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Expo 2020 Dubai continues to dazzle as total visitors approach 15 mln mark

Buoyed by global crowd-pleasers such as Coldplay at Al Wasl Plaza last week, Expo 2020 Dubai is on target to hit the 15 million total visit mark later this week. And with many more headline-grabbing names still to be announced over the coming weeks, those numbers are set to accelerate further.
As of Monday (February 21), total visitation stood at 14,719,277, days after Coldplay’s unforgettable concert on 1February 15, part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Infinite Nights Series, united the shared goals of the British band and the UAE –- inspiring climate awareness and driving action to preserve our planet in support of Expo’s Programme for People and Planet and in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
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With less than 40 days to go, scores of people have realised it’s now or never until it’s gone forever, with domestic visits surging 128 per cent in the past six weeks, and international visitation up 19 per cent, primarily thanks to the popularity of the new Dh. 50 Season Finale Pass.

Pupils went back to class after the mid-term break and this past week saw the highest number of schoolchildren on site. Families returned several times over the holiday with new children’s shows added to the special programme on weekends, and the Expo School Programme’s Young Stars performing at the iconic Al Wasl Plaza.

National Day celebrations

Yesterday (February 21) saw a visit by Dr. Luis Lacalle Pou, President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, who led his country’s Expo 2020 Dubai National Day celebrations. Other heads of state welcomed to the site include Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, on Wednesday (February 16) and Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, on Saturday (February 19).

Other countries that marked their National Days over the past week include Denmark (February 17), Kosovo (February 17), Jamaica (18 February) and Serbia (February 15), the last of which featured a special musical performance by internationally acclaimed violinist Stefan Milenkovich and his String Virtuoso, Team of Serbia.

The same day saw the Serbia Pavilion host tennis star and 20-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, ahead of workshops run by his charitable organization. Fellow international champions from the world of men’s and women’s tennis, including John McEnroe, Kim Clijsters and Richard Krajicek, then put on a nail-biting spectacle later in the week as they battled it out in exhibition singles and doubles matches at the Expo Sports Arena on Saturday and Sunday (February 19-20).

The sporting highlights continued on Sunday with a visit by Manchester City Women’s players Esme Morgan, Karen Bardsley and Laura Coombs, who held a live Q&A at the Women’s Pavilion as they aimed to inspire the next generation of female athletes with their Same Goals initiative. This forms part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s strong focus on women, as the event prepares to host International Women’s Day on March 8. This will include a diverse three-day program that includes a gathering of world leaders in various fields, spotlighting gender equality under the theme #BreaktheBias.

Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods Week (February 17-23), the latest of 10 Theme Weeks that anchor Expo 2020 Dubai’s Programme for People and Planet, kicked off on Thursday. Change-makers, innovators and stakeholders from across the global food value chain are gathering to spotlight food systems that are more productive, more inclusive, environmentally sustainable and resilient, and deliver healthy and nutritious diets for all.

Musical performances

Music highlights included Filipina singing sensation Moira Dela Torre, who enthralled the audience at the Jubilee Stage last Monday (February 14), while fans of Sufi rock group Junoon, rooted in New York and Pakistan, came out in force at Dubai Exhibition Centre on February 18.

The same evening saw DJ Hani, known for his blend of techno mash-ups, get the audience on their feet at the Jubilee Stage.

Shreya Ghoshal, one of India’s most popular playback singers, lit up the stage at Jubilee Park with her Bollywood favourites on Saturday (February 19), while the audience was treated to Pakistani music from two legendary performers, Shafqat Amanat and Hadiqa Kiani, at Dubai Exhibition Centre on Sunday (February 20). The Jubilee Stage also hosted global music sensation and Bollywood star Nora Fatehi on Wednesday (February 16), with the Canadian singer, actress, model and producer pulling in a significant audience.

The star-studded line-ups continue, with Canadian jazz legend Diana Krall set to enthral crowds at Al Wasl Plaza on March 19, while across the site, Country Pavilions from the Arab world continue to be big visitor draws, including the likes of Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Expo 2020 Dubai’s virtual visitation numbers have also reached 145 million, driven by the diverse entertainment available via Live@Expo, as well as extensive coverage of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Programme for People and Planet and the live-streaming of Coldplay.

With upcoming breath-taking visual displays, world-class concerts, National Day celebrations and more, including International Women’s Day celebrations across Expo 2020 (March 6-8), for visitors it really is “Now or never, before it’s gone forever,” as the World Expo approaches its finale on March 31.

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Entertainment

Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Entertainment

Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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