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The latest news on The Telegraph from Business Insider

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    denmark shipsRussia tells Denmark not to join Nato missile shield or face becoming a target for Russian missiles

    Russia has gone on the offensive in the Baltic, warning Denmark that if it joins Nato’s missile defence shield, its navy will be a legitimate target for a Russian nuclear attack.

    “I don’t think that Danes fully understand the consequence if Denmark joins the American-led missile defence shield. If they do, then Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” said Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, to the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

    • How do we protect the Baltic states?

    “Denmark would be part of the threat against Russia. It would be less peaceful and relations with Russia will suffer. It is, of course, your own decision - I just want to remind you that your finances and security will suffer. At the same time Russia has missiles that certainly can penetrate the future global missile defence system,” Mr Vanin said.

    Denmark’s Foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, reacted strongly to the comments, calling the ambassador’s statement “unacceptable”.

    “If that is what he has said, then it is unacceptable. Russia knows full well that Nato’s missile defence is defensive and not targeted at (Russia).

    “We disagree with Russia on many important issues, but we also cooperate, for example, in the Arctic and it is important that the tone between us does not escalate,” said Mr Lidegaard.

    • Putin will target the Baltic next, Defence Secretary warns

    The ambassador’s statements came shortly after Denmark’s military published details of encroachments or near-encroachments of Danish airspace. The military said that it had scrambled its F-16 squadrons 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft, twice the number counted in 2012.

    Russian military aircraft have the habit of switching off their transponders as they approach the western Baltic in a manoevre that is seen as dangerous to civilian air traffic, but prevents them being identified other than by sight.

    Mr Vanin’s statements also come eight months after Denmark announced it would take part in Nato’s missile defence system. Denmark has said that it will install special radar systems on one or more of its frigates, in order to become an integral part of the system.

    But Nicolai Wammen, the Defence minister, has been at pains to calm Russia, saying that the move is not targeted at Russia, but at “rogue states, terrorist organisations and others who would have the capacity to fire missiles at Europe and the United States”.

    Nevertheless, Mr Vanin made it clear that Russia feels that NATO is encroaching on its borders.

    Russia VS NATO_07

    “Denmark is a small country with a small army. OK - you are part of Nato, but a very small part. Moscow will not appreciate you joining the missile defence system - or any of the other countries that take part. It will escalate a situation that is already tense and will make things even worse,” he said.

    “I cannot imagine the Cold War coming back again; but there are some who feel that Nato is moving closer and closer to the Russian border and strengthening its position. That creates insecurity in Russia,” he added.

    In follow up statements that will worry the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in particular, Mr Vanin went on to say that from being one of the most peaceful parts of the world a year ago, the Baltic is now “one of the most unpredictable in the world”.

    Germany, Poland, Lithuania, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark all border the Baltic Sea. Six of them are Nato states.

    The three formerly Soviet Baltic states, now all members of Nato and the European Union, have repeatedly expressed their concern at their own situation, not least because as with Ukraine, both Estonia and Latvia in particular have large Russian populations and fear Russian encroachments.

    As events in Ukraine have developed, and the Minsk Agreements remain to be fully implemented, the three Baltic states have been among the hawks in the EU and Nato, calling for increased sanctions against Russia.

    “Why believe the hysteria that Lithuania is Russia’s next target? It’s just an example of very bad theatre. The only people it is good for is the weapons producers,” said Mr Vanin.

     

    This article was written by Julian Isherwood Copenhagen from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A lawyer in Florida has come up with an ingenious way for drivers to evade drunken-driving checkpoints


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    yemenThe latest atrocity in Yemen, which claimed nearly 150 lives on Friday, appears part of a proxy war between the Middle East's two superpowers

    Of all the wars that have ravaged the Middle East since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring four years ago, the bitter rivalry between the more fanatical adherents of Sunni and Shia Islam has now emerged as the region’s defining conflict.

    The deadly series of suicide bomb attacks in Yemen on Friday, which are reported to have claimed the lives of nearly 150 people, is just the latest brutal manifestation of the Sunni-Shia conflict which has resulted in rival forces inflicting widespread bloodshed throughout the Arab world.

    Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain are among the many Middle Eastern states that have been badly affected by the deepening hostility between rival Sunni and Shia factions. And at the heart of a conflict which threatens to transform the political landscape of the modern Arab world lies the deadly rivalry between Saudi Arabia’s Sunni fundamentalist ruling family and Iran’s equally uncompromising Shia-based Islamic revolution.

    • US evacuates special forces from Yemen

    The Saudis have been on a collision course with their powerful Shia neighbours ever since it was revealed more than a decade ago that the ayatollahs were working on a clandestine programme to develop nuclear weapons. Acquiring an atom bomb would allow Iran to achieve its long-standing ambition to reclaim its position as the region’s undisputed superpower, thereby enabling it to intensify its efforts to export the principles of the Iranian revolution further afield.

    Iran’s nuclear ambitions have not surprisingly been bitterly opposed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region’s most powerful Sunni state, with the result that both countries are now engaged in fighting a proxy war for supremacy throughout the Arab world.

    And nowhere is this bitter dispute more keenly felt than in Yemen, a nation that holds the unwelcome distinction of being the Arab world’s poorest state. For decades Yemen was regarded by most Arabs as Saudi Arabia’s back garden, such was the influence the Saudi royal family had brought to bear on Yemen’s internal political and economic affairs since the 1930s.
    yemen

    In particular Riyadh demonstrated its stranglehold over Yemeni politics by supporting the rise to power in 1978 of Ali Abdullah Saleh as the country’s powerful president, and then helping in 1990 to negotiate the second reunification of a country that includes the former British protectorate of Aden.

    • Yemen president flees palace after jet attack

    Under Saleh’s rule Riyadh generally enjoyed cordial relations with the Yemeni government in Sana’a. But two key developments have dramatically changed this cosy arrangement during the past decade. The emergence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an off-shoot of Osama bin Laden’s original terror Sunni-based movement which was founded by a group of Saudi dissidents, helped to provoke ethnic, tribal and social tensions that quickly returned the country to a state of open civil war.

    These tensions, moreover, were further exacerbated by Iran’s decision to support the Houthi rebels, the Shia minority in the north of the country, a decision that has helped to further destabilise the country after President Saleh was forced from office in the wake of the original Arab uprisings in 2011.

    For the past four years the Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been smuggling weapons to the Houthis, as well as providing expert military training, with the result that the Shia Houthi militia finally succeeded in seizing control of the capital Sana’a last year, forcing the Western-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to seek refuge in Aden.

    Last week it was claimed that Tehran was increasing its support for the Houthis with the delivery of a 185 ton shipment of weapons and other military equipment.

    • Iran builds ties with new Yemen regime

    The Iranian-backed takeover of northern Yemen certainly represents a major setback for the Saudis, who have a 1,000-mile porous southern border with the Yemenis to protect.

    The establishment of a pro-Iranian, Shia regime in Sana’s has also been met with deep resentment by the country’s militant Sunni population, which in recent months has seen AQAP - once regarded as the region’s most deadly terrorist organisation by Western intelligence agencies - being replaced by supporters of the Sunni fundamentalist Islamic State (Isil) movement, which in the past year has seized control of large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria.

    Yemen Unrest

    While there have been reports of tensions between Isil and Aqap, there can be little doubt that Sunni extremists were behind this week’s deadly suicide bomb attacks in Yemen, which were deliberately targeted as Shia mosques in the country frequented by Houthi militiamen, who comprised the majority of the victims.

    There will inevitably be speculation that the Saudis were in some way involved in the atrocities, particularly as the suicide attacks coincided with the Houthis mounting aerial bombing raids against the Aden headquarters of President Hadi.

    The group that claimed responsibility for the attacks, the previously unknown Sana’a branch of Isil, justified its action by claiming “Infidel Houthis should know that the soldiers of Islamic State will not rest until they eradicate them...and cut off the arm of the Safavid (Iranian) plan in Yemen.” No one in Riyadh is going to argue with that.

    The Saudis have certainly proved adept at protecting their interests against Iranian incursions in the past. When Iran tried to provoke Shia dissidents in the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain to overthrow the kingdom’s Sunni monarchy, the Saudi military quickly intervened to crush the protest movement.

    Whether the Saudis initiate a similar military operation in Yemen will depend to an extent on the outcome of the talks currently taking place between the U.S. and Iran over the future of its nuclear programme. U.S.

    President Barack Obama is said to be keen to cut a deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who yesterday claimed that the talks were taking positive strides and that “there is nothing that cannot be resolved.”

    But the talks are being viewed with deep scepticism by the Saudis and other countries in the region, including Israel, which fear that Mr Obama is preparing to do a deal that would allow Iran to retain the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons, even if Tehran gives commitments not to do so.

    And if that is the outcome then the Saudis will want to have a nuclear deterrent of their own, with the result that a conflict that is currently being fought with proxies might one day escalate in an all-out nuclear war between Sunnis and Shias.

    This article was written by Con Coughlin Defence Editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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    NOW WATCH: A lawyer in Florida has come up with an ingenious way for drivers to evade drunken-driving checkpoints


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  • 03/22/15--09:14: Meet the real Don Draper
  • conner_3239664b

    Ahead of a London exhibition of his work, 101-year-old illustrator Mac Conner tells Hermione Hoby about life as one of the original Mad Men on Madison Avenue

    The Upper East side of Manhattan can feel like a place that time forgot. Here are the green curves of Central Park, same as they ever were, there’s the Beaux-Arts mansion of the Frick museum, solid since 1914, and here, in a grand old apartment on 5th Avenue, is the home of 101-year-old illustrator McCauley “Mac” Conner.

    When I arrive, he’s sitting in a large living room with two tall windows looking out over the trees of the park, his palms resting on a copy of the New York Post. He takes my hand firmly and pumps it up and down for several seconds: a bygone handshake. It’s all there, in that gesture – the lunch time martinis, women in white day gloves and scarlet lipstick, the clouds of cigarette smoke.

    This is the world of New York, specifically Madison Avenue, of 60 years ago and if it seems familiar, it’s thanks in large part to Conner, who from 1949 onwards, helped define and incite the aspirations of America’s growing middle class in the images he created during the city’s golden era of advertising.

    madmen_3239707bSince his first exhibition show last year at the Museum of the City of New York, Conner has been stuck with the epithet “the original Mad Man”, a reference to the wildly popular television series that follows the fortunes of a Manhattan ad agency through the Sixties.

    At the opening, the museum’s director, Susan Henshaw Jones, gave a speech in which, he remembers, she gestured to Conner and said, “‘here’s a Mad Man, sitting right here, the original one!’ – And I didn’t know what she was talking about then!”

    He’s since been sent a DVD of the series. “The one episode I saw was about smoking.” He adds, equably: “I thought it was very good…”

    The plan for a New York exhibition of his work was announced to him on the night of his 100th birthday when he had a small gathering of friends here. “A great gift!” he says, and now he’s enjoying the bonus gift of its reprisal in London. Mac Conner: a New York Life opens at the House of Illustration near King’s Cross station next month.

    57382377_3239678bConner has lived in this particular apartment for a quarter of a century but says that since his wife died five years ago it’s felt bigger.

    He has a housekeeper, Bibi, who comes each day, but it’s mainly just him and Willy, his bronze-coloured Abyssinian cat. He married Gerta Whitney, a painter and granddaughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum, in 1956.

    A picture of hers still hangs above the fireplace – a landscape of trees, painted at the house they used to own in upstate New York.

    On one side of him is a large stereo on which someone (I suspect its owner) has written “Mac’s music box” in Tippex. Beside it is a desk crammed with pots of marker pens, although these days he’s no longer able to draw.

    “I love the colour and the shapes but I can’t do anything any more – I can’t see, my hands are no good.”

    He immediately undercuts the poignancy: “I’ll talk to you in the next 100 years, I’ll be better,” and he chuckles, a soft, body-shaking laugh.

    Although he can’t make images any more, colour and composition are always on his mind. “I think, ‘well I’d move this over here, I’d make this active, this quiet,’ – all that kind of thing – you retain that basic feeling, even though you can’t do it. So yes, I’m still involved that way.”

    Mac Conner Illustr_3239676bHe picks out one of his favourite illustrations for me, a panoramic beach scene, filled with sunbathers. It was commissioned by Cosmopolitan magazine in 1959, to accompany a story entitled, “Something for a Rainy Day.” To the left of the image a woman with lips and toes and fingernails all painted the same fire engine red is laughing and holding a cigarette. Conner points out the tiny red smudge of lipstick that she’s left on its butt.

    Despite this kind of artistry, he has always referred to himself as a designer, not an artist. So what’s the distinction? His face lights up slowly: “That’s a good question! That’s a damn good question. I think the aim [as a designer] is to tell the story. You don’t give a damn whether it’s hanging on the wall or is put into the trash afterwards. The painter is painting something emotional. It’s a point of view, you know? And they rub shoulders once in a while, the artist and the designer.”

    57382404_3239728bConner grew up in Newport, New Jersey, where his mother and father owned a general store. He drew incessantly as a child, “doodling, diddling, always” – but unlike most other little boys he wasn’t interested in sketching dinosaurs or trains or spaceships. It was just people, always people, and his subject never changed. He began to take his talent seriously when, still a teenager, he signed up for an illustration course by mail.

    He went on to earn a degree at the Philadelphia Museum School before being drafted into the Navy, where he worked as a sign painter. After being discharged, he attended artist Harvey Dunn’s now legendary drawing classes, held on the top floor of Grand Central Station. They seem to have made an indelible impression on Conner. “He didn’t like pretty pictures,” he recalls. “He wanted them to tell a story. He was direct – ‘Is that a red dress? Well make it red, dammit!’ ”

    Soon after, Conner gained employment with the illustration service Lawrence Studios where he met Bill Neeley, who became his agent. Neeley was unusual among his peers in that he insisted that his clients’ work was returned to them. As the show’s curator, Terrence Brown, says, “One reason the show came about is because the art existed; it existed because Bill Neeley said ‘we’re getting it back’.”

    madmen1_3240101bVery soon, Conner was one of the most in-demand illustrators in the city. “I didn’t think of competition,” he says. “I was trying to do my own thing, not copy the big guys of that period. A lot of it’s done that way – a lot of artists try to do what the other guy’s doing. But it doesn’t work that way, really. It takes confidence and belief.”

    Conner’s work during this period fell into two categories. One was advertisements, the other was illustration for the short stories that ran in women’s magazines under titles like “Strictly Respectable” and “The Trouble With Love”. Illustrating a writer’s story, he says, offered him much greater creative freedom. He worked hard; 12-hour days were the norm for him. “I was dedicated, I loved it.”

    57382373_Mac_Conne_3239713bIt was boom time for the automobile industry and Conner often found himself commissioned to illustrate cars, or rather, everything but the car.

    As he explains: “I did the people, I didn’t do the car – there were specialists who did cars. The ad agency would design the ad and I would come along and do the figures – some guy did the car and some guy printed it. So, it was team work! But there was no feeling to that, it was a mechanical operation, you know? There was no heart in it really. And there was the difference.”

    I tell him that Mad Men has made us guilty of thinking that all ad men did back then was drink martinis all day. “Well I got into that, I got into the martinis!” he laughs. He adds: “I had a Jaguar. A sports car, a little one. I had a girlfriend so we’d go up to New England in that at weekends. It was very glamorous. So I had a lot of fun.”

    The Upper East side apart, today’s world is in many ways almost unrecognisable from the one in which Conner began his career. In the late Forties, photography and television were still peripheral new technologies. By 1961, however they were central and photography, in particular, had revolutionised the industry.

    57385797_3239639b“But it didn’t change illustration,” he says. “We artists think in terms of spirit, if you will – the soul – the little mistakes that the camera never makes. The camera is right on the button – sharp, highlights on the nose just right and everything is so damn right. And we illustrators, we don’t like that. There’s no humanity in a camera.”

    None the less, he has great enthusiasm for the high-definition images used in contemporary print ads, especially those for wristwatches. “They blow them up and make that damn little watch so big,” he says, spreading his hands to convey the size of the watch face. “The cleanliness, the sharpness…” he trails off, marvelling.

    And does he ever miss it all?

    “The old days?” he says. “Well… not really, because I think I was so wrapped up in doing illustration that my mind was on that daily.”

    But then he adds: “It was a different world, a slower world. You could think twice before you bought something. If you don’t buy it now, it’s gone next time you look in the window. I, of course, look back on it as being better than today but I don’t know if that’s true or not. Some kid would say no.

    “Now,” he smiles, with all the steady, simple calm of a life well lived, “I’m just coasting, waiting for the big scythe to come along.”

    Mac Conner: a New York Life, is at the House of Illustration, London N1 (houseofillustration.org.uk) from April 1 to June 28, 2015. The final episodes of Mad Men will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic next month

    Mad Men: even the best can outstay their welcome

    Mad Men: the most literary show on TV

    Mad Men: the ten best moments

    This article was written by Hermione Hoby from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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    NOW WATCH: What the Chinese saying 'The ugly wife is a treasure at home' actually means


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    A 28 year-old Afghan woman who was wrongly accused of burning the Koran was beaten with sticks, run over by a car, and burned to death by men.

    On Sunday, she was laid to rest by women in an extraordinary funeral that drew hundreds onto the streets of Kabul.

    The vicious mob killing of Farkhunda, captured on video, shocked Afghanistan and created an international scandal for Ashraf Ghani, the country's president, who began his first state visit to Washington yesterday.

    At her graveside, General Mohammad Zahir, the head of the interior ministry's investigations department, said she had been entirely blameless.

    “We have reviewed all the evidence and have been unable to find any single iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Koran,” Gen Zahir said. “She is completely innocent.”

    It was on Thursday that worshippers at the Shah-Do Shamshira shrine in downtown Kabul accused Farkhunda of burning the Koran.

    Instead, investigators have since said, she was burning a charm. Farkhuna's brother, Najibullah, said she was a devout Muslim who was a qari, a person who can recite the Koran according to the tajwid, or official rules of elocution.

    A former mathematics student at Kabul's Education university, she had enrolled in a madrasa and was waiting to start a course at Kabul university's Islamic studies school.

    But there was little that anyone could do as a righteous mob gathered to execute her. The video showed more than 500 young men attacking her.

    Her father, Mohammad Nadar, yesterday gave permission for women to carry his daughter's coffin. Traditionally it is men who carry the coffin and in some families women do not attend burials.

    • Afghan men wear burqas to protest for women's rights

    Ramin Anwari, a 30-year-old activist, said the funeral was “history-making and revolutionary”.

    He said mourners who escorted the casket from the family’s home to the cemetery were demanding that Afghan society change and that everyone who supported the killing be held to account.

    “For the first time I saw visible anger at mullahs whose twisting of Islamic law have caused so much suffering in Afghanistan,” he said.

    The mourners focused their anger on Mohammad Ayaz Niazi, the mullah of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque. At his sermon ahead of Friday prayers, Niazi called for the release of the nine men who have been arrested so far.

    "I am warning the government not to arrest those who did this, because it will mean an uprising," he said.

    When he arrived at the funeral yesterday, Niazi was driven out by angry mourners.

    Najibullah, her brother, said the family has only request from the government.

    "We are a poor family, we do not have any connections. All I ask is that the perpetrators be brought to justice for their brutality," he said. "Nothing else."

    Ahmad Zubair Massoud, the son of one of president Ghani's advisers, has now obtained scholarships for two of her sisters to study overseas. More protests are planned for this week over Farkhunda's killing.

     

    This article was written by Ali M Latifi Kabul from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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    NOW WATCH: Animated map of what Earth would look like if all the ice melted


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    Lambo 2_1845825bThe legendary Lamborghini which made cinematic history for its role in the opening scene of Italian Job has been found almost half a century later, and is now reportedly worth £1 million.

    The Lamborghini Miura cruises through the Alps in the 1969 film, before disappearing into a tunnel and exploding into a ball of flames.

    The wreckage is dragged out of the tunnel by a mafia-controlled bulldozer, then pushed off the cliff and left to roll down the mountainside.

    The classic car, which many believed had never recovered from its ordeal, has now resurfaced in pristine condition, according to the Mail on Sunday.

    Now thought to be worth more than £1 million, the car was tracked down by two British businessmen.

    The car's new co-owner, Iain Tyrrell, received a tip-off at Christmas that the Miura had been spotted. He was invited to see the vehicle, and was given three hours to verify it.

    “I was initially sceptical because no one had seen it for 46 years. But my source was a credible one so I started to pursue it,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

    “It was all very James Bond-ish, I had to go to Paris to inspect the car in a secret underground car park.”

    Mr Tyrrell was told that The Italian Job’s opening sequence was shot using two cars, both supplied by Lamborghini, but only one of them was destroyed in the filming, while the other remained intact.

    Mr Tyrrell, who owns Cheshire Classic Cars, said: “The Italian Job Lamborghini is the holy grail of supercars precisely because no one knew what happened to it after the film.

    “After inspecting the car, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the Miura from The Italian Job.”

    Mr Tyrrell and his friend and co-owner, Keith Ashworth, plan to display the Lamborghini around the world.

    Top Gear magazine voted it the "coolest car in the world" in 2004.

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    angelina jolie

    Angelina Jolie has described the difficult decision to have her ovaries removed after a cancer scare.

    The Hollywood star, who underwent a preventative double mastectomy two years ago, underwent the operation to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in recent days and her husband, Brad Pitt, flew back from France to be her by her side. The operation will put her into forced menopause.

    Miss Jolie, 39, carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that gave her an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer. Her mother, grandmother and aunt all died from cancer.

    In an article for the New York Times headlined "Diary of a Surgery" the actress said she had been planning preventative surgery to remove her ovaries for a while but thought she had time in hand.

    Then, two weeks ago, she received a call from her doctor saying there were markers that could be a sign of early cancer.

    Miss Jolie wrote: "I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn't live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren.

    "I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarising, and it is peaceful.

    "That same day I went to see the surgeon, who had treated my mother. I last saw her the day my mother passed away, and she teared up when she saw me: 'You look just like her.' I broke down."

    Brad Pitt Angelina JolieThe actress and UN envoy described how she needed to wait five days for results, which passed in a "haze" while she did things such as watching her children's football game.

    When when her scan came back it was clear but she chose not to wait any longer to have her ovaries removed.

    Miss Jolie said she decided to share her experience to make good on a promise to follow up with information for other women at risk of cancer, having previously written about her double mastectomy.

    She wanted to encourage women to seek advice about health issues, adding: "Knowledge is power."

    She wrote: "I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery.

    "The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally. In my case, the Eastern and Western doctors I met agreed that surgery to remove my tubes and ovaries was the best option."

    The actress gave details of the procedure she underwent which was called a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

    She wrote: "I am now in menopause. I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes.

    "But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared. I know my children will never have to say, 'Mom died of ovarian cancer'."

    Miss Jolie has six children with Pitt, three of them adopted. Her mother died aged 56 after fighting cancer for a decade.

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    NOW WATCH: 6 Crazy Things Revealed In HBO's Explosive New Scientology Documentary 'Going Clear'


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    diamond auction

    Diamond giant De Beers may have recently predicted demand for the precious stones to increase this year but that hasn't prevented the latest major diamond sale in Antwerp from failing to sell all the stones on offer.

    AIM-listed gemstone miner Stellar Diamonds sold 4,414 carats of diamonds in its latest Antwerp sales but had to withold 1,617 carats due to a lack of serious buyer interest.

    The company said that it was pleased with the revenues generated from the sale but warned of the "challenging market" for rough diamonds. Around £31bn worth diamonds are traded through Antwerp every year, making it one of the biggest markets for the precious stones.

    De Beers has said in its latest market report that the market for diamond jewellery grew by 3pc last year to $81bn (£54bn). China was the main driver for global growth in the diamond market, with demand increasing by 6pc last year.

    Philippe Mellier, chief executive of De Beers Group said: "2014 was another strong year for diamond jewellery demand across the world, as we saw continued growth across both mature and quickly developing markets. Retailers are also positive about for 2015 and, while there are some potential headwinds, the stage is set for another good showing across the major consumer markets."

    According to analysis by De Beers, China, India, the US, Japan and the Persian Gulf account for around 75pc of the entire global market for diamonds.

    "As the number of middle class households in the major consumer markets is set to grow by hundreds of millians in the years ahead, the medium to long term prospects for the dimond industry are also exceptionally strong if the right investments continue to be made across the value chain," said Mr Mellier.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How To Tell If A Diamond Is Real Or Fake


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    labeledPlans for an ambitious 12,400-mile superhighway linking the Atlantic and the Pacific are reportedly being considered by Russian authorities.

    The Trans-Eurasian Belt Development would see the construction of a vast motorway across Russia. It would connect with existing networks in Europe, making road trips to eastern Russia a far easier proposition. While roads do currently run across most of Russia, the quality tends to deteriorate the farther you travel from Moscow.

    The proposal, outlined in the Siberian Times, would see the road follow a similar route to the Trans-Siberian railway, through cities including Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, and Vladivostok. A new high-speed train line would also be constructed, along with pipelines for gas and oil. The rail network may also be extended to the Chukotka region of Russia and across the Bering Strait to Alaska — making overland trips from Britain to the US (via the Channel Tunnel) a possibility.

    The idea, which developers hope will help boost tourism and make Russia a global transportation hub, was presented at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science.

    Vladimir Fortov, the head of the Russian Academy of Science, said the project was "very ambitious and expensive."

    But he added: "It will solve many problems in the development of the vast region. It is connected with social programs, and new fields, new energy resources, and so on.

    "The idea is that basing on the new technology of high-speed rail transport we can build a new railway near the Trans-Siberian Railway, with the opportunity to go to Chukotka and Bering Strait and then to the American continent."

    The Trans-Siberian Railway links Moscow and Vladivostok, covers 9,258 kilometers (6,152 miles) and takes seven days to complete.

    According to Anthony Lambert, Telegraph Travel's rail expert: "The principal attraction of the journey is, of course, the Russian landscape — the vast panoramas and sense of immensity so vividly captured by such artists as Isaac Levitan and Ivan Shishkin. The taiga is mesmerizing.

    "Looking out at the panorama of larch, silver fir, pine, and birch induces the kind of reverie that is one of the pleasures of train travel, a random stream of thoughts and images that drifts on like the forest. In clearings, villages that could have come from a Levitan or Shishkin painting break the spell and make one wonder what life must be like in such a remote land."

    SEE ALSO: The world's longest railway

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    double breast suit

    Fashionistas might recoil in terror at the thought but the double-breasted suit is due to make a comeback, according to men’s clothing retailer Moss Bros.

    Brian Brick, chief executive of the UK’s third-largest seller of suits, made the prediction as the company posted a 5.1pc climb in annual revenues to £114.7m and pre-tax profits rose 9pc to £4.8m.

    “In the next couple of years double-breasted suits could come back into fashion, along with three pieces,” said Mr Brick. “At the moment slim and skinny fit suits are selling well – along with anything blue.”

    In the year to January 31, Moss Bros – which Mr Brick said could be seen as a bellwether for the popularity of weddings in Britain – suffered a 3.6pc drop in suit hire revenue, which makes up 14pc of its total sales.

    The decline of this highly profitable business reduced the company’s gross underlying margin by 70 basis points to 58.3pc.

    However, the chief executive said that couples appear to be once again saying “I do” at the normal rate, with strong demand for rental clothes in the first few months of this year.

    Moss Bros, which claims only Marks & Spencer and Next sell more suits, has invested in new stock for its lounge suit hire business including Ted Baker outfits and Mr Brick said that groom’s wedding parties are happy to hire these, while traditional morning dress is falling out of favour.

    “Buying an equivalent lounge suit costs three to three and a half times more than hiring and people aren’t keen to spend that much,” Mr Brick said. “The average wedding party is six people and they all want to look the same – you can’t say, ‘Just wear a grey suit’.”

    Mr Brick said he was surprised at the strength of demand for lounge suit hire – which Moss Bros only moved into fully last year.

    “It’s been tough for traditional morning suits but people want the more contemporary look,” he said. “We didn’t know there was the demand before because no one was offering it.”

    He added the company – whose typical customers are in their mid-30s – is also attracting younger buyers, despite dress codes in the workplace becoming more relaxed.

    “I’m not sure the growth we are seeing is for work suits,” Mr Brick said. “We are seeing people wearing suits out, they want to dress up, not down.”

    The company’s online sales rose by almost two-thirds during the year, and now represent almost 8pc of sales, and the chief executive said their growth was not cannibalising in-store sales, unlike many high street retailers.

    A programme to refurbish stores will be accelerated over the next 12 months, with a target of 85 of the company’s 130 outlets having been given a new look by the end of the year.

    Moss Bros plans to pay a final dividend of 3.55p, taking its full year payout to 5.25p, a 5pc increase on the previous year.

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    NOW WATCH: 4 Essential Suits Every Man Needs In His Closet


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    law student university library studying

    Prospective university students set on making their millions should sign up for some extra engineering lectures, new analysis has shown.

    More than a fifth, or 22 per cent, of the world’s wealthiest people studied engineering at university, accounting for almost twice as many billionaires’ degrees as the next most popular choice.

    A business education has helped 12 per cent of plutocrats amass their fortunes, while nine per cent of the fattest cats studied an arts subject at university - more than those who specialised in more business-oriented topics such as economics and finance.

    Screen Shot 2015 03 26 at 9.24.35 AM

    Approved Index, the business-to-business buying platform, analysed the educational background of billionaires by examining Forbes’ list of the richest 100 people in the world.

    While just four per cent of these people studied maths and science at university, the strong turnout for engineering graduates supports those campaigning for a better emphasis in schools on so-called STEM subjects, which includes science, technology, engineering and maths.

    Engineering graduates are also the richest of their prosperous peers, with an average wealth of $25.8bn, compared to a net worth of $24bn for billionaires without a degree and $22.5bn for those who studied finance.

    Screen Shot 2015 03 26 at 9.25.06 AM

    Girls who take just one A-level in this area could earn an extra £4,500 each year, a recent report found, while those who do two STEM subjects could see their salaries increase by a third. The wage boost for boys is slightly lower, at 8 per cent.

    The recent focus on STEM subjects means the billionaires of the future could look different to those of today. The number of students taking chemistry at A-level has risen by almost a fifth, while physics, biology and maths have increased by 15 per cent, 12 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

    An Oxbridge education bumps up a starting salary to the tune of £7,600 , according to a recent report from the Sutton Trust, although another survey found that a degree from the London Business School is the most lucrativefor British alumni.

    However, the report suggests that multi-millionaires in the making might be better off foregoing university altogether, as almost a third of the wealthiest people in the world do not have degrees - although their average wealth is lower than those with engineering degrees.

    Bill Gates, the richest person in the world with a fortune of around $79bn (£53.1bn), famously dropped out of Harvard, as did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest person in Forbes’ top 100 with a $33.4bn net worth.

    Screen Shot 2015 03 26 at 9.25.11 AM

    Amy Catlow, director at Approved Index, said: “These findings undoubtedly add a new dimension to the debate about the relevance and value of a degree today and suggest that in order to have a thriving and diverse economy, we need to encourage a varied range of specialisms.”

    There are 2,325 billionaires in the world with a combined net worth of $7.29 trillion, which is almost a tenth of global GDP and is higher than the combined market capitalisation of all the companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average, according to The Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census.

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    A Greek flag flutters by a statue of ancient Greek philosopher Socrates in central Athens March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

    After weeks of ugly threats and stalling tactics from both sides, Athens is approaching crunch time in deciding its economic fate.

    Arriving for his first official visit to Berlin last week, Greece's Prime Minister would have been forgiven for thinking his maiden trip had not come at a better point in the eurozone's debt drama.

    The boyish Leftist academic turned politicianwas regaled with red carpet treatment by host Angela Merkel.

    Mr Tsipras walked alongside his counterpart inspecting an austere guard of honour lined outside the Federal chancellery building, in a ceremony laced with more than a hint of the military traditions of Europe's once mighty nation.

    It was an abrupt change scene for the 40-year-old Mr Tsipras, who flew into the German capital in standard class seating on a commercial plane from Athens.

    But the military honours did nothing to cower Mr Tsipras from repeating a demand that has catalysed the breakdown in trust between the debtor state and Europe's largest creditor: that Germany revisits the episode of its former might and compensate his country for crimes committed by the Third Reich.

    In front of the world's media, the Greek premier stood by Ms Merkel and maintained his government would pursue the "moral" question of Second World War reparations.

    Ms Merkel however was categorical in her refusal to re-open old wounds.

    It is an issue which has fanned the flames of a protracted and increasingly ugly series of threats and counter-threats that have dogged talks between the two sides.

    "Gambling with trust"

    Having agreed in principle to extend Greece's bail-out programme on February 20, Athens progress on meetings its reforms-for-cash deal has stalled.

    Greece's paymasters are demanding the fast implementation of legislation to release the bail-out cash. They have yet to see much in the way of action.

    Sketchy plans to tackle tax evasion using undercover tourists and students as tax inspectors drew derision from eurozone officials.

    To add insult to perceived injury, the only concrete measures to have been put before the Greek parliament are a raft of "anti-poverty" programmes designed to tackle the country's humanitarian crisis.

    Steps towards privatising key national assets, revamping labour laws, and cutting generous state pensions have remained conspicuously absent.

    The hiatus has exasperated Greece's creditors.

    "The new government has gambled away a lot of trust," was the verdict of Germany's hawkish Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann.

    Ireland's premier, Enda Kenny was equally as damning ahead of an EU summit earlier this month: "They need to face up to their responsibilities".

    The procrastination on the part of Athens has also been accompanied with rhetoric to release jihadists into Europe, seize German assets in return for crimes carried out by the Nazis, and overtures towards an axis of pariah states including Russia and Iran.

    When a German television host confronted finance minister Yanis Varoufakis with a clip of him sticking his middle finger to Berlin in 2013, the subsequent denial, accusations of doctored footage, and fake parodies, epitomised the descent into acrimony that have seen relations hit a nadir.

    Mr Tsipras's visit to Berlin was partially an exercise in repairing goodwill following the farcical "mittel finger" episode.The polarising finance minster now seems to have taken a back seat from the international media circuit, following a series of misjudgments, including a much derided French magazine photoshoot.

    Mr Varoufakis has chosen instead to take to social media rather than the television cameras, insisting rumours of his demise are premature.

    Every time the negotiations heat up, some new rumour of my resignation, demise etc. springs up. Somewhat amusing...

    — Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) March 27, 2015

    But an increasingly isolated Athens and its hardened creditor bloc seem to be talking past each other.

    The "Grexident" scenario

    byzantine museum athensGreece has pleaded for forbearance from its creditors.

    The parlous state of the government's coffers has led to fears it could run out of cash to make wage and pensions bill in the coming weeks.

    After a brief reprieve, deposit flight has resumed apace. A primary budget surplus registered over the same period last year, has disappeared. Ratings agency Fitch slashed the country's sovereign bonds citing the "tight liquidity conditions" that have put "extreme pressure on Greek government funding".

    The spectre of an "accidental" Greek exit - or "Grexident" - now looms over the eurozone.

    "Grexit will not happen" assured Greece's central bank governor Yannis Stournaras to an audience at the London School of Economics last week.

    "The eurozone has all the tools to ensure a Grexident cannot occur."

    But of the all the institutions that has pushed his country to the brink, it is the European Central Bank's role in the saga that has come under the fiercest criticism from Athens.

    The ECB has long disbanded providing its ordinary loans to Greece's banks, who have been reliant on emergency funding to keep themselves alive.

    The limits on this lifeline have been repeatedly hit as deposits flee the country. ECB funding for Greek banks has now topped €100bn.

    "The ECB has always been the most powerful but least accountable player in bail-out talks" says Raoul Ruparel, head of economic research at Open Europe.

    "As in Cyprus, they have the power to squeeze liquidity, but it's a power that has never been properly scrutinised. It's a concern the eurozone is not paying attention to," adds Mr Ruparel.

    Moves to withdraw a collateral waiver on Greek bonds, and officially ban banks from increasing their holdings of treasury debt has led to accusations the central bank is acting "ultra vires".

    When asked about the Bank's position, the ECB's chief economist Peter Praet chose to exercise "verbal constraint in a moment of crisis" - itself a tacit admission that the Greek saga still has a way to run before the ECB will alleviate the funding pressures on the nascent government.

    Feet to the fire

    Greek flag cloudsIn a drama littered with soft deadlines, Greece has now promised to present a final list of fleshed out reforms to creditors on Monday.

    Yet the pattern of over-promising and under-delivering is one that may well repeat itself in April, says Mr Ruparel.

    "Negotiations have gone in such a way that Greece presents the reforms, and the list underwhelms. This could well happen again - the key is where the eurogroup now draws the line. Maybe the Greeks have convinced them the situation is now dire enough."

    In ruling out imposing further recessionary measures on the economy, Mr Tsipras is desperately attempting to stick by the anti-austerity pledges that swept him into office.

    But creditors could well hold his feet to the fire and coerce a U-turn on this position next week.

    The political hurdles of forcing through controversial proposals such as raising the pension age, hiking VAT and selling off Greece's strategic assets, has already led to talk of another election after June - a mere six months after Syriza stormed into power.

    Should Mr Tsipras continue to resist however, and a messy and protracted default to the IMF remains a very real possibility next month.

    Whichever way it pans out, what is certain is that the height of the eurozone's latest political drama has yet to play out.

     

     

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    Amir Hossein MotaghiA close media aide to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has sought political asylum in Switzerland after traveling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West.

    Amir Hossein Motaghi, who managed public relations for Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA).

    He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any "sense" in his profession as a journalist as he could write only what he was told.

    "There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations," he told Irane Farda television. "But they are not journalists, and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels.

    "My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner anymore."

    Mottaghi was a journalist and commentator who went on to use social media successfully to promote Rouhani to a youthful audience that overwhelmingly elected him to power.

    But he was also subject to the bitter internal arguments within the Iranian regime. One news website said he had been forced in to report to the ministry of intelligence weekly, and that he had been tipped off that he might be subject to arrest had he returned to Tehran.

    He is said to have been a friend of Jason Rezaian's, the Iranian-American reporter for The Washington Post who has been detained in Tehran, and to have campaigned privately for his release.

    ISCA, which has come under fire from regime hardliners critical of Rouhani, issued a statement denying that Motaghi was in Lausanne to report for it.

    "Amir Hossein Motaghi had terminated his contribution to ISCA, and this news agency has not had any reporter at the nuclear talks, except for a photojournalist," it said.

    Critics, however, said Mottaghi was "prey of the exiled counter-revolutionaries" and had gone to Lausanne with the sole purpose of seeking refugee status in Switzerland.

    In his television interview, Mottaghi also gave succor to Western critics of the proposed nuclear deal, which has seen the White House pursue a more conciliatory line with Tehran than some of America's European allies in the negotiating team, comprising the five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany.

    "The US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran's behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal," he said.

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    north koreaThe city of Chongjin, once stricken by famine, is today developing a rather different reputation.

    The city is still under the firm grip of the state, but among many North Koreans, Chongjin is now a fashion capital of sorts .

    The average person is still poor, but in this emerging capitalist era, this port city is growing in importance as a trading hub. Chongjin has become the first place where foreign fashions arrive.

    Even Pyongyang cannot match Chongjin in terms of style. This may seem surprising, since Pyongyang is the seat of both new money and old power.

    But security is much stricter in the capital, with conformity more rigorously enforced.

    north korea

    This means that clothes that can be worn in the street elsewhere are only suitable for a young Pyongyang woman to wear at home.

    Pyongyang is supposed to be the city of regime loyalists; Kim Jong Il is understood to have once said that his government could survive as long as he retained a firm grip on Pyongyang. He was much less interested in the provinces — and this is reflected both in the distribution of favours and the enforcement of laws.

    Thus, Pyongyang is the only part of the country where the state is in full control of public order. The government will still crack down hard on serious dissent wherever it arises, but generally, it lacks the resources and respect to compel people in the provinces to adhere to the full range of its rules and regulations.

    Chongjin administrators in particular are understood to have a looser approach to public order. Chongjin is probably the closest North Korea has to a “Wild West.”

    Chongjin traders frequently receive 100kg packages of clothes by boat from Japan. The authorities frown on this — but not to the extent that local Chongjin officials cannot be paid to look the other way.

    north koreaThe contents of such packages will be unknown until opened, and as a precaution, all the labels that identify each item’s country of origin are removed. And though the random jackets, jeans, skirts, and other items they contain are cast-offs that Japanese consumers no longer want, they are of a much higher quality and more fashionable than anything made in North Korea (or China, for that matter).

    For the young women of Chongjin, then, even Kim Jong Un's wife Ri Sol Ju’s style is not particularly impressive. One young female defector from the city states that Ms Ri’s red-and-black check outfit was “nothing special,” although she did praise a green dress the first lady famously wore when out in public with Kim Jong Un.

    She also claims that Ms. Ri’s hairstyle is “jom chonseuropda” (roughly translated, “a bit dowdy”), and the she never wears anything that other North Korean women could not get away with. Some Pyongyang sources, though, call Ms Ri a rule-breaker — thus highlighting the differences between the two cities.

    north koreaWhat are Chongjin people wearing today? For those who are interested in such trends, Chongjin is known as the place in North Korea where skinny jeans first became popular. One defector, who left in 2010, states that both jeans and any type of clothing that shows off the body were forbidden — but that she and many others were wearing flared skinny jeans that “make your legs look slim and good so you can show off.” For young women, showing off in this way seems to be a new and liberating experience.

    There is a common belief in East Asia that big eyes, with fold lines along the lids, are attractive. Some people are naturally born with them, but most are not. This is easily “corrected” with a simple surgical procedure called blepharoplasty, which requires very little in the way of medical skill, and can be com- pleted in under ten minutes. In North Korea, the wealthy can have it done properly, by paying a real surgeon. For most, though, the operation is done in a very “back street” fashion.

    north koreaIn such cases the procedure costs as little as US$2, and is performed in the patient’s home — without the aid of anaesthetic. Many of those who perform the operation are not even doctors. It is in fact possible for anyone to learn how to make an eyelid fold, and start offering the service. Those who do it well will benefit from word of mouth, and be able to make a good living.

    As with all forms of plastic surgery, the double-eyelid procedure is illegal in North Korea. It is, however, so common among young urban women of all social classes that the authorities cannot do very much about it. Proving someone has undergone the operation is also difficult, since there are some who were born with double eyelids. Those caught may also be able to get friends and relatives to state that their double eyelids are natural. And even when guilt is established, this is nothing that a bribe cannot fix.

    In international media, the DPRK citizen is shown as either a blind follower of state propaganda, or a helpless victim of it. But the fact that there are young North Koreans who are prepared to risk severe punishment — as well as the strong disapproval of elders — simply to look good, should disabuse the reader of such a simplified, caricaturish notion.

    Those who adhere to the stereotypical view should consider the case of the growing “rooms by the hour” cottage industry that exists in all North Korean cities. As with people the world over, North Koreans have desires, and no amount of prohibition or social disgrace is going to stop those desires from being expressed in the end. In a country where premarital sex is frowned upon, and even holding hands in public can result in harsh words from Youth League goons, there are young people who engage in the risky business of renting private apartments merely for the length of time it takes to have sex.

    north koreaYoung South Korean couples have the option of “love motels,” which form a huge industry there. But North Koreans have no such choice — and this has resulted in a grassroots, free-market solution. In any given big city neighbourhood, there will be an ajumma — a middle-aged lady — known to let out her apartment by the hour. Her preferred time will be in the afternoon, when her children are at school, and her husband is at work. An amorous couple will knock on her door, and hand over some cash.

    The ajumma then leaves them alone, perhaps for an hour or two. She may take a walk in a local park, or spend the money she received on goods at the nearest jangmadang. The process is very simple, but it acts as a reasonable summary of the people’s adaptation to post-famine North Korea: it is illegal; it is informal; it corresponds to basic human needs; and, it is one hundred per cent capitalist.

    North Korean property market

    north koreaThe army is heavily involved in construction, as a source of cheap labour for the building of apartment complexes, hotels, roads, bridges, and so on. Contrary to the popular image of the North Korean soldier as a goose-stepping, brainwashed loyalist and ruthless killing machine, the average military man is likely to spend more time building things than working to crush the “puppet” regime in Seoul. Even state media often refers to them as “soldier-builders.” Military units are now little more than free labour teams.

    Some apartment complexes are built with specific tenants in mind — military veterans, star athletes, or scientists, for example. Ministry of Foreign Affairs apartments in Pyongyang are considered rather ritzy, as foreign ministry staff have grown used to such apparent luxuries as round-the-clock electricity on postings abroad, and expect nothing less when they return home. In a country where blackouts are very common and winters brutally cold, 24-hour electricity is a real indicator of who can be considered properly “elite,” and who cannot.

    north koreaJust as in any capitalist country, apartments in North Korea can be traded. Probably a majority of units in an upmarket newbuild apartment block will be sold on the market, rather than given to the state employees they were officially intended for.

    The only real difference is the lack of a formal system for apartment transfer, since owning private property is forbidden. If you live in any North Korean city, however, it will be possible to “sell” your apartment: people living in the same district are legally allowed to swap homes, so this may even be done in a semi-legitimate fashion, facilitated by a cash payment, though often, house trading is done without any registration at all. In Pyongyang, where apartment prices have risen more than tenfold since the turn of the century, trading may even be facilitated by an (illegal) estate agent.

    Apartments in ordinary areas and without lifts or reliable electricity may change hands for as little as US$3–4,000. Lower floors command higher prices, though. It is generally accepted that the poorer you are, the higher up you live. This contrasts with South Korea, in which the best views are prized. But when there are no lifts — or a power outage can get you stuck in one — the top floor suddenly seems less appealing.

    A decent apartment in the central Pyongyang district of Mansudae (which is now jokingly referred to by expats as “Dubai” or “Pyonghattan”) will change hands for US$100,000 or more. There are even those who talk of US$250,000 apart- ments. That is a lot of money to spend on a place that you don’t officially own. But if you have that kind of sum at your disposal in North Korea, you will be able to ensure that it stays yours.

    Moonshine and house parties

    North Koreans have always enjoyed homemade moonshine. For the majority — especially those in the countryside, and with little or no disposable income — this remains the only reliable option. Typically, homebrewing will be of the most rudimentary form — corn, fruit, or ginseng, left to ferment in a bottle or jar, and buried under a pile of clothes for warmth. The end product can be consumed by the maker’s family, or even sold or bartered with neighbours.

    Home-made alcoholic drinks there are typically referred to as nong- taegi (or sometimes nungju). Most housewives know how to make it, and those who do it well become famous within their village. Such ladies will then even be able to turn their moon- shining into a small business, if they wish.

    Though nongtaegi is illegal, any efforts to stop its production are utterly doomed to failure. Those whose job it is to eradicate it enjoy it as much as anyone else. And according to one defector, around 80–90 per cent of North Korean men drink every day. There is even a popular song, “Weol, hwa, su, mok, geum, to, il Banju,” which can be translated as “Drink on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.” North Korean men drink more even than their famously bibulous Southern brethren. Northern women drink much less than those in the South, but this is also starting to change. As working class women are now often the breadwinners, they have much more freedom — but also, more stress to relieve at the end of the day.

    Unlike in South Korea, house parties are very common in the North. Those who have attended one will say that the amount of drinking at house parties would put South Koreans to shame. One defector states that she never had as much fun in Seoul as she did at house parties back in her home town. She and her friends would dance to South Korean and Western pop music (see below), whilst knocking back nongtaegi. They would connect a combined USB/DVD/MP3 player to large speakers and play music files obtained via USB drives.

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    anotherThe first designs for what could become the world’s tallest hotel– with room rates from £675 to £16,000 a night – have been unveiled.

    The giant tower extends 381 metres above the peaceful alpine resort of Vals and contains 107 bedrooms as well as a spa, restaurants, a sky bar, a swimming pool, a library, a ballroom and an art gallery.

    It features mirrored sides, which US-based architecture studio Morphosis, led by Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne, claims will help it blend into its mountainous rural surroundings.

    "As much as possible, the hotel is a minimalist act that re-iterates the site and offers to the viewer a mirrored, refracted perspective of the landscape,"Mayne told Dezee.com.

    "The tower's reflective skin and slender profile camouflage with the landscape, abstracting and displacing the valley and sky. The combination of one-room-per-floor and a narrow floor-plate afford exclusive panoramic views of the Alps."

    hotel2Due for completion in 2019, the tower could become the world’s tallest building wholly used as a hotel, overshadowing the current record holder, the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai.

    And there is a Dubai connection to the Vals project. Remo Stoffel, the owner of the Vals spa and the Swiss entrepreneur behind the proposed hotel, is also chairman of Dubai-based facilities management company Farnek.

    Stoffel said Dubai’s cityscape has inspired him. “I travel to Dubai on a regular basis and I am always amazed at how quickly the city grows and what it has achieved. It is now home to the busiest airport in the world, tallest tower, tallest hotel, the largest shopping mall, largest man-made island; the list goes on,” he told ArabianBusiness.com.

    “Last year it welcomed around 12 million overnight visitors and is now planning to accommodate 20 million visitors by 2020. That inspired me to realise my own vision, by forming 7132 Ltd, commissioning this stunning design, which will be built in my home town of Vals within four years.”

    But the tower, which will reportedly cost around 200m Swiss francs (£135m), has come in for some strong criticism.

    hotel3"Skyscrapers in the Alps are an absurdity," said Vittorio Lampugnani, Professor of Architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, earlier this month.

    There is no need to accommodate people in such a small space in the mountains, he said.

    "It's marketing," Benedict Loderer, an architecture critic, told Basler Zeitung newspaper, adding that he did not believe the project would come to fruition.

    The project still has to get planning permission before it can go ahead. Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, it will be put to a vote of local citizens in the autumn.

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    scotch

    Sales of Scotch whisky, one of the nation’s bestselling exports, have fallen 7pc to £3.95bn in 2014, according to new figures.

    The fall follows a decade of strong global growth, with the total value of exports rising 74pc since 2004, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

    Scotch whisky is one of the largest industries in the UK’s food and drink sector, larger than the entire British steel business, generating £5bn in revenues – or gross value added.

    The tipple still records strong sales in markets such as Taiwan where exports jumped 36pc to £197m last year. Exports to India were also up 29pc to £89m, despite the 150pc import tariff.

    Exports to France, the second biggest market for Scotch, were up 2pc to £445m. The French market is stabilising after Scotch, and other imported drinks, were hit by a tax increase in 2012.

    However, exports to the US, the biggest market for Scotch, fell 9pc to £748m . Consumption figures released earlier this year by the US Distilled Spirits Council show the market shrank by only just over 1pc in real terms. The fall in exports was mostly down to retailers using existing stock rather than buying new bottles of Scotch, the SWA said.

    In the second half of the year, the fall in sales slowed as stocks were depleted.

    Political volatility also affected sales in some emerging markets, the SWA said, driving down the price of whisky and the volume of bottles sold.

    Unlike the wider Scotch market, single malt continues to whet appetities overseas, with sales up 159pc over the past decade, and up 6.3pc last year.

    David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “Economic and political factors in some important markets held back Scotch Whisky exports in 2014 after a decade of strong growth. It shows that the industry’s success cannot be taken for granted and that we must continue to argue for more open markets and ambitious trade deals that tackle barriers to market access.”

    In the recent Budget announcement, George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced he would be reducing duty Scotch whisky by 2pc – the first cut in spirits duty for almost 20 years .

    The whisky sector directly employs 10,900 people in distilleries and manufacturing, and supports around 30,000 other jobs through its supply chain.

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    Misao OkawaA Japanese woman recognised as the oldest person in the world died early on Wednesday morning at the age of 117 years old.

    Misao Okawa celebrated her birthday on March 5 with her 92-year-old son and his family, but had recently lost her appetite, according to officials of the retirement home in Osaka where she lived.

    Mrs Okawa assumed the Guinness World Records title of the oldest person in the world in 2013 and, in an interview with The Telegraph to mark her 116th birthday last year, attributed her longevity to eating well, sleeping at least eight hours every night and taking regular naps.

    "Eat and sleep and you will live a long time," she said. "You have to learn to relax."

    The daughter of a kimono-maker from Osaka, Mrs Okawa was born in the year in which Horatio Kitchener triumphed in the battle of Omdurman and Queen Victoria was still on the British throne.

    Her birth on March 5, 1898 predated the Wright brothers' first powered human flight by five years, she was already a teenager when World War I broke out and in her 70s by the time of the first moon landing.

    When she turned 114, she was officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest woman in the globe.

    The world's oldest person is now believed to be American Gertrude Weaver, who is reportedly 116 years old.

    Mrs Okawa on March 5 reached the remarkable milestone of 116 - and attributes her longevity to eating well and sleeping at least eight hours every night, with the occasional nap thrown in for good measure.

    Japan's Misao Okawa

    The daughter of a kimono-maker from Japan’s second city, Mrs Okawa assumed the title of the oldest person in the world after the death of 116-year-old Jireomon Kimura in June 2013.

    Experts say it is no coincidence that both record-holders are from Japan, which was home to 54,397 centenarians on the last Respect for the Aged national holiday in September - including 282 super-centenarians, who have achieved the ripe old age of 110.

    “Mrs Okawa eats three large meals a day and makes sure that she sleeps eight hours a night,” said Tomohito Okada, the head of the Kurenai retirement home where she has lived for the last 18 years of her life.

    “She insists that her favourite meal is sushi, particularly mackerel on vinegar-steamed rice, and she has it at least once every month,” he said.

    Asked about the happiest moments of a life that has now spanned three centuries, Mrs. Okawa unhesitatingly recalls her marriage in 1919 to Yukio Okawa and the birth of their three children. Her surviving son and daughter have clearly inherited her genes and are now aged 94 and 92.

    She also had four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

    Misao OkawaThe average lifespan for a Japanese woman is now 85.9 years, with women also accounting for 87 percent of the nation’s centenarians. A Japanese man can expect to reach 79.6 years old.

    Experts put Japanese longevity down to the nation’s comprehensive healthcare system, the support of the community, encouragement to remain physically active until they are quite elderly, a sense of being part of a family and a healthy diet that has traditionally been heavy in fish, rice, vegetables and fruit.

    Additional research has suggested that people who were in middle-age during the years of food shortages during the Second World War have subsequently enjoyed better long-term health than people who never had to go without.

    But Yasuyuki Gondo, an associate professor at Osaka University who specialises in geriatric psychology, says there is much more to longevity than merely a good diet and advanced medical care.

    “When we surveyed centenarians, we found that the majority have enjoyed good mental health throughout their lives and have developed psychological adaptations to their situations as they have got older,” he told The Telegraph.

    Professor Gondo is one of a number of scholars who studied Mrs Okawa and other centenarians as they try to pin down more traits that identify those of us who will live the longest.

    Those studies suggest that people with a strong will, are outgoing and a sense of curiosity live longer than average.

    Mrs Okawa underlined the determined side of her character after suffering a fall at the age of 102 in which she broke her leg. After she returned to the nursing home from a stay in hospital, the staff found her doing leg squats as she held on to a hand rail in the hall.

    When asked what she was doing, Mrs Okawa replied that she was making sure her body did not get out of shape.

    On her birthday, TV crews and national media have been invited to the nursing home to record the birthday festivities.

    “We will be having a cake, of course,” said Mr Okada. “But we will only be having three candles, one for each figure of her 116 years, because that many candles could be dangerous.”

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    ISISIslamic State jihadists in Syria have for months expanded their field of operations beyond their “caliphate” in the north-east of the country.

    But now they are fighting for the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the capital, one of the most internationally recognised symbols of the conflict . If they win, they will have a mile-square base of operations just five miles from the centre of Damascus itself.

    That is within the range of their rockets, threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s power base with daily attack .

    This does not mean that Isil poses an immediate threat to the regime. The group does not have the numbers in the south of the country for that.

    syria isis map yarmouk

    In fact, it does not have the numbers to overwhelm other rebel groups, who have occupied areas of the northern and eastern suburbs for years now, and drove out a previous attempt by the jihadists to muscle in.

    However it is increasingly confident in what is a new tactic, one that is proving very hard for both the regime and competing rebels to challenge. It establishes a cell - one that is not immediately large enough to be a threat worth taking on.

    Then it strengthens it until taking it on would become too painful, thereby establishing dominance over a small area.

    Charles Lister, who speaks regularly to rebel groups across the country as an analyst for the Brookings Institution, said Isil applied this tactic to a suburb next to Yarmouk called Hajar al-Aswad.

    isisBy the time it moved on to Yarmouk, it had enough sway to be able to raise its black flag.

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, there is nothing in Syrian history to suggest large numbers of people welcome its millenarian, violent fantasies.

    However, it does have a record of enforcing authority and providing some basic services - something that might appeal to the residents of Yarmouk, who have been shelled and starved to within inches of their lives by a regime siege.

    There is also a widespread belief - not without some foundation - that the regime holds off from bombing areas controlled by Isil.

    In this way, Isil can gradually establish nodes around the country, even as its core territories come under attack from the allied international coalition in the air, and Kurdish and other militia forces on the ground.

    That accounts for the conundrum that while in Iraq, where a concerted, conventional war is being fought against it, it appears to be losing, but in Syria it is still on the march.

    isis pplThe stage is being set, too, for something much broader.

    All talk of the regime “winning the war” - the vogue idea being circulated for a year from late 2013 - has disappeared.

    In recent weeks, it has lost another provincial capital - Idlib, in the north-west - and border areas with Jordan. Its attempts to dislodge the rebels from those Damascus suburbs has failed, and it is losing serious ground in the central Syrian provinces of Homs and Hama which it thought it had secured.

    ISIS area dodThe difference between now and the earlier period of the war when its existence seemed to be at threat is that almost all the forces ranged against it now are led by militant Islamists.

    Idlib was taken by a coalition led by Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian wing of Al-Qaeda, and Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline but Syria-focused Salafi group. Jabhat al-Nusra was also able to raise its flag on the border with Jordan.

    Jaish al-Islam, the dominant force in the Damascus suburbs, is backed by Saudi Arabia and eschews the anti-western rhetoric of other groups, but remains an Islamist-dominated militia. Its leader, Zahran Alloush, was among the Islamist prisoners released by the regime at an early stage of the uprising.

    With Isil also now established in parts of Damascus, as well as the north-east, the stage is being set for the next round of this apparently endless conflict, in which the regime retreats to its core areas, and the rest of the country becomes a battlefield for competing brands of Holy Warrior.

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    north korea The city of Chongjin, whose famine-era tragedy was so evocatively rendered in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, is today developing a rather different reputation. The city is still under the firm grip of the state, but among many North Koreans, Chongjin is now a fashion capital of sorts. The average person there is still poor, but in this emerging capitalist era, this port city is growing in importance as a trading hub. Chongjin has thus become the first place where foreign fashions arrive.

    Fashion

    Even Pyongyang cannot match Chongjin in terms of style. This may seem surprising, since Pyongyang is the seat of both new money and old power. But security is much stricter in the capital, with conformity more rigorously enforced. This means that clothes a young Pyongyang woman can only wear at home may be acceptable to wear in the street elsewhere. Pyongyang is supposed to be the city of regime loyalists; Kim Jong Il is understood to have once said that his government could survive as long as he retained a firm grip on Pyongyang. He was much less interested in the provinces — and this is reflected both in the distribution of favours and the enforcement of laws.

    Thus, Pyongyang is the only part of the country where the state is in full control of public order. The government will still crack down hard on serious dissent wherever it arises, but generally, it lacks the resources and respect to compel people in the provinces to adhere to the full range of its rules and regulations. Chongjin administrators in particular are understood to have a looser approach to public order. Chongjin is probably the closest North Korea has to a “Wild West.”

    north koreaChongjin traders frequently receive 100 kilogram packages of clothes by boat from Japan. Again, the authorities frown on this — but not to the extent that local Chongjin officials cannot be paid to look the other way. The contents of such packages will be unknown until opened, and as a precaution, all the labels that identify each item’s country of origin are removed. And though the random jackets, jeans, skirts, and other items they contain are cast-offs that Japanese consumers no longer want, they are of a much higher quality and more fashionable than anything made in North Korea (or China, for that matter).

    For the young women of Chongjin, then, even Kim Jong Un's wife Ri Sol Ju’s style is not particularly impressive. One young female defector from the city states that Ms. Ri’s red-and-black check outfit was “nothing special,” although she did praise a green dress the first lady famously wore when out in public with Kim Jong Un. She also claims that Ms. Ri’s hairstyle is “jom chonseuropda” (roughly translated, “a bit dowdy”), and the she never wears anything that other North Korean women could not get away with. Some Pyongyang sources, though, call Ms. Ri a rule-breaker — thus highlighting the differences between the two cities.

    north koreaWhat are Chongjin people wearing today? For those who are interested in such trends, Chongjin is known as the place in North Korea where skinny jeans first became popular. One defector, who left in 2010, states that both jeans and any type of clothing that shows off the body were forbidden — but that she and many others were wearing flared skinny jeans that “make your legs look slim and good so you can show off.” For young women, showing off in this way seems to be a new and liberating experience.

    There is a common belief in East Asia that big eyes, with fold lines along the lids, are attractive. Some people are naturally born with them, but most are not. This is easily “corrected” with a simple surgical procedure called blepharoplasty, which requires very little in the way of medical skill, and can be com- pleted in under ten minutes. In North Korea, the wealthy can have it done properly, by paying a real surgeon.

    north koreaFor most, though, the operation is done in a very “back street” fashion. In such cases the procedure costs as little as US$2, and is performed in the patient’s home — without the aid of anaesthetic.

    Many of those who perform the operation are not even doctors. It is in fact possible for anyone to learn how to make an eyelid fold, and start offering the service. Those who do it well will benefit from word of mouth, and be able to make a good living.

    As with all forms of plastic surgery, the double-eyelid procedure is illegal in North Korea. It is, however, so common among young urban women of all social classes that the authorities cannot do very much about it.

    Proving someone has undergone the operation is also difficult, since there are some who were born with double eyelids. Those caught may also be able to get friends and relatives to state that their double eyelids are natural. And even when guilt is established, this is nothing that a bribe cannot fix.

    In international media, the DPRK citizen is shown as either a blind follower of state propaganda, or a helpless victim of it. But the fact that there are young North Koreans who are prepared to risk severe punishment — as well as the strong disapproval of elders — simply to look good, should disabuse the reader of such a simplified, caricaturish notion.

    Those who adhere to the stereotypical view should consider the case of the growing “rooms by the hour” cottage industry that exists in all North Korean cities. As with people the world over, North Koreans have desires, and no amount of prohibition or social disgrace is going to stop those desires from being expressed in the end. In a country where premarital sex is frowned upon, and even holding hands in public can result in harsh words from Youth League goons, there are young people who engage in the risky business of renting private apartments merely for the length of time it takes to have sex.

    Young South Korean couples have the option of “love motels,” which form a huge industry there. But North Koreans have no such choice — and this has resulted in a grassroots, free-market solution. In any given big city neighbourhood, there will be an ajumma — a middle-aged lady — known to let out her apartment by the hour. Her preferred time will be in the afternoon, when her children are at school, and her husband is at work. An amorous couple will knock on her door, and hand over some cash. The ajumma then leaves them alone, perhaps for an hour or two. She may take a walk in a local park, or spend the money she received on goods at the nearest jangmadang. The process is very simple, but it acts as a reasonable summary of the people’s adaptation to post-famine North Korea: it is illegal; it is informal; it corresponds to basic human needs; and, it is one hundred per cent capitalist.

    North Korean property market

    north koreaThe army is heavily involved in construction, as a source of cheap labour for the building of apartment complexes, hotels, roads, bridges, and so on. Contrary to the popular image of the North Korean soldier as a goose-stepping, brainwashed loyalist and ruthless killing machine, the average military man is likely to spend more time building things than working to crush the “puppet” regime in Seoul. Even state media often refers to them as “soldier-builders.” Military units are now little more than free labour teams.

    Some apartment complexes are built with specific tenants in mind — military veterans, star athletes, or scientists, for example. Ministry of Foreign Affairs apartments in Pyongyang are considered rather ritzy, as foreign ministry staff have grown used to such apparent luxuries as round-the-clock electricity on postings abroad, and expect nothing less when they return home. In a country where blackouts are very common and winters brutally cold, 24-hour electricity is a real indicator of who can be considered properly “elite,” and who cannot.

    north koreaJust as in any capitalist country, apartments in North Korea can be traded. Probably a majority of units in an upmarket newbuild apartment block will be sold on the market, rather than given to the state employees they were officially intended for. The only real difference is the lack of a formal system for apartment transfer, since owning private property is forbidden.

    If you live in any North Korean city, however, it will be possible to “sell” your apartment: people living in the same district are legally allowed to swap homes, so this may even be done in a semi-legitimate fashion, facilitated by a cash payment, though often, house trading is done without any registration at all. In Pyongyang, where apartment prices have risen more than tenfold since the turn of the century, trading may even be facilitated by an (illegal) estate agent.

    north koreaApartments in ordinary areas and without lifts or reliable electricity may change hands for as little as US$3–4,000. Lower floors command higher prices, though. It is generally accepted that the poorer you are, the higher up you live. This contrasts with South Korea, in which the best views are prized. But when there are no lifts — or a power outage can get you stuck in one — the top floor suddenly seems less appealing.

    A decent apartment in the central Pyongyang district of Mansudae (which is now jokingly referred to by expats as “Dubai” or “Pyonghattan”) will change hands for US$100,000 or more. There are even those who talk of US$250,000 apart- ments. That is a lot of money to spend on a place that you don’t officially own. But if you have that kind of sum at your disposal in North Korea, you will be able to ensure that it stays yours.

    Moonshine and house parties

    north koreaNorth Koreans have always enjoyed homemade moonshine. For the majority — especially those in the countryside, and with little or no disposable income — this remains the only reliable option. Typically, homebrewing will be of the most rudimentary form — corn, fruit, or ginseng, left to ferment in a bottle or jar, and buried under a pile of clothes for warmth. The end product can be consumed by the maker’s family, or even sold or bartered with neighbours.

    Home-made alcoholic drinks there are typically referred to as nong- taegi (or sometimes nungju). Most housewives know how to make it, and those who do it well become famous within their village. Such ladies will then even be able to turn their moon- shining into a small business, if they wish.

    Though nongtaegi is illegal, any efforts to stop its production are utterly doomed to failure. Those whose job it is to eradicate it enjoy it as much as anyone else. And according to one defector, around 80–90 per cent of North Korean men drink every day. There is even a popular song, “Weol, hwa, su, mok, geum, to, il Banju,” which can be translated as “Drink on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.” North Korean men drink more even than their famously bibulous Southern brethren. Northern women drink much less than those in the South, but this is also starting to change. As working class women are now often the breadwinners, they have much more freedom — but also, more stress to relieve at the end of the day.

    Unlike in South Korea, house parties are very common in the North. Those who have attended one will say that the amount of drinking at house parties would put South Koreans to shame. One defector states that she never had as much fun in Seoul as she did at house parties back in her home town. She and her friends would dance to South Korean and Western pop music (see below), whilst knocking back nongtaegi. They would connect a combined USB/DVD/MP3 player to large speakers and play music files obtained via USB drives.

    SEE ALSO: What life is like under the strict and unpredictable North Korean regime

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    A pair of engineering students from George Mason University in Virginia have created a device that can put out a blaze using only a blast of sound.

    In this demonstration video, Viet Tran and Seth Robertson use their portable extinguisher to douse flames in seconds by blasting low-frequency sound waves at it.

    sound fire extinguisherThey told the Washington Post the invention was conceived for a final year undergraduate project after the pair were inspired by research on how sound waves could disrupt flames, and spotted a gap in the market for a no-mess fire extinguisher.

    The resulting hand-held sound generator and amplifier works by blasting a fire with low frequencies between 30 and 60 hertz range.

    "The extinguisher separates oxygen from fuel", Tran explains. “The pressure wave is going back and forth, and that agitates where the air is. That specific space is enough to keep the fire from reigniting.”

    pan fire going outSo far they have put out only fires started with surgical spirit, but the students have applied for a provisional patent, which gives them a year to do further testing on other flammable chemicals.

    Although conceived with small kitchen fires in mind, Tran and Robertson believe that with some modifications, their invention could be used in other environments, such as forest fires, or even in space.

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    window skitch

    Two window cleaners in China have been rescued after their platform spun out of control and crashed into the side of a Shanghai skyscraper. 

    The footage was captured by a diner in a restaurant on the located on the 91st floor of the 492 metre-tall Shanghai World Financial Centre on Thursday morning.

    swing  

    It shows the platform swinging violently back and forth and smashing into the glass windows at high speed - causing them to crack.

    The incident lasted 15 minutes before the men were rescued.

    washers gif

    The 492m Shanghai World Financial Centre is one of the tallest buildings in the world.

    Here is an aerial view of the building:

    shanghai center

    According to news reports, two pieces of curtain wall on the 91st and 92nd floors were broken as a result of the impacts and the two window cleaners were treated in hospital with minor bruises.

    It is thought that strong winds set the cradle swinging. The exact cause of the incident is still being investigated.

    Here is the video: 

     

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