British Queen celebrates

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Singapore marks its 50th anniversary on Sunday celebrating a remarkable transformation from colonial backwater to regional powerhouse, but analysts say the festivities are unlikely to silence rumbling discontent ahead of expected elections.

The nationalistic celebrations are the high-point of a year of jubilee events and will be marked with a huge military parade, fireworks display and video tribute to late founding father Lee Kuan Yew, whose death in March prompted a national outpouring of grief.

More than a quarter of a million people are expected to take to the streets to attend the commemorations, reflecting the widespread pride felt by many residents at the city-state's achievements over the past half century.

But behind the highly choreographed events, the opposition is keen to tap into voter anxiety ahead of elections expected in September and pressure the government to ease strict political controls credited with keeping the ruling People's Action Party in power.

Singapore's birth as a nation state came on August 9, 1965, when it was ejected from the Malaysian federation following a stormy two-year union.

It has since gone on to surpass far larger neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia in terms of development and military power.


And although several metrics, such as home ownership of more than 90 percent and per capita gross domestic product of $56,284 in 2014, put Singapore among the most advanced societies in the world, critics say its success has come at a steep cost.

The recent jailing of teenager Amos Yee for insulting Christianity in a video tirade against Lee, as well as a defamation suit against an activist who accused the current prime minister of misusing state pension funds, have been held up as examples of the government's intolerance for dissent.

- Feel-good factor -

Analysts have widely predicted that Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 63, will call snap elections for September 12 in the hope of harnessing the celebratory mood and extending the PAP's uninterrupted five and a half decades in power.

But the party, which suffered significant losses in 2011 elections, will have to contend with a series of voter gripes, including the high cost of living, immigration policy, rising healthcare costs and one of the widest incomes gaps in the world.



Asian stocks were mixed on Thursday, as gains on Wall Street drove trading in Tokyo but patchy US economic data fed wider uncertainty in the region.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday the US service sector expanded 4.3 percent in July to a record high, but payroll firm ADP estimated the US private sector added 185,000 jobs in July, below analysts' estimate for 220,000 additional jobs.

Tokyo rose 0.24 percent to finish up 50.38 points at 20,664.64, while Seoul lost 0.81 percent, or 16.47 points, on losses from technology firms and mobile carriers to end the day at 2,013.29.

Sydney slid 1.13 percent to close down 63.9 points at 5,610.10 due to higher than estimated unemployment figures and a major bank's share sale.

Shanghai fell 0.84 percent following a sharp drop in opening trade, while Hong Kong was down 0.58 percent in mid-afternoon trading.

The US data strengthened the case for an earlier interest rate hike from the Fed, analysts said, weakening the yen and providing a boost for Japanese stocks.

A weak yen is positive for Japanese exporters but pushes up import costs.

"The weaker currency will be a tailwind for Japanese stocks. We'll still see a focus on individual earnings results," Yutaka Miura, a technical analyst at Mizuho Securities, told Bloomberg News.

The Bank of Japan begins a two-day meeting Thursday, with all eyes on signs of when policymakers may launch further easing measures.

Australian equities fell after ANZ Bank announced a share sale worth Aus$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion), while the Aussie dollar weakened after unemployment unexpectedly jumped to 6.3 percent in July.

Analysts floated the possibility of an interest rate cut following the spike in joblessness, which came despite a hiring surge.

"The market is downplaying stronger jobs growth given the rise in unemployment," Kieran Davies, chief economist at Barclays Plc in Sydney, told Bloomberg News. "I see a risk of a further rate cut given the Australian dollar still looks overvalued."

Australia's unemployment rate has edged up over the past year to its highest in almost a decade, while wages growth has been weak and business investment outside the mining sector remains soft.


Australia is leading the hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which is thought to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, with experts in France due to examine Wednesday a wing part that washed up on La Reunion island.

The national science agency, CSIRO, along with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, has performed drift modelling based on their current search zone for the jet that vanished last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Here are some of their insights released Wednesday:


Q. What happens when a plane crashes into the ocean?

A. There is almost always some debris left floating after an aircraft crashes in water. The opportunity to locate and recover debris from the sea surface diminishes rapidly over the first few weeks from the time of a crash. Thereafter, some less permeable items of debris will remain afloat for a longer period but they will be increasingly dispersed.


Q. What type of debris from a plane is likely to float?

A. Items designed to float include seat cushions, life jackets, escape slides. Many items from the cabin, such as cabin linings and tray tables, which are made of low density synthetic materials, can also remain buoyant. Similarly, aircraft structural components may entrap enough air to remain afloat for reasonable periods and have been commonly found on the water's surface following a crash.


Q. How long does debris stay afloat?




A New York woman delivered a healthy baby girl at the World Trade Center commuter station on Tuesday, the first birth at the site since the 9/11 attacks, officials said.

The woman from Queens, who went into labor at full term, gave birth at the World Trade Center PATH station at 2:30 am, assisted by Port Authority police officers.

The baby girl is called Asenat and weighs six pounds, 14 oz (3.1 kilos). She was delivered by Officer Brian McGraw on the mezzanine concourse of the station, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the station, said.

"The woman stated she felt the baby coming and the officers prepared the area and aided for a possible birth," the Port Authority said in a statement.

"Emergency Medical Services arrived on the scene and within a couple of minutes the woman delivered a baby girl," it added.

Asenat, her parents and her two-year-old brother were transported to Beekman Downtown Hospital in lower Manhattan.

Joe Pentangelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said she was the first baby born at the World Trade Center since original twin towers were destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.


President Barack Obama's plan to slash electricity-generated CO2 emissions was welcomed Tuesday as a courageous step towards a lower-carbon future, but not yet enough to brake dangerous planet warming.

Politicians and analysts said Obama's Clean Power Plan, which faces fierce opposition in Republican quarters back home, should foster global goodwill and spur the international effort to pin down a climate rescue pact by year-end.

But much more was needed, from the US and other nations, to get the world on track to meet the UN goal of limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, they warned.

French President Francois Hollande said the first plan ever to limit US power plant emissions would be a "major contribution to the success" of the November 30-December 11 UN conference his country will host to ink a new global climate deal.

Hollande hailed Obama's "courage" in the face of Republican recriminations and the threat of legal action by the lobby group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Obama announced Monday that power plant owners must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.




A giant photo of the beloved Zimbabwean lion killed by an American trophy hunter was among images projected Saturday onto the Empire State Building in New York in a dazzling display.

The "Projecting Change on the Empire State Building" initiative was designed to raise awareness about the plight of endangered animals and was billed as a first of its kind.

An image of the lion Cecil, whose killing has sparked international outrage, was prime among animals whose pictures covered 33 floors of the southern face of one of the world's most famous landmarks in an eight-minute video loop.

New Yorkers from as far as 20 blocks away snapped pictures of the building as it lit up the nighttime sky over a steamy Manhattan.

The project was the brainchild of Louie Psihoyos, founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society and director of Oscar-winning 2009 documentary film "The Cove," which shone a grisly light on Japan's dolphin-hunting industry.




Consumers around the world admit it: they sleep with their smartphone, take it in the shower, and would rescue the device from a fire before saving the family cat.

Those are among the findings of a seven-country survey of more than 7,000 people about smartphone habits released Tuesday by Motorola, the newly acquired division of Chinese electronics giant Lenovo.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said they slept holding their handsets -- with the highest percentages in India (74 percent) and China (70 percent). And 57 percent said they took the device into the toilet, with the highest totals from China and Brazil.

One in six smartphone users said they used their phones while showering, and more than half -- 54 percent -- said they would reach for the smartphone before saving their cat in the event of a fire.

How close are people to their devices? 22 percent said they would give up sex for a weekend before parting with their smartphone. And 40 percent tell secrets to their phones they would not reveal even to their best friend.




It may not be considered a landmark birthday for humans, but turning 37 on Tuesday made Hong Kong's Jia Jia the oldest-ever giant panda in captivity, and she celebrated in style.

The equivalent of more than 100 years old in human terms, Jia Jia was presented with a towering birthday cake made from ice and fruit juice with the number 37 carved on top in her enclosure at the city's Ocean Park theme park.

"Jia Jia has achieved two Guinness world record titles -- the oldest panda living in captivity and the oldest panda ever living in captivity," said Blythe Ryan Fitzwilliam, adjudicator of Guinness World Records, during a ceremony at the park.

He offered her his congratulations, saying it was an "amazing longevity achievement".

Jia Jia was born in the wild in Sichuan, China in 1978 and was given to Hong Kong in 1999 to mark the semi-autonomous city's handover by Britain two years earlier.

The previous record was held by a male panda called Du Du, who was also caught in the wild and died in July 1999 at the age of 36 in a zoo in China's Hubei Province.





Less than half of US teenagers today are sexually active, far fewer than in the late 1980s, a US government report said Wednesday.

The findings are based on survey data spanning 1988 to 2013, called the National Survey of Family Growth, offering a glimpse at national estimates of sexual activity, contraceptive use and childbearing among teenagers aged 15–19.

"In 2011–2013, 44 percent of female teenagers and 47 percent of male teenagers aged 15–19 had experienced sexual intercourse," said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The percentage has declined significantly, by 14 percent for female and 22 percent for male teenagers, over the past 25 years."

In 1988, 60 percent of teenage boys and 51 percent of teenage girls were sexually active.

The lowest points were seen in the 2006-2010 range for females, with 43 percent saying they had had sex at least once.

For males, the lowest number was 46 percent in 2002.

When researchers separated the data by age, they found that 15-year-olds were the least likely to have had sex (about 15 percent).

The likelihood of sexual activity increased over time. Almost two in three 19-year-olds have experienced intercourse at least once, the report said.

The declining rates of sexually active youth coincide with previous research that has found a big drop in the teen birth rate.




New York's Empire State Building was lit in green late Friday to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The green light will shine until the famous skyscraper closes to the public at 2:00 am (0600 GMT), when the building traditionally turns out its lights.

The skyscraper has carried out the tradition "for several years now -- it is an annual lighting," a building spokeswoman told AFP.

The Empire State Building famously shines specific colors for a number of religious holidays -- pastel shades for Easter, blue and white for Hanukkah, and red and green for Christmas.

It also has marked a number of events -- red, white and blue for the US women's World Cup victory, rainbow colors for gay Pride Week, and blue, white and purple for World Oceans Day on June 8.