On iconic U.S. Route 66, German and Italian POWs lie in Oklahoma graves

Along America's most fabled road, Route 66, lie the almost forgotten graves of German and Italian prisoners of war brought to Oklahoma some 70 years ago and who now rest in the red soil of a former Wild West pioneer outpost.

All but ignored by the thousands who travel Route 66 each year on nostalgic tours in search of bygone America, there are few signs and little fanfare surrounding the cemetery housing the remains of 62 German and eight Italian soldiers.

As many as 20,000 German POWs were brought to Oklahoma during World War Two and held at eight main camps and about two dozen branch camps chosen for their remoteness from urban areas for security reasons.

Germans made up the bulk of the POWs, who were put to work at tasks such as picking cotton and clearing fields. Most had been captured in fighting in North Africa but never made it home when the war was over after dying of pneumonia, appendicitis, accidents and, in one case, murder.

In the Fort Reno cemetery, separated by a low wall from the graves of those who died in the Wild West days, lies Hans Siefert, who suffered fatal wounds from a boiler explosion.

The most contentious among the dead is Johannes Kunze, who was murdered by fellow POWs who thought he passed Nazi information to U.S. doctors at a camp in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, said Karen Nix, director of the Fort Reno Visitor Center and Museum, about 40 miles (65 kms) west of Oklahoma City

"The die-hard Nazi prisoners killed him – beat him to death. Those four Nazis were hung, and Kunze was buried here," Nix said.

A few years ago, someone wrote "TRAITOR" on his tombstone in spray paint.

"Someone who knew the story desecrated his grave," said Nix.

A few relatives, however, know of the cemetery and come for annual visits, placing small German or Italian flags or flowers at the burial plots.

"It's a touching thing to see. We have one German fellow in particular who comes every year with his son to see his father," Nix said.

Some locals, like Italian-American Giuseppe Clemente, have a soft spot for the men. Clemente has been working to repatriate the remains of the Italian POWs, many of whose families have forgotten their relatives captured decades ago in Africa and taken to a remote corner of the United States.

One of those was Private Francesco Erriquez, also listed in official records as "Francisco", who was 31 when he was captured by Allied Forces in North Africa, and who died in a class="mandelbrot_refrag">farming accident on Jan. 13, 1944, and was buried at Fort Reno.

Erriquez's parents in the southern Italian town of Spinazzola never knew what became of their son, but Clemente traveled to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy and eventually found his 85-year-old sister Rosa.

"The loneliness is amazing. No one remembers these people," said Clemente.

"We worked for three years with the Italian Consulate to be able to send Erriquez home," Nix said.

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"On June 20, 2011, we had a very touching service to disinter him. After 67 years, he was finally able to go home. His remains were taken to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, and he’s buried next to his mom and dad."

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(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Ken Wills)

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U.S. D-Day paratrooper, 93, to jump again for anniversary

Seventy years ago, Jim "Pee Wee" Martin parachuted into class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, behind German enemy lines, ahead of the D-Day invasion.

This week, at the age of 93, the Ohio World War Two veteran is jumping into Normandy again to mark the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, sea-borne landings by Allied troops, although this time he will not be making the leap alone.

"They are making me do a tandem," Martin said in a telephone interview. "They are worried about me getting hurt. I said, 'Don't worry about it. If I get hurt or I get killed, what is the difference? I've lived 93 years. I've had a good life.'"

Martin said he was jumping now because he may be the last man from his unit of the 101st Airborne Division to ever do it again.

Martin, who lives near Dayton, said he will use a round canopy parachute like those in World War Two, which drop more quickly than modern parachutes. He is also taking one of his jump jackets from the war to class="mandelbrot_refrag">France to display.

After the war, he worked in a tool shop until age 65.

A U.S. Veterans Affairs doctor cleared him to make the jump physically and pronounced him mentally fit, he said.

"You might ask some of my friends around here if they believe in that," Martin said. "Some of them think that I'm crazy."

Martin recalled that on the first night as Allied troops parachuted in for the D-Day invasion, local people thanked them for coming even as their houses were burning, and he has since received a warm reception in France.

"Some people will come up to you and cry and say, 'I was a little girl back then and I remember what happened, and you gave us our freedom,'" Martin said.

Martin, who was a private in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was among the first Americans in combat in Europe. After Normandy, where his unit fought to capture key bridges, he parachuted into Holland in "Operation Market Garden" and fought at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

As a defense industry worker, he had a deferment from military service, but Martin said he saw that France and Britain could not win the war in Europe on their own and that men with families were joining the service and being drafted. He enlisted at age 21 and was later awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

"The one thing I want to emphasize is that we were not heroes. A hero is someone not expected to do something," he said.

"When you volunteer, and you get trained for it and get paid for it, you may be brave as hell but you are not a hero."

(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Will Dunham)

Brazil's Catholic church gives World Cup organizers a 'red card'

Pope Francis may be a die-hard soccer fan, but the Catholic church has given Brazil's World Cup organizers a "red card" for spending billions of dollars on stadiums while failing to improve the country's notoriously poor public services.

In a red card-shaped brochure distributed this week in churches and parishes across the world's biggest Roman Catholic country, Brazil's Bishops Conference urged the Brazilian government to respect people's right to demonstrate against the month-long tournament that kicks off next Thursday.

"The Church wants to contribute to the public debate and class="mandelbrot_refrag">express its concern with ... the inversion of priorities in the use of public money that should go to health, education, basic sanitation, transportation and security," it said.

That view is shared by many Brazilians who have taken to the streets sporadically over the past year to protest against spending on World Cup stadiums, which are widely viewed as symbols of waste in the South American nation.

More protests are expected during the tournament.

An ardent fan who often receives soccer shirts from worshippers during mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis, an Argentine, is expected to deliver a message of peace ahead of the World Cup.

In its brochure, the Brazilian church criticized World Cup organizers for evicting hundreds of poor people from areas near stadiums, ignoring environmental regulations and surrendering the sport to "big corporations."

It also urged Brazilian authorities to combat sexual exploitation during the event, which is expected to attract 800,000 foreign soccer fans to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil.

The success of the World Cup, the bishops said, will not be measured by how much money it contributes to the local class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy or the profit it will bring its sponsors.

"A victory for all will only be possible if some fundamental demands are met."

In soccer, a red card is displayed by a referee to indicate that a player is being sent off the field for a flagrant violation.

(Editing by Todd Benson and Tom Brown)

Pope fires entire board of Vatican financial watchdog

Pope Francis sacked the five-man board of the Vatican's financial watchdog on Thursday - all Italians - in the latest move to break with an old guard associated with a murky past under his predecessor.

The Vatican said the pope named four experts from Switzerland, Singapore, the United States and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy to replace them on the board of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), the Holy See's internal regulatory office. The new board includes a woman for the first time.

All five outgoing members were Italians who had been expected to serve five-year terms ending in 2016 and were laymen associated with the Vatican's discredited financial old guard.

Reformers inside the Vatican had been pushing for the pope, who already has taken a series of steps to clean up Vatican finances, to appoint professionals with an international background to work with Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss lawyer who heads the AIF and who has been pushing for change.

Vatican sources said Bruelhart, Liechtenstein's former top anti-money laundering expert, was chafing under the old board and wanted Francis to appoint global professionals like him.

"Bruelhart wanted a board he could work with and it seems the pope has come down on his side and sent the old boy network packing," said a Vatican source familiar with the situation.

The new board of the AIF includes Marc Odendall, who administers and advises philanthropic organizations in Switzerland, and Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard law professor and senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington D.C.

The other two board members are Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, former managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and senior advisor to that country's president, and Maria Bianca Farina, the head of two Italian insurance companies.

Francis, who was elected in March 2013 after the resignation of former class="mandelbrot_refrag">Pope Benedict, in February set up a new Secretariat for the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Economy reporting directly to him and appointed an outsider, Australian Cardinal George Pell, to head it.

In January he removed Cardinal Attilio Nicora, a prelate who played a senior role in Vatican finances for more than a decade, as president of the AIF and replaced him with an archbishop with a track record of reform within the Vatican bureaucracy.

He also replaced four of the five cardinals in the commission that supervises the Vatican's troubled bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).

Since the arrival of Bruelhart in 2012, the AIF has been spearheading reforms to bring the Vatican in line with international standards on financial transparency and money laundering. But Vatican sources say he has encountered resistance from an old, entrenched guard.

A report last December by Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the Council of Europe, said the Vatican had enacted significant reforms but must still exercise more oversight over its bank.

Francis, who has said Vatican finances must be transparent in order for the Church to have credibility, decided against closing the IOR on condition that reforms, including closing accounts by people not entitled to have them, continued.

Only Vatican employees, religious institutions, orders of priests and nuns and Catholic charities are allowed to have accounts at the bank. But investigators have found that a number were being used by outsiders or that legitimate account holders were handling money for third parties.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former senior Vatican accountant who had close ties to the IOR, is currently on trial accused of plotting to smuggle millions of dollars into class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy from Switzerland in a scheme to help rich friends avoid taxes.

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Scarano has also been indicted on separate charges of laundering millions of euros through the IOR. Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, the IOR's director and deputy director, who resigned last July after Scarano's arrest, have been ordered to stand trial on charges of violating anti-money laundering norms.

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(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Who won the war? Russians take a different view on D-Day

Sitting in the shade on a bench in the center of Moscow, 77-year-old Galina Makarenko pauses for several seconds before delivering her blunt opinion on the Allied D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.

"It helped us a little. But only a little," says the sprightly physicist, who was evacuated from Moscow to Kazakhstan to escape the conflict that Westerners call World War Two and Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

President Vladimir Putin joins the leaders of class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, Britain, the United States and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany to mark the 70th anniversary on Friday of the Normandy landings that opened the western front against Hitler's forces, catching them in a giant pincer movement as Stalin's Red Army pushed them back in the east.

 
 
 

But while many in the West see D-Day as the decisive turning point in the conflict, conversations in the Russian capital on Thursday reflected a widely held view here that the Soviet Union had already turned the tide of the war, in which it lost more than 20 million people, and would have prevailed on its own.

"That is absolutely clear, there's no doubt about that. It would have won because the people were desperate, they had gathered their strength and learned to wage war. The war would definitely have been won by the Soviet people," said pensioner Nikolai Kosyak, 64.

STALIN HOSTS CHURCHILL

The timing of the second front was a vexed question between the wartime Allies: Soviet leader Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open it as far back as August 1942.

According to the interpreter's record of their tense encounter that month in Moscow, Churchill argued this would be premature, insisting that "war was war but not folly, and it would be folly to invite a disaster that would help nobody".

A "restless" Stalin retorted that "a man not prepared to take risks could not win a war".

For the eventual D-Day assault, the Allies mustered more than 150,000 British, Canadian and American troops, and preceded their offensive with months of intensive bombing of targets in German-occupied class="mandelbrot_refrag">France.

But many Russians are convinced to this day that the delay was a deliberate ploy. While D-Day "helped us a great deal", Kosyak said, Churchill "wanted the Russians and Germans to destroy each other in this war, and to enter it at the right moment when both were weakened".

Communications worker Igor Tolkarev, 48, said: "I think he just waited for us and decided to do it only when our troops started an offensive. Only then he joined the side of those who were stronger."

MISTRUST OF COMMUNISM

For retired engineer Lyudmila Krylova, 67, the timing had to do with political ideology.

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"Because the West had a very bad attitude towards the Communist Soviet Union at that time and was interested in preventing Communism from spreading across Europe - that's why probably political leaders in the West were not interested in such a triumphal victory of the Red Army and a swift end of the war," she said.

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"And then they were sparing their people, their army, their casualties."

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Her grandson Maxim Krylov, 11, chimed in: "If not for our Red Army and for all our troops we, Russians, would not be standing here now."

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In a schoolchildren's encyclopedia on sale in central Moscow, the opening of the western front is dealt with in just half a sentence, in a four-page entry on the Great Patriotic War: "In the meantime the allies had opened a second front in Europe, but Soviet forces had captured the initiative in the offensive on class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany."

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At a time when Russian authorities have denounced the rise of what they call "fascism" in neighboring class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, elderly physicist Makarenko is skeptical about attempts to invoke the wartime spirit in Moscow's dispute with its neighbor.

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But among those interviewed she is not alone in seeing parallels between Western mistrust of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia then and now.

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"Everyone wanted to strangle the Soviet Union - and they want to now," she said. "The whole of the West is jealous of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia ... Russia is a unique country."

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(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Skull of Civil War soldier found at Gettysburg to be auctioned

(This June 2 story was refiled to show last find of Civil War dead at Gettysburg, not nationally, in 1996 in the sixth paragraph.)

The skull of a Civil War soldier and military relics found near the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, battlefield are scheduled to be sold at auction on Tuesday, to the dismay of some historians.

Estate Auction Company is hoping to sell the skull at a price of $50,000 to $250,000 to a private collector or museum, said auctioneer Thomas Taylor.

The skull was found in 1949 on private land near Benner’s Farm, site of a Confederate field hospital, by someone tilling a garden, he said. A breastplate found nearby came from a Louisiana unit of the Confederate Army, he said.

 
 
 

The seller, who made the find, is remaining anonymous, Taylor said. He said the skull was deemed authentic because of where it was found and the relics discovered around it.

The Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in 1863, is often described as the turning point of the Civil War. Some 164,000 troops from both sides participated, and some 45,000 were left dead, wounded or missing.

The most recent discovery of Civil War soldier remains at Gettysburg was in 1996. Those were interred with full military honors in Soldiers National Cemetery, which President Abraham Lincoln dedicated with his famous Gettysburg Address.

That cemetery is where Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park, would like to see the skull placed. She called the auction "very unfortunate."

“Our mission at Gettysburg is to respect the memory of those who fought and died," she said. "This is a spectacle.”

U.S. National Park Service officials believe there are still undiscovered soldier remains at Gettysburg and treat the entire battlefield as a sacred burial ground, Lawhon said.

The sale probably does not violate federal law, provided the skull was found outside the 1949 boundaries of the park, she said.

Neither Lawhon nor officials at two Civil War museums said they had heard of any similar auction of a Civil War soldier’s remains, and each of them said they would not participate.

"No sir, we would not," said Wayne Motts, chief executive of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "It is not appropriate."

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott)

Auction of skull of Civil War soldier found at Gettysburg canceled

(This June 2 story was refiled to show last find of Civil War dead at Gettysburg, not nationally, in 1996 in the sixth paragraph.)

Facing wide criticism, including from the National Parks Service, an auction house has canceled plans to sell the skull of a Civil War soldier and military relics found near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Estate Auction Company had hoped the auction, by an anonymous seller, would raise between $50,000 to $250,000 from a private collector or museum.

But late on Monday, auctioneer Thomas Taylor of the Hagerstown, Maryland-based company said the skull would be handed over to the National Park Service at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

 
 
 

The park service had earlier called for the skull to be donated for burial in the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, alongside the bones of other unknown soldiers.

The Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in 1863, is often described as the turning point of the Civil War. Some 164,000 troops from both sides participated, and some 45,000 were left dead, wounded or missing.

The most recent discovery of Civil War soldier remains at Gettysburg was in 1996. Those were interred with full military honors in the national cemetery there, which President Abraham Lincoln dedicated with his famous Gettysburg Address.

The skull was found in 1949 on private land near Benner’s Farm, site of a Confederate field hospital, by someone tilling a garden. A breastplate found nearby came from a Louisiana unit of the Confederate Army, the auction house said.

Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park, had described the proposed sale as "very unfortunate."

U.S. National Park Service officials believe there are still undiscovered soldier remains at Gettysburg and treat the entire battlefield as a sacred burial ground, she said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Bill Trott, Daniel Wallis and Ken Wills)

New York drops surgery rule for changing sex on birth certificate

Transgender people born in New York state, with the exception of New York City, will no longer have to prove that they have had sex-reassignment surgery to change the sex marked on their birth certificate, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office said on Thursday.

About 100 people a year seek to change the sex on their birth certificate in New York state, according to the office of the governor, who is a Democrat. New York City has a separate records system from the rest of the state and still requires proof of surgery for such a change.

Under the policy, a transgender person will still need to provide a notarized affidavit from the doctor treating them for what the American Psychiatric Association calls gender dysphoria, previously known as gender identity disorder, in order to get their birth certificate modified.

But under the policy the doctor will no longer need to affirm that their patient has had surgery, only that they are receiving "appropriate treatment."

Transgender rights groups say many transgender people, who identify as having a different sex from their one at birth, do not need, do not want or cannot afford sex-reassignment surgery.

Being unable to change the sex marked on their identity documents can leave them vulnerable to discrimination or embarrassment, these rights groups say.

"This change brings New York in line with the current standards of medical care for gender transition - it's not 'one size fits all,'" Dru Levassuer, the transgender rights director for the advocacy group Lambda Legal, said in an interview.

"It is important to have accurate identity documents that reflect who people are in the world," he said.

Four other states - Vermont, California, Oregon and Iowa - as well as Washington, D.C., also do not require surgery and proof of surgery before changing sex designation on a birth certificate, according to Lambda Legal.

New York's new policy closely matches that of the U.S. State Department, which in 2010 dropped proof of sex-reassignment surgery for altering the sex marked on passports and consular birth certificates.

Only people who are 18 years old or older are allowed to apply to alter their birth certificate in New York state.

"Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York is reclaiming its rightful place as the progressive capital of the nation and made significant progress to advance the rights of all New Yorkers, including members of the transgender community," Alphonso David, the state's deputy secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

"Much work remains, and this administration is committed to promoting laws and policies that are fair and just for all," David added.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Will Dunham)

Stay-at-home American dads rose along with joblessness

The number of U.S. fathers staying at home nearly doubled since the late 1980s, led by a sharp rise in child care by dads, a report on Thursday showed.

High joblessness during the 2007-2009 recession helped boost the number of stay-at-home dads to 2 million in 2012, up from 1.1 million in 1989, the report by the Pew Research Center said.

Almost a quarter of those fathers said they were at home because they could find a job. But 21 percent were mainly staying home to care for family, a fourfold increase from 1989, the Pew report showed.

Senior researcher Gretchen Livingston said the findings underscored experts' belief that gender roles between men and women were converging, with men taking on more caregiving tasks and women increasingly breadwinners.

"This increase in the number and share of stay-at-home dads would certainly fit with that," she said.One sign of convergence is that the amount of time that fathers are spending with their children has tripled since the 1980s, she said.

Michael Gariepy, a 34-year-old resident of Sanford, Florida, decided to stay home to raise his son when he was laid off about two years ago, shortly before his wife was due to give birth.

"It didn’t make sense to have someone else raise our child when we could cut back on our expenses and ... get to raise our child," Gariepy said.

As he considers returning to the work force now that his son is 21 months old, Gariepy faces the question of whether he will be able to earn enough to cover child care expenses and commuting costs and still justify the change for his family.

"The salary I was making, when you account for day care and gas and lunch all the things associated with traveling to work and having a child, it boiled down to about $100 to $200 a week," Gariepy said.

The Pew report showed that the biggest share of stay-at-home fathers, or 35 percent, was out of the workforce due to illness or disability. That percentage was far below the 56 percent share in 1989.

Fathers who did not work outside the home were twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers, at 22 percent versus 10 percent.

Almost half of stay-at-home dads were living in poverty, compared with 8 percent of working fathers.

The rise in stay-at-home fathers was taking place at the same time as more fathers were not living with their children. About 16 percent of fathers with young children lived apart from all of them, the Pew report said.

The Pew report covered fathers who lived with children younger than 18 and was based on Census Bureau data.

(Editing by Scott Malone, Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)

Lawyer on Supreme Court hunger strike against social media firings

Reclining on a beach chair outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Delaware lawyer Brian Zulberti doesn't look like a man on a do-or-die mission to transform Internet privacy.

But even as he chats with passersby and taps a laptop, Zulberti, 31, is deep into a hunger strike aimed at keeping people from getting fired for what they post on social media.

Zulberti, who has not eaten since Sunday, said on Thursday he would go without food until he got 90 primetime seconds on a major television network to lay out his case for wide-open social media.

"Nothing less than (CNN anchors) Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer, nothing less. Until I get 90 seconds of that, I die right here. This isn't a game, you know," he said..

Zulberti contends privacy is on its way out and employers need to get used to knowing everything about their workers, the good and bad.

He said people should not be discriminated against because of what they post on social media, such as being fired for putting a picture of themselves having a beer on class="mandelbrot_refrag">Facebook or Twitter.

"It happens all the time," he said.

Zulberti created an online stir last year when he sent a job application to every lawyer in Delaware with a photo of himself in a sleeveless T-shirt for his law school alma mater, Villanova University.

After that, his website drew 75,000 hits after revealing photos of him surfaced online. They included one of him in his underwear with a sign that said, "Hire me!!! No ... as a lawyer."

Anne Larson, a labor lawyer with the Ogletree Deakins law firm in Chicago, said many states had laws that barred companies from firing workers for legal activities outside the workplace.

The National Labor Relations Board has found that companies cannot restrict employees from posting social media comments that are part of "concerted protected activity" about their jobs, she said.

But the board has backed companies regulating employees' behavior through policies that bar such online misconduct as discrimination and bullying, even if it is off-duty, Larson said.

Zulberti, who has not worked as a lawyer, said his hunger strike was aimed at drawing attention to a civil rights issue. The demonstration is "not because I can't get a job or am an attention whore," he said.

Architect promises better design for Washington Eisenhower memorial

An architect for the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington pledged on Thursday to deliver a new design to District of Columbia planners at their next meeting in July after the original plan was rejected two months ago.

The design turned down by the National Capital Planning Commission on April 3 was criticized as being too big and inappropriate for a site near the U.S. Capitol building.

The architectural design team - headed by famed architect Frank Gehry - is working on new ideas to respond to criticisms from the planning commission, said Dan Feil, executive architect of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

"They have not yet reached a consensus," he told a hearing of the planning commission. "It's a difficult thing to try to figure out."

The original design for the memorial to the 34th president and World War Two general included bas relief sculptures of Eisenhower working on legislation and speaking to troops on D-Day. Between the sculptures is a statue of Eisenhower in a West Point uniform.

The bulk of the criticism focused on a plan for 80-foot-tall (24-meter) metal tapestries, depicting scenes from Eisenhower's boyhood home in Kansas, to surround the statuary on three sides.

Some members of the planning commission said the huge columns and tapestries could block the view of the Capitol. They also said the design clashed with other buildings on the 4-acre (1.6 hectare) site in front of the U.S. Department of Education.

Congress has cut funding for the $65 million needed to construct the memorial and reduced the administrative budget by about half until the design problems can be resolved. Total cost of the memorial, which Congress approved in 1999, is estimated at $142 million, including land acquisition and administrative costs.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

World leaders gather for D-Day tribute, hope for thaw on Ukraine

World leaders and veterans gather by the beaches of Normandy on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings that helped turn the tables in World War Two, with host France hoping the event will bring a thaw in the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine crisis.

Wreaths, parades, parachute-landings and fireworks will be staged in honor of history's largest amphibian assault on June 6, 1944 when 160,000 U.S., British and Canadian troops waded ashore to confront Nazi Germany's forces, hastening its defeat.

French President Francois Hollande will be joined at the commemorations by 17 leaders including U.S. President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama, Britain's David Cameron, Canada's Stephen Harper, Germany's Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin of Russia.

 
 
 

But while the unity of allies and their bloody sacrifices will be the big theme of the D-Day remembrance, the government leaders will be sounding each other out in private on the worst security challenge in Europe since the Cold War: class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in March and the current standoff in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists have driven Russia's relations with the United States and European Union to a post-Cold War low.

French diplomats say Hollande hopes to get Putin to at least shake the hand of Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the ceremonies, in what could represent a first step in defusing tensions.

Putin, who has said he is open to meeting both Obama and Poroshenko while in France, has yet to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukrainian leader who is set to be sworn in on Saturday.

At a Group of Seven (G7) summit of world leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Hollande called the D-Day tribute "an important occasion to class="mandelbrot_refrag">express gratitude and fraternity.

SUMMIT SNUB

"But it is also a major international event which should serve the interests of peace," Hollande added, evoking the diplomatic challenges under the surface of the ceremonies.

The G7 summit - to which Putin was not invited because of Western anger over Russia's intervention in Ukraine - was intended "to speak with a single voice ... above all on Ukraine," Hollande said.

Obama told reporters on Thursday that Russia would face new sanctions if it fails to recognize Ukraine's new government and does not try to calm violence from militants in the east of Russia's fellow former Soviet neighbor.

"There is a path in which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now. He should take it," Obama said. "If he does not - if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond."

Further complicating the diplomatic meetings on Friday is U.S. opposition to a 1.2 billion euro ($1.63 billion) French contract to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.

The U.S. government says the deal sends the wrong message to Russia at a time of economic sanctions imposed by Western states on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

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Putin's relations with Ukraine as well as with the European Union and the United States have been tense since pro-Western protesters ousted a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president from power in February and Russia then seized Crimea.

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Obama and Hollande dined together in Paris on Thursday evening and discussed ways of easing the Ukraine crisis before Hollande held a second, separate dinner with Putin.

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The separate meals showed the lengths to which French officials have gone to keep the estranged Obama and Putin apart in Paris, at U.S. request, before the D-Day commemorations.

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(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Trip Tips: Rio's beaches and bars are key to its bohemian ways

Sao Paulo is bigger and the capital moved to Brasília 54 years ago, but Rio de Janeiro, with its white beaches, blue ocean and jungle-covered mountains, is still the place that comes to mind when people think of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil.

Home to samba and Carnival, bossa nova and modern architecture, imperial palaces and shantytowns, notorious drug gangs and world-renowned telenovellas, the 448-year-old harbor city is a microcosm of Latin America's largest country.

Soccer fans coming to Rio for the World Cup will be too late for the city's famed Carnival bash, but they'll also miss the energy-sapping Southern Hemisphere summer heat.

Rio's legendary Maracana stadium will host seven World Cup games: class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina; defending champion class="mandelbrot_refrag">Spain vs Chile; Belgium vs Russia; Ecuador vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, a round of 16 match, a quarter-final and the final on July 13.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Rio from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

BODIES, BEACHES, JUICE BARS

By all means visit tourist favorites such as Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, but here are places that locals enjoy, too.

Despite its party reputation, Rio is also a daytime city. Obsessed with health and good looks, many Cariocas, as the locals are known, work hard to keep tan and fit.

Start the day by the sea with a morning walk or jog along the shoreline and its tiled Portuguese stone walkways in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

Equally good routes can be found along Flamengo and Botafogo's bayside parkways, or on the 7.5-km (4.7-mile) walk around the Lagoa, a lagoon between Ipanema and the mountains. Bike rentals are easy to find.

Quench your thirst with a coconut water or have breakfast at Balada Sumos (Av. Ataulfo de Paiva, No. 620, Leblon).

Balada and the dozens of snack and juice bars along the main shopping streets in Ipanema and Leblon serve tropical juices and "natural" sandwiches. There are also options for the not-so-health-conscious, such as pork-and-pineapple sandwiches, a Rio classic.

The beach is best at late morning and late afternoon. The most popular spots are between Posto 7 and Posto 10 in Ipanema. Each posto is a lifeguard station whose number serves as a beach address.

For a beachside seafood lunch and a caipirinha - the Brazilian cocktail made with fruit and local sugarcane liquor - try Restaurante Azul Marinho (www.cozinhatipica.com.br) in the Arpoador Inn (Av. Francisco Bhering, near Posto 7).

While Ipanema beach has the cleanest water, avoid swimming the day after a heavy rain. Local newspapers print beach conditions daily, and you can ask your hotel for details.

_0">

Always bring as little as possible to the beach. Chances of getting robbed are slim, but it's best to tuck cash or a bank card in your shorts or swimsuit. Cariocas keep their hands free.

_1">

You can buy everything you need at the beach. Instead of a towel, buy a canga, a colorful shawl-beach blanket to lie on, to dry off and to keep the sun off your shoulders. Rent beach chairs from the drinks tents.

_2">

_3">

HISTORY, MUSIC, NIGHTLIFE

_4">

If the beach isn't your thing, visit Jardim Botanico, the lush gardens built by the Portuguese royal family after fleeing to Rio in 1808 as Napoleon attacked Lisbon. The stately palms and jungle walks offer soothing shelter from the midday sun (Rua Jardim Botânico, No. 1008).

_5">

Lunch at Braseiro da Gávea (www.braseirodagavea.com.br) or Hipódromo da Gávea (Praça Santos Dumont, No. 108), three blocks away. Braseiro's picanha (grilled rump steak) can't be beat. The cozido (meat and vegetable stew) at Hipodromo is a Sunday delight.

_6">

For a look at Rio's colonial, royal and imperial past, head to Museu Histórico Nacional (www.museuhistoriconacional.com.br) and other museums and churches near Praça XV. The Church-Monastery of São Bento, near Praça Mauá, is a Baroque gem. On Sundays the monks say Mass with Gregorian chant. (www.osb.org.br/mosteiro/)

_7">

_8">

BOHEMIAN RIO

_9">

Rio food lacks São Paulo sophistication but is served with panache. For a classic Rio food experience, take a cab to Santa Teresa, the charming old neighborhood overlooking downtown.

_10">

The streetcar tracks along Av. Almirante Alexandrino past some fun class="mandelbrot_refrag">restaurants. Try rabbit, pork chops and draft beer at Adega do Pimenta (www.adegadopimenta.com.br) or moqueca (fish stew) at Sobrenatural(www.restaurantesobrenatural.com.br).

_11">

Around the corner, Bar do Mineiro has a great feijoada, the bean and jerked-beef stew that is Brazil's national dish. (www.bardomineiro.net)

_12">

In the evening head to Lapa, the old bohemian neighborhood where Carmen Miranda got her start and where events are held beside the arches of the old aqueduct.

_13">

There are dozens of dance and music bars playing samba and chorinho, a kind of "Dixieland Samba," along Rua Mem de Sa, Rua do Riachuelo and Rua do Lavradio. One of the most famous is Rio Scenarium, a series of concert rooms in renovated buildings. (www.rioscenarium.com.br)

_14">

Once you've worked up an appetite, end the night with cabrito assado (roasted goat) at Restaurante Nova Capela (Rua Mem de Sa, No. 96). At sunrise, you'll be ready for a walk on the beach.

_15">

(Editing by Todd Benson, Michael Roddy and Leslie Adler)

California plant lovers get chance to see once-in-a-century bloom

Visitors to a California university garden now have the chance to see a large, exotic plant showing off its once-in-a-century blossoming, garden officials said.

The plant, a Puya raimondii also known as the Queen of the Andes, is blooming at the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley, California. The rare bloom usually happens only once every 80-100 years in the wild, but the university's plant is flowering just 24 years after it was planted.

This will mark the second Puya blooming at the Berkeley gardens. The first, which occurred in the late 1980s, attracted thousands of visitors, a garden spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday.

At its base, the tall, green plant looks like the head of a palm tree. At its center, a large cactus-like stalk shoots out from the fronds and is about the size and shape of a surfboard.

The plant is pollinated by a variety of birds at the gardens and is expected to grow up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) tall and produce up to 30,000 flowers when it reaches full bloom, the spokeswoman said.

The plant was grown from a seed brought to the botanical gardens in 1990 from Bolivia and is part of the largest species of bromeliad plants in the world. Viewers can see the developing bloom from a wooden viewing platform in the gardens.

(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Sandra Maler)

California residents support soda tax to fight obesity, health study shows

Fighting obesity by taxing sugary drinks and restricting junk food advertisements aimed at children has support from a wide majority of residents surveyed in a Southern California public health study released on Thursday.

    The findings from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health come as friction mounts between the beverage industry and health advocates over the best way to fight obesity and diabetes, tied by studies to over-consumption of soda, sweets and junk food.

“There have been a lot of arguments against this sort of policy," including claims it will cost the poor more to buy food, said Paul Simon, head of chronic disease prevention for the county and lead author of the study.

But Simon said nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by the county in a broad 2011 assessment of public attitudes toward health issues, said they supported a soda tax, and three-quarters favored limiting junk food class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising.

Public health advocates across the country have clamored for ways to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and junk food, but lawmakers and voters have generally opposed enacting taxes or other regulations.

Lawmakers in Illinois rejected a measure in late May that would have taxed soda purchases at one cent per ounce, and a tax proposed for California failed in the state Legislature last year.

On Wednesday, an attorney for New York City asked the state's top court to revive the city's ban on large sugary drinks, which was overturned by a lower court last year.

In California, a measure to require warning labels on sodas passed the state Senate last week.

The industry association CalBev downplayed the Los Angeles survey and other polls showing support for such restrictions.

"A polling question asked in a vacuum without any context often gives the impression that voters support these types of taxes, but the reality is when you put it directly to the voters they always go down in defeat," the association said Thursday.

Simon and his colleagues analyzed data from a survey of about 1,000 Los Angeles County adults called randomly by telephone. They found support for such restrictions to be highest among low-income residents, whose obesity and diabetes rates are highest.

"It's described as regressive, that it would discriminate against poorer people because they have less money," Simon said. "Nonetheless we found in our study that there is more support among those groups."

(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee in Berkeley, Calif; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)

Stay-at-home American dads rose along with joblessness

The number of U.S. fathers staying at home nearly doubled since the late 1980s, led by a sharp rise in child care by dads, a report on Thursday showed.

High joblessness during the 2007-2009 recession helped boost the number of stay-at-home dads to 2 million in 2012, up from 1.1 million in 1989, the report by the Pew Research Center said.

Almost a quarter of those fathers said they were at home because they could not find a job. But 21 percent were mainly staying home to care for family, a fourfold increase from 1989, the Pew report showed.

Senior researcher Gretchen Livingston said the findings underscored experts' belief that gender roles between men and women were converging, with men taking on more caregiving tasks and women increasingly becoming breadwinners.

"This increase in the number and share of stay-at-home dads would certainly fit with that," she said.One sign of convergence is that the amount of time that fathers are spending with their children has tripled since the 1980s, she said.

Michael Gariepy, a 34-year-old resident of Sanford, Florida, decided to stay home to raise his son after he was laid off several years ago and took a less appealing job in customer service, shortly before his wife was due to give birth.

"It didn’t make sense to have someone else raise our child when we could cut back on our expenses and ... get to raise our child," said Gariepy, who decided to return to school at night.

As he considers returning to the work force now that his son is 21 months old, Gariepy faces the question of whether he will be able to earn enough to cover child care expenses and commuting costs and still justify the change for his family.

"The salary I was making, when you account for daycare and gas and lunch all the things associated with traveling to work and having a child, it boiled down to about $100 to $200 a week," Gariepy said.

The Pew report showed that the biggest share of stay-at-home fathers, or 35 percent, was out of the workforce due to illness or disability. That percentage was far below the 56 percent share in 1989.

Fathers who did not work outside the home were twice as likely to lack a high school diploma as working fathers, at 22 percent versus 10 percent.

Almost half of stay-at-home dads were living in poverty, compared with 8 percent of working fathers.

The rise in stay-at-home fathers was taking place at the same time as more fathers were not living with their children. About 16 percent of fathers with young children lived apart from all of them, the Pew report said.

The Pew report covered fathers who lived with children younger than 18 and was based on Census Bureau data.

(Editing by Scott Malone, Sandra Maler, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Hollywood's longtime power lunch hub to cook up final script

The din of voices haggling over movies and pitching TV series, as familiar as the trademark meatloaf and grilled salmon, will soon disappear from Kate Mantilini, the Beverly Hills restaurant whose booths have long been a mainstay of Hollywood's power lunch crowd.

Situated on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Beverly Hills, Kate Mantilini - a favorite of comedian Mel Brooks and late director Billy Wilder - will close its doors and pack up its wood-backed booths on June 14 after 27 years.

"Many, many deals were made in those booths," said Adam Lewis, the restaurant's chief executive who made the decision to close after a rent increase. An outpost in Woodland Hills in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley will remain open.

"There's a semblance of privacy in there, but you can hear everything everybody is saying," added Lewis, 59, whose older brother David is the executive chef. "I've listened to pitches go down; some were really good, some I can't believe they made it this far."

The restaurant's popularity among the Hollywood set was down in part to its location, said Tim Gray, a senior vice president of trade publication Variety.

It sits across from film studio The Weinstein Co and two blocks from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the industry organization that hands out the Oscars.

"It really was one of the class="mandelbrot_refrag">staples for industry lunches," Gray said of the restaurant that is arranged like a postmodern diner with a large sculptural sundial, a key early work by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne's firm, Morphosis.

Kate Mantilini ranks as a top 10 business lunch spot for entertainment industry insiders, according to a Hollywood Reporter poll.

"Everybody who comes here is an agent or lawyer or a manager and everybody table-hops - and they rely on good food," Lewis said, sitting at a round table with his brother and 84-year-old mother, Marilyn, who started the restaurant with her late husband Harry Lewis, a former Warner Bros contract actor and founder of popular chain Hamburger Hamlet.

The restaurant also served as a backdrop in Michael Mann's 1995 crime drama "Heat" starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

"It was a real industry hangout ... because it had this amazing, huge menu," Gray said. "They had everything in the world on it." Dishes include chicken pot pie and other comfort foods, and health-conscious class="mandelbrot_refrag">staples such as brown rice with vegetables.

Marilyn Lewis, a self-described born-marketer who ran her own couture clothing line Cardinali in the 1960s-70s, said she named the restaurant after her uncle's mistress, whose long red-polished fingernails enthralled her as a child.

"I liked the sound of it, and it would take a lot of letters, a lot of signage," she said. "It is important for this fast traffic because when they stop at the light and they see that big sign, they've got to know that something's going on there. Something."

(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Mohammad Zargham)

Russian FSB men stole priceless bible, offered bargain sale

A colonel in Russia's FSB security service has been jailed for stealing a rare bible by 15th century German printer Johannes Gutenberg and trying to sell it for about $1.15 million, a fraction of its true value, a court spokeswoman said on Friday.

Sergei Vedishchev was sentenced on Thursday to 3-1/2 years in a penal colony, and two other FSB officers received lesser terms for helping him seek a buyer for the two-volume bible, spokeswoman Irina Zhirnova said.

She said Vedishchev had stolen the bible from a safe at Moscow University, where he was responsible for security.

 
 
 

He and his two accomplices arranged to sell the two volumes to a collector for 40 million roubles ($1.15 million), but were arrested in May 2013 after arranging to meet him in a restaurant near Moscow, in a sting operation arranged by the FSB.

Zhirnova said the rare bible was 'priceless', and experts judged it would fetch at least 15 million euros ($20.4 million), and maybe significantly more, if ever put up for auction.

"These people were not art specialists," she said. "It just happened that one of them got access to this rare book and then they set about thinking about how to cash in."

Confirming a report in Kommersant newspaper, she said the bible would now have to undergo repair to a damaged page.

"They cut out a small piece for the buyer to check the authenticity, that it wasn't forged," she said.

Working in the German city of Mainz in the mid-15th century, Gutenberg developed a system of moveable type that made it possible to print multiple copies of the same text quickly. His invention is considered one of the most important technical advances in history.

The volumes taken by Vedishchev were brought to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia by Soviet troops who took them from Leipzig at the end of World War Two, according to Kommersant's report.

Of his two FSB accomplices, major Mikhail Lepkov was sentenced to a year and two months and captain Viktor Puchka got one year, but was released on Thursday, having already served that time during the investigation.

Zhirnova said the court had taken into account mitigating factors, including that all three men had good previous service records, two had young children, and Vedishchev had a seriously ill mother.($1 = 34.7311 Russian Rubles)

($1 = 0.7345 Euros)

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Trip Tips: Rio's beaches and bars are key to its bohemian ways

Sao Paulo is bigger and the capital moved to Brasília 54 years ago, but Rio de Janeiro, with its white beaches, blue ocean and jungle-covered mountains, is still the place that comes to mind when people think of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil.

Home to samba and Carnival, bossa nova and modern architecture, imperial palaces and shantytowns, notorious drug gangs and world-renowned telenovellas, the 448-year-old harbor city is a microcosm of Latin America's largest country.

Soccer fans coming to Rio for the World Cup will be too late for the city's famed Carnival bash, but they'll also miss the energy-sapping Southern Hemisphere summer heat.

 
 
 

Rio's legendary Maracana stadium will host seven World Cup games: class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina; defending champion class="mandelbrot_refrag">Spain vs Chile; Belgium vs Russia; Ecuador vs class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, a round of 16 match, a quarter-final and the final on July 13.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Rio from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

BODIES, BEACHES, JUICE BARS

By all means visit tourist favorites such as Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, but here are places that locals enjoy, too.

Despite its party reputation, Rio is also a daytime city. Obsessed with health and good looks, many Cariocas, as the locals are known, work hard to keep tan and fit.

Start the day by the sea with a morning walk or jog along the shoreline and its tiled Portuguese stone walkways in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

Equally good routes can be found along Flamengo and Botafogo's bayside parkways, or on the 7.5-km (4.7-mile) walk around the Lagoa, a lagoon between Ipanema and the mountains. Bike rentals are easy to find.

Quench your thirst with a coconut water or have breakfast at Balada Sumos (Av. Ataulfo de Paiva, No. 620, Leblon).

Balada and the dozens of snack and juice bars along the main shopping streets in Ipanema and Leblon serve tropical juices and "natural" sandwiches. There are also options for the not-so-health-conscious, such as pork-and-pineapple sandwiches, a Rio classic.

The beach is best at late morning and late afternoon. The most popular spots are between Posto 7 and Posto 10 in Ipanema. Each posto is a lifeguard station whose number serves as a beach address.

For a beachside seafood lunch and a caipirinha - the Brazilian cocktail made with fruit and local sugarcane liquor - try Restaurante Azul Marinho (www.cozinhatipica.com.br) in the Arpoador Inn (Av. Francisco Bhering, near Posto 7).

While Ipanema beach has the cleanest water, avoid swimming the day after a heavy rain. Local newspapers print beach conditions daily, and you can ask your hotel for details.

_0">

Always bring as little as possible to the beach. Chances of getting robbed are slim, but it's best to tuck cash or a bank card in your shorts or swimsuit. Cariocas keep their hands free.

_1">

You can buy everything you need at the beach. Instead of a towel, buy a canga, a colorful shawl-beach blanket to lie on, to dry off and to keep the sun off your shoulders. Rent beach chairs from the drinks tents.

_2">

_3">

HISTORY, MUSIC, NIGHTLIFE

_4">

If the beach isn't your thing, visit Jardim Botanico, the lush gardens built by the Portuguese royal family after fleeing to Rio in 1808 as Napoleon attacked Lisbon. The stately palms and jungle walks offer soothing shelter from the midday sun (Rua Jardim Botânico, No. 1008).

_5">

Lunch at Braseiro da Gávea (www.braseirodagavea.com.br) or Hipódromo da Gávea (Praça Santos Dumont, No. 108), three blocks away. Braseiro's picanha (grilled rump steak) can't be beat. The cozido (meat and vegetable stew) at Hipodromo is a Sunday delight.

_6">

For a look at Rio's colonial, royal and imperial past, head to Museu Histórico Nacional (www.museuhistoriconacional.com.br) and other museums and churches near Praça XV. The Church-Monastery of São Bento, near Praça Mauá, is a Baroque gem. On Sundays the monks say Mass with Gregorian chant. (www.osb.org.br/mosteiro/)

_7">

_8">

BOHEMIAN RIO

_9">

Rio food lacks São Paulo sophistication but is served with panache. For a classic Rio food experience, take a cab to Santa Teresa, the charming old neighborhood overlooking downtown.

_10">

The streetcar tracks along Av. Almirante Alexandrino past some fun class="mandelbrot_refrag">restaurants. Try rabbit, pork chops and draft beer at Adega do Pimenta (www.adegadopimenta.com.br) or moqueca (fish stew) at Sobrenatural(www.restaurantesobrenatural.com.br).

_11">

Around the corner, Bar do Mineiro has a great feijoada, the bean and jerked-beef stew that is Brazil's national dish. (www.bardomineiro.net)

_12">

In the evening head to Lapa, the old bohemian neighborhood where Carmen Miranda got her start and where events are held beside the arches of the old aqueduct.

_13">

There are dozens of dance and music bars playing samba and chorinho, a kind of "Dixieland Samba," along Rua Mem de Sa, Rua do Riachuelo and Rua do Lavradio. One of the most famous is Rio Scenarium, a series of concert rooms in renovated buildings. (www.rioscenarium.com.br)

_14">

Once you've worked up an appetite, end the night with cabrito assado (roasted goat) at Restaurante Nova Capela (Rua Mem de Sa, No. 96). At sunrise, you'll be ready for a walk on the beach.

_15">

(Editing by Todd Benson, Michael Roddy and Leslie Adler)

D-Day Dispatch: The first reporter on the beach

Seventy years ago, Reuters correspondent Doon Campbell was the first reporter to set foot on the Normandy beaches with the sea-borne forces seeking to liberate Europe from Nazi class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany.

_0">

Campbell was 24 at the time, the youngest British war correspondent covering the invasion. He stayed with Reuters for 30 years, covering other events including the assassination of Gandhi. He died in 2003, aged 83.

The following is taken from his book ‘Magic Mistress – A 30 year affair with Reuters’, published in 2000:

"A smudge, brown on black in the far distance, marked our landing-area. The craft zigzagged the last mile or two, dodging the shells now coming out to meet us. There were ships everywhere, one or two smoking or even sinking, some fouling uncleared obstacles, but most of them swinging massively towards the hazy coastline that was Normandy.

"For the final lap, the skipper opened the throttle, and at 09.06 we rammed Sword Beach. The ramp thrown down from the landing-craft was steep and slippery, and I fell chest-deep into the sea lapping the mined beaches.

"The commandos, their faces smeared with camouflage grease, charged ahead. I struggled. My pack, sodden and waterlogged, strapped tight round my shoulders, seemed made for easy drowning. But a lunge forward, helped by a heave from a large corporal already in the water, gave me a first toehold.

"Ahead lay the beach. It was a sandy cemetery of the unburied dead. Bodies, some only half-dead, lay scattered about, with arms or legs severed, their blood clotting the sand.

"Behind me, through fountains of water raised by exploding shells from the coastal batteries, little ships were nudging into the shallows, and behind them a vast armada of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and close support vessels put down a paralyzing bombardment.

"It would be no good trying to bolt up the beach with the commandos, though many of them were also carrying collapsible bicycles. For me, every step was an effort under the backbreaking load of my pack.

"Dripping wet, like my trousers, it felt as if I weighed a ton. While the commandos surged ahead until swallowed up in the brooding woods, I edged along the protective shelter of a garden wall, crossed the pot-holed road into a field and stumbled into a ditch about 200 yards (180m) from the beach. There I stayed with the wounded.

"We fought to stay alive in that shallow furrow, clawing at the soggy soil for depth that at least made us feel a little less exposed to the withering mortar and shellfire. Whether falling short or whistling overhead, it never let up.

"Earth spurted in with every near miss and more water seeped through our clothes. But we thanked God for that damp dirty ditch.

"With every pause in fire, I was wrestling to ease myself out of the commando pack harness. When it was finally detached, I opened it almost furtively, and found my portable typewriter undamaged.

"I got a sheet of paper in and started pecking at the keyboard, but it was hopeless; every time I tried to type, a mortar exploded a few yards away or hit the lip of the ditch and a shower of dirt clogged the keys. So I tore a page from a school exercise book and scribbled a few lines from ‘A ditch 200 yards inside Normandy’. It never reached Reuters.

"Leaving the ditch, I wriggled and crawled back to the beach, flinging myself flat every few yards, then spurting forward again when I imagined the Germans might be reloading.... A naval officer, operating a shuttle between Normandy and the English coast, agreed to take my grimy bits of paper and try to get them back to Reuters. I gave him 5 punds, and never saw him again."

Black taxis challenge U.S. car service Uber for streets of London

They have been the kings of the British capital's roads for over a century but now the often opinionated drivers of London's iconic black taxi cabs are battling a high-technology rival that threatens their dominance.

In their sights is Uber Technologies Inc., a San Francisco-based company whose application lets people summon rides at the touch of a smartphone button and uses satellite navigation to calculate the distance for fares.

The drivers of black taxis say Uber, backed by investors such as Goldman Sachs and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Google, is being used as a taximeter and thus contravenes a 1998 British law reserving the right to use a meter for licensed black taxis.

 
 
 

Uber says the application used by their drivers complies with all local regulations and that they are being targeted because of their success in winning customers.

A variety of apps are available for summoning both black cabs - bulbous, purpose-built vehicles which offer a roomier passenger compartment than most normal cars - and unmetered private-hire taxis known as minicabs.

But the power of Uber and the growing popularity of its app have so rattled the black cab drivers that they have pushed London's transport regulator to ask the High Court to rule on the legality of such applications.

They also plan to converge near Trafalgar Square on June 11 for a protest that could paralyze central London, following strikes and other actions by drivers in cities such as Paris and Milan.

"We understand it's a competitive market place, but they're not playing by the rules," Jim Thompson, a taxi driver of 30 years, told Reuters during a coffee and cigarette break in the financial district. "We're fighting for our livelihoods here. No one's going to take it lying down."

Since Uber's foundation in 2009 by two U.S. technology entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the darling of Silicon Valley has entered over 70 cities, expanding from California to Washington, Tokyo and now London.

Colleagues in the U.S. capital are suffering, said Thompson. "I was over in Washington last year and it slaughtered them," he said. "You just can't compete."

Behind the debate over what constitutes a taximeter, Uber has touched a raw nerve in London because it brings home the threat to one of the city's most visible trades from technological advances.

To win the coveted green badge giving the right to drive a black taxi, drivers have to study for up to five years to pass the "the Knowledge". This is a rigorous test requiring encyclopedic knowledge of London's roads and its landmarks - from the Tower of London to the site of Karl Marx's grave - although many drivers now use satellite-navigation devices.

First introduced as motorized competitors to the horse-drawn carriage in 1897 under Queen Victoria, there are now over 25,000 hackney carriage taxis in London making more than 300,000 trips each day.

The cabs, which are now made by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group [GEELY.UL], can be flagged down on the street and use a meter to calculate fares while London's 44,000 minicabs must be pre-booked with a set fare and destination.

TAXI WARS?

_0">

Uber says its minicabs arrive in five minutes in central London and it offers numerous incentives, including a free first journey to attract new users and allowing customers to see the driver's name and photo before they arrive.

_1">

"You really feel you are the customer and not someone who's just getting a lift," said David Wetherill, an Uber customer in London. "It's like the difference between staying in a budget hotel and a five-star."

_2">

But Uber also provides an application for its drivers to calculate the cost of each journey by monitoring the distance and time traveled. The London taxi-drivers' union says this amounts to a taximeter and that the regulator, Transport for London (TfL), is failing to enforce its own rules with a firm that has powerful investors.

_3">

"TfL is scared by Uber’s big-money backers like Goldman ‘Government’ Sachs and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Google," said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. "Something is very, very wrong here."

_4">

Tfl says its provisional view is that the use of smart phones does not constitute a taximeter but has invited the High Court to rule on the issue.

_5">

Uber is being targeted because of its success and out of fear of its technological strength, said Jo Bertram, Uber general manager for Britain and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ireland. "We're bringing more competition and we think that's good for everyone," she told Reuters at the company's new offices in north London.

_6">

"There's Uber being incredibly successful and there's also the march of technology," she said. "We're seen as one and the same."

_7">

But Uber isn't to everyone's taste. There have already been protests against Uber in both the United States and continental Europe, and one of its cars was attacked near Paris earlier this year. Not all appear to have helped the drivers' cause: when the Milan taxi union staged a strike in March, Uber enticed stranded customers by offering a 20 percent discount.

_8">

The company has also faced complaints from rival taxi firms in the United States while in class="mandelbrot_refrag">France a law requiring all its drivers to wait 15 minutes before responding to a booking was briefly introduced and then suspended.

_9">

In London, about 10,000 taxis are expected to cause gridlock at next week's protest.

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"What else are we meant to do?" said cabbie Thompson, sheltering from the rain in the back of a taxi, drinking instant coffee from polystyrene cups with three colleagues who between them have over 150 years' experience driving taxis in London. "It's do or die in this world."

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(Additional reporting by Dominic Elliot. Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and David Stamp)

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Days before World Cup, much of Brazil just not in the mood

The upcoming soccer World Cup in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil was supposed to be the party to end all parties.

What more could a fan want?

The home of Carnival and "the beautiful game," as Pelé once famously called it, finally had the economic, political and social stability to host the tournament for the first time since 1950 and any of Brazil's subsequent five World Cup titles, more than for any other nation.

 
 
 

After a half-century in which its soccer prowess outdribbled its development, Latin America's biggest country could at last flout its success both on and off the pitch.

But less than a week before kickoff on June 12, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil feels anything but festive. An economic boom that catapulted 40 million people out of poverty in the last decade, and motivated Brazil to host the world's most popular sports event, has waned.

With rising inflation, urban gridlock and soaring crime as a backdrop, protesters over the past year have rallied against $11 billion in World Cup spending and alleged corruption that drove up the cost of building stadiums and other infrastructure projects, some of which were never delivered.

Sportscasts on team strategy, prevalent before previous World Cups, are splitting air time with news reports featuring soldiers and police deployed in 12 host cities to ensure that labor strikes, demonstrations and crime don't disrupt the tournament.

At its most telling, the lack of enthusiasm is evident on sidewalks, squares and corner cafes. Absent the riot of yellow and green that normally erupts every four years, many public areas remain remarkably staid even as Brazil prepares to host an event that it always celebrated from afar.

"People are disgusted," says Mariana Faria, the owner of a party supply store in central Rio de Janeiro, where sales are 40 percent lower than when the last World Cup took place in South Africa four years ago. "Nobody wants to spend money on something now associated with waste and corruption."

The pall over Brazil counters what global soccer fans expect to be a month of sheer sporting extravaganza. And it could be that Brazilians will perk up if their team starts to dazzle.

The tournament, the first in which all previous Cup winners have qualified, will feature almost every major star in the game – from Neymar, Brazil's young hope, to Lionel Messi, the Argentine considered by many to be the era's best player, to Cristiano Ronaldo, the cocksure Portuguese who would argue otherwise.

The dour mood is also a far cry from what most envisioned when Brazil secured hosting rights in 2007. Back then, organizers hoped the prevailing narrative would be that of a resurgent country with a national team poised to exorcise Brazil's historic loss to Uruguay in the final stages of the 1950 tournament at Rio's Maracanã stadium, also the venue for this Cup's final.

GO BY DONKEY

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose folksy charisma helped Brazil get awarded the tournament, recently betrayed the surprise he and other leaders feel amid so many complaints.

Dismissing questions about the lack of metro service to stadiums and problems with other infrastructure that has fallen far short of early promises, he told Brazilians to make do. "We never had problems walking," Lula said, suggesting spectators go to games "on foot, barefoot, by bike, by donkey."

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President Dilma Rousseff, Lula's successor and protegee, has urged Brazilians to put their frustrations aside and peacefully welcome the more than 800,000 foreign visitors expected.

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Roiled by mass demonstrations that disrupted a warmup tournament last June, and a wave of ongoing strikes in several host cities, Rousseff authorized 57,000 troops to complement state police forces with tasks ranging from security perimeters around stadiums to armed escorts for team buses.

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"We are a people that will welcome the tourist not with violence, but with affection," she said last week in a speech at Rio's international airport, where repairs continue despite her presence there to inaugurate the renovation.

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Rousseff is still favored to get re-elected in October. But recent polls show increasing traction for rival candidates, unease about the class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy, which barely grew in the first quarter, and growing distaste towards the World Cup.

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The Washington-based Pew Research Center this week reported that 72 percent of Brazilians in a recent survey expressed a general sense of dissatisfaction, compared with 55 percent a year ago. Sixty-one percent of those polled disapprove of hosting the World Cup. [ID:nL1N0OJ135]

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So where did Brazil go wrong?

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To many, the Cup symbolizes the gulf between what Brazil's leaders' promises and what they deliver, be it good schools and hospitals or an offshore oil bonanza, discovered just as Brazil won the rights to the tournament, that has failed to blossom because of high costs and bureaucracy. [ID:nL1N0O115A]

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So slow were the World Cup preparations, including seats still being installed at the opening stadium, that the secretary general of FIFA, soccer's governing body, as early as 2012 said Brazil needed "a kick up the backside."

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Most major global sports events, of course, are fraught with criticism and handwringing ahead of showtime. And more often than not, there is a sigh of relief once the opening ceremony is over and the games begin.

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That's why some in Brazil's upper crust have sought to get people excited about the tournament. In what many read as a tone-deaf scold, supermarket magnate Abilio Diniz wrote in a recent op-ed piece that "we should take advantage of global attention to show the grandiosity and opportunities of Brazil, not our problems."

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In the northern Rio neighborhood of Tijuca, Ricardo Ferreira, a parking garage owner, last weekend worked with friends to decorate an intersection where an impromptu sidewalk viewing of the 1978 tournament has since blossomed into the "Alzirão," one of the city's biggest World Cup street parties.

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Under overhead cables where Ferreira strung more than 10 miles worth of plastic ribbon and other decorations, demonstrators had painted a protest message of "SOS" for the creaky public health system. Neighbors have been asking whether Rio would still flock to the party.

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"I hope so," he says. "We're not the government. We're not FIFA. We still like soccer here, don't we?"

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(Editing by Todd Benson, Martin Howell)

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D-Day memories still fresh 70 years later for U.S. veterans

Seventy years after D-Day, Carl Proffitt Jr. can still remember the bodies of soldiers washing up on France's Omaha Beach in the Allied invasion that helped turn the tide against Nazi class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany in World War Two.

One of the dwindling band of World War Two veterans who gathered on Friday at the National D-Day Memorial to mark the anniversary, Proffitt was in the first wave of infantry put ashore on Normandy's Omaha Beach in the teeth of German gunfire.

"If there was such a thing as hell on earth, that was it," Proffitt, 95, of Charlottesville, Virginia, told Reuters. He still carries German mortar shrapnel in a leg.

 
 
 

The day after the landing, "the tide had come in and washed all the dead bodies up against the sea wall. I couldn't believe it," said Proffitt, second in command of a boatload of soldiers in Company K, 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.

"Blown to pieces, human bodies, all kinds of equipment. I can't discuss it, really, because I don't know how."

Thousands of spectators gathered under brilliant sunshine to honor Proffitt and other veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history and the Normandy campaign that drove Adolf Hitler's troops from class="mandelbrot_refrag">France.

The commemoration drew about 350 veterans from at least eight U.S. states. With the youngest of them in their late 80s, the event had been billed by organizers as likely the last large gathering of D-Day veterans.

Bedford, a scenic town in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is the home of the D-Day Memorial because 19 men from there were killed when they landed on Omaha Beach, the largest per-capita D-Day loss by any U.S. community.

The memorial "is a visible reminder of the need each of us has in the here and now to honor all of those who have sacrificed, and those who are sacrificing, and those who will sacrifice to preserve the liberty we enjoy," said the main speaker, Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

The commemoration included prayers, a flyover by World War Two aircraft, a parachute jump, the reading of eyewitness accounts of the invasion and bands playing martial tunes and 1940s' swing. A bagpiper skirled "Amazing Grace," wreaths were laid and a bugler played "Taps."

'FACING THE ENEMY'

But the main attraction was the elderly veterans, many in wheelchairs, who shared their memories of the fighting.

"You had two things facing you, one was the enemy, the other was death. We lived like animals," said William "Doc" Long, 90, of Oak Ridge, North Carolina. Long was wounded by an anti-tank shell and spent 25 months in a hospital.

As of last September, there were about 1.25 million U.S. World War Two veterans still alive, and 413 die each day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Other D-Day events across the country took place at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and in Abilene, Kansas, the boyhood home of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower.

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In New York Harbor, several helicopters showered the Statue of Liberty with a million red rose petals.

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(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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