Smog chokes Beijing as Paris climate talks get under way

BEIJING China's capital Beijing maintained an "orange" pollution alert, the second-highest level, on Monday, closing highways, halting or suspending construction and prompting a warning to residents to stay indoors - all as climate change talk begin in Paris. The choking pollution was caused by the "unfavorable" weather, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Sunday. Emissions in northern China soar over winter as urban heating systems are switched on and low wind speeds have meant that polluted air has not been dispersed.It was the first time this year that authorities have raised the orange alert, second only to red, which means heavy smog is forecast for three days. The hazardous air underscores the challenge facing the government as it battles pollution caused by the coal-burning power industry and will raise questions about its ability to clean up its economy as crucial talks on a new climate change accord get under way in Paris this week.For Beijing's 22.5 million residents, the poor air makes breathing hard."This sort of weather, you can see that all of Beijing has been completely enveloped in smog... and for every breath, getting up every morning, your throat will feel particularly uncomfortable," said Zhang Heng, a 26-year-old architect. On Monday, the air quality index in some parts of Beijing soared to 500, its highest possible level. At levels higher than 300, residents are encouraged to remain indoors, according to government guidelines. The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said on Sunday that it had requested factories to limit or suspend output and had also stopped construction work throughout the city. The ministry said the number of cities affected by heavy pollution had reached 23, stretching across 530,000 square km, an area the size of Spain, but a cold front beginning on Wednesday would see the situation improve.State-run Xinhua news agency said more than 200 expressway toll gates in east China's Shandong province were closed on Monday due to smog. The province issued a yellow alert.China launched a "war on pollution" last year following a spate of smog outbreaks in Beijing and surrounding regions. China has vowed to slash coal consumption and close down polluting industrial capacity, but environmental officials admit that the country is unlikely to meet state air quality standards until at least 2030.Reducing coal use and promoting cleaner forms of energy are set to play a crucial role in China's pledges to bring its climate warming greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by around 2030. (Reporting by David Stanway and Kathy Chen; additional reporting by Adam Rose; Editing by Josephine Mason and Nick Macfie) Read more

Apple wins dismissal of lawsuit over MacBook logic boards

Apple Inc won the dismissal on Thursday of a lawsuit accusing it of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook laptop computers that contained "logic boards" it knew were defective, and which routinely failed within two years.U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the plaintiffs, Uriel Marcus and Benedict Verceles, failed to show that Apple made "affirmative misrepresentations," despite citing online complaints and Apple marketing statements calling the laptops "state of the art" or the "most advanced" on the market."Plaintiffs have failed to allege that Apple's logic boards were unfit for their ordinary purposes or lacked a minimal level of quality," Alsup wrote. "Both plaintiffs were able to adequately use their computers for approximately 18 months and two years, respectively."Alsup gave the plaintiffs until Jan. 22 to amend their lawsuit, which sought class-action status, against the Cupertino, California-based company. Omar Rosales, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Apple did not immediately respond to a similar request.The plaintiffs claimed that Apple's sale of MacBooks since May 20, 2010, violated consumer protection laws in California and Texas, where the lawsuit began last May before being moved.They also contended that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was told about the defective logic boards in 2011, but did nothing. Logic boards contain computer circuitry and are sometimes known as motherboards.A separate and still pending lawsuit in California accuses Apple of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook Pro laptops in 2011 that contained defective graphic cards, causing screen distortions and system failures. MacBooks are part of Apple's Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. The company reported unit sales in that business of 18.91 million in its latest fiscal year.The case is Marcus et al v. Apple Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-03824. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon) Read more

Adele's '25' becomes UK's biggest-selling No. 1 album

LONDON British singer Adele's "25" notched up the most sales in its opening week of any UK album, beating a record set in 1997 by Oasis, the Official Charts Company said on Friday.The 27-year-old's third studio album sold 800,307 copies - compared with Oasis' previous record of 696,000 with "Be Here Now" - and amassed more sales than the last 19 No. 1 albums in Britain combined.It also became the most downloaded No. 1 album ever, the charts company said. "The statistics surrounding the album are staggering, topped by the simple fact that no album has ever sold 800,000 copies to reach Number 1 in the history of British music," said Chief Executive Martin Talbot. Adele, who also broke the single-week U.S. album sales record in just four days with 25, announced on Thursday she would begin a 15-week concert tour of Britain, Ireland and continental Europe in February, her first tour in four years.Elsewhere in the album charts, Elvis Presley was back up a place at two with the "If I Can Dream" compilation while Justin Bieber’s "Purpose" was third. Bieber was also riding high in the UK singles chart, taking three of the top four places. Madonna was the last act to occupy the top two positions simultaneously back in 1985 with "Into The Groove" and "Holiday". Bieber's "Sorry" was top, with "Love Yourself" second and "What do you Mean" fourth. Adele was third with "Hello". (Reporting by Stephen Addison; editing by Michael Holden) Read more

Frescoes stolen from ancient tomb go on display in Italy

ROME Five frescoed stone slabs stolen from a tomb in the ancient city of Paestum and trafficked by a notorious artifact smuggler went on display in Italy on Thursday after a 10-year investigation. Police were led to the pieces, all dating from around 400 BC, after an international trafficker known as "The Captain" died in a road accident, leaving thousands of photographs of archaeological finds in his car.A police squad dedicated to tracking down art and artifacts dug up illegally from Italy's numerous ancient sites traced the slabs to the Italian-Swiss border and brought them to Rome. The frescoes show a noble lady and her slave girls, a triumphant warrior on horseback and a young armed man walking with a donkey. Each slab has a ragged crack across the middle, having been cut in half to make smuggling easier. Paestum, a ruined city near Naples originally founded by the ancient Greeks, boasts hundreds of unique ancient tombs. Site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said illegal digs such as the one that yielded the five frescoes were "devastating". "I invite you to appreciate the beauty of this tomb, but also to reflect on this illicit business and the market that creates opportunities for it," he added.Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, speaking at a news conference with Zuchtriegel, cited the plundering of antiquities in Syria by Islamic State militants, who he said made money by illegally selling fragments. (Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Alison Williams) Read more

Rare, 25-carat pink diamond found among Imelda Marcos collection: Christie's

MANILA A rare 25-carat, barrel-shaped pink diamond has been found among the jewelry collection of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, Christie's said on Tuesday after the government asked the auction house to appraise her collection of rare stones.The Philippine government could decide to auction the collection after Christie's and rival Sotheby's appraise three sets of jewelry confiscated almost three decades ago after the fall of Imelda's husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos."We had an extremely exciting find," said David Warren, director of jewelry at London-based Christie's. "We found an old briolette-cut diamond, which is 25 carats. It has a distinct pink color. Pink diamonds are exceedingly rare."He said the diamond could be valued at $5 million and would significantly increase the value of the entire collection if the collection is auctioned. The three sets in the collection were valued at $6 million-8 million in 1991.Only three pure, vivid pink diamonds of more than 10 carats have appeared for sale in almost 250 years of auction history, according to Christie's. A large cushion-shaped, pink-hued diamond sold for $28.55 million at the Christie's semi-annual jewelry sale in Geneva on Nov. 10.The Philippine government had tried to auction the three sets in 2005 but Imelda Marcos contested the move, claiming ownership of only two of the sets. One was found in the presidential palace after her family's hasty departure in 1986 and another was seized in Hawaii, where they lived in exile.Imelda Marcos, now an elected member of Congress, is best known for leaving behind more than 1,200 pairs of shoes when her family fled. She has vowed to recover her family's seized assets. Ferdinand Marcos was president for nearly two decades before he was ousted in an army-backed uprising in 1986. He was accused of amassing more than $10 billion while in office and died in exile in 1989.Among his assets were paintings by such masters as Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh.The government displayed the 750 pieces in the three sets of jewelery to the media. The collection, kept in a vault at the central bank, includes Burmese rubies, Indian and South African diamonds and Colombian emeralds. "It shows you the excesses of the Marcos regime," said Andrew de Castro, commissioner of the state agency tasked with recovering the wealth amassed by the Marcoses and their cronies."At a time when people were suffering, they were collecting this set of jewelery," he said.Sotheby's will appraise the collection on Thursday. (Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Paul Tait) Read more

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