash-strapped government.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Ron Popeski)

Globetrotting Germans dig deep for Brazilian adventure

For globetrotting Germans who love to travel and love soccer, the World Cup in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil could be about as close to paradise as many might come.

Some like Alex Schmeichel and six friends will spend 10,000 euros ($13,700) each - some taking out loans worth as much as a small car - to follow class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany around class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil next month when the three-time World Cup winners try to win an elusive fourth title.

"It's money well-invested," said Schmeichel, who works in public relations in Berlin. "It's an investment in our good health. We'll have a great time cheering class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany to the title and we'll come back refreshed and more productive in our jobs."

 
 
 

But Schmeichel and police officer Matthias Mueller, fitness trainer Lars Knobel, student Marius Purschke, property manager Tino Knobel, soccer coach Stephen Howaldt and Dirk Warner do not want to think of the hangover they might get if Germany fall short again. Winners in 1990, Germany lost the 2002 final and were knocked out in the semi-finals in 2006 and 2010.

With typical German thoroughness, the friends began planning for their five-week Brazil holiday more than a year ago. Last September they booked their accommodation and flights.

Germany are in Group G along with class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal, Ghana and the United States. Their group matches will be staged in Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife.

"We're all confident the soccer god will be with Germany this time around," said Schmeichel, 39, who once played for third division side Reinickendorfer Fuechse in Berlin. "We've been meticulously planning the whole thing for over a year."

While Germany is considered a wealthy country by most standards, the average annual wage of ordinary workers is 34,000 euros. So many German fans heading for Brazil could be spending a quarter to a third of their annual salary for the World Cup.

"It might seem a little crazy," said Mueller, who also coaches in Berlin. "But it's the highlight of the year. We all love to travel and even if Germany gets knocked out we'll keep the party going with the other soccer fans there."

German fans bought more than 50,000 tickets and there will be more Germans in Brazil than from any other European country.

Schmeichel - who followed Germany with a similar determination at Euro 96 in England, the World Cups in 1998 and 2006 - said there could be a hitch if Germany fail to win their group.

"If Germany only end up second in that group, we'll have do juggle some flights and bookings," he said. They already have tickets for the group matches and are optimistic they'll be able to buy tickets for Germany matches in the knockout rounds.

"We set a limit for how much we'll pay but we always end up paying more at the stadium," he said. "We can't afford astronomic prices. But we'll be there and we'll want to see the matches so we know we're going to have to open our wallets."

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Justin Palmer)

Russia's Putin helps release tigers into wild

Vladimir Putin helped release rare, orphaned Amur tigers into the wild on Thursday, the latest of several events apparently meant to portray the Russian president as an outdoorsman with a strong interest in wildlife conservation.

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Russian TV footage showed Putin, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, tugging on a rope to help open a gate and let the tigers - two males and a female - lope off into the wooded taiga of the remote Amur region in eastern Siberia.

The males were found as cubs in 2012, presumably orphaned when poachers killed their mothers, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which helped organize what it called the largest release of rehabilitated Amur tigers ever.

 
 
 

It said there are some 360 tigers in the wilds of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, down from more than 400 at the turn of the century, and that poaching, logging, wildfires and shrinkage in the population of the hoofed animals they prey upon post their main threats.

Putin, 61, has sought to project the image of a healthy, active man during 14 years as president or prime minister.

He has shot a tiger with a tranquilizer gun, hit a gray whale with a crossbow bolt to collect skin samples, and donned a baggy white jumpsuit to fly a motorized deltaplane surrounded by cranes to help introduce them into the wild.

Critics dismiss such activities as public relations exercises and Putin has acknowledged some of the stunts have been carefully staged, but has said they were worthwhile because they drew attention to conservation projects.

The Kremlin said the tigers released on Tuesday - dubbed Borya, Kuzia and Ilona - were now old enough to fend for themselves but would be monitored for a year, using collars with satellite tracking devices.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Obama to pitch U.S. tourism at Baseball Hall of Fame

President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama will make a pitch for U.S. tourism at a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday as part of his efforts to provide a boost for U.S. economic growth.

After meeting with the executives of tourism-related companies in Washington, the president was scheduled to travel to the institution in Cooperstown, New York, which celebrates baseball greats like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle and men with nicknames such as "Old Hoss," "Dizzy," and "Country."

The museum, which drew just over 250,000 visitors in 2013, was picked for the event because it draws tourists from around the world, officials said.

 
 
 

The president is aiming to draw attention to efforts to boost growth by making it easier for foreign visitors to spend money in the United States.

But he may have a hard time diverting attention from a flaring controversy over alleged neglect of veterans' healthcare that could cost Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Obama has dispatched one of his inner circle, Rob Nabors, to investigate charges that long wait times for veterans seeking medical treatment could have led to some deaths.

The government has done a good job class="mandelbrot_refrag">marketing the United States to travelers and cutting wait times for visas for tourists from class="mandelbrot_refrag">China, tourism CEOs told reporters after meeting with Obama.

But the government needs to do more to make the experience of landing in the country and going through customs and immigration more pleasant, they said.

"We've done research on arriving travelers, and about 40 percent say that they will tell folks in their own country, based on their arrival experience, not to come," said Arne Sorenson, chief executive of Marriott International.

"It's not just about how long the line is, but it's about the experience itself," said John Sprouls, chief administrative officer of Universal Parks and Resorts.

Obama issued a presidential memorandum on Thursday directing the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security to reduce wait times for international travelers when they arrive at the 15 largest airports in the country.

Administration officials told reporters that Dallas-Ft. Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports have been able to cut average wait times by 40 percent to an average of 15 minutes through automated passport kiosks and better signage, officials said.

Each international visitor spends on average $4,500 per visit, and the number of visitors has grown to 70 million in 2013 from 55 million in 2009, the White House said. Those visitors spent $180.7 billion, and the travel and tourism industry overall supported 8 million jobs, the administration said.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Chizu Nomiyama)

San Diego airport relents, allows anti-SeaWorld ad

The San Diego airport has agreed to run an animal rights group's advertisement asking visitors to avoid SeaWorld, a major tourist attraction in the city that has faced criticism over its killer whale shows, the ACLU said on Thursday.

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The airport agreed to run the advertisement as part of a legal settlement after the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a federal lawsuit in March accusing the airport and the company that handles its class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising of infringing on PETA's free speech rights by initially balking at the ad.

"There appears to have been viewpoint discrimination and we are glad that issue was resolved," said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties which helped represent PETA in the lawsuit.

 
 
 

Officials at San Diego International Airport, without admitting wrongdoing in a legal settlement filed in court this month, agreed to allow the PETA class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising poster to go up this week in their baggage claim area.

The ad welcomes visitors to San Diego and features film and television actress Kathy Najimy, a San Diego native. "If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld," the script says.

The legal tussle over the advertisement comes as SeaWorld faces increased scrutiny over conditions for its killer whales, in large part due to last year's broadcast of the documentary "Blackfish" which tells the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld's park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

A California Democratic lawmaker has said he was inspired by "Blackfish" to introduce legislation proposing to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales to perform tricks in famed "Shamu" shows at its California park. The bill was effectively killed last month, as other lawmakers called for more research.

Representatives for SeaWorld and the airport did not immediately return calls on Thursday.

An official with JCDecaux, the company that handles advertising at the airport, initially told PETA its ad featuring Najimy could not go up because it violated the company's internal policies against "disparaging" and "demeaning" content, according to the animal rights group's lawsuit.

Najimy has guest-starred on the HBO comedy "Veep," played a supporting role in Kirstie Alley's 1990s sitcom "Veronica's Closet" and had a supporting role in the 1992 film "Sister Act."

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Walsh)

O.J. Simpson lawyers file for new trial in 2007 robbery

Lawyers for O.J. Simpson submitted a bulky document requesting a new trial for the former NFL star in an attempt to have his 2008 armed-robbery conviction overturned, court officials said on Thursday.

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The attorneys for Simpson, who is not eligible for parole until 2017, filed the opening brief in his December 2013 appeal before a midnight-Wednesday deadline, said Nevada Supreme Court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer.

The document came in at 19,993 words, well over the 14,000 word limit, along with a request to exceed the word count because of the complexity of the case.

 
 
 

Before the brief can be made public, the court will have to accept Simpson's request to go over the limit, Sommermeyer said.

In 2008, Simpson, 66, was convicted on charges of burglary, robbery, kidnapping and assault while in possession of a deadly weapon related to a 2007 robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas hotel.

Simpson testified at the time that he was trying to retrieve items that he believed had been stolen from him.

He was sentenced to up to 33 years by the district court and has been incarcerated at Lovelock Correctional Center since.

He asked for a new trial in May 2013, arguing that he was inadequately represented, but district court judge Linda Bell denied his request. Simpson appealed that ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court in December.

Simpson's attorney Patricia Palm argued in a motion filed with the brief that his extremely complicated case required more than the 14,000 words allowed by the court. Palm said the court record in his case exceeded 7,000 pages of material, including the 100-page decision Simpson is appealing.

A pro Football Hall of Fame running back for the Buffalo Bills, Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of two counts of murder in the death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. He later lost a wrongful death case that was brought by the victims' families.

Palm could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner)

Trip Tips: Manaus, Brazil's industrial outpost in the Amazon

Manaus is best known as a stopover for travelers on the way to and from eco tours in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, but in many ways it is more like a bustling frontier outpost of the modern, industrial world on a distant, jungle planet.

Visitors may find the sci-fi feel of the place enhanced by the fact that the only reliable ways to get there are by plane or river boat. The next closest urban center, Belém, is 777 miles (1,250 km) away, and Manaus is a four-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. (Map: goo.gl/maps/wQcdt)

Manaus is surrounded on three sides by mostly impassible jungle and on the other by rivers: the enormous Rio Negro and the almost unimaginably more powerful Amazon River.

 
 
 

When you step off the plane, even the air can seem other-worldly, a hot, humid blast that feels like steam - so much so that physical effort can be utterly exhausting.

But this city of 2 million is more than just jungle. It is a free-trade zone with an oil refinery and dozens of class="mandelbrot_refrag">electronics and appliance factories. Its residents, an ethnic soup of Brazilians of native Indian, African, European and Japanese descent, assemble everything from cellphones to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

To keep all this going you need life-support. The city protects itself from the hostile environment with ice-cold air conditioning. Passing from refrigerated hotel to scorching sidewalk to refrigerated taxi can be a thermal shock.

Soccer fans should be prepared to sweat when Manaus hosts four World Cup class="mandelbrot_refrag">games next month in a new $300 million stadium that looks destined to become a white elephant. Arena Amazônia is the venue for England vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, Cameroon vs Croatia, USA vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal and Honduras vs Switzerland.

Here are some tips for getting to know Manaus from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

OPERA IN THE AMAZON

Colonial houses, churches and monuments dating back to the 1850s are clustered in Largo Sao Sebastião, where the star attraction is a French Belle Époque opera house built over a century ago by rubber barons - the 700-seat Teatro Amazonas.

This year, the April 19-June 30 opera season includes 33 performances. Visitors looking for high culture in the Amazon can see Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" or Bizet's "Carmen."

For breakfast with a view of the Rio Negro, visit the newly restored Adolpho Lisboa market on Rua dos Barés. It was inspired by Paris's Les Halles market and features Portuguese stained glass. The crafts sold there are unique to the Amazon.

TASTE OF THE JUNGLE

While an excursion to a nature lodge or a river cruise up the Amazon to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Peru is the best way to experience the rainforest, you can also visit the jungle without foregoing urban comforts.

_0">

The National Institute of Amazonian Research offers 32 acres (13 hectares) of forest within the city limits. Visitors can see the Amazon River's aquatic life in nearby aquariums.

_1">

For a closer encounter with the jungle, a five-hour trek still gets you back to civilization in time for dinner. Mosquito repellent, water and close-toed shoes, preferably boots to protect against parasites and other creepy crawlers, are mandatory for setting foot in the Amazon.

_2">

One such excursion leaves from the Hotel Tropical Manaus, a sprawling resort just outside the city. The guides are walking encyclopedias on the rainforest, its daunting trees, exotic fruits and medicinal plants. Tours, for a minimum of five people, cost 195 reais ($87) a head. Jungle creatures like tapirs and jaguars tend to stay hidden but you may see monkeys, parrots and toucans.

_3">

If you stay at the Hotel Tropical, one of the city's best nightclubs is on the top floor. (www.tropicalmanaus.com.br)

_4">

_5">

PINK DOLPHINS

_6">

A cruise down the Rio Negro is another way to explore the jungle. Companies like Fontour (www.fontur.com.br) and Amazon Explorers (www.amazonexplorers.tur.br) do excursions in English.

_7">

Both use large boats equipped with bathrooms. An Amazon Explorers' cruise costs 135 reais ($60) per person and departs from the port near the Adolpho Lisboa market. Fontour charges 150 reais ($67) a day, and leaves from the Hotel Tropical pier.

_8">

About 30 minutes out, visitors experience "the meeting of the rivers," when the dark, tea-colored waters of the Rio Negro touch the clearer waters of the Rio Solimões, as the upper Amazon is known in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil. The rivers run side by side for several miles, eventually coming together in swirls as different temperatures and water densities balance.

_9">

With any luck passengers will also see playful, pink river dolphins, or their gray cousins known as "Tucuxi."

_10">

The itinerary also includes stops at a floating restaurant for lunch and a market with indigenous crafts. There, you may get to hold a sloth, or a "lazy beast," as the locals call them.

_11">

_12">

TOXIC SOUP?

_13">

Fish dishes in Manaus are served with fried plantain, yellow manioc flower, and rice and beans. A typical breakfast features fruits and juices found nowhere else, like the pulpy cupuaçu and palm fruits pupunha and tucumã.

_14">

For a more exotic meal, order tacacá, a soup made from the wild cassava root common to the Amazon. To eat the wild cassava, you have to squeeze out the juice and boil it, which removes its toxic qualities.

_15">

The result is a yellowish cooking broth packed with nutrients that Amazon tribes call tucupi. Tacacá is hot tucupi with dried shrimp and jambú, a spinach-like green that briefly numbs the tongue.

_0">

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Restaurants like Banzeiro (www.restaurantebanzeiro.com.br) and Waku Sese (here) offer sophisticated recipes crafted with regional ingredients. Try the costela de tambaqui, the ribs of a giant river fish.

_1">

For an afternoon stroll, walk along the Rio Negro toward the Ponta Negra, or "Black Point." The view can be stunning at sunset, as you sip on chilled coconut water.

_2">

_3">

(Writing by Jeb Blount and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Todd Benson and Mary Milliken)

_4">

Judge reinstates 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author's lawsuit against museum

A federal judge on Thursday reinstated a lawsuit by "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee against an Alabama museum she accuses of illegally profiting from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

Attorneys for Lee and the Monroe County Heritage Museum announced in February that the two sides reached an out-of-court settlement.

But the agreement has fallen through, according to legal filings from Lee's attorneys. An Alabama judge on Thursday reset a trial date for November 2014.

 
 
 

Norman Stockman, an attorney for Lee, said in the filing that the museum has not complied with the terms and is attempting to add new requests. The museum's lawyer, Sam David Knight, declined to comment. Details of the agreement have not been made public.

The reclusive author sued the museum in October, saying it never paid her a licensing fee for using the novel's title and a mockingbird image on merchandise it sold in its gift shop.

Lee's suit contended the museum earned more than $500,000 in 2011 by selling goods including aprons, kitchen towels, clothing and coasters emblazoned with the title of her sole published work.

The museum is located in Monroeville, the rural town that inspired the setting for Lee's 1960 bestselling classic about racism and injustice.

The tourist attraction includes the old courthouse that served as a model for the courtroom in the book's movie version, which earned Gregory Peck the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of small-town lawyer Atticus Finch.

Museum officials contend that Lee never requested compensation for the souvenirs honoring her literary legacy before filing the lawsuit.

Lee, 88, is in declining health after suffering a stroke and lives in an assisted living facility in Monroeville, according to the suit.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Ken Wills)

San Diego airport relents, allows anti-SeaWorld ad

San Diego International Airport has agreed to run an animal rights group's advertisement asking visitors to avoid SeaWorld, a major city tourist attraction that has faced criticism over shows featuring killer whales, a civil rights group said on Thursday.

The airport, which had balked at displaying the ad, agreed to do so as part of a legal settlement after an animal rights group sued in March accusing the airport and the company that handles its class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising of infringing on its free speech rights.

"There appears to have been viewpoint discrimination, and we are glad that issue was resolved," said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, which helped represent People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the lawsuit.

 
 
 

Officials at San Diego International Airport, without admitting wrongdoing in a legal settlement filed this month, agreed to allow the PETA class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising poster to go up this week in the airport's baggage claim area.

The ad welcomes visitors to San Diego and features film and television actress Kathy Najimy, a San Diego native. "If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld," the script says.

The legal tussle over the advertisement comes as SeaWorld faces scrutiny over conditions for its killer whales, in large part due to last year's broadcast of the documentary "Blackfish," which tells the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld's park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

A California Democratic lawmaker has said he was inspired by "Blackfish" to introduce legislation proposing to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales to perform tricks in famed "Shamu" shows at its California park. The bill was effectively killed last month, as other lawmakers called for more research.

SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz called the ad a publicity stunt, and said the park's animals were healthy and happy and that SeaWorld was committed to ensuring their well-being.

"There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of animals than SeaWorld," he said.

Representatives for the airport did not immediately return calls on Thursday.

An official with JCDecaux, which handles advertising at the airport, initially told PETA its ad featuring Najimy could not go up because it violated policies against "disparaging" and "demeaning" content, according to the lawsuit.

Najimy has guest-starred on the HBO comedy "Veep," played a supporting role in Kirstie Alley's 1990s sitcom "Veronica's Closet" and had a supporting role in the 1992 film "Sister Act."

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Walsh and David Gregorio)

Philanthropist, big spender, warlord: Chinese tycoon's Australian faces

Former managers and staff at Liu Han’s Australian operations were dumbfounded when the Chinese tycoon went on trial last month for leading a murderous, mafia-style gang.

In 2009 when Liu, 48, launched a bid to take control of Moly Mines, executives then running the Perth-based company ordered background checks. Their findings could not have been more different: Liu was best known in class="mandelbrot_refrag">China as a philanthropist in his native Sichuan province.

One story stood out. Amid the devastation near the epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a school Liu had helped build remained standing and all of its students had escaped unharmed. In contrast, many other shoddily built classrooms, so-called “tofu schools”, had collapsed, killing thousands of children. Liu also donated generously to reconstruction and relief efforts.

 
 
 

For Moly Mines, Liu's philanthropy enhanced his credibility as an investor in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia. "No one said he was a criminal”, says Collis Thorp, then chief operating officer of Moly Mines and a veteran of Western Australia’s booming mineral sector.

After opening negotiations with Liu, the Australian executives also learned he had global ambitions. Liu wanted Moly Mines to become the platform for an international class="mandelbrot_refrag">commodity trading house. The company was sitting on a massive molybdenum deposit, thought to be the second biggest in the world, in Western Australia’s mineral rich Pilbara region.

Molybdenum provides strength, heat tolerance and corrosion resistance in a range of specialized class="mandelbrot_refrag">steel alloys for industrial and military use and is seen as a strategic class="mandelbrot_refrag">commodity. Liu said he could arrange financing from Chinese class="mandelbrot_refrag">banks to build and operate mines on the deposit.

Neither Moly Mines nor Australian regulators say they turned up any findings about Liu that would threaten the deal. In late 2009, Liu’s privately-held Sichuan Hanlong Group won approval from the Australian government, paying $140 million for 52 per cent of Moly Mines and providing the company with a $60 million loan. Hanlong also pledged to secure $500 million in funding to develop the deposit.

For Moly executives, one unnerving fact did emerge from Liu’s past: someone had tried to kill him. In 1997, Liu narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in his hometown of Guanghan when a gunman fired two shots at him but missed, according to reports in the official media of court cases in class="mandelbrot_refrag">China. Liu’s Australian managers and advisors say they assumed the failed hit explained why the Chinese tycoon always traveled with a bodyguard.

BIG SPENDER

With Hanlong in control of Moly Mines and looking for more investment targets, Liu was a regular visitor to Perth and other state capitals.

To his local staff, the head of the biggest privately held group in Sichuan appeared to be a stereotype of a cashed-up mainland tycoon - one former employee noted a diamond-encrusted, custom-made Franck Muller watch on his wrist.

When Liu entertained, he routinely ordered the most expensive French wines, spending more than $12,000 on a bottle of class="mandelbrot_refrag">wine in Sydney, according to former staff. One former manager recalls Liu spending $100,000 on wine in one meal.

And, he was passionate about cars. Liu boasted that he had a fleet of 80 luxury vehicles, according to staff from his Chinese and Australian companies. A former executive at one of Liu's companies said the tycoon owned a Lamborghini SuperVeloce China, a limited edition sports car specially designed for wealthy Chinese buyers with a distinctive orange stripe through the middle of the body.

Liu’s greatest passion was gambling, his Australian and Chinese staff say, staying at the tables until dawn and then sleeping until mid-day. He was a regular at Crown class="mandelbrot_refrag">casinos in Perth and Melbourne. He sometimes complained when he lost heavily, but always claimed he recovered his losses on subsequent visits. In Perth, he often stayed in Crown’s presidential suite, former staff and advisors say.

At his trial, Liu admitted losing $128 million in Macau, $15 million in the United States, $9 million in Singapore and about $1 million in Australia, according to prosecutors. “I was unwilling to leave gambling tables, either when I was winning or losing money,” Liu testified, according to official reports of his trial. “If I win, I want to win more. If I lose, I want to recover my losses. I would only leave when I lost all my chips.”

_0">

Australian executives who visited him on business trips to Chengdu, where the Hanlong group has its headquarters, and other cities in China, say Liu’s routine typically involved short meetings followed by long lunches or dinners in private rooms at restaurants or hotels. “There would be lots of people running around and lots of courses,” says John McEvoy, Moly Mines’ former chief financial officer, who traveled in China with Liu.

_1">

To former Moly Mines staffer, mainland-born Xu Chuanmei, Liu appeared to be intelligent, well-educated and avoided business jargon in his Sichuan-accented Chinese. Liu speaks little or no English and always used an interpreter while overseas.

_2">

“He likes to put things in a simple way,” she says, adding that Liu often traveled with his own supplies of Sichuan food and condiments.

_3">

Eventually, Liu’s plans for Moly Mines were frustrated as stubbornly low molybdenum prices undermined the viability of the company’s deposit. Most of the executive team at the company when Hanlong took control have since left or been replaced.

_4">

_5">

THE WARLORD

_6">

A more equivocal picture of the Chinese tycoon began to emerge after Liu made takeover bids for two other Perth-based companies, Sundance Resources and Bannerman Mining. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australia's corporate regulator, investigated executives at Liu’s Australian subsidiary, Hanlong Mining Investment, for insider trading linked to the failed bids. One of the executives, Calvin Zhu Boshi, a Shanghai-born Australian citizen, pleaded guilty and in February last year was jailed for 15 months.

_7">

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court of New South Wales ahead of his sentencing, Zhu said shortly after he joined Hanlong Mining in 2010, fellow executives had described Liu Han as a “warlord”.

_8">

“In Chinese culture, that means Liu Han is a powerful business person; he is successful in business, politics and the underworld,” Zhu said in his affidavit.

_9">

Being part of Liu Han’s executive team gave Zhu entrée to a high-flying lifestyle of business or first class air travel, top hotels and the best restaurants. In Hong Kong, he and colleagues stayed at VIP rooms at Hong Kong’s Shangri-La Hotel and the Ritz Carlton in Beijing, he said in his affidavit. “Although everything was paid by Hanlong, I felt money was no object,” he said. “I wielded money and power and I felt like I was really starting to become somebody important.”

_10">

With a fellow executive, Zhu regularly spent over $3,000 a day on food and drink, he said. While in Beijing, a colleague bought two luxury cars for them to drive, an Audi Q7 and an Audi S5. “We were always chauffeured in Mercedes', Range Rovers and sometimes in Rolls Royces,” Zhu said in his affidavit.

_11">

However, Zhu began to fear for his safety when he decided to confess to illegal trades and cooperate with the investigation into other Hanlong Mining executives. Zhu pleaded guilty to trading shares and derivatives in the Sundance and Bannerman bids. He also pleaded guilty to insider trading during stints with two earlier employers. Zhu admitted he made more than $370,000 in profit from insider dealing. Gains from the Sundance and Bannerman trades were transferred to Hong Kong bank accounts.

_12">

In his affidavit, he said Liu Han had assistants in Australia who had connections with underground figures linked to casinos and loan sharks. Zhu said he hoped that the Sundance takeover bid succeeded so that Liu would not be so angry with him. “As long as I do not get Han Liu into any trouble, I do not think he will come after me,” he said in his affidavit.

_13">

Zhu needn’t have worried about his safety. Within a month of the Australian starting his sentence, Liu Han himself was in custody. He is awaiting the verdict, expected on Friday, on charges of murder, gun-running, fraud, extortion, illegal gambling and a string of other offences.

_14">

_15">

(Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Trip Tips: Manaus, Brazil's industrial outpost in the Amazon

Manaus is best known as a stopover for travelers on the way to and from eco tours in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, but in many ways it is more like a bustling frontier outpost of the modern, industrial world on a distant, jungle planet.

Visitors may find the sci-fi feel of the place enhanced by the fact that the only reliable ways to get there are by plane or river boat. The next closest urban center, Belém, is 777 miles (1,250 km) away, and Manaus is a four-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. (Map: goo.gl/maps/wQcdt)

Manaus is surrounded on three sides by mostly impassible jungle and on the other by rivers: the enormous Rio Negro and the almost unimaginably more powerful Amazon River.

 
 
 

When you step off the plane, even the air can seem other-worldly, a hot, humid blast that feels like steam - so much so that physical effort can be utterly exhausting.

But this city of 2 million is more than just jungle. It is a free-trade zone with an oil refinery and dozens of class="mandelbrot_refrag">electronics and appliance factories. Its residents, an ethnic soup of Brazilians of native Indian, African, European and Japanese descent, assemble everything from cellphones to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

To keep all this going you need life-support. The city protects itself from the hostile environment with ice-cold air conditioning. Passing from refrigerated hotel to scorching sidewalk to refrigerated taxi can be a thermal shock.

Soccer fans should be prepared to sweat when Manaus hosts four World Cup class="mandelbrot_refrag">games next month in a new $300 million stadium that looks destined to become a white elephant. Arena Amazônia is the venue for England vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, Cameroon vs Croatia, USA vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal and Honduras vs Switzerland.

Here are some tips for getting to know Manaus from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

OPERA IN THE AMAZON

Colonial houses, churches and monuments dating back to the 1850s are clustered in Largo Sao Sebastião, where the star attraction is a French Belle Époque opera house built over a century ago by rubber barons - the 700-seat Teatro Amazonas.

This year, the April 19-June 30 opera season includes 33 performances. Visitors looking for high culture in the Amazon can see Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" or Bizet's "Carmen."

For breakfast with a view of the Rio Negro, visit the newly restored Adolpho Lisboa market on Rua dos Barés. It was inspired by Paris's Les Halles market and features Portuguese stained glass. The crafts sold there are unique to the Amazon.

TASTE OF THE JUNGLE

While an excursion to a nature lodge or a river cruise up the Amazon to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Peru is the best way to experience the rainforest, you can also visit the jungle without foregoing urban comforts.

_0">

The National Institute of Amazonian Research offers 32 acres (13 hectares) of forest within the city limits. Visitors can see the Amazon River's aquatic life in nearby aquariums.

_1">

For a closer encounter with the jungle, a five-hour trek still gets you back to civilization in time for dinner. Mosquito repellent, water and close-toed shoes, preferably boots to protect against parasites and other creepy crawlers, are mandatory for setting foot in the Amazon.

_2">

One such excursion leaves from the Hotel Tropical Manaus, a sprawling resort just outside the city. The guides are walking encyclopedias on the rainforest, its daunting trees, exotic fruits and medicinal plants. Tours, for a minimum of five people, cost 195 reais ($87) a head. Jungle creatures like tapirs and jaguars tend to stay hidden but you may see monkeys, parrots and toucans.

_3">

If you stay at the Hotel Tropical, one of the city's best nightclubs is on the top floor. (www.tropicalmanaus.com.br)

_4">

_5">

PINK DOLPHINS

_6">

A cruise down the Rio Negro is another way to explore the jungle. Companies like Fontour (www.fontur.com.br) and Amazon Explorers (www.amazonexplorers.tur.br) do excursions in English.

_7">

Both use large boats equipped with bathrooms. An Amazon Explorers' cruise costs 135 reais ($60) per person and departs from the port near the Adolpho Lisboa market. Fontour charges 150 reais ($67) a day, and leaves from the Hotel Tropical pier.

_8">

About 30 minutes out, visitors experience "the meeting of the rivers," when the dark, tea-colored waters of the Rio Negro touch the clearer waters of the Rio Solimões, as the upper Amazon is known in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil. The rivers run side by side for several miles, eventually coming together in swirls as different temperatures and water densities balance.

_9">

With any luck passengers will also see playful, pink river dolphins, or their gray cousins known as "Tucuxi."

_10">

The itinerary also includes stops at a floating restaurant for lunch and a market with indigenous crafts. There, you may get to hold a sloth, or a "lazy beast," as the locals call them.

_11">

_12">

TOXIC SOUP?

_13">

Fish dishes in Manaus are served with fried plantain, yellow manioc flower, and rice and beans. A typical breakfast features fruits and juices found nowhere else, like the pulpy cupuaçu and palm fruits pupunha and tucumã.

_14">

For a more exotic meal, order tacacá, a soup made from the wild cassava root common to the Amazon. To eat the wild cassava, you have to squeeze out the juice and boil it, which removes its toxic qualities.

_15">

The result is a yellowish cooking broth packed with nutrients that Amazon tribes call tucupi. Tacacá is hot tucupi with dried shrimp and jambú, a spinach-like green that briefly numbs the tongue.

_0">

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Restaurants like Banzeiro (www.restaurantebanzeiro.com.br) and Waku Sese (here) offer sophisticated recipes crafted with regional ingredients. Try the costela de tambaqui, the ribs of a giant river fish.

_1">

For an afternoon stroll, walk along the Rio Negro toward the Ponta Negra, or "Black Point." The view can be stunning at sunset, as you sip on chilled coconut water.

_2">

_3">

(Writing by Jeb Blount and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Todd Benson and Mary Milliken)

_4">

England's King Richard III to be re-buried near scene of his death

England's King Richard III, whose body was discovered under a municipal car park, will be reburied near to where he was slain in battle 500 years ago, a court ruled on Friday, dashing the hopes of his distant descendants who had wanted his remains to be taken back to his northern stronghold.

The unearthing two years ago of the remains of the last English king to die in battle was one of the most important archaeological finds of recent years.

Richard was slain at Bosworth Field near Leicester, central England, in 1485, bringing to an end the rule of the Plantagenet dynasty after 300 years.

 
 
 

His death was the culmination of the Wars of the Roses, a bloody 30-year power struggle between Richard's House of York and the rival House of Lancaster.

The whereabouts of his grave had been a mystery until a skeleton with curved spine and head wounds was found by archaeologists from the University of Leicester, with DNA tests confirming it was indeed the king.

The university was given permission by Britain's Ministry of Justice to re-bury the king at Leicester cathedral.

But the Plantagenet Alliance, a group which included some of Richard's distant descendants, asked London's High Court to block the burial plans, arguing the decision on the final resting place should have been a matter of public consultation.

They wanted their ancestor to be reinterred in the northern city of York, his power base during his 26-month reign.

However, their case was thrown out by three of the country's most senior judges on Friday.

"Since Richard III's exhumation of Sept. 5, 2012, passions have been roused and much ink has been spilt," their ruling said. "We agree that is it is time for Richard III to be given a dignified reburial and finally laid to rest."

A tough soldier and popular in the north, Richard remains a hugely divisive figure in English history, seen by some as a monster who murdered two princes - his own nephews - in the Tower of London to take the throne, and by others as an enlightened ruler unfairly maligned by his enemies.

He was cast by Shakespeare as a power-crazed hunchback, who famously went down fighting to keep his crown from the invading forces of Henry Tudor crying out "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!".

After the battle, the victor, the future King Henry VII, had Richard's naked body exposed to the people of Leicester to show the battle was won before he was buried in a monastery which was later destroyed.

"HORRIFIC DEATH"

In their ruling, the three judges said Queen Elizabeth was content for the dead king to be buried in Leicester, and did not class="mandelbrot_refrag">express a wish for a royal funeral or for a re-interment at London's Westminster Abbey where many medieval monarchs were laid to rest.

_0">

The judges also said the Plantagenet Alliance, set up by Stephen Nicolay, the 16th-great-nephew of Richard, represented only a fraction of the number of his descendants.

_1">

The alliance said in a statement after the ruling: "We believe that the proposed location of Leicester is wholly inappropriate for the burial of King Richard III, who had no connections with the town beyond his horrific death, bodily despoliation and appalling burial in a foreshortened grave.

_2">

"It is fitting and respectful and in keeping with all of our national customs regarding treatment of the dead, to bury this king in a place 'appropriate to him' – that place is York."

_3">

The University of Leicester will now go-ahead with plans for the reburial, likely to be early next year, while the city council has unveiled plans for a 4 million pound ($6.6 million) visitor centre around the find, hoping that fascination with the monarch will prove to be a hit with tourists.

_4">

"This will be a momentous event for the city and county, and an opportunity to show the rest of the world that Leicester is the rightful resting place for the last Plantagenet King of England," said Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby.

_5">

Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the dig which found the remains, said it was right they stayed in the city.

_6">

"Ultimately a King of England by right of conquest - Henry VII - decided in August 1485 to hand over the vanquished King Richard’s remains to the Franciscan Friars in Leicester for burial," he said.

_7">

"There they have lain for over half a millennium and have become part of Leicester’s history."

_8">

_9">

(editing by Stephen Addison)

_10">