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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- People around the world will come together this weekend to celebrate the planet and to take action to protect it.

Here's everything you need to know about Earth Day 2018.

When is Earth Day?

First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day takes place worldwide on April 22.

This year's event falls on a Sunday.

What is Earth Day and why do we celebrate it?

Various events are held annually on Earth Day across the globe to show support for protecting the environment.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin native, is largely credited for organizing the first Earth Day in spring 1970, a time when it was still legal for factories to spew noxious fumes into the air or dump toxic waste into nearby streams. That's because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn't exist then, and there were no laws to protect the environment.

Nelson recruited Harvard University professor Denis Hayes to coordinate and promote Earth Day nationally. The event was a success.

Twenty million Americans took to the streets on April 22, 1970, demanding action on environmental pollution. That December, Congress authorized the establishment of a new federal agency, the EPA, to ensure environmental protection. The passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other landmark environmental laws followed soon after, according to the EPA.

Earth Day went global 20 years later, mobilizing 200 million people in dozens of countries and putting environmental issues on the world stage.

Now, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are estimated to participate in Earth Day activities every year, according to Earth Day Network, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that organizes the event worldwide.

What is the 2018 theme?

This year's Earth Day is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to eventually end plastic pollution, according to Earth Day Network.

Many of us use or encounter plastic every single day, even if we don't realize it. There's single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, plates, utensils and straws. But there are also plastics in our electronics, cars, clothes and paint.

So what happens to all this plastic? Some of it gets recycled. But a lot ends up in landfills or is simply littered as plastic pollution, which gets into our waterways.

Plastic is made to last forever -- it cannot biodegrade. Disposed plastic materials can remain in the environment for up to 2,000 years and longer, according to a 2009 article published in scientific journal Chemistry & Biology.

Earth Day Network has called the management of plastic waste a "global crisis."

"Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem –- mostly unknowingly," Valeria Merino, vice president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, said in a statement.

An estimated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste were generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entering the ocean, according to findings in a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia.

Recent research commissioned by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., found that 94 percent of drinking water in the United States and 93 percent of bottled water sampled from nine countries are spiked with chemically-laced plastic particles, many of which have been linked to major diseases.

In recent years, many countries have taken steps to ban bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and other chemicals from plastics in some products.

"There is a growing tidal wave of interest in ending plastic pollution and some countries and governments are already in the vanguard. Earth Day Network believes we can turn that tidal wave into a permanent solution to plastics pollution," Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers said in a statement.

This year, Earth Day Network will mobilize its global network of non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups, as well as local elected officials, faith leaders, artists, athletes, students and teachers "to build a world of educated consumers, voters and activists of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastic," according to Rogers.

How can I get involved?

While recycling is important, Earth Day Network says it's not nearly enough to bring an end to plastic pollution.

"You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places," Merino said. "Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption."

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iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the country will be suspending its nuclear program ahead of much-anticipated talks between the two Koreas next week, and the U.S. and North Korea sometime next month.

Kim announced his country would "no longer need any nuclear tests, mid and long and ICBM rocket tests," and therefore is suspending nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles starting Saturday.

The communist country is also shutting down the Poongye-ri nuclear test site where six underground tests have taken place, because "it has finished its mission."

The surprise announcements were delivered through the North's state Korean Central News Agency and later on state TV.

North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons" and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its efforts towards socialist economic development," Kim was quoted saying at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea convened Friday. The state TV stressed the meeting discussed policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period."

The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next Friday at the truce border village of Panmunjom, while U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim plan to meet sometime in May or early June at a yet-to-be-announced location.

Trump hailed the news of Korea suspending its nuclear programs as "very good news for North Korea and the World."

The news came earlier this week that Mike Pompeo, Trump's as-yet-unconfirmed pick for secretary of state, met with Kim in early April. No details of the talks were released, though Trump said this week the meeting went "very smoothly" and the two got along "really well."

Denuclearization of North Korea has been a key issue going into the talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The North is suspending, not freezing, its nuclear program for now, but both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have expressed high hopes that the North is ready to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic assistance.

Policy measures announced by the North’s state TV confirm Kim’s drive to improve quality of living. The long term economic plan of North Korea is to "provide proficient and culturally [advanced] lifestyle to all people," Kim was quoted as saying.

"North Korea's announcement signals a stepping stone for phased denuclearization," said An Chan Il, president of Seoul-based World Institute for North Korean Studies. "They are showing proof to the world that they have begun their efforts to eventually denuclearize, starting with shutting down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Punggye-ri test site is known to be the one and only nuclear weapon facility in North Korea at the moment. A significant slowdown in this facility was monitored in March, adding evidence that North's announcement was not a spontaneous one."

Experts have cautioned that the wording of Kim's announcement specifically mentions a "suspension" and not a "freeze."

"For North Korea to announce a nuclear freeze, they must have mentioned shutdown of the nuclear facility in Yongbyon," said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. "But this announcement said to suspend only the Punggye-ri facility and missile launches according to KCNA’s report. Still, there is a possibility open for discussion regarding Yongbyon facility which produces plutonium."

"Some say this beginning phase should be called a 'freeze,'" said Kim Kwang-jin, a former congressman at the National Assembly’s Defense Committee. "But others see a complete abolishment of already-made plutonium, uranium and missiles as a 'freeze.' That is why key terms should be clarified before the final negotiation."

South Korea's presidential office welcomed North Korea's announcement as well.

Presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said in a written statement released Saturday, "[The] North's announcement will brighten prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington."

The statement referred to the North’s suspending of nuclear tests and missile tests as a meaningful progress toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

"It is not a declaration of nuclear dismantlement because it has not yet reached the consensus of some practical compensations for the abandonment of nuclear weapons," said Cheong Seong-Chang, director of unification strategic studies program at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute.

"Since the economy has been in a state of containment after several nuclear tests and missile launches, the compromise with the international community was an inevitable choice for Kim Jong Un," Cheong added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Trump in Florida this week, was more cautious in his acknowledgment of Kim's announcement of suspending nuclear tests.

"What is crucial here ... is how this development is going to lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear arms, weapons of mass destruction and missiles," he said. "And I will keep a close eye on that."

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department has released its first human rights report fully compiled under the Trump administration, and it's generating controversy for several changes and omissions - including eliminating references to "reproductive rights" and dropping use of the term "occupied territories."

The report – which is mandated by Congress – is published every year and details human rights in virtually every country and territory around the world. It's compiled by diplomats at posts on the ground over the course of the previous year.

Last year, there was controversy because then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not publicly appear to roll out the report, which critics say signaled his disinterest in promoting human rights early in his tenure.

This year, acting Secretary John Sullivan spoke briefly at the launch, explaining the importance of the report and taking a moment to call out certain countries – Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, Turkey, China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia – the last four of which were labeled "forces of instability" because of their human rights abuses.

Here are some of the headlines from this year's report and from a briefing with Amb. Michael Kozak, the senior official in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

ELIMINATING REFERENCE TO 'REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS'

Generating the most attention is the replacement of sections on "reproductive rights" with ones on "coercion in population control" – a sign of the Trump administration's anti-abortion push that spreads beyond the U.S., like reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy and reportedly trying to remove references to contraception, abortion, and sex education at the United Nations.

In 2012, under Hillary Clinton, the department first included "reproductive rights," but the term has been misconstrued to mean abortion rights, according to Amb. Kozak, so the Trump administration wanted to dispel that notion: "It's not a diminishment of women's rights or a desire to get away from it. It was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend."

The U.S. has never taken a position on whether there is a right to an abortion because there's no internationally recognized standard, Kozak added – but there is one that no one should be forced to have an abortion or be sterilized, and that's what the reports are meant to target.

Still, the omission has been decried by some rights groups. "Reproductive rights are human rights, and omitting the issue signals the Trump administration’s latest retreat from global leadership on human rights," Amnesty International said in a statement. Human Rights Watch pointed out that the report is silent on the obstacles many women face in countries from Bolivia to Poland to Nepal on reproductive issues.

DROPPING USE OF THE TERM 'OCCUPIED TERRITORIES'

This year's report uses the section title, "Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza," as opposed to last year's "Israel and the Occupied Territories" – a first, according to Amnesty International.

Within the 2017 section, the Golan Heights is still referred to as 'Israeli-occupied,' but not the West Bank, as in years past.

When a journalist tried multiple times to ask a question about the Palestinian territories, he was shut down by spokesperson Heather Nauert, who called on others and then whisked Amb. Kozak away at the end.

DEPARTMENT'S REPORTS VS. TRUMP'S WORDS AND ACTIONS?

The report is tough on many countries, but its impact has been called into question given President Donald Trump's own behavior – both his embrace of some of the world leaders called out and his use of some of the bad behaviors called out – in particular, denigrating the press, his travel and refugee bans, and transgender military ban.

Should the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, for example, take notice of the report's condemnation of his brutal war on drugs – or of Trump's "great relationship" with him, as Trump said in November?

Amb. Kozak said Trump's engagement with world leaders is "complementary" to the reports because "usually part of your policy is engaging with the people whose behavior you’re trying to change at some level."

"The fact is, these other governments and their populations do read the report, and I don’t think they discount it because the President speaks with their leader or otherwise," he added, noting that Trump raises these issues in his conversations.

In particular, Amb. Kozak was pushed on freedom of the press and Trump's attacks on 'fake news' media, but Kozak distinguished between tough talk and physical threats to media outlets overseas: "We make quite a distinction between political leaders being able to speak out and say that that story was not accurate or using even stronger words sometimes, and using state power to prevent the journalists from continuing to do their work."

GOING SOFT ON U.S. ALLIES?

The U.S. is always accused of going easier on its allies than its adversaries, but this report, in particular, is getting heat for that.

One example: Last year's report cited several "human rights problems" in Japan, most notably "lack of due process for detention of suspects and poor prison and detention center conditions." But this year the report said: "There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses."

But more notably, in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom the Trump administration is particularly close, is making advances on women's rights but flouting the rule of law with his detention and extortion of other princes.

While that's detailed in the report, Amb. Kozak was softer on the detentions than similar crackdowns elsewhere, saying they were "connected, ostensibly anyway, to more concern about corruption, which is another one of our issues... We're trying to encourage that kind of movement on the part of the Saudis."

The report also went lighter on Saudi's airstrikes in Yemen, according to human rights groups. It notes that their airstrikes "caused disproportionate collateral damage" – but makes no mention that they're also "indiscriminate and appeared not to sufficiently minimize collateral impact on civilians," as last year's report pointed out.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Intelligence gathered over the past 18 months suggests that American journalist Austin Tice is still alive almost six years after he went missing in Syria, ABC News has learned.

The assessment comes as the FBI has, for the first time, announced a new reward for information leading to Tice's safe location, recovery, and return — for $1 million.

Two senior officials recently confirmed to ABC News that Tice, a journalist, and photographer kidnapped in August 2012, is believed to have survived his captivity despite past U.S. intelligence assessments that he might have died in Syria. A former Marine, Tice had been freelancing for several news outlets, including CBS and the Washington Post, and covering the start of the Syrian civil war.

For a long time, the FBI only had one special agent assigned to the case – a person who had been serving in the bureau for less time than Tice had been missing. Some officials privately criticized the FBI for chasing old leads in the case and not devoting more resources to recovering him from what was assessed to be an element of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s regime or his family.

By contrast, American hostages of terrorist groups such as Kayla Mueller killed in ISIS captivity, and Caitlan Coleman, who was freed last fall after five years as a Taliban hostage, had teams of FBI agents working their cases. One senior official told ABC News that there were intelligence officers augmenting the FBI’s work and that criticism of their efforts was unfair.

Tice, who would be 36-years old now, disappeared just after his 31st birthday while covering the Free Syrian Army, a group of Syrian military officials who had joined the opposition against Assad. A month later, a video was released, showing him blindfolded, removed from a car, and led by armed men up a hill, saying "Oh, Jesus." He has not been heard from since.

But the FBI reward has given Tice's family renewed hope: "We are heartened by the recent U.S. Government posting of a reward for information," Tice's parents Debra and Mark Tice said in a family statement to ABC News. "We deeply appreciate every increased effort to hasten the day that we see our son safely home."

Debra and her husband Marc Tice have been outspoken in their pursuit to bring Austin home and steadfast in their belief that he remains alive, although they cautioned that as far as they know, the timing of the FBI reward "is unrelated to any specific event," but rather to "the length of Austin’s detention and the Syrian government’s lack of information concerning Austin’s disappearance."

The FBI's announcement also garnered praise from others: "The U.S. government must stay focused on efforts to bring Austin Tice home. Offering a reward is an important way to demonstrate that commitment and could help bring forward new information," Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told ABC News in a statement.

In December 2016, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor that then-U.S. hostage envoy James O'Brien had informed him that Tice was alive.

"Mr. O'Brien and his team informed me that they have high confidence that Austin is alive in Syria along with other Americans who are being held captive," Cornyn said at the time.

The next month, Tice's parents said the Obama administration also told them, "Austin, our son, is alive, that he's still being held captive in Syria."

A current U.S. official confirmed recently that the assessment that he is alive has not changed.

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iStock/Thinkstock(CAPE TOWN, South Africa) -- Endangered African penguins living in a colony on Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa, have been further threatened by an outbreak of avian flu.

According to Nature, veterinarians detected the virus in February among penguins there as well as Cape cormorants, swift terns and peregrine falcons. By March, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs called for a halt to research activities for fear of further spreading the infection to other colonies.

Over 16 “abnormal deaths” have been recorded since February and residents and tourists have been advised not to handle any sick or dead birds.

The African penguin population has been in a steady decline and is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. In the 1930s there were about 1.5 million adult penguins living along the southern African coast but due to human activity, their numbers have decreased by 90 percent in less than a century. The Boulders population is currently about 1,700 birds.

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Forest Department/Telangana(NEW YORK) -- A 700-year-old Banyan tree whose branches spread across about three acres is believed to be one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the world.

But when one of the branches of the tree in Telangana in southern India broke off in December, forest officials found the tree to be infested with termites, and the area, a major tourist destination, was immediately closed to the public. The tree has now been put on a "drip" of diluted pesticides.

The Banyan is the national tree of India and is considered sacred by Hindus.

‘We drilled holes in the affected branches and injected the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, every two meters," Chukka Ganga Reddy, the District Forest Officer told ABC News. Two meters is about 6.5 feet.

"We are maintaining the flow of the chemical through drips," Reddy said. "We are also washing the roots with the same pesticide and treating the adjoining areas to prevent the termites spreading."

Concrete pillars are also being built to support the sprawling branches of the tree. Banyan trees are known to spread laterally as roots dropped by their branches mature into thick trunks which support the tree.

"The results are encouraging, and we hope the tree will recover in two to three months. We will then decide when to open the area for tourists," Reddy said.

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Michael Masters/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The former deputy prime minister of Australia and his partner, Vikki Campion, have welcomed a baby boy.

Joyce quit his government post and position as leader of the National Party of Australia after it emerged he was having an affair with Campion, his former media adviser, and that she was expecting a baby.

After the affair, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull banned ministers from having sexual relationships with their staff.

Joyce has four daughters with his wife, Natalie.

After the baby, who has been named Sebastian, was born at Armidale Hospital, Joyce told Australian outlets “We are very happy and just taking it quietly.”

The affair was not Joyce’s only recent political crisis. In 2017, he was disqualified from running in a by-election when he was forced from his seat after it was revealed he held dual Australian-New Zealand citizenship.

After renouncing his secondary citizenship he was ruled eligible and won back his seat with more than 60 percent of the vote, according to Australian media outlets.

The dual citizenship crisis affected several members of Parliament, and resulted in nine seats lost, including Joyce’s.

On the news of his partner's pregnancy, Joyce told Australian media the paternity of Campion's then-unborn child was a "gray area" given his travel schedule and the estimated date of conception.

He added however that he was planning to bring up the child as his own regardless of who the father was.

Joyce later said that the child's paternity was "nobody else's business", and in comments to Fairfax Media on Friday said the arrival of the baby had "comprehensively removed any doubts about paternity on the basis of date".

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iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- A direct hotline has been set up between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    
A test call was made Friday between Seoul's presidential office and Pyongyang's State Affairs Commission.

The two sides checked connections and talked about weather, according to the South's presidential Blue House.

The two leaders did not talk on Friday.

Their first conversation using the hotline is expected soon -- sometime before next Friday.

That's when the two will meet in person for the first time at the historic summit to take place at the truce village of Panmunjom at the border.

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iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Crossing the street in China is often a chaotic business.

 It seemingly has nothing to do with whether a light is red or green. Instead, people just crowd onto the curb until they reach critical mass, and then off they go.

The government is trying various approaches to address the problem, including one province's experiment with spraying mist at jaywalkers, according to a report in the official Beijing News.

This method, undertaken by the government in Hubei province in central China, uses knee-high yellow poles installed on the curb at each end of a crosswalk.

When someone tries to cross against a red light, the poles spray mist at the scofflaws. At the same time, a recorded message says, “The light’s red. Please do not cross the street. It’s dangerous,” the Beijing News reported.

The system, which reportedly cost the Hubei government the equivalent of $207,000, also uses facial recognition technology. It takes pictures of the jaywalkers and displays the photos, along with the people's names, on huge LED displays on the street in an effort to shame them, the Beijing News reported.

The yellow poles are about 2.6 feet high. Staff change the water every day and keep it at a constant temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(HAVANA) -- Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is the first person outside of the Castro family to rule over Cuba in almost 60 years.

Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, stepped down as president Thursday and gave power to his successor, First Vice President Diaz-Canel.

The Cuban government voted Wednesday to approve Diaz-Canel’s nomination as the candidate to replace the 86-year-old president.

Diaz-Canel addressed the nation with a speech that was broadcast live on television, in which he promised to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually introducing reforms.

"The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model," he said.

Raul Castro will remain head of the ruling Communist Party, maintaining his status for now as the most powerful public figure in Cuba. There was speculation for years that Castro would pick one of his children as his successor. Instead he chose a man who wasn’t even born when his brother started a revolution and took control of Cuba in 1959.  

Diaz-Canel has served as Cuba’s first vice president since 2013. He was born in the central province of Villa Clara in 1960. He climbed his way up the ranks of the ruling Communist Party and gained prominence as party leader in Villa Clara and Hologuin provinces, before becoming higher education minister.  

Diaz-Canel also led the Cuban delegation to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Diaz-Canel has publicly defended bloggers and academics who were critical of the Cuban government, under a system that represses dissent and is intolerant of criticism.

 

Now, as Cuba's newest president, the world will be watching his every move to see whether he strays from the path paved by the Castro brothers.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. said Thursday it has "credible information and intelligence" that shows Russian and Syrian regime officials are denying an investigative team access to the alleged chemical weapons attack sites in Douma, Syria, as they sanitize them and remove incriminating evidence.

The accusation comes as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, investigators have still not reached Douma, the city outside the capital Damascus where the attacks reportedly took place. It has been 12 days since the chemical weapons were reportedly used – and nearly one week since President Donald Trump joined France and the United Kingdom in ordering the bombing of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for the attacks, which Syria denies carrying out.

"We have credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and delay these inspectors from gaining access to Douma," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday. "We believe it is an effort to conduct their own staged investigations. Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of those suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use."

In addition to destroying evidence, she said, Russia and Syria are pressuring witnesses to change their stories.

"We have also watched as some people have seemingly been pressured by the government to change their stories about what actually occurred that night," Nauert added. "We have reports from credible people on the ground who have indicated that they have been pressured by both Russia and Syria to change their stories."

She couldn't say whether Russia and Syria had been "successful" in eliminating any trace of sarin or chlorine at the sites, but said it may mean that the OPCW investigation – if its team does get access – will not find any traces of the reported attack.

"It might be, it might be," she said – but she wouldn't "weigh into that conversation" any further and get ahead of the investigation: "We will have to wait and see."

Russian and Syrian responses to the U.S. accusation weren't immediately available.

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Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Just one month before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are to marry, the couple stepped out at a reception to promote women’s empowerment and girls' education.

Markle, who once served as an advocate for UN Women, joined Harry in meeting with representatives of charities and organizations which support global gender equality.

The reception was held as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which brings together heads of state and delegates from the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth.

At a Commonwealth reception on Wednesday, Harry and Markle spoke with LGBT advocates and ensured them that highlighting gay rights would be included in their charitable work.'

Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was one of the earliest high-profile people to break down the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDs. Her sons, Harry and Prince William, have followed in her footsteps as staunch advocates of human rights.

Jacob Thomas, from Australia, who won a Queen’s Young Leaders award, recalled speaking with Harry and Markle about gay rights as a human rights issue.

"Prince Harry said that what was so amazing was that 10 or so years ago we wouldn’t have been having this conversation and how incredible it was that we now were," Thomas told reporters.

It is significant for Markle, someone who has not yet married into the royal family, to be involved in such a high-profile event as the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit.

Today's event comes just days after Harry was named Commonwealth Youth Ambassador by Queen Elizabeth.

Harry's work as ambassador will focus on “supporting the aspirations of young people,” according to a statement released by Buckingham Palace.

Harry discussed his new role with excitement in a keynote speech he delivered Monday.

"In my new role, I will work to support the Queen, my father The Prince of Wales, and my brother William, all of whom know that young people are the answer to the challenges of today," he said. "I am also incredibly grateful that the woman I am about to marry, Meghan, will be joining me in this work, of which she too is hugely excited to take part in."

Markle as an advocate for women

While making a name for herself as an actress, Markle worked on women's rights issues with organizations including World Vision, the Myna Mahila Foundation and One Young World, in addition to the United Nations.

On International Women's Day last year, Markle wrote an essay on period shaming based on her experience visiting India as an ambassador for World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization.

Markle has hinted that she has found her match as a feminist with Harry, who is also known for his humanitarian work.

Since moving to London late last year, Markle has spent her time traveling with Harry to different parts of the U.K., learning about the causes closest to him and meeting stakeholders.

She spoke about the #MeToo movement and women's empowerment in February at a forum for The Royal Foundation, which she will join as a patron once she and Harry wed.

"I hear a lot of people speaking about girls' empowerment and women's empowerment. You will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices," Markle said. "I fundamentally disagree with that because women don't need to find their voices."

She added, "They need to be empowered to use [their voices] and people need to be urged to listen. Right now with so many campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp there's no better time to continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people supporting them."

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Photodisc/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- The Konstanz Theater in southern Germany is offering visitors free tickets to an upcoming production of playwright George Tabori’s Hitler satire Mein Kampf by adding a provocative audience-participation element.

Visitors to the production, which purposely premieres on Hitler’s birthday (April 20), will have to make an uncomfortable decision when they arrive at the theater.

Those who would like a free ticket must wear an armband, provided by the theater, bearing a swastika for the entire duration of the performance. Paying audience members are encouraged to wear a Star of David, showing “solidarity with the victims of the tyranny of national socialism,” according to the theater’s website.

The concept was proposed by Turkish-born director-author Serdar Somuncu, who has won some of Germany’s top theater awards, including the German Theatre-Literature Prize.

Somuncu wanted the performance to begin the moment tickets were purchased, according to the theater’s leadership. “The question raised is, how easily can you be corrupted? Would you wear a Swastika to save a few euros?” theater spokesman Daniel Morgenroth said.

“We wanted to encourage people to make up their minds when they purchase tickets in the same way they have to make up their minds to stand up to xenophobia, fascism and populism in the real world,” he added.

The concept aims to raise awareness of such dangers, he said, including anti-Semitism’s returning to Germany.

Up to a dozen people have opted to wear the Swastika for free tickets for each performance, Morgenroth said.

Useful social commentary or 'bizarre marketing gig'?

The piece to be performed is a far cry from the dictator’s manifesto of the same title. The 1987 play is a satire on Hitler’s life, focusing on his origins as a struggling art student in Vienna who is befriended by a Jewish man.

But many people question the need to use a symbol associated with the death of millions, even for artistic purposes.

The German Parliament voted in January to appoint an anti-Semitism commissioner -- a new position -- to combat the rise of what many see as a new wave of anti-Semitism in the country.

Ruth Frenk, who heads the local chapter of the Israeli-German society in the region, said she found the production’s concept “tasteless and unnecessary.”

“I do think it needs a discussion,” she told ABC News, “but we don’t need a Star of David or swastika to have it when it’s in the news every day.”

Her organization put out a public statement criticizing the play’s debut on Hitler’s birthday, calling it “a bizarre marketing gig.”

While the use of Nazi symbols is prohibited by German law, they can, however, be used under rules ensuring artistic freedom. Despite the complaints received, the Konstanz public prosecutor’s office said Wednesday that it would not launch an investigation into the production.

The reference to the Holocaust or Nazis used in an artistic context, although legal, is a hot-button issue.

The topic splashed across headlines in German media last week as the country’s Echo pop awards were doled out to a rap duo who incorporated lyrics many consider to be anti-Semitic.

In their music, Kollegah and Farid Bang said their muscles are “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners,” and include lines such as “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming at you with a Molotov.”

The timing of the awards ceremony couldn’t have been worse: It was Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- After nearly 60 years of Castro rule, there is a new president in Cuba. The Cuban General Assembly voted on Wednesday to elect First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel as the next president.

Who is the 57-year-old Communist Party official and former higher education minister, and what will his leadership mean for U.S.-Cuban relations and Americans traveling to the country?

What we know about Miguel Díaz-Canel

It's hard to understate how consequential a moment this is for Díaz-Canel and the Caribbean nation. Although former leader Raul Castro will remain head of the Communist Party and be involved in policy decisions, this is the end of an era for Cubans.

"To have someone without the family name or the same aura of revolutionary is a historic shift," Geoff Thale, vice president for programs at the Washington Office of Latin America, told ABC News. "The fact that someone is coming in without the revolutionary legitimacy as the founders of the state, and the heroes of the revolution, isn't just an institutional change."

But Díaz-Canel is still a party man. He came up through the system, first gaining notice as the head of party in the provinces Villa Clara and Holguín, before becoming higher education minister. He was also Raul's top vice president and de facto successor in 2013.

"Díaz-Canel is not coming in to break the china. He is a consummate political insider," according to Marguerite Jimenez, director of the Cuba Program at the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA. Díaz-Canel developed "a reputation as an efficient manager, pragmatist and man of the people," she added.

What this means for Americans

It's unlikely, then, that he will make significant changes to Cuba's stance toward the U.S., especially after President Trump scaled back Cuban-American relations. It's even unclear how much he'd be able to do as president.

"With Raul Castro still at the helm of the island’s Communist party, no one should expect anything to change overnight," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Cuban-American critic of the Castro regime, said in a statement to ABC News. "Unless the regime commits to governing Cuba rather than exploiting its people, this transition won’t be any different for Cubans."

Still, analysts expect that Díaz-Canel will make some economic reforms after Raul Castro's time was marked by energy rationing and shortages of consumer products, price inflation, low take-home pay and a brain drain of the workforce.

Despite those issues, the private economy has "taken off, providing jobs and income to as many as four out of 10 Cubans of working age," according to a report by Richard Feinberg of the Brookings Institution.

International tourism has played a big role in that expansion, with the number of visitors doubling during Raul Castro's decade of rule. That included more Americans after President Obama's historic opening with Cuba, where he loosened restrictions on who could travel and how, and reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana.

What are the U.S. travel restrictions now?

Those numbers have dipped during Trump's time in office after he implemented new restrictions in November.

U.S. tourists and companies are no longer allowed to do business with a list of 180 sanctioned Cuban businesses that allegedly have ties to the military, intelligence or security services, including famous hotels in Havana such as Hotel Ambos Mundos and Hotel Armadores de Santander, certain shops in Old Havana, and particular rum producers and real estate firms.

American tourists are also not permitted to travel to Cuba on individual people-to-people exchange programs. They must travel now with a sponsoring organization or, if they're on educational travel, with an American group or university.

But the administration is not requiring that travelers obtain permission beforehand -- a more onerous restriction from the pre-Obama era that made it more difficult to travel. Instead, the Treasury Department is asking U.S. citizens to keep their paperwork to prove they did not violate any U.S. laws, or they could face enforcement by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, with the help of agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol at ports of entry. Penalties for breaking the sanctions include heavy fines and, after multiple violations, prosecution.

While tourism to Cuba has never been allowed outright, the people-to-people exchanges permitted American travelers to see the island as part of a cultural exchange, and enforcement under the Obama administration became very lax. The Trump administration, however, has said it wants to eliminate any American support for the Cuban government because of its human rights abuses.

"We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba," the president said in his major Cuba policy address last June.

But to critics, creating new restrictions has done more to hurt those average citizens and gave the government a new cudgel against America.

"Individual U.S. travelers to Cuba are the primary customers in Cuba's private sector, so these regulations have had the opposite of their intended effect," according to Gabrielle Jorgensen, director of Public Policy at Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses and organizations lobbying to end the U.S.'s Cuba embargo.

Is it safe to travel to Cuba?

It's not just the new restrictions that have slowed U.S. tourism down; the "health attacks" on U.S. personnel at the embassy have played a factor as well. At least 24 Americans have been medically confirmed to have experienced symptoms ranging from trouble seeing or concentrating to headaches and balance problems, according to the State Department.

The cause of the symptoms, which were detailed in a medical journal, is still unknown, and the U.S.'s investigation is ongoing. Cuba has denied the attacks, while U.S. officials insist Cuba must know what is happening, given the government's tight control of the island.

The State Department issued a travel warning in September that American citizens who visit the nation may also be at risk. Since then, a handful of U.S. citizens who recently traveled to Cuba informed U.S. personnel that they experienced similar symptoms, the department said.

But there's been no proof so far that Americans are being targeted.

The drawdown of U.S. staff has limited the consular services available to American citizens in Cuba -- and halted visa services for Cubans.

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Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Saudi Arabia broke a 35-year ban on movie theaters Wednesday night with a special showing of the Disney blockbuster Black Panther in the Saudi capital that allowed men and women to sit together.

The invitation-only screening in Riyadh drew hundreds of VIP guests, including government ministers and officials, diplomats and various Saudi celebrities.

"It is just great to watch a superhero fighting for his kingdom, surrounded by women empowered as warriors, while the issues of race and colonialism were tackled,” said Suha, a 27-year-old political scientist who asked ABC News not to use her last name. "And all of this in Riyadh."

Suha attended the screening with her best friend. “This is a historic moment,” she said. “We no longer need to travel to Bahrain or Abu Dhabi to watch Hollywood movies.”

The first public screening will take place Friday, with tickets available for $13, according to Italia Film, Disney’s Middle East distribution partner.

Cinemas are set to follow. The government struck a deal with U.S. company AMC Entertainment earlier this month to repurpose the concert hall in the King Abdullah Financial District and open theaters in 40 Saudi cities over the next five years, up to 100 cinemas by 2030.

Wednesday's screening took place in conjunction with the glittering rededication of a space built two years ago as a symphony concert hall. The main theater has 620 leather seats, orchestra and balcony levels, and marble bathrooms. Three more movie screens, accommodating a combined 500 people, will be added by the summer.

As part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's aggressive campaign to modernize Saudi Arabian society, the new Riyadh multiplex allowed men and women to sit together.

The new movie palaces are just one example of Saudi public space meant to make the country look stylish and modern, and more friendly to women, who now can drive cars and attend public concerts, speeches and soccer games.

The 32-year-old prince, known by his initials, MbS, has also been campaigning to modernize the national economy. His plans include reducing the country’s near-total reliance on oil revenue and diversifying into regional business and financial services and tourism. Both those sectors need the participation of women to succeed.

“The crown prince knows that Saudi Arabia has a problematic image in the Western world,” a Western diplomat in Riyadh, requesting anonymity, told ABC News recently. “What he wants to do is transform Saudi Arabia and its society in ways that will be very appealing to Westerners,” meaning Americans and Europeans.

The apparent losers in this cultural makeover are Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative clerics. The grand mufti, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, publicly called commercial films a source of “depravity” and opposed the opening of movie theaters as recently as last year.

So Wednesday's grand opening signaled not just a bet on Hollywood, but royal family confidence that in today’s Islamic world, a country that shows movies to a mixed public can still draw millions of devout pilgrims to the annual Hajj in Mecca, the spiritual heart of Islam.

Whatever the outcome, movies shown in Saudi Arabia are unlikely to escape the kind of censorship that affects all films in the Middle East, experts say.

Censorship is toughest in Kuwait, for instance, a veteran executive at Italia Film told ABC News.

The most relaxed censorship, he said, is in the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

With Black Panther, Saudi censors followed the example of their counterparts in Kuwait, cutting two kisses and a curse from the film.

ABC News is a division of the Walt Disney Co.


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