Facebook’s Asia team moves to gigantic new headquarters in Singapore

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Facebook has big plans to grow in the Asia Pacific region.

On Tuesday, the social media giant celebrated its move to a new, bigger space in Singapore, which will serve as Facebook’s regional headquarters, it announced in a press release.

Moving from its previous home in South Beach Tower, Facebook now has 260,000 square feet across four levels in its new Marina One digs. Facebook’s Singapore and regional teams, consisting of about 1,000 people, will be housed in the space, which can hold up to 3,000 workstations, Facebook’s vice president of Asia Pacific, Dan Neary, said in a presentation. Space is also home to Facebook’s first partner centre in Asia.

The move comes as Facebook ramps up operations in Asia, including its first data centre in the region. The 11-storey, 170,000 square metre centre, located in Singapore, will cost Facebook $1 billion.

In addition to the move, Facebook also announced it will launch a second data innovation startup programme, called Startup Station Singapore, in collaboration with Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority.

“Asia Pacific is incredibly important to Facebook. Out of the 2.2 billion people who are on our platform monthly, 894 million are here in the Asia Pacific,” said Neary.

“Singapore is key to our continued growth in the region, and we are honoured to work with and support some incredible partners in the public and private sector to drive Singapore’s economic, innovation, and community goals,” he added.

Facebook’s upgrade comes after it expanded its presence in London with a new building at its Menlo Park headquarters last month, where it also set up a war room designed to monitor what’s going on with upcoming elections in the states and Brazil.

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World’s first test tube lion cubs are ‘happy and normal’

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The first pair of test tube lion cubs in the world are “healthy and normal” raising hopes that other big cats can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

Victor and Isabel were born to a lioness at the Ukutula Lodge and Conservation Centre (UCC) near Pretoria, South Africa five weeks ago.

These pictures show the twins playing together and resting at the centre after doctors gave them a clean bill of health.

Scientists at the University of Pretoria have been researching female lions’ reproductive systems, and said these are “‘the first ever lion cubs to be born by means of artificial insemination (AI) anywhere in the world.”

a close up of an animal: getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105636.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105636.jpg

Veterinary PhD at the university, Dr Isabel Callealta, said: “The success of the AI births of the lion cubs not only celebrate a world-first achievement but has laid the foundation for effective non-surgical AI protocols for this species, using both fresh and frozen-thawed sperm.

“The research will hopefully mean we can start working towards carrying out similar procedures on some of the much rarer big cats like the snow leopard and the tiger in the future.”

a squirrel sitting on a rock: getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105492.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105492.jpg

Founder of the UCC Willi Jacobs said he was honoured to provide the scientific facilities, and animals, for the project.

“We are grateful to the team of scientists who continue working relentlessly in pursuit of this key element in preserving future generations,” he said. “There can be little doubt that wildlife conservation through education and ethical scientific research is the most suitable long-term solution for our planet’s conservation challenges and dwindling wildlife populations.”

a cat sitting on a rock: getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105586.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited getty-test-tube-lion-cubs-1043105586.jpg

Although African lions normally breed quite well in captivity, the wild population is highly fragmented and suffers progressively from isolation and inbreeding. Indiscriminate killing, habitat loss and prey depletion, epidemic diseases, poaching, and trophy hunting threaten the extinction of the wild populations.

The African lion population is estimated to have decreased from 1.2 million to 18,000 since records began. Another 7,000 lions have been lost in the past two years alone.

The African lion is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with the West African lion subpopulation considered critically endangered, while the Asiatic lion is also considered endangered in the wild.

But animal welfare organisation, the Born Free Foundation, criticised the programme, and said the “captive lion breeding industry in South Africa is exploitative and profit-driven.”

Mark Jones of the organisation told the Daily Mail: “It generates its income through interaction activities (lion cub petting and lion walks), canned trophy hunting of lions and the lion skeleton trade, while contributing nothing to lion conservation.”

Chinese warship in ‘unsafe’ encounter with US destroyer

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A Chinese warship had an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with an American destroyer in the South China Sea, according to US defence officials.

The US vessel was conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands and was forced to alter its path “to prevent a collision”, US media reported.

“A (People’s Republic of China) Luyang destroyer approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” Captain Charles Brown, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told CNN.

Captain Brown accused the Chinese warship of conducting “a series of increasingly aggressive manoeuvre accompanied by warnings for the Decatur to depart the area.”

He said the Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of the front of the US ship, giving the ship’s captain seconds to react to avoid a collision.

“Our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

Chinese ships often shadow US vessels during similar operations but at a greater distance.

Freedom of navigation operations is meant to enforce the right of free passage in international waters.

In response, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said on Tuesday: “The US has been repeatedly sending warships to the islands and the adjacent waters in the South China Sea, which has seriously threatened China’s sovereignty and safety.

“The Chinese military will resolutely perform its defence duties and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard our sovereignty and the regional peace and stability.”

The news comes as US-China tensions continue to grow, with US President Donald Trump saying Chinese leader Xi Jinping “may not be a friend of mine anymore”.

The two countries are locked in a dispute over Mr Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese goods.

At the United Nations Security Council last week, Mr Trump accused China of attempting to meddle in the upcoming US mid-term elections.

Indonesia tsunami death toll rises to 1,234 as desperate search for victims continues

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The confirmed death toll from an earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has risen to 1,234, from 844, the national disaster mitigation agency said on Tuesday.

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday triggered tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet), which swept ashore at the small city of Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi.

Rescuers have yet to reach many affected areas leading to fears the death toll could rise again.

The quake hit about 250 km (155 miles) southwest of Ende on Flores.

Indonesia has said it would accept offers of international aid, having shunned outside help earlier this year when an earthquake struck the island of Lombok.

The number of confirmed deaths stood at 844 on Tuesday, most of them in Palu, the main city in the disaster zone, where rescuers were hunting for victims in the ruins.

“We suspect there are still some survivors trapped inside,” the head of on rescue team, Agus Haryono, told Reuters at the collapsed seven-story Hotel Roa Roa.

© Credits: REUTERS

About 50 people were believed to have been trapped when the hotel was brought down by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.

a man standing next to a machine © Credits: REX/Shutterstock

The quake triggered tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet) that smashed into the city’s beachfront, about 2 km from the hotel.

About 12 people have been recovered from the ruins of the hotel, three of them alive.

A mass burial of victims began on the weekend as a 100m long grave was dug for more than a thousand victims.

The burial saw teams of workers, faces covered by masks, laying 18 body bags in a trench, according to reports.

In the hills over Palu, volunteers have dug a 100m long grave, preparing to lay 1,300 victims to rest, the Guardian reported.

In Mexico’s shale patch, cartel violence scares off drillers

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By Adriana Barrera

The oil and gas fracking boom have lured scores of drillers to the Eagle Ford region of South Texas, the second largest U.S. oil patch, as new production technology opened access to billions of more barrels.

The play extends across the Mexican border, where its name changes to the Burgos Basin – an equally fertile shale region where the oil and gas sit mostly idle underground in a region terrorized by criminal gangs.

The violence here threatens to derail the country’s first-ever auction of exploration and production rights to its shale fields in February – one that could prove pivotal to its hopes for reversing a national decline in crude and natural gas output to two-decade lows.

Despite an energy-reform push that has aimed to lure investments from foreign oil firms since 2014, only Mexico’s state-run oil firm Pemex has tried fracking the country’s shale reserves, and only experimentally, even as fields that are accessible with traditional drilling methods are drying up.

The nine shale oil and gas blocks up for auction are all within Burgos, in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where the Gulf and Zeta cartels have waged a war for control of drug and human-trafficking routes since 2010.

As security unraveled, at least two Pemex workers were killed and 16 were kidnapped as gangs demanded protection money from oil firms and blocked work crews from accessing wells and pipelines. A manager with Weatherford International Ltd (WFT.N), the Switzerland-based oilfield services firm, was also murdered.

In April, a Pemex security worker guarding installations against fuel thieves was killed and another was shot in an ambush in the Tamaulipas city of Matamoros after gunmen fired some 60 rounds into a vehicle.

The Burgos Basin contains about two thirds of the country’s technically recoverable shale reserves, estimated at 545 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas and 13.1 billion barrels of oil and condensate, compared to the 665 TCF of gas and 58 billion barrels of oil and condensate in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Companies that are already fracking across the border in Texas would likely expand into Mexico if the government could address the violence, oil executives said.

Mexican government officials often field questions about security in gatherings where they promoted the nation’s drilling opportunities to oil firms.

“In every meeting, I was able to attend, there were questions about security,” said Jorge Rios, vice president of operations for Latin America with Precision Drilling, a Canadian company that operates in the Eagle Ford and has drilled in Mexico in the past. “The response was not firm.”

Mexico’s energy and interior ministries did not respond to requests for comment. Pemex declined to comment.

Repsol (REP.MC), a Spanish oil major, left the Burgos Basin in 2014 as the violence escalated, ending operations it began in 2004 as the first foreign firm to drill in Mexico since it nationalized the industry in 1938. The company, which has shale operations in Eagle Ford, would require “very big changes” before it considered returning to the Burgos, a Repsol executive told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“In 2014 the situation was difficult to manage,” the executive said. “Now it’s worse.”

Repsol declined to comment through its Mexican public relations agency on the executive’s version of events.

GOVERNMENT SILENCE

Mexico’s natural gas output fell for the third year in a row to 4,240 million cubic feet per day last year, increasing the need of imported gas – almost entirely from the United States – to 84 percent of the nation’s consumption. The growing dependence on foreign gas prompted the government to hold a conference for energy companies in the city of Reynosa in Tamaulipas to promote the upcoming shale auction.

The cheerfully-colored Parque Cultural Reynosa conference center was guarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons. But inside the conference in February, panelists carefully avoided any mention of murders or kidnappings. One panelist told Reuters he had specifically been asked by Tamaulipas state officials to avoid mentioning violence.

“The government was in the promotional mode. They weren’t going to talk about the bad things,” said another conference participant.

Tamaulipas’ state energy commission and local officials, which helped organize the conference, did not respond to a request for comment.

Security problems were nonetheless top-of-mind for attendees – who were greeted by the news of crackling shootouts in the crime-infested border city. Delegates stayed at a heavily fortified hotel and waited for rides to the conference in armored vehicles guarded by soldiers.

In the days leading up to the conference, about a dozen bodies were left in the streets as cartel linked to the Gulf and Zeta cartels mounted roadblocks and battled security forces. Two weeks before, in the nearby city of Nuevo Laredo, a gun battle broke out within meters of where the mayor was giving a speech.

Another conference participant – a Houston-area businessman – said the Mexican government had taken a head-in-the-sand approach to the violence, one he compared unfavorably to Colombia, where senior security officials showed up at energy conferences a few years ago to reassure investors of progress in fighting armed rebels.

“If Mexico had a solution,” he said, “they would have talked about it.”

a man walking across a snow covered road: FILE PHOTO: A police agent directs traffic at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa © REUTERS/Daniel Becerril/File Photo FILE PHOTO: A police agent directs traffic at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa

‘THAT’S WHAT MADE US LEAVE’

In 2003, Repsol was awarded a service contract by Pemex in the Burgos Basin to develop several conventional natural gas fields along the Reynosa-Monterrey area for 10 years. Repsol increased production at the region after an initial investment of $170 million but returned the installation to the state-run firm in early 2014.

When Repsol started, the Reynosa region was relatively calm, but within a couple of years, it plunged into chaos after President Felipe Calderon went on the offensive against drug cartels. The Repsol executive said oil firms had to guard against kidnappings, extortion and having workers caught in crossfires between rival gangs, along with is now Mexico’s fastest-growing organized crime – fuel theft.

The firm invested in private security, the executive said, but it wasn’t enough.

“That’s what made us leave,” the executive said.

A senior Pemex executive compared the current situation in Tamaulipas to Iraq and Colombia during their years of conflict, saying oil companies could operate with appropriate safety measures.

a truck that is driving down the road: FILE PHOTO: A police agent keeps watch atop a truck at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa © REUTERS/Daniel Becerril/File Photo FILE PHOTO: A police agent keeps watch atop a truck at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa

“You can work, perhaps not as efficiently as we would like, but you don’t lose money, either,” the executive said.

a man wearing a military vehicle: FILE PHOTO: A Mexican Marine stands guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa © REUTERS/Daniel Becerril/File Photo FILE PHOTO: A Mexican Marine stands guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Reynosa

Other companies including Newpek, a unit of Mexico’s Alfa (ALFAA.MX), and a consortium of Mexico’s Jaguar Exploración y Producción with a unit of Canada’s Sun God Resources came to drill in Tamaulipas state after the 2014 government oil reforms.

By the time they arrived, strict protocols had been introduced by operators and service firms in the area, keeping employees inside between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. and coordinating with the military before moving into the field.

To avoid dangerous misunderstandings, cars are clearly marked with company logos and employees avoid wearing clothes that the criminals could mistake for security forces, two oil workers told Reuters. They practice defensive driving, move in convoys and are told to respond honestly if interrogated by the cartel.

Women are generally not permitted to work beyond the major urban areas.

“I was not allowed to go into the field because there is a high risk I could be raped,” one female worker said.

Liberty Oilfield Services (LBRT.N), whose operations include the Eagle Ford, has not considered operating in Mexico in part because of safety concerns.

“The safety of our workers in Mexico would be a massive concern,” said Liberty Chief Executive Officer Chris Wright. “We’d take some of our own actions for security and guards, but maybe that’s not enough.”

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera in Reynosa, Mexico; Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia in Mexico City and Marianna Parraga and Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Brian Thevenot)

Theresa May: General election before Brexit ‘not in national interest’

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Theresa May has ruled out the idea of a general election before Brexit day, saying it would “not be in the national interest”.

Upon arrival in New York for the UN summit, the prime minister dismissed suggestions of an autumn vote despite reports Downing Street was “war-gaming” a snap election.

Another election is not due until 2022 but Labour has been pushing for a vote if MPs reject any deal between the UK and the EU.

Speaking to reporters before a meeting of the UN General Assembly, Mrs May said: “What I’m doing is working to deliver a good deal with Europe in the national interest.

“It would not be in the national interest to have an election.”

Mrs May also declared on Tuesday that a Canada-style Brexit trade deal that broke up the UK would be worse than no deal.

Brussels has shown a desire for an agreement, she insisted but said any move that would put a border in the Irish Sea would be a “bad” outcome.

It comes after senior Tory Leavers including David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg backed proposals calling on the Government to seek a “basic” free trade agreement for goods of the kind struck between the EU and Canada.

They pointed out such a move had already been offered by Brussels.

Flags of UK and EU on a Creacked Concrete Background © Getty Flags of UK and EU on a Cracked Concrete Background Downing Street later said the proposals would mean “Northern Ireland effectively remaining in parts of the single market and customs union”.

“I think a bad deal would be, for example, a deal that broke up the United Kingdom. We want to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.

European Union and UK flags in front of Big Ben, Brexit EU © Getty European Union and UK flags in front of Big Ben, Brexit EU “What we have put on the table is a good deal, it’s a deal which retains the union of the United Kingdom, our constitutional integrity, it’s a deal that provides for no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protects jobs and enables us to have a good trading relationship with Europe and also the rest of the world.

“When we get to the point of a deal – and as Prime Minister, I do believe we can get to a good deal – we will take that deal back to Parliament and at that point, MPs will have a clear choice.”

Fear of migrants in rural France recedes, but doubts remain

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When the quiet French town of Forges-les-Bains was chosen to host a centre for young male asylum seekers in 2016, there was uproar.

The disused hospital earmarked for the project was firebombed, some 250 residents staged a protest and NGO workers assisting the group of Afghans had their car tyres slashed.

“At first people said we were terrorists… and that we were going to give hash to the children (in the school next door),” said Asif Qaderi, 23, who was part of the first group bussed to the leafy town 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of Paris.

But the fears expressed in the town of 4,000 — of home break-ins and girls at the school next to the centre being harassed — came to nought.

The 91 men, who had been sleeping on the streets of Paris, instead devoted their energy to restoring the neglected building, pursuing their asylum claims and learning French, guided by the Emmaus Solidarite housing charity.

Afghan migrant Janzeb Khan at the Forges-les Bain centre which is now closing © Provided by AFP Afghan migrant Janzeb Khan at the Forges-Les Bain centre which is now closing They also raised chickens and sheep, dug a vegetable garden, built a football field and held barbecues that helped break the ice with the community.

‘Caught in the middle’ 

But the centre is now being closed — a symbol of opposition in many parts of France, where 60 per cent of people interviewed in a June poll said the country had “too many” migrants.

Local mayor Marie Lespert-Chabrier, who made the state promise to move the Afghans on after two years, is still smarting at being forced to take the foreigners in, leaving her “caught in the middle” between youths fleeing war and misery and a hostile population.

While admitting that the fears of the refuseniks proved unfounded, she is adamant that her town has done its bit for the migrants who have poured into Europe in the past three years.

France, which registered a record 100,000 asylum-seekers last year, received far fewer migrants than the likes of Germany or Sweden, with police regularly turning people back to their EU port of arrival — usually Italy.

Once in France, most head for the streets of Paris or Calais in the north, a jumping-off point for Britain.

Forges-Les-Bains was one of the dozens of towns selected to host migrants as part of a major relocation programme in 2016.

To Ahmadzi Gul, 19, it felt like a second home.

“Forge is a bit like a village in Afghanistan. It’s quiet and the people are nice,” Gul, who was scarred by police violence on the migrant route in Bulgaria, said as he hoisted his belongings onto a truck bound for a shelter 30 kilometres away.

“We regret having to leave,” said Emmaus Solidarity’s head Bruno Morel, for whom the centre demonstrated “that you can welcome migrants in a dignified manner, without causing any problems”.

No ‘misty-eyed idealists’ 

A migrant cleans the lunch room at the new centre in a former monastery in Bonnelles. © Provided by AFP A migrant cleans the lunch room at the new centre in a former monastery in Bonnelles. A five-minute drive from Forges-les-Bains lies a town about half its size that has been hailed as a model of tolerance.

Bonnelles led the way in 2015 when it agreed to give 78 Syrian and Iraqi men shelter in a monastery.

With TV images at the time showing clashes between migrants and police at the Hungarian border, “there was a lot of concern” among residents, recalled the town’s mayor of the last 23 years, Guy Poupart.

While calling on residents to show solidarity, he took care to neither demonize nor deify the newcomers.

“These are humans, some of whom fled for their lives or lost loved ones. But we did not take sides nor become misty-eyed idealists,” he said.

That approach paid off, with the monastery going on to host some 550 asylum-seekers for short periods — on average 90 young men of 14 different nationalities at any one time — nearly all of whom praised by residents as engaging and polite.

“Nothing has changed, we don’t see the refugees much,” said Sophie Derouin, co-owner of a hair salon, who had to brush up her school English to tend to new Afghan clients.

The new migrant centre in Bonnelles © Provided by AFP The new migrant centre in Bonnelles But even in Bonnelles, where migrants and local youths have struck up friendships around football and at least one asylum-seeker found work with a local company, some residents still oppose the foreigners’ presence.

“That’s enough. We have enough problems with our own homeless,” Derouin’s business partner Isabelle Bobinet said, a sentiment echoed by Patrick Cassert, owner of a cafe on the main street.

Caring for asylum-seekers “is costing France too much money,” he said.