Macedonia declares state of emergency after 21 die in flash floods

SKOPJE Macedonia declared a state of emergency in its capital Skopje and neighboring districts on Sunday, a day after at least 21 people were killed in flash floods caused by a storm.Torrential rains flooded homes, swept away a section of the ring road around Skopje and wrecked cars late on Saturday evening. Northern suburbs of the capital were particularly hard hit, though the city center also suffered flash floods.Children were among those killed, a police spokesman said, adding that searches were continuing for six people who have been reported missing.Macedonia, a small former Yugoslav republic of about two million people, has declared Monday a day of national mourning. "This is a catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude," Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Todorov told reporters.Special police forces and trucks loaded with drinking water were sent to the worst affected areas, where there also have been some electricity outages and where scattered debris of furniture swept away from houses could be seen on the streets, a Reuters reporter said. The rain had stopped by Sunday morning and water levels were receding, though there was some more rain on Sunday evening in Skopje. There were no reports of further flash flooding. European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Twitter that the EU stood ready to help Macedonia, which is a candidate to join the bloc. Further north in the Balkans, in Croatia, heavy winds caused disruptions on some roads, including the closure of the highway linking the capital Zagreb to southern coast for lorries and buses, local media said. (Additional reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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J.K. Rowling bids farewell to Harry Potter at 'Cursed Child' gala

LONDON A new "Harry Potter" play that opened to swooning reviews and delighted gasps from the audience marks the end of the journey for the beloved boy wizard, his creator J.K. Rowling said at the play's premiere in London on Saturday.Billed as the eighth installment in the series, the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" and a book based on its script have helped awaken a new wave of Pottermania five years since the previous episode was made into a movie. Throngs of fans crowded bookstores for the midnight release of the book, hours after the play in London's West End theater district dazzled theatre-goers with swishing capes, billowy wraiths floating overhead and illusionist tricks of actors appearing to vanish into thin air.Asked if the book and play heralded a new phase of stories, Rowling told Reuters: "No, no.""He goes on a very big journey during these two plays and then, yeah, I think we're done. This is the next generation, you know," said Rowling, who later appeared on stage during a standing ovation at the end of the show. "So, I'm thrilled to see it realized so beautifully but, no, Harry is done now." Based on a story by Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, "Cursed Child" picks up the story 19 years later, featuring Potter as a 37-year-old overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic and father of three.The play, a marathon affair running over five hours and split into two parts, is sold out through May 2017. Enthusiasts from around the world queued outside the ornate Palace Theatre for a glimpse of Rowling and the cast of the production. Many in attendance at the show said it lived up to its billing in reviews as a thrilling theatrical spectacle, with deft stagecraft that drew audible gasps at times. "It was magical. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time," said Kylie Cruikshamsks, 32, a big Potter fan. "There was a lot to live up to and they did it." Another spectator, 32-year-old Ashley Nottingham, said he was left speechless: "It's blown away every theatrical boundary I've ever known." The play opens ahead of the November movie version of Rowling's Potter spinoff book "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," and follows the opening in April of a second Harry Potter attraction within a theme park, this time at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.The British writer said she found it easy to put her Potter creation onstage thanks to the vision for the show."(It) chimed perfectly with the material I had about the next generation and I could see it would work perfectly," she said. "So, I never wanted to write another novel, but this will give the fans something special." (Additional reporting by Alex Fraser; Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Ai Weiwei puts himself back in a jail cell in new Spanish show

CUENCA, Spain Artist Ai Weiwei has reproduced scenes of his incarceration for a new art installation, a series of almost life-size dioramas - encased in steel boxes - showing his life in jail.Visitors to the exhibition, in a cathedral in central Spain, have to peer through peep-holes in the stark, gray boxes to see the 3D scenes, which show Ai watched by two uniformed guards as he eats, sleeps, showers and uses the toilet in his tiny cell.Ai, one of China's most high-profile artists and political activists, was jailed for 81 days on charges of tax evasion in 2011. China confiscated his passport, only returning it in July last year.His installation, "S.A.C.R.E.D.", is a highlight of a series of events under the title "The Poetry of Freedom" taking place across Spain to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. The Spanish writer was held as a slave in Algiers for five years in the late 16th century and spent months in jail in Spain later in life for bookkeeping discrepancies, where he is thought to have conceived the idea for his masterpiece "Don Quixote". A quote from that novel, about a middle-aged gentleman obsessed by ideals of chivalry who travels central Spain with his loyal squire Sancho Panza, adorns the wall of the Cuenca exhibition: "Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has ever given man." The exhibition, at the 12th century cathedral in the fortified medieval city of Cuenca, opens on July 26 and runs until Nov. 6. (Reporting by Catherine Bennett; Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Robin Pomeroy)

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Philistines were more sophisticated than given credit for, say archeologists

ASHKELON, Israel Philistines were no "philistines", say archaeologists who unearthed a 3,000-year-old cemetery in which members of the biblical nation were buried along with jewelry and perfumed oil.Little was known about the Philistines prior to the recent excavation in the Israeli port city of Ashkelon. The famed arch enemies of the ancient Israelites -- Goliath was a Philistine -- flourished in this area of the Mediterranean, starting in the 12th century BC, but their way of life and origin have remained a mystery.That stands to change after what researchers have called the first discovery of a Philistine cemetery. It contains the remains of about 150 people in numerous burial chambers, some containing surprisingly sophisticated items.The team also found DNA on parts of the skeletons and hope that further testing will determine the origins of the Philistine people.We may need to rethink today's derogatory use of the word philistine, which refers to someone averse to culture and the arts, said archaeologist Lawrence Stager, who has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985. "The Philistines have had some bad press, and this will dispel a lot of myths," Stager said.Stager's team dug down about 3 meters (10 feet) to uncover the cemetery, which they found to have been used centuries later as a Roman vineyard.On hands and knees, workers brushed away layers of dusty earth to reveal the brittle white bones of entire Philistine skeletons reposed as they were three millennia ago. Decorated juglets believed to have contained perfumed oil were found in graves. Some bodies were still wearing bracelets and earrings. Others had weapons. The archeologists also discovered some cremations, which the team say were rare and expensive for the period, and some larger jugs contained the bones of infants. "The cosmopolitan life here is so much more elegant and worldly and connected with other parts of the eastern Mediterranean," Stager said, adding that this was in contrast to the more modest village lifestyle of the Israelites who lived in the hills to the east.Bones, ceramics and other remains were moved to a tented compound for further study and some artifacts were reconstructed piece by piece. The team mapped the position of every bone removed to produce a digital 3D recreation of the burial site.Final reports on the finds are being published by the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. (Editing by David Goodman)

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Philistines were more sophisticated than given credit for, say archeologists

ASHKELON, Israel Philistines were no "philistines", say archaeologists who unearthed a 3,000-year-old cemetery in which members of the biblical nation were buried along with jewelry and perfumed oil.Little was known about the Philistines prior to the recent excavation in the Israeli port city of Ashkelon. The famed arch enemies of the ancient Israelites -- Goliath was a Philistine -- flourished in this area of the Mediterranean, starting in the 12th century BC, but their way of life and origin have remained a mystery.That stands to change after what researchers have called the first discovery of a Philistine cemetery. It contains the remains of about 150 people in numerous burial chambers, some containing surprisingly sophisticated items.The team also found DNA on parts of the skeletons and hope that further testing will determine the origins of the Philistine people.We may need to rethink today's derogatory use of the word philistine, which refers to someone averse to culture and the arts, said archaeologist Lawrence Stager, who has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985. "The Philistines have had some bad press, and this will dispel a lot of myths," Stager said.Stager's team dug down about 3 meters (10 feet) to uncover the cemetery, which they found to have been used centuries later as a Roman vineyard.On hands and knees, workers brushed away layers of dusty earth to reveal the brittle white bones of entire Philistine skeletons reposed as they were three millennia ago. Decorated juglets believed to have contained perfumed oil were found in graves. Some bodies were still wearing bracelets and earrings. Others had weapons. The archeologists also discovered some cremations, which the team say were rare and expensive for the period, and some larger jugs contained the bones of infants. "The cosmopolitan life here is so much more elegant and worldly and connected with other parts of the eastern Mediterranean," Stager said, adding that this was in contrast to the more modest village lifestyle of the Israelites who lived in the hills to the east.Bones, ceramics and other remains were moved to a tented compound for further study and some artifacts were reconstructed piece by piece. The team mapped the position of every bone removed to produce a digital 3D recreation of the burial site.Final reports on the finds are being published by the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. (Editing by David Goodman)

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