Malaysia honors new king in coronation marked by pomp

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Traditional pomp and cannon fire Saturday marked the coronation of Malaysia’s billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, who pledged to govern fairly during the five-year term he will serve under a unique rotating monarchy system.

Ibrahim, 65, was sworn in on January 31. Saturday’s coronation at the national palace formalized his role as Malaysia’s 17th king in a ceremony steeped in Malay culture and pageantry.

Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the country’s rotating monarchy, which began when Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia has 13 states but only nine have royal families, some which trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.

Donned in black and gold traditional ceremonial outfit and headgear, Ibrahim and Queen Raja Zarith Sofiah were greeted by military salute before they proceeded to the throne. The heads of the other royal families, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Bahrain King Hamad Isa al Khalifa were seated on a stage beside the throne.

At the start of the proceedings, a copy of the Quran was presented to Ibrahim, who kissed it. The monarch received a gold dagger, a symbol of power. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim then pledged his government’s loyalty and said the royal institution was a pillar of strength for the nation. He then proclaimed Ibrahim as Malaysia’s new king.

“God willing, I will discharge my duties faithfully and honestly, and to rule fairly,” Ibrahim said in his coronation speech. He also urged Anwar’s government to step up efforts to improve the livelihood of the people and bolster the nation’s development. After the sultan took his oath, guests in the hall chanted “Long live the king” three times.

Ibrahim, from southern Johor state bordering Singapore, is one of the country’s richest men, with a business empire spanning from telecoms to real estate. He is known for his collection of luxury cars and motorbikes and is the only state ruler with a small private army — a concession granted to his state when it joined modern-day Malaysia.

He is vocal about Malaysian politics and has spoken out about corruption and racial discrimination.

Known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who Is Made Lord, the king plays a largely ceremonial role, with administrative power vested in the prime minister and Parliament. The monarch is the nominal head of the government and armed forces and is regarded as the protector of Islam and Malay tradition.

All laws, Cabinet appointments and the dissolution of Parliament for general elections require his formal assent. The king has the power to proclaim an emergency and pardon criminals.

Actor Bob Newhart, famous for deadpan humor, dies at 94

LOS ANGELES — Bob Newhart, who fled the tedium of an accounting job to become a master of stammering, deadpan humor as a standup comedian and later as a U.S. television sitcom star, died on Thursday at the age of 94, his publicist said.

Newhart died at his home in Los Angeles after a series of short illnesses, said his longtime publicist, Jerry Digney.

Newhart had two hit shows — first playing a psychologist on “The Bob Newhart Show” from 1972 to 1978, and then portraying a Vermont innkeeper on “Newhart” from 1982 through 1990. In both shows he relied on a bland, cardigan-clad everyman character who is confounded by the oddball people around him.

Newhart was nominated for Emmy Awards nine times, beginning in 1962 for writing on his short-lived variety show, but he did not win until 2013 when he was given the award for a guest appearance on “The Big Bang Theory.”

Newhart’s career began in the late 1950s, with a comedy routine in which he played straight man to an unheard voice on the other end of a telephone call. Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers duo called Newhart “a one-man comedy team” because of his dialogues with invisible partners.

His 1960 live album, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” was a big hit that was also highly influential. It became the first comedy album to top the charts and earned him three Grammy awards.

Newhart’s characters had a trademark stammer, which he said was not an act but the way he really talked. He said a TV producer once asked him to cut down on the stammer because it was making the shows run too long.

“‘No,’ I told him. ‘That stammer bought me a house in Beverly Hills,'” Newhart wrote in his memoir, “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!”

He ended his “Newhart” show in 1990 with an episode regarded as one of the most unique in the annals of U.S. television. In the last scene of the series, he awakens in bed with his wife from the first series after “dreaming” his life in the second series.

Newhart sprung from an era of angry, edgy standup comics such as Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman and Mort Sahl, but his act was subtly subversive, without the profanity or shock used by his contemporaries.

He exploited his hesitant, bashful ordinariness to skewer society in his own fashion — including sketches about how a publicity agent would “handle” Abraham Lincoln or one featuring an inept official on the phone with a frantic man trying to defuse a bomb.

In the late 1950s, Newhart had a boring accounting job — in which he claimed that his credo was “that’s close enough” — and began writing comedy sketches with a colleague as a diversion.

Those led to radio performances and eventually a record deal with Warner Bros.

“Probably the best advice I ever got in my life was from the head of the accounting department, Mr. Hutchinson, I believe, at the Glidden Company in Chicago, and he told me, ‘You really aren’t cut out for accounting,'” Newhart told an interviewer.

Before winning an Emmy in 2013, Newhart had been nominated three times for his acting on “Newhart,” once for writing on his 1961 variety show and twice for appearances on other shows. He also was a frequent guest on variety shows and talk shows.

He appeared in several movies, including “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Catch-22” and “Elf.”

In 2002, he was awarded the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Asked by the New York Times in 2019 whether he felt 90 years old, Newhart said, “My mind doesn’t. I can’t turn it off.”

Newhart was introduced by comedian Buddy Hackett to his future wife, Virginia, whom he married in 1964. The Newharts had four children.

Iran’s Shiite Muslims mark Ashoura with mourning, processions

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian Shiite Muslims on Tuesday commemorated Ashoura, a remembrance of the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, that gave birth to their faith.

More than 1,340 years after Hussein’s death, Tehran and other cities across the country were adorned with symbols of Shiite piety and repentance. Red flags represented Hussein’s blood, black funeral tents and clothes indicated mourning, and processions of chest-beating and self-flagellating men expressed fervor. Some sprayed water over the mourners in the intense heat.

Iranian state TV reported that 6 million Iranian pilgrims traveled to the Iraqi city of Karbala, where Hussein is entombed in a gold-domed shrine, and broadcast live images of the procession.

Many Shiite Muslims across the Middle East commemorated Ashoura on Tuesday.

In the Omani capital of Muscat, a shooting at a Shiite mosque killed four people and wounded dozens on Tuesday. Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the attack.

Shiites represent more than 10% of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims and view Hussein as the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein’s death in battle at the hands of Sunnis at Karbala, south of Baghdad, ingrained a deep rift in Islam and continues to play a key role in shaping Shiite identity.

Germany says it saw fewer security problems than expected during Euro 2024

BERLIN — German authorities had fewer security problems and crimes to deal with than they expected at the European Championship, the country’s top security official said Monday.

The tournament ended on Sunday with Spain beating England 2-1 in the final in Berlin and no reports of serious disturbances. That capped a month-long event that mostly saw only isolated and relatively minor incidents, a contrast with violence at some past tournaments.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said that about 2.6 million people attended matches in the 10 host cities, and another 6 million watched games in the designated fan zones.

Over the course of the tournament, it said, there were a total of about 170 arrests and 320 temporary detentions. Police recorded about 2,340 offenses linked to the tournament, including some 700 involving bodily harm and 120 thefts. There were about 140 cases involving violence against police officers.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the country had been “prepared for all conceivable dangers from Islamist terrorism, through hooligan violence to cyberattacks and dangerous drone flights.”

“There were significantly fewer security incidents and offenses than our security authorities had expected beforehand at an event with millions of people,” Faeser said in a statement. “Above all, the very high police presence across the country was decisive in this.”

Germany introduced temporary border controls at all its frontiers during Euro 2024, something that has become standard practice during such events in Europe’s nominally ID check-free travel zone, the Schengen area. Those are due to run through Friday.

They will then be dropped at the borders with Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the government is ordering checks on the border with France before and during the upcoming Olympic Games, and longer-standing checks on the eastern and southern borders with Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland that were motivated by concerns about migration will be kept in place.

From Biles to Sha’Carri, Team USA packed with star power heading into Olympics

Argentina wins record 16th Copa America title, beats Colombia 1-0

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Argentina won its second straight Copa America championship, overcoming Lionel Messi’s second-half leg injury to beat Colombia 1-0 Sunday night on Lautaro Martínez’s 112th-minute goal.

Messi appeared to sustain a non-contact injury while running and falling in the 64th minute and covered his face with his hands when he sat on the bench. Martínez later ran to that bench to hug his captain after the goal that propelled Argentina to its record 16th Copa title.

In a match that started 1 hour, 20 minutes late because of crowd trouble at Hard Rock Stadium, Argentina won its third straight major title following the 2021 Copa America and 2022 World Cup and matched Spain, which won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships around the 2010 World Cup.

Argentina also stopped Colombia’s 28-game unbeaten streak dating to a February 2022 loss to the Albiceleste.

Martínez entered in the 97th minute and scored from Giovani Lo Celso’s perfect through pass. Just inside the penalty area, to Martínez sent a right-foot shot through the upraised arms of sliding goalkeeper Camilo Vargas for his 29th international goal, his tournament-high fifth.

‘Despicable Me 4’ reigns at box office; ‘Longlegs’ gets impressive start

Shannen Doherty, ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ star, dies at 53

Los Angeles — Shannen Doherty, the “Beverly Hills, 90210” star whose life and career were roiled by illness and tabloid stories, has died at 53.

Doherty died Saturday, according to a statement from her publicist, Leslie Sloane. She had had breast cancer for years.

“The devoted daughter, sister, aunt and friend was surrounded by her loved ones as well as her dog, Bowie. The family asks for their privacy at this time so they can grieve in peace,” Sloane said in a statement. The news was first reported by People magazine.

Her illness was publicly revealed in a lawsuit filed in 2015 against her former business managers, in which she alleged they mismanaged her money and allowed her health insurance to lapse. She later shared intimate details of her treatment following a single mastectomy. In December 2016, she posted a photo of her first day of radiation, calling the treatment “frightening” for her.

In February 2020, Doherty revealed that the cancer had returned and she was at stage four. She said she came forward because her health conditions could come out in court. The actor had sued insurance giant State Farm after her California home was damaged in a fire in 2018. 

A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Doherty moved to Los Angeles with her family at age 7 and, within a few years, became an actor.

“It was completely my decision,” she told The Associated Press in a 1994 interview. “My parents never pushed me into anything. They support me. It really wouldn’t matter if I was a professional soccer player — they’d still be as supportive and loving.”

As a child star, she worked steadily in such TV series as “Little House on the Prairie,” in which she played Jenny Wilder. She detoured as a teenager to the big screen in “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (1985) and “Heathers.”

In 1990, the doe-eyed, dark-haired actor won her breakout role as Brenda Walsh in producer Aaron Spelling’s hit teenage melodrama set in posh Beverly Hills. She and Jason Priestley’s Brandon, Brenda’s twin brother, were fish-out-of-water Midwesterners.

But Doherty’s fame came with media scrutiny and accounts of outbursts, drinking and impulsiveness — the latter most notably after a very brief marriage to George Hamilton’s son. Doherty’s second marriage, in 2002, was to Rick Salomon, who was involved in a sex-tape incident with Paris Hilton. The marriage was annulled within a year. In 2011, Doherty married photographer Kurt Iswarienko. She filed for divorce in April 2023.

She left “90210” at the end of its fourth season in 1994 (the show aired until 2000), reportedly removed by Spelling because of conflicts with her co-stars and chronic lateness.

But in her 1994 AP interview, Doherty described her life as peaceful. 

“It must be, if you pick up the Enquirer and find the only thing they can write about me is that I installed a pay phone next to my house and was seen at Stroud’s (a discount bed-and-bath chain) buying $1,400 worth of bed linens and wouldn’t go to an expensive store,” she said. “It must be calm if they’re pulling that stuff out of their heads.” 

Three years later, in 1997, Doherty was sentenced to anger-management counseling by a Beverly Hills Municipal Court judge after she allegedly smashed a beer bottle onto a man’s windshield during a quarrel. In another legal scrape, she pleaded no contest after a 2001 drunken driving arrest and was ordered to serve five days in a work-release program.

Doherty reunited with Spelling when he cast her in 1998 as Prue Halliwell in “Charmed.” In an AP interview that year, the actor expressed regrets about her past.

“I did bring a lot of it on myself,” Doherty said. “I don’t think I can point fingers and say, ‘Oh, YOU’RE to blame.’ And I don’t do that with myself, either. Because I was just growing up.”

Her personality was “grotesquely misconstrued” by the media, Doherty added.

Spelling said at the time that their relationship was never as bad as some made it seem.

“We had a few bumps along the road, but golly, who doesn’t?” said Spelling, who died in 2006. “Everything Shannen did was blown out of proportion by the rag sheets.”

Doherty co-starred with Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano in “Charmed” from 1998-2001, at which point her character was replaced by one played by Rose McGowan. Doherty appeared in the “90210” sequel series seven years later, along with original series star Jennie Garth, and competed on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2010. She also worked on the third “Beverly Hills, 90210” reboot, called “BH90210,” a meta send-up of the show that aired for one season in 2019.

She also appeared in a tribute episode of “Riverdale” dedicated to that show’s star — and her late “Beverly Hills, 90210” on-screen love interest — Luke Perry.

Doherty struggled to recapture her “Beverly Hills, 90210” star status, but worked in big-screen films including “Mallrats” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and in such TV movies as “A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story,” in which she played the “Gone with the Wind” author. A nadir was “Blindfold: Acts of Obsession,” an erotic thriller opposite Judd Nelson.

Doherty’s lawsuit against her ex-business managers was settled in 2016. She was open about the toll that cancer was taking on her. She posted photos that showed the baldness that followed treatment and, in an August 2016 interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” shared her fears.

“The unknown is always the scariest part,” she said. “Is the chemo going to work? Is the radiation going to work?” she said. “Pain is manageable, you know living without a breast is manageable, it’s the worry of your future and how your future is going to affect the people that you love.”

Israel’s Holocaust memorial opens a facility to store artifacts, photos and more

JERUSALEM — Israel’s national Holocaust museum opened a new conservation facility in Jerusalem on Monday that will preserve, restore and store its more than 45,000 artifacts and works of art in a vast new building, including five floors of underground storage.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, serves as both a museum and a research institution. It welcomes nearly a million visitors each year, leads the country’s annual Holocaust memorial day and hosts nearly all foreign dignitaries visiting Israel.

“Before we opened this building, it was very difficult to exhibit our treasures that were kept in our vaults. They were kind of secret,” said Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan. “Now there’s a state-of-the-art installation (that) will help us to exhibit them.”

The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center, located at the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, will also provide organization and storage for the museum’s 225 million pages of documents and half a million photographs.

Dayan said the materials will now be kept in a facility that preserves them in optimal temperatures and conditions.

“Yad Vashem has the largest collections in the world of materials related to the Holocaust,” Dayan said. “We will make sure that these treasures are kept for eternity.”

The new facility includes advanced, high-tech labs for conservation, enabling experts to revisit some of the museum’s trickier items, such as a film canister that a family who fled Austria in 1939 brought with them. It was donated to the museum but arrived in an advanced state of decay.

“The film arrived in the worst state it could. It smelled really bad,” said Reut Ilan-Shafik, a photography conservator at Yad Vashem. Over the years, the film had congealed into a solid piece of plastic, making it impossible to be scanned.

Using organic solvents, conservators were able to restore some of the film’s flexibility, allowing them to carefully unravel pieces of it. Using a microscope, Ilan-Shafik was able to see a few frames in their entirety, including one showing a couple kissing on a bench in a park and other snapshots of Europe before World War II.

“It is unbelievable to know that the images of the film that we otherwise thought lost to time” have been recovered, said Orit Feldberg, granddaughter of Hans and Klara Lebel, the couple featured in the photo.

Feldberg’s mother donated the film canister, one of the few things the Lebels were able to take with them when they fled Austria.

“These photographs not only tell their unique story but also keep their memory vibrantly alive,” Feldberg said.

Conservation of items from the Holocaust is an expensive, painstaking process that has taken on greater importance as the number of survivors dwindles.

Last month, the Auschwitz Memorial announced it had finished a half-million-dollar project to conserve 3,000 of the 8,000 pairs of children’s shoes that are on display at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

5 injured while running with bulls in Spain

Pamplona, Spain — Five runners were injured, but none were gored on the seventh day of Pamplona’s running of the bulls in northern Spain Saturday, the Red Cross said. 

The five injured people were hurt during Spain’s traditional annual San Fermin bull running festival, with most suffering bruising, local government sources said. 

The curtain went up on nine days of festivities earlier this week as thousands of revelers dressed in white clothes and red scarves filled the city’s main square for the “chupinazo” — the firecracker that launches an event dating back to medieval times.

The run became world famous after being immortalized by U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

The festivities include concerts, religious processions and copious amounts of wine.

Each day at 8 a.m., hundreds of attendees launch themselves into a dangerous 850 meters (930 yards) race, seeking to outrun — or at least avoid — six heavy fighting bulls through the city center’s narrow streets.

During the intense “running of the bulls” — which lasts less than three minutes — the runners try to get as close as possible to the animals in their sprint to the Pamplona bullring, where bullfights are held in the afternoon.

This year’s edition saw the day of San Fermin fall on a Sunday, allowing a stronger turnout than when the saint’s day falls on a weekday.

Anyone aged 18 or above may participate.

Dozens of people are injured each year, although most are injuries resulting from falls or being stomped by animals. To date, 16 deaths have also been recorded since 1911, the last coming in 2009.

Spain, England to contest Euro 2024 final in former Nazi stadium

BERLIN — Spain and England will play the European Championship final on Sunday in an imposing stadium with a dark history.

Built for the 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin’s Olympic stadium still bears the scars of World War II and contains relics from its Nazi past.

But the Olympiastadion, as it’s known in German, is also associated with the rebirth of a democratic Germany after the war. It hosted matches during the 1974 World Cup in what was then West Germany and again at the 2006 World Cup, 16 years after German reunification.

Hitler’s involvement

Adolf Hitler was personally involved in the design and construction of the 100,000-seat track-and-field stadium after the Nazis assumed power in 1933, two years after Germany had been awarded the 1936 Games.

Initially unenthused by the idea of hosting the Games, the Nazi dictator changed his mind after being convinced of their potential for propaganda.

Plans to remodel the existing national stadium were quickly scrapped in favor of constructing a whole new sports complex, the Reich Sports Field, on the same site. Werner March is credited as the architect of Olympiastadion.

Drawing inspiration from the Colosseum in Rome, the stadium was designed to impress. The Olympic Square in front of the main entrance is tapered, with flagpoles and lines of trees on either side heightening the sense of perspective. The idea was to increase the dramatic effect, raising visitors’ expectations and making them feel part of the event.

Up to 2,600 workers toiled on the Reich Sports Field at one stage to have it ready in time for the Games, which started August 1, 1936. The Nazi regime’s racist ideology deeply influenced the project as construction companies were told to only hire “complying, nonunion workers of German citizenship and Aryan race.”

A propaganda victory

Hitler watched from his stadium-balcony as Jesse Owens, a Black American athlete, won four gold medals to become the star of the Games, dealing a blow to Hitler’s notions of racial superiority.

However, the Games also delivered a propaganda victory for Nazi Germany. It won more medals than any other country and presented to the world a carefully crafted image of peace and tolerance that Hitler and his associates wanted to show. It was arguably the world’s first major case of “sportswashing.”

Olympiastadion was decked with hundreds of Nazi flags for the Games, and a swastika adorned one of the two towers holding the Olympic rings above the entrance. The swastika was removed in 1945.

Members of the Nazi paramilitary SA, commonly known as the Brownshirts, were ordered to stop their attacks against Jews during July and August 1936.

The Nazis were already pushing Jewish athletes out of German sports, and there were only two the Nazis considered half-Jewish who were allowed compete on the German team — fencer Helene Mayer and hockey player Rudi Ball.

“It was done to try and silence the critics a little bit,” said Ryan Balmer, a tour guide with degrees in modern history and literature who has lived in Berlin since 2008.

The Nazis also used the Reich Sports Field complex after the Olympics. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini visited in 1937, when he was welcomed by thousands of torch-carrying Nazis on the May Field behind the stadium. Up to 800,000 people reportedly took part.

Olympiastadion survives WWII

Olympiastadion and the Reich Sports Field were damaged in the war, although the stadium escaped relatively unscathed compared to the devastation wrought by Allied bombers in more central areas of Berlin. Many surviving buildings were reused with their Nazi iconography removed.

Olympiastadion fell in the British sector after the city was divided between the four victorious powers — the Soviet Union, the U.S., France and Britain. The British reopened the stadium in 1946 and maintained their military headquarters in the former Reich Sports Field until 1994.

Little was done to Olympiastadion after the war. It and the former the Reich Sports Field were given protected status in 1966, when Hitler’s balcony was shortened by 1 meter. The biggest renovations were made before Germany’s 2006 World Cup, when the stadium was crowned with a roof.

The stadium today

There are no attempts to hide the stadium’s Nazi past — modern-day Germany is adamant that the atrocities of the Nazi era should not be forgotten. Information signs in English and German are placed around the stadium to inform visitors about the site’s history.

While the swastikas have been removed, some Nazi relics remain. An eagle adorns a pillar beside what is now the training ground of Hertha Berlin, which plays its home games in the stadium. The old bell from the Bell Tower still displays a Nazi eagle and Olympic rings, but the swastika has been partially covered.

In a sign of Germany’s post-war rehabilitation, a large conference room in the stadium and a road running along the sports field’s southern perimeter have been named after Owens.

Visitors have mixed feelings about the stadium, which has a capacity of 71,000 during the European Championship. Many fans who attend matches at Olympiastadion are preoccupied with their respective teams’ fortunes and pay little attention to the information signs.

Balmer said the stadium could use “a more prominent reminder of how and why places like this were built.”

Marathon wedding hosted by India’s richest man holds country in thrall

NEW DELHI — When the son of Asia’s richest man gets married, the celebrations are expected to be lavish. But the breathtaking scale of the festivities held for the youngest son of Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani has become the talk of the country.

Anant Ambani tied the knot with his fiancée, Radhika Merchant, Friday in Mumbai at a star-studded event where the guests included reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, actors Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra and John Cena, former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Boris Johnson, as well as the who’s who of India from Bollywood stars and politicians to top businessmen.

The nuptials marked neither the start nor the end of the extravaganza. More parties are in store for the weekend. They will cap monthslong prewedding bashes where international pop stars Justin Bieber and Rihanna have performed, and India’s most popular actors have shaken a leg.

In India, where weddings have long been a display of status and wealth, the Ambani gala has surpassed anything the country has seen so far. For some it marked the arrival of Indian billionaires and their growing global clout. Others saw the glitzy celebrations as shining a light on the country’s growing wealth inequalities.

Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is estimated at $124 billion, according to Forbes. The family’s sprawling business empire, Reliance Industries, spans interests in petrochemicals and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

“If you look at it, in the past, it was the great Indian maharajas who lived and celebrated on this scale. The maharajas of this new era in India are really the billionaires,” Harish Bijoor, a brand consultant, told VOA in a phone interview.

“When guests come from across continents, it shows not just that they know how to do it in style, but also the influence they command,” he added.

Declaring the wedding a public event, Mumbai police blocked key roads around the Ambani-owned Jio Convention Center where ceremonies began last Friday. Many offices in the busy business hub where it is situated declared work-from-home for their staff.

The celebrations have set off a social media frenzy, with millions of Indians transfixed by the events. They have closely scrutinized the grand, sequin-studded outfits and stunning jewelry that included outsized emeralds and diamonds worn by the Ambani family. There has been huge speculation around how much the parties cost. The wedding invitations were made of silver and gold, according to local media reports.

While the events were private, leaked videos have made the rounds on social media.

Reliance’s official Facebook page has also shared some video clips of dance performances and photographs of the events.

The list of VIP’s who have joined in the celebrations is long. In March, at a three-day prewedding event in Ambani’s ancestral hometown of Jamnagar, among the 1,200 guests were tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and a string of Bollywood stars. One hundred chefs whipped up some 500 dishes. Rihanna performed for the guests.

In May, the Ambanis went on a four-day European cruise on a chartered luxury ship that began in the Sicilian city of Palermo and ended in Rome. Videos showed performances on the liner by the Backstreet Boys, Pitbull and David Guetta and singer Katy Perry belting out numbers at a masquerade ball in Cannes.

In Indian living rooms, where cricket, Bollywood and politics usually hog the conversation, the Ambani wedding has become the hot topic of conversation, with opinion divided on whether the celebrations are too ostentatious or the billionaire family had the right to spend their money as they want in a country where the big fat Indian wedding is the norm for even the middle class.

India’s wedding industry is worth $130 billion, nearly double that of the United States, according to a report by Jefferies, a global investment firm.

“Why should the Ambanis make it a small affair? If they have the money, then why should they not splash on their wedding when the average Indian also does the same?” Bindu Sachthey, a New Delhi resident told VOA. “I don’t agree with people who criticize or troll them for this gala affair. I am enjoying having a peek into how the ultrarich celebrate.”

As the Ambani fortunes have grown in recent decades, the family has scaled up its lifestyle. Their Mumbai residence, built in 2010, is a 27-story private apartment building, with three helipads, a private movie theater and a hanging garden.

Some said the ostentatious celebrations made them uncomfortable in a country where millionaires and billionaires are multiplying as the economy grows, but the per capita annual income is still about $2,700.

India has 200 billionaires, worth around $1trillion in wealth, nearly a quarter of the country’s 2023 gross domestic product, according to Forbes.

“I am very ambivalent about these celebrations. I would rather Indian billionaires do more for philanthropy and use their wealth for society rather than spend in this manner,” said author Gurcharan Das, author and former top business executive told VOA.

“But if some of the influential and rich foreign guests who came here decide that this is the time to invest in a rising India, I would say brilliant, the wedding would have served a purpose.” 

Library of Congress awards prize for American fiction to James McBride

NEW YORK — The Library of Congress has awarded a lifetime achievement prize to James McBride, whose acclaimed novels include The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, Deacon King Kong and The Good Lord Bird. 

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Thursday that McBride, whose story lines have ranged from the crusades of abolitionist John Brown to a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, is this year’s winner of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. The award, previously given to Marilynne Robinson and Don DeLillo among others, is given to an American author who excels as a prose stylist and creative thinker. 

“I’m honored to bestow the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction on a writer as imaginative and knowing as James McBride,” Hayden said in a statement. “McBride knows the American soul deeply, reflecting our struggles and triumphs in his fiction, which so many readers have intimately connected with. I, also, am one of his enthusiastic readers.” 

McBride, 66, said in a statement that he wished his mother were alive to hear of his prize. He then joked, “Does it mean I can use the Library? If so, I’m double thrilled.” 

McBride has been among the country’s most honored authors in recent years, winning a National Book Award for Good Lord Bird, the Kirkus Prize for The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store and the Carnegie Medal for Deacon King Kong, which Oprah Winfrey chose for her book club. In 2016, he was given a National Humanities Medal. 

On August 24, he will discuss The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., a gathering hosted by the Library of Congress. 

New sports minister promotes South African car ‘spinning’

South Africa’s newly-appointed minister of sports – a self-described former gangster – wants to promote a sport that has associations with South African gangster culture. The sport of “spinning” involves fast-moving cars and dangerous stunts, and as Kate Bartlett reports from Johannesburg, the way it’s conducted is not always legal.

Colombia beats Uruguay, will face Messi and Argentina in Copa America final

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Colombia is headed to the Copa America championship game for the first time in 23 years after a contentious win over Uruguay in which it played the second half a man short and players brawled with fans in the stands following the final whistle.

Jefferson Lerma scored in the 39th minute for a 1-0 win Wednesday night and a matchup with Lionel Messi and defending champion Argentina on Sunday.

“Until you overcome your weaknesses you cannot grow,” Colombia coach Nester Lorenzo said through a interpreter. “And when you overcome those obstacles, you can grow.”

Daniel Muñoz was ejected in first-half stoppage time for an elbow that led to his second yellow card. Despite Uruguay having 61.9% possession, Colombia held on to reach the championship for the first time since winning its only Copa title as host in 2001.

Colombia extended its unbeaten streak to a team record 28 games, one more than from 1992-94 and the longest current streak in men’s international football.

“They are very hungry as players and very eager and they really add many elements to their game beyond the tactical side,” Lorenzo said.

In a match that included seven yellow cards in addition to the red, players from both teams pushed and shoved in a scrum on the field at the final whistle. Darwin Núñez and about a dozen Uruguay teammates went into the stands as fans brawled.

A video showed Núñez hitting a fan in Colombian team colors.

CONMEBOL released a statement after the game saying that it strongly condemns any act of violence that affects the game.

“Our work is based on the conviction that soccer connects and unites us through its positive values,” the organization said. “There is no place for intolerance and violence on and off the field. We invite everyone in the remaining days to pour all of their passion into cheering on their national teams and having an unforgettable party.”

Defending champion Argentina and Colombia meet at Miami Gardens, Florida, in the tournament finale. The Albiceleste are seeking a record 16th Copa title and are looking to join Spain from 2008-12 as the only countries to win three straight major championships.

Uruguay stays in Charlotte to meet Canada in Saturday night’s third-place match.

Before an overwhelmingly pro-Colombia crowd of 70,644 that filled Bank of America Stadium with yellow jerseys and flags, Uruguay fell behind for the first time in the tournament.

James Rodríguez’s corner kick was headed in from short range by Lerma, who outjumped José María Giménez for his third international goal and second of the tournament. Rodríguez has six assists in the tournament — triple the total of any other player.

Muñoz received his first yellow card from Mexican referee César Ramos in the 31st minute for a reckless slide tackle on Maximiliano Araújo and his second for elbowing Manuel Ugarte in the stomach.

Rodríguez was given a yellow card in the 55th minute for arguing with Ramos when the referee failed to stop play after Richard Ríos was kicked on a shin by Darwin Núñez.

Ríos was removed on a stretcher, re-entered the match, then went down in another challenge and was substituted in the 62nd minute. Rodríguez was removed at the same time to keep him eligible for the final.

Colombia goalkeeper Camilo Vargas didn’t have to make his first save until he stopped Nicolás de la Cruz in the 68th minute.

Luis Suárez, Uruguay’s career leader with 68 goals, entered in the 66th minute and hit the outside of a post with a shot in the 71st. He grasped his head in his hands in disgust.

“The moments in which we could unbalance the game, we did not succeed,” Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa said. “We should have generated more goal situations than we did.”

Colombia’s Mateus Uribe, another second-half sub, put an open shot wide in the 88th, and Uribe’s open shot in the fourth minute of stoppage time ricocheted off the body of sliding goalkeeper Sergio Rochet and then the crossbar.

Uruguay moved Rochet up to the attacking half of the field in the final minute, desperate for a goal.

The match was played in 90-degree heat on a surface that was converted from artificial turf to grass in the weeks leading up the game.

Players on the NFL’s Carolina Panthers have been outspoken about football teams having the luxury of playing on grass on their home field. Players say NFL games on artificial turf leave them more susceptible to injuries.

With two games left, attendance of 1.48 million is just 1,663 shy of the total for the 2016 tournament in the United States.

In ‘Rust’ trial, Alec Baldwin accused of breaking gun rules; defense blames experts

SANTA FE, New Mexico — A New Mexico prosecutor on Wednesday said Alec Baldwin broke “cardinal rules” of gun safety in the 2021 killing of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while his lawyer said he was failed by firearms experts. 

The 66-year-old Baldwin, on trial in Hollywood’s first on-set shooting fatality in three decades, took notes at the defense table and listened calmly to opening statements in his involuntary manslaughter trial. The trial is largely unprecedented in U.S. history, holding an actor criminally responsible for a gun death during filming. 

A New Mexico jury of 12 and four alternates — 11 women and five men — heard prosecutor Erlinda Johnson outline arguments that Baldwin disregarded safety during filming of the low-budget movie before pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal, cocking it and pulling the trigger as they set up a camera shot on a set southwest of Santa Fe. 

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Johnson said. 

Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Baldwin sat in the second row of the public gallery, his brother Stephen Baldwin in front of her. 

His lawyer Alex Spiro pointed to “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez — head of gun safety — and first assistant director Dave Halls — responsible for overall set safety. Both have been convicted in the shooting, and Spiro said they did not check the rounds in the gun to ensure it was safe for Baldwin to use.  

“There were people responsible for firearms safety but actor Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” said Spiro. 

Hutchins was killed, and director Joel Souza wounded when Baldwin’s reproduction 1873 Single Action Army revolver fired a live round, inadvertently loaded by Gutierrez. 

Since a police interview on Oct. 21, 2021, the day of the shooting, Baldwin has argued the gun just “went off.”  

In an ABC News interview two months later, Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger. A 2022 FBI test found the gun was in normal working condition and would not fire from full cock without the trigger being pulled. 

Spiro said during his opening arguments that no one saw Baldwin “intentionally pull the trigger,” but that it was the responsibility of firearms safety experts to ensure a firearm was safe for an actor “to wave it, to point it, to pull the trigger, like actors do.”  

State prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in January 2022. They dropped charges three months later after Baldwin’s lawyers presented photographic evidence the gun was modified, arguing it would fire more easily, bolstering the actor’s accidental discharge argument. 

Prosecutors called a grand jury to reinstate the charge in January after an independent firearms expert confirmed the 2022 FBI study. 

FBI testing broke the gun, and Baldwin’s lawyers will tell jurors that destruction of the weapon prevented them from proving the gun was modified. 

Armorer Gutierrez, whose job on the set of “Rust” included managing firearms safely, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March for loading the live round.

Prosecutors will have to persuade jurors Baldwin is also guilty of willful and reckless criminal negligence.

British-born guitarist revels in Ghanian sounds

John Collins visited Ghana as a child with his father. But life brought him back years later, and the musician never left. VOA’s Isaac Kaledzi met him in Accra and Anthony Labruto narrates.

Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial begins with jury selection

SANTA FE, N.M. — Alec Baldwin’s trial in the shooting of a cinematographer is set to begin Tuesday with the selection of jurors who will be tasked with deciding whether the actor is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Getting chosen to serve in a trial of such a major star accused of such a major crime would be unusual even in Los Angeles or Baldwin’s hometown of New York. But it will be essentially an unheard-of experience for those who are picked as jurors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, though the state has increasingly become a hub of Hollywood production in recent years.

Baldwin and his wife Hilaria arrived at the courthouse Tuesday with at least one of their youngest children. The couple have several children, with the youngest set to turn 2 in September.

Baldwin, 66, could get up to 18 months in prison if jurors unanimously decide he committed the felony when a revolver he was pointing at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza during a rehearsal for the Western film “Rust” in October 2021 at Bonanza Creek Ranch, some 18 miles (29 kilometers) from where the trial is being held.

Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware the gun contained a live round, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

The star of “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” made his first appearance in the courtroom on Monday, when Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, in a significant victory for the defense, ruled at a pretrial hearing that Baldwin’s role as a co-producer on “Rust” isn’t relevant to the trial.

The judge has said that the special circumstances of a celebrity trial shouldn’t keep jury selection from moving quickly, and that opening statements should begin Wednesday.

“I’m not worried about being able to pick a jury in one day,” Marlowe Summer said. “I think we’re going to pick a jury by the afternoon.” 

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, however, was dubious that Baldwin’s lawyers, with whom she has clashed in the run-up to the trial, would make that possible.

“It is my guess that with this group of defense attorneys, that’s not gonna happen,” Morrissey said at the hearing.

Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro replied, “I’ve never not picked a jury in one day. I can’t imagine that this would be the first time.”

Dozens of prospective jurors will be brought into the courtroom for questioning Tuesday morning. Cameras that will carry the rest of the proceedings will be turned off to protect their privacy. Jurors are expected to get the case after a nine-day trial.

Attorneys will be able to request they be dismissed for conflicts or other causes. The defense under state law can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, the prosecution three. More challenges will be allowed when four expected alternates are chosen.

Before Marlowe Sommer’s ruling Monday, prosecutors had hoped to highlight Baldwin’s safety obligations on the set as co-producer to bolster an alternative theory of guilt beyond his alleged negligent use of a firearm. They aimed to link Baldwin’s behavior to “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others” under the involuntary manslaughter law.

But the prosecution managed other wins Monday. They successfully argued for the exclusion of summary findings from a state workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on the film’s assistant director, shifting fault away from Baldwin.

And the judge ruled that they could show graphic images from Hutchins’ autopsy, and from police lapel cameras during the treatment of her injuries.

Eugenio Derbez’s ‘Acapulco’ brings feel-good nostalgia to global audiences

Popular Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez has successfully transitioned to Hollywood. His bilingual comedy “Acapulco” on Apple TV is critically acclaimed and has put his work in front of new audiences. The show’s star and producer spoke with Veronica Villafañe about his mission to create an authentic, family-friendly series that positively represents his home country.

Paramount, Skydance merge, ending Redstone family reign

NEW YORK — The entertainment giant Paramount will merge with Skydance, closing out a decades-long run by the Redstone family in Hollywood and injecting desperately needed cash into a legacy studio that has struggled to adapt to a shifting entertainment landscape. 

It also signals the rise of a new power player, David Ellison, the founder of Skydance and son of billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder of the software company Oracle. 

Shari Redstone’s National Amusements has owned more than three-quarters of Paramount’s Class A voting shares through the estate of her late father, Sumner Redstone. She had battled to maintain control of the company that owns CBS, which is behind blockbuster films such as “Top Gun” and “The Godfather.” 

Just weeks after turning down a similar agreement with Skydance, however, Redstone agreed to a deal on terms that had not changed much. 

“Given the changes in the industry, we want to fortify Paramount for the future while ensuring that content remains king,” said Redstone, who is chair of Paramount Global.

The new combined company is valued at around $28 billion. In connection with the proposed transaction, which is expected to close in September 2025 pending regulatory approval, a consortium led by the Ellison family and RedBird Capital will be investing $8 billion. 

Skydance, based in Santa Monica, California, has helped produce some major  

Paramount hits in recent years, including Tom Cruise films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and installments of the “Mission Impossible” series. 

Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison and it quickly formed a production partnership with Paramount that same year. If the deal is approved, Ellison will become chairman and chief executive officer of what’s being called New Paramount. 

Ellison outlined the vision for New Paramount on a conference call about the transaction Monday. In addition to doubling down on core competencies, notably with a “creative first” approach, he stressed that the company needs to transition into a “tech hybrid” to stay competitive in today’s evolving media landscape. 

“You’ve watched some incredibly powerful technology companies move into the … media space and do so very successfully,” Ellison said. He added that it was “essential” for New Paramount to chart a similar course going forward. 

That includes plans to “rebuild” the Paramount+ streaming service, Ellison noted — pointing to wider goals to expand direct-to-consumer business, such as increasing engagement time on the platform and reducing user churn. He also said that the company aims to transition to more cloud-based production and continue the use of generative artificial intelligence to boost efficiency. 

Executives also outlined further restructuring plans for New Paramount on Monday’s conference call, with chairman of RedBird Sports and Media Jeff Shell noting that they had identified some $2 billion in cost efficiencies and synergies that they’ll “attempt to deliver pretty rapidly.” 

Shell and others addressed the declining growth of linear TV. Flagship linear brands will continue to represent a big chunk of the company’s operations, but learning how to run this portion of business differently will be key, he said. 

Paramount’s struggles

The on-again, off-again merger arrives at a tumultuous time for Paramount, which has struggled to find its footing for years and its cable business has been hemorrhaging. In an annual shareholder meeting in early June, the company also laid out a restructuring plan that included major cost cuts. 

Leadership at Paramount was also volatile earlier this year after its CEO Bob Bakish, following several disputes with Redstone, was replaced with an “office of the C.E.O,” run by three executives. Four company directors were also replaced. 

Paramount is one of Hollywood’s oldest studios, dating back its founding in 1914 as a  distributor. Throughout its rich history, Paramount has had a hand in releasing films — from “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Godfather,” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Titanic.” 

The studio also distributed several early Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including “Iron Man” and “Thor,” before the Disney acquisition. In addition to “Mission: Impossible” and “Top Gun,” Paramount’s current franchises include “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Jackass.” 

While Paramount has not topped the annual domestic box office charts for over a decade, the wild box office success of “Top Gun: Maverick” in 2022 (nearly $1.5 billion worldwide) was an important boon to both movie theaters and the industry’s pandemic recovery. 

Still, its theatrical output has declined somewhat in recent years. Last year it released only eight new movies and came in fifth place for overall box office at around $2 billion — behind Universal (24 films), Disney (17 films), Warner Bros. and Sony. 

Movie plans

This year the release calendar is similarly modest, especially with the absence of “Mission: Impossible 8,” which was pushed to 2025 amid the strikes. The studio has had some successes, with “Bob Marley: One Love” and “A Quiet Place: Day One,” and still to come is Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” sequel. 

The National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade organization that represents over 35,000 screens in the U.S., said in a statement Monday that it plans to look closely at the details of the merger with an eye toward whether it will produce more or less theatrical releases. 

“We are encouraged by the commitment that David Ellison and the Skydance Media team have shown to theatrical exhibition in the past,” said Michael O’Leary, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “A merger that results in fewer movies being produced will not only hurt consumers and result in less revenue, but negatively impact people who work in all sectors of this great industry — creative, distribution and exhibition.” 

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