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India mystery solved: Taj Mahal built on ‘rare ground’ that revolutionised engineering

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The Taj Mahal is India’s most iconic superstructure: a mausoleum of the great Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan’s, favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Her tomb is the centrepiece of an impressive 17-hectare complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house. Although some sects of Islam do not condone the direct worship of saints as other religions do, the building has become a great pilgrimage site for Muslims the world over.

For historians and engineers alike, the Taj’s mammoth infrastructure has stunned for millennia.

Its construction began in 1632, in the Mogul capital of Agra, modern day northern India, and within a few years the shell of the Taj was complete.

Its location, on the banks of the Yamuna river, proved a particular challenge – as even today, engineers struggle to build on or near rivers for fear of a structure sinking into the ground.

The Taj’s construction secrets were laid bare during National Geographic’s ‘Secrets of the Taj Mahal’.

Here, Iranian-German architect, Hadi Teherani, explained: “Close to water, you rarely find ground solid enough to build on.

“You have to dig down until you hit hard, dry earth.

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“They (the engineers) came up with a brilliant solution to this problem, one that is still used today, in a slightly different form.

“They decided to build a well foundation – that was a revolutionary idea for those times.”

The great Mogul engineers dug deep wells below the water table – the underground boundary between the soil surface and the area where water saturates saves between sediments and cracks in rock.

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They filled these newly dug wells with rocks and mortar.

A base was then cemented into the ground, on top of which the engineers stacked stone columns.

These columns were then linked together by giant arches.

The result was a solid mountain of stone to support the foundation slab of what would become the Taj Mahal.

It was an ingenious move: not only did the structure encapsulate the beauty of its surroundings, it enabled the Taj to be protected from the currents of the river forever.

The Moguls, or Mughals, originally came from Central Asia, and ruled most of what is modern day India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Its empire consolidated Islam in South Asia, spreading Muslim art and culture throughout a region that was previously predominately Hindu.

The Archaeological Survey of India, the custodian of the country’s monuments, describes the Taj Mahal as “the pinnacle of Mughal architecture”.

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Politics

Brexit trade: UK set for ‘more advanced’ Canada talks to deliver ‘much more’ than EU deal

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International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed the UK and Canada have agreed to begin “more advanced” negotiations once Britain is finally freed from the shackles of the EU on January 1, 2021. On Friday, the UK finalised a post-Brexit deal with Canada to protect the flow of goods and services worth £20billion.

Boris Johnson said the extension of existing EU terms was a “fantastic agreement for Britain”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said both would look at ways to “maximise our trade opportunities”.

The UK has now agreed trade deal with more than 50 countries around the world, worth more than £150billion.

Ms Truss said: “We have also agreed to start negotiating a more advanced trade deal next year, which will be more ambitious in areas such as digital trade, women’s economic empowerment and the environment.

“We will build on this in our presidency of the G7, working with like-minded democracies such as Canada to promote our priorities around the world.”

Writing in Sunday Telegraph, she added: “This deal will allow us to take our economic relationship to new heights.

“It also takes us a step closer to hitching ourselves to one of the most dynamic trading areas in the world.”

The International Trade Secretary added the UK would look towards joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership made up of 11 nations, including Canada, Japan and Australia.

Ms Truss explained this would give Britain access to a market which is equivalent to 13 percent of global GDP – worth around £11trillion.

In a major swipe at the EU, Ms Truss insisted “they thrive under modern, business-friendly rules which offer much more than the EU could for the industries of the future”.

She added: “Together, we would form a coalition of the willing in the fight for free and fair trade which would push back against protectionism and those who would try to subvert the world’s rules-based system.”

Over the past two years the UK has agreed deals with 53 nations worth £164billion.

Ms Truss confirmed the UK was not done yet and is working on agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand in order to “turbocharge” industries.

She said: “We are working flat out to reach new gold-standard arrangements with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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“Seizing these opportunities will bring home jobs, economic growth and investment.

“This is how we will revive our industrial heartlands, turbocharge our services and take our digital trade to the next level.”

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World News

Joe Biden LOSES IT with CBS reporter after unscheduled probe on coronavirus and schools

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US President-elect Joe Biden lost his cool at CBS reporter Bo Erickson who asked a question on coronavirus impacting schools being open. Mr Biden was closing a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the press and photographers were being asked to leave. Mr Biden told Ms Pelosi “in my Oval Office, mi casa, you casa” before saying that was the end of the photo opportunity. 

Mr Erickson quickly used the opportunity to ask Mr Biden a question on how he plans to work with unions to ensure schools can be open.

Mr Erickson asked Mr Biden: “Mr Biden, the Covid task force said it is safe to be in class.

“Are you going to ask Unions to cooperate to bring kids back to the classroom, Sir?”

Mr Biden failed to answer the question and snapped: “Why are you the only guy who shouts questions?”

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After the incident, Mr Erickson posted the moment on his Twitter page and seen support for his actions and condemnation for the President-elect.

One Twitter user wrote: “A valid, totally calm question.

“The only shouting was their team trying to rush all media out, we need answers to both issues.”

While another agreed and said: “The guy who asked the question didn’t shout it out.

“He was very respectful to Biden, which he didn’t even answer.

“Has Biden got sensitive hearing or could he not answer the question when it was asked?”

Other social media user insisted Biden handled the situation poorly as it was a question the American population need an answer to.

One Twitter user wrote: “No questions will be taken that are unscripted, this guy is completely clueless.”

Another added: “I appreciate you trying to ascertain a simple position on a very critical issue facing all of us.

“Pathetic what the Biden team did to the full press staff in ushering them out like there was a fire in the building.

“Absolutely comical, what an incompetent person Joe Biden is.”

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World News

Archaeology discovery: 2,000-year-old mystery unearthed in Pompeii at ancient Roman villa

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The two men died from a volcanic heat blast, they were then covered by the falling ash. When Vesuvius erupted 2,000 years ago the two men were in a corridor in a wealthy villa in Pompeii. The partial skeletons of each man were found beside a staircase to the wealthy villa’s upper level.

The announcement was made by officials at the archaeological park on Saturday.

The elegant villa where the two men were found is on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city that was devastated when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

It is thought the two men succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast that took place on the second day of the eruption event.

One of the victims was a youth, aged 18 to 25.

He had a spinal column with compressed discs, this led archaeologists to assume he was a manual labourer, most likely a slave.

The other victim had a more robust bone structure, especially in his chest area.

This led archaeologists to assume he was a wealthier individual.

The cranial bone analysis placed the wealthier man at about 30 to 40 years old.

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The high-status individual and the suspected slave “were perhaps seeking refuge” from the eruption “when they were swept away” said Pompeii director Massimo Osanna.

Archaeologists claim the wealthy man, aged between 30 and 40 was wearing a woolen cloak.

This is because traces of wool were found around his neck.

Speaking to reporters Mr Osanna said: “It was a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands.”

Describing the discovery he said the find was “an incredible and extraordinary testimony” of the morning when the eruption took place.

The volcanic eruption buried Pompeii in ash, freezing the site in time, and making it a rich source of investigation for archaeologists.

The discovery of the two men was made this month when archaeologists were carrying out a dig at the large villa.

The villa’s position was on the outskirts of the ancient city.

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World News

Coronavirus breakthrough: New AstraZeneca anti-body cocktail boosts cure hopes

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The new drug relies on a different process in helping the body fend off coronavirus than a regular vaccine and is raising hopes in the battle to end the pandemic. The pharmaceutical giant began late-stage trials of the new drug that when administered protects individuals from infection for up to 12 months. Now in Phase III, the company will begin an international clinical trial by recruiting a total of 5,000 from Europe and the United States.

The new antibody cocktail medicine is known as AZD7442.

The new drug relies on a treatment known as the prophylactic process.

This treatment is different from being vaccinated as it introduces new antibodies to combat the disease instead of prompting the body to create them.

Those with weak immune systems can benefit more from a prophylactic treatment than a regular vaccination as their response to creating new anti-bodies has been compromised.

AstraZeneca is the pharmaceutical company behind the development of the new coronavirus vaccine, working with researchers at Oxford University.

Trials of the new drug began in the UK on Saturday.

A total of 1,000 participants have had the anti-body combination administered to them at nine sites across the UK.

AstraZeneca researchers from the UK said: “What we are investigating in this study is whether we can provide protection by giving antibodies that have been shown to neutralise the virus.

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“This will be done by injection into the muscle.”

Professor Andrew Ustianowski, the chief investigator with the UK trial, added: “The hope is that this will then provide good protection for many months against infection.”

The drug acts using monoclonal antibodies that mimic the human body’s natural antibodies.

These monoclonal antibodies are manufactured in a laboratory and have been developed to treat some types of cancer.

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AstraZeneca said the new antibody cocktail has the potential to treat those who have already been infected with coronavirus.

It can also be used as a preventative medication for healthcare workers who are exposed to higher viral loads.

At a press conference, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development Mene Pangalos said: “These have been engineered specifically to have what we call a long half-life, so we think they will confer protection for at least six, but more likely closer to 12 months,”

He added that this drug “in effect, acts almost like a passive vaccination”.

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World News

Defector reveals HORROR treatment of North Korean women in China

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Each year thousands of North Koreans attempt to flee Kim Jong-un’s brutal dictatorship, predominantly via the northern border with China. However, many of these, who are disproportionately young women, fall into the hands of people traffickers and are sold into slavery in China.

Here many face sexual abuse and some even fall victim to organ traffickers according to Ms Park, who now lives in Chicago.

Speaking about her escape to Express.co.uk she said: “We initially thought my sister and I go and if you go to China we thought we would be adopted by a family or something.

“We did not know how dark the world was. We didn’t think there was human traffickers selling girls for sexual slavery.”

After crossing the frozen Yalu river Ms Park, along with her mother, was helped into China by a woman who bribed the border guards.

She explained: “We didn’t even think why she was helping us. It was because she was turning us to human traffickers in China.

“As soon as we got there in China the first thing I witnessed was my mum being raped in front of me.

“They sold me mum for at least 65-75 dollars and they sold me for less than 300 dollars because I was a virgin. I was 13 and a half.”

After two years in captivity Ms Park managed to leave captivity and made her way to Mongolia, where she received assistance from the South Korean embassy.

According to the Korean Institute of Criminology an estimated 75 percent of North Korean defectors who make it to China fall victim to trafficking gangs.

Asked whether the Chinese Government knows what’s going on Ms Park replied: “Of course they do! They absolutely know.

“In the past there were slave hunters, who would catch slaves to get money, and that’s what the Chinese regime does. They make defector hunters so if you catch a North Korean defector you get money from the Government.

“And then the Government catches us and they send us back to North Korea to be executed, tortured and sent to prison camps. That is crimes against humanity.

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“China cannot just break international law but they do it anyway because it’s China, what can we do anyway right? It’s a very powerful communist party.

“Of all the defectors 90 percent are women and a lot of them are young girls like myself.

“Being sold as a sexual slave isn’t even the worst thing that can happen, they buy us for organ trafficking.

“Buy us for the organs. They compare us in China to pigs.

“A lot of psychopaths, perverts, they buy North Korean women to do whatever they want to them.

“So we are treated as less than pets. Our lives are less valuable than puppies right now in China.”

Ms Park claimed around 90 percent of North Koreans who manage to escape the country are female.

Asked why this is she replied: “In the North Korean system they view men as more important beings.

“So if a man escapes they punish the family more severely.

“However, a lot of the reason is that if women escape they are usually brought, brought by brothels, brought by farmers for forced marriage.

“So it’s a bit easier for women to survive in China because we can be sexually exploited.”

The Chinese Embassy in London was contacted by Express.co.uk for comment regarding the allegations.

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WW3 fears: Saudi Arabia says nuclear weapons armament ‘an option’ in stark warning to Iran

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Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister Adel al-Jubeir has refused to rule out the possibility of arming the Kingdom with nuclear weapons in the wake of Iran exceeding permitted levels of uranium. On the prospect of engaging in a nuclear programme, Mr al-Jubeir said: “It’s definitely an option.”

He added: “And Saudi Arabia has made it very clear, that it will do everything it can to protect its people and to protect its territories.”

The stark warning comes after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud urged global leaders to take a “decisive stance” against Iran over its growing military threat.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused the Kingdom of “hate-mongering”.

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – have been locked in a regional battle for dominance for decades.

The relationship between the two nations has been exacerbated by religious differences.

The people of Iran are largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries officially broke down in January 2016 following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Increased fears over Iran emerged in recent weeks, after a report found they had 12 times the permitted levels of enriched uranium.

Research by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium has now reached 2.4 tonnes (2,442kg).

Under the terms of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, Tehran is limited to 202kg.

The watchdog also noted Iran had violated purity levels of enriched uranium with 4.5 percent recorded – above the 3.67 percent limit.

The bombshell study sent alarm bells ringing in Washington and the US President is understood to have spoken to his advisers over the possibility of launching strikes against Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, the New York Times reports.

The 100,000 square-mile site – located around 150 miles south of Tehran – runs eight metres underground and is Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility.

Relations between the Washington and Tehran have been on the brink ever since the US President pulled out of the Iran Nuclear deal in 2018 – which granted Tehran sanction relief in return for curbing its nuclear programme.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has since opened the door for peace talks with President-elect Joe Biden after relations with Mr Trump soared.

Mr Zarif said Iran would fully implement its 2015 nuclear deal if Mr Biden lifts economic sanctions.

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Mr Biden has previously said a return to Iran nuclear deal would be “a starting point for follow-on negotiations”

Mr Zarif said: “If Mr Biden is willing to fulfil US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord and negotiations are possible within the framework.”

He added: “We are ready to discuss how the United States can re-enter the accord.”

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China war threat: Beijing prepares for conflict with rare military exercise for civilians

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China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a joint mission with non-military personnel in order to simulate a real life war situation. The joint-operation sanctioned by the Government of Chongqing in southwestern China practised a series of operational drills to mobilise vital combat equipment.

On Saturday, military forces took over a Chinese car-making factory to rapidly modify equipment to enable it to successfully move heavy-duty tanks across the county.

During one of the exercises, staff had to convert a 20-tonne trailer in order to transport a 40-tonne Type 59 battle tank, military news site JS7tv reports.

Workers had a limited time to alter the width of the trailer and well as paint other equipment in camouflage disguise.

Pictures released by the military outlet shows the large green tank being carefully loaded on a waiting red-trailer.

A PLA soldier can be seen standing on the back on waving the steel machine forward.

The aim of the project was to enable the tank to move faster across the mainland in order to reach enemy targets.

According to the report the transformation took around eight hours.

Upon completion, another image shows a relay of three lorries travelling down a motorway – each with a tank exposed and strapped to its trailer.

The surreal image shows the concourse going over a bridge and travelling alongside ordinary cars.

At the factory, car production lines were also shifted to make all-terrain light combat vehicles.

According to Chinese state media, the exercise demonstrated the country’s “industrial potential during wartime”.

It added the operation could also be used for emergency disaster relief.

Chinese Communist Party newspaper the Global Times insisted the drills would continue until the end of the month

Just days after preparations for war were made on land, the PLA conducted an exercise in the sea.

The PLA released footage of a landing drill being conducted in the disputed South China Sea.

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The drill took place off the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and showed soldiers storming the beaches during a joint operation with the Chinese Navy.

The war games took place on Tuesday and are set to continue until November 30.

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World News

Trump to reappear at bizarre White House Thanksgiving event amid Melania divorce rumours

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A spokeswoman for Melania Trump has since rubbished the claims. Mr Trump will take part in the event despite only appearing in public twice since his election loss. Donald Trump has refused to concede after the election was called for President-elect Joe Biden.

The Thanksgiving tradition will take place next week according to officials.

President Trump has not had a public event scheduled in 11 days and has only made four official appearances since November 3.

But he is now set to make a public appearance during a bizarre presidential tradition.

Each year before Thanksgiving in the US, the president ceremoniously pardons a turkey in a tradition that dates back to the 1940s.

During the event, the president is presented with live turkeys by the National Turkey Federation (NTF).

It became a tradition for the president to issue a “pardon” to a turkey, sparing its life.

This year’s turkeys have already been selected and raised by the NTF’s chairman and Iowa turkey farmer Ron Kardel.

The NFT tweeted on Wednesday: “Excited to bring the National Thanksgiving Turkey and his alternate back home to #IowaState! #PresidentialTurkey”

It is traditional that two turkeys are sent from a farm to Washington, DC.

The federation said the two turkeys will reside at Iowa State University after they have been pardoned.

It comes after President Trump was able to hold onto Iowa during the election.

The two turkeys will travel to Washington and stay at the Willard Hotel close to the White House.

Last year, President Trump pardoned a turkey called Butter.

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The bird’s understudy, Bread, was also saved from the Thanksgiving table by the president.

A spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the president’s turkeys from 2019 and 2018 are still alive.

Melania Trump’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham confirmed that the Trumps will be spending the festive celebration at the White House.

She tweeted: “Holiday Scheduling Update: The @POTUS & @flotus will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday at the @WhiteHouse this year.”

The Trumps often spend the festive holidays at Mar-a-Lago, the family’s Florida beach resort.

Mr Trump was originally scheduled to travel to Florida next week until the news came that the family will remain at the White House.

A White house official previously told CNN: “it feels like bunker mentality.”

While Trump aides told the New York Times that the president’s “mood is often bleak”.

The Trump campaign has continued to file lawsuits and call for recounts in key states.

Despite several lawsuits proving unsuccessful, Mr Trump maintains his stance that there has been election fraud.

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World News

World War fears 3 EXPLODE as China prepares for ‘final act of madness’ from Donald Trump

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According to all major US networks sitting president was defeated earlier this month by Democrat Party rival Joe Biden. However, he is refusing to concede, claiming the election was rigged against him, and has launched a number of legal challenges against the result.

Speaking to the Global Times, a state controlled Chinese tabloid, an international relations expert warned Mr Trump could try and intensify his conflict with Beijing during his final months in office.

The claim was made by Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Mr Biden won’t be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States until January 20, until which Mr Trump has full presidential powers.

Ms Yi claimed: “Trump is actually setting a trap or planting a landmine for the Biden administration.”

She suggested Mr Trump could use his presidential executive powers to hit China’s technology industry in the United States or punish Beijing over its treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.

The Global Times argues this would force Mr Biden to continue a hard-line policy towards China unless he wants to be seen as a “panda hugger”.

The paper is owned by China’s ruling communist party and usually reflects officially held opinion in Beijing.

John Ullyot, a spokesman for America’s National Security Council, also warned a Biden presidency will find it difficult to reset relations with China.

He commented: “Unless Beijing reverses course and becomes a responsible player on the global stage, future U.S. presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions.”

Relations between the US and China have deteriorated sharply under Mr Trump’s presidency with the two superpowers clashing over trade, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights and the COVID-19 epidemic.

Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea overlaps with rival claims from five of its neighbours.

The US refuses to recognise the Chinese claim and periodically sends warships through the region, on ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols, to illustrate this point.

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The Trump administration also placed sanctions on a number of top Chinese officials accused of persecuting the country’s Uyghur minority.

It’s been reports that as many as a million Uyghur Muslims are being forcibly held in re-education camps were torture and sexual abuse are rife.

Mr Trump’s personal relationship with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, has varied dramatically.

Early in his presidency Mr Trump claimed “we love each other”.

However, after the coronavirus emerged in China late last year the president has infuriated Beijing by insisting on calling it the “China virus” or Wuhan virus”.

Over the past two years Mr Trump has been waging a partial trade war, including the imposition of tariffs, against Beijing with mixed results.

There have also been fears about what President Trump will do with his remaining days in office with reference to Iran.

According to the New York Times at a meeting last week he asked his security advisors about launching a military strike on Iran’s main nuclear site.

The paper reports senior officials, including vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo, talked him out of the plan fearing it would trigger a regional war.

Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by his predecessor, in 2018.

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