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First women to enter India temple in centuries now in hiding as protests rage

New Delhi (CNN)The two women who broke with centuries of conservative taboo Wednesday to enter a temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala are now in hiding, as violent protests left at least one person dead. The pair, aged 42 and 44, became the first women to access the shrine after the country’s Supreme…

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First women to enter India temple in centuries now in hiding as protests rage

New Delhi (CNN)The two women who broke with centuries of conservative taboo Wednesday to enter a temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala are now in hiding, as violent protests left at least one person dead.

The pair, aged 42 and 44, became the first women to access the shrine after the country’s Supreme Court overturned a centuries-old ban on women aged 10 to 50 from entering the temple in September last year, ruling it to be discriminatory and arguing that women should be able to pray at the place of their choice.
A police spokesman told CNN Thursday that the women — identified only by their given names Bindu Ammini and Kankadurga — are currently in an undisclosed location along with some of their relatives. The spokesman added the women had previously attempted to enter the temple in December but were stopped by mobs of angry hardliners shouting and blocking their path.

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Vibrant skin patterns and colored feathers: Stunning paleoart shows what dinosaurs really looked like

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNNKeeping you in the know, Culture Queue is an ongoing series of recommendations for timely books to read, films to watch and podcasts and music to listen to.Crystal Palace Park, in south London, still hosts the world’s first dinosaur sculptures. They were created in the 1850s based on what were, at…

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Vibrant skin patterns and colored feathers: Stunning paleoart shows what dinosaurs really looked like

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

Keeping you in the know, Culture Queue is an ongoing series of recommendations for timely books to read, films to watch and podcasts and music to listen to.
Crystal Palace Park, in south London, still hosts the world’s first dinosaur sculptures. They were created in the 1850s based on what were, at the time, very recent scientific discoveries: fossils, unearthed in England just decades earlier.

Scientists struggled to make sense of the creatures, and the sculptures were the first attempt to visualize them in true-to-life size. They were depicted like giant, mammal-like beasts, heavy set and four-legged — an already revolutionary idea compared to earlier ones that imagined dinosaurs essentially as huge lizards. But it was just as wrong.

View of the Crystal Palace exhibition with Richard Owen's fantastical dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter.

View of the Crystal Palace exhibition with Richard Owen’s fantastical dinosaur reconstructions in the foreground, by the London printer George Baxter. Credit: Wellcome Collection

We know today that dinosaurs did not look at all like the scaly versions at Crystal Palace. For decades, however, the sculptures, as well as many other subsequent depictions, inaccurately influenced the public’s view of these extinct giants. Renowned paleontologist Michael Benton’s new book, “Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World,” however, offers the latest interpretation.

“It’s the first dinosaur book where the dinosaurs actually look like what they looked like,” claims the author, who worked with paleoartist Bob Nicholls to bring the creatures to life. “Every detail, as far as possible, is justified by evidence. We tried to pick species that are quite well documented, so that in the text, I can indicate what we know and why we know it.”

Paleoartist Bob Nicholls brought the creatures in Benton's book to life, including on the cover shown here.

Paleoartist Bob Nicholls brought the creatures in Benton’s book to life, including on the cover shown here. Credit: Thames & Hudson

Much of the evidence comes from the most recent fossil discoveries from China, which starting in the 1990s, changed the way we interpret the appearance of dinosaurs. The 1996 discovery in the country’s Liaoning province of a feathered fossil, for example, created a direct connection between dinosaurs and birds.

“I think we can say that feathers originated way earlier than we had thought, at least 100 million years earlier, so right at the root of dinosaurs,” Benton said.

A skeletal restoration of Hadrosaurus foulkii based on the original in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the first ever museum mount of a dinosaur that was also, correctly, upright.

A skeletal restoration of Hadrosaurus foulkii based on the original in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the first ever museum mount of a dinosaur that was also, correctly, upright. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

The idea that dinosaurs had feathers hasn’t appealed to everyone. Famously, the “Jurassic Park” franchise — which debuted in 1993 before feathery dinosaurs fossils were first discovered — has steadfastly refused to include them in its most recent films.

“They characterize that by saying they don’t want T-Rex to look like a giant chicken. But it’s a pity,” Benton said.

Even more recently, Benton and his team at the University of Bristol in the UK have pioneered a way, by finding pigment structures embedded deep within the fossilized feathers, to identify the color patterns of a dinosaur from fossils. “We were the first to apply this method in 2010, so the book is documenting mainly studies from the last 10 years that looked at the skin, the scales and the feathers in fossils — to get the color.”

That result is shown through illustrations of 15 creatures featured in the book — not just of dinosaurs but also prehistoric birds, mammals and reptiles — adorned with vibrant skin patterns, an abundance of multicolored feathers and some with striking iridescent heads.

Looking at these creatures shows just how much our knowledge of dinosaurs has improved, and how much it can improve still. “A few years ago, I thought we would have never known about the color of a dinosaur, but now we do,” Benton said.

“Don’t draw boundaries, because sooner or later, a smart young person is going to say, ‘Hey, you guys, we can actually solve this one.'”

“Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World” is published by Thames & Hudson.

Add to queue: Dino-mania

If you want to know the entire history of the dinosaurs, look no further than this “dinosaur biography” by one of the world’s leading paleontologists, Steve Brusatte. The book chronicles the 200 million-year history of the dinosaurs, from the Triassic, through the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous, when their rule ended via a mass extinction caused by a comet or asteroid. Narrated like an epic saga that illustrates the modern workings of paleontology, it draws on very recent research.

This classic documentary series, produced by the venerable BBC Natural History Unit and aired by Discovery in the US, had the distinction of being the most expensive documentary ever made when it launched in 1999. It won three Emmys, spawned two sequels and portrayed dinosaurs in their natural habitats — in true documentary style — using a mix of computer graphics and animatronics. It was cutting edge for its time and still holds plenty of entertainment and educational value, although some of the science is now outdated.

This mix between palaeontology and political drama is woven throughout the story of Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever found. After being unearthed in South Dakota in 1990, the fossil became the center of a years-long legal battle over its ownership, illustrating the rifts that can arise between palaeontologists, fossil collectors and governments that own the land on which the fossils are found. Spoiler alert: Sue is now on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

The go-to podcast for dinosaur lovers, “I Know Dino” is run by Garret Kruger and Sabrina Ricci, a husband-and-wife team of dino enthusiasts. Each hour-long episode focuses on one species, which is discussed and explored in detail with the help of guests. The podcast, which began in 2016, is now approaching 400 episodes.

This Steven Spielberg classic is still the popular culture reference point for dinosaurs. It was the first film to portray them as smart, dynamic and fast-moving creatures. (Who could forget the famous scene with T. rex fighting Velociraptors?) Though it was made nearly 30 years ago, the film’s CGI still holds up to scrutiny. Scientific accuracy has waned over the years, but it’s still an entertaining film to watch, with milestone performances from Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum.

Top Image: Reconstruction of a Psittacosaurus, an illustration that appears in the book “Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World.” One fossil find for this creature contained preserved soft tissue, including skin and an array of reed-like feathers on top of the tail.

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Solomon Islands tells public workers to stay home as violent protests continue for third day

Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital, has been hit by civil unrest since Wednesday, with protests, looting and burning of shops and businesses. Defying a 36-hour curfew, thousands of demonstrators have come out onto the streets calling for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s resignation.A Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) spokesperson told CNN by phone on Friday…

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Solomon Islands tells public workers to stay home as violent protests continue for third day

Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital, has been hit by civil unrest since Wednesday, with protests, looting and burning of shops and businesses. Defying a 36-hour curfew, thousands of demonstrators have come out onto the streets calling for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s resignation.

A Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) spokesperson told CNN by phone on Friday fire trucks had been sent to Sogavare’s residence as a precaution and that protesters had moved out of the city’s Chinatown district, where the violence had previously been concentrated.

On Friday, the central government advised all public servants to stay at home due to the unrest, with the exception of essential workers, and encouraged staff to ensure they had food supplies “due to the uncertainty of the current situation.” On Thursday, a local journalist said fires were blazing in Chinatown, and the police had lost control in eastern Honiara.

Prime Minister Sogavare has refused to give in to protesters’ demands, saying in a public address posted in local media on Thursday, “If I am removed as Prime Minister, it will be on the floor of Parliament.”

Many of the demonstrators have come from neighboring Malaita province — home to the country’s most populous island — to express their discontent with the Sogavare government and its handling of a range of domestic issues, including a lack of development and unrealized infrastructure promises.

Australian Federal Police Special Operations officers prepare their equipment prior to departure from Canberra to the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara on November 25.
“The events illustrate the sense of exclusion of many from development in Honiara and Guadalcanal that arises from the retail, mining, logging and increasingly construction sector being dominated by companies and workers from Asia,” said Anouk Ride, a researcher on aid, development, conflict and social inclusion, writing on the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter website.
Prime Minister Sogavare, however, blamed unnamed foreign powers for encouraging the unrest, according to an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Cooperation.

Malaita province opposed the Solomons central government’s decision in 2019 to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish a formal relationship with China.

“I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are fed with false and deliberate lies about the switch,” Sogavare reportedly said.

“These very countries that are now influencing Malaita are the countries that don’t want ties with the People’s Republic of China and they are discouraging Solomon Islands to enter into diplomatic relations and to comply with international law and the United Nations resolution.

Smoke rises from burned-out buildings in Honiara's Chinatown on November 26.

China has said it is “gravely concerned” over what it said were attacks on Chinese citizens and businesses in Honiara, on Thursday. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said authorities “have asked the local government to take all measures necessary to protect the safety of Chinese nationals and institutions.”

“We are confident that under Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s leadership, the government of Solomon Islands can restore social order and stability soon,” Zhao said.

This Pacific Island province is so frustrated with China's presence that it's pushing for independence

The Solomon Islands was one of a handful of countries that had diplomatic relations with the democratic self-governed island of Taiwan but in 2019, the archipelago swapped allegiances for China. Beijing considers Taiwan part of China, and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that doesn’t recognize its “One China Policy.”

Zhao stressed the One China Policy “is a basic norm governing international relations” and since the Solomon Islands established diplomatic ties with China, “bilateral relations have enjoyed sound development with fruitful outcomes.”

“All attempts to disrupt the normal development of relations between China and Solomon Islands are just futile,” he said.

Additional reporting from CNN’s Pauline Lockwood and Reuters.

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Who is Zhang Gaoli? The man at the center of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s #MeToo allegation

As the head of a government working group on the Beijing Games, Zhang inspected venue construction sites, visited athletes, unveiled official emblems, and held meeting after meeting to coordinate preparation work.He received International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach at the leadership compound in the Chinese capital in 2016, promising to make the Games “fantastic,…

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Who is Zhang Gaoli? The man at the center of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s #MeToo allegation
As the head of a government working group on the Beijing Games, Zhang inspected venue construction sites, visited athletes, unveiled official emblems, and held meeting after meeting to coordinate preparation work.
He received International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach at the leadership compound in the Chinese capital in 2016, promising to make the Games “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent.”

But now, three years into his retirement and less than three months before the Olympics, Zhang has found himself at the center of an explosive #MeToo scandal that has prompted global uproar — amplifying calls for a boycott of the Games that he helped organize.

China's then-Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli meets with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in Beijing on June 12, 2016.
Zhang, 75, was accused earlier this month by Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, 35, of sexual assault at his home after he retired three years ago. The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion also alleged a relationship with Zhang over an intermittent period that spanned at least a decade.

“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” Peng alleged in a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.

“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you said you were not afraid. But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting the stone, a moth flying into flames, courting self-destruction, I would tell the truth about us,” she wrote.

Chinese authorities rushed to muffle Peng with blanket censorship. But as weeks went by, the women’s tennis world began to demand answers as to Peng’s whereabouts — as well as a full investigation into her allegations against Zhang.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has finally appeared in public. But here's why the worries aren't going away
Amid growing global concerns about her safety and well-being, individuals working for Chinese government-controlled media and the state sports system released a stream of “proof of life” photos and videos of Peng.
Bach, the IOC president who has been photographed with Zhang on at least one occasion, held a video call with Peng under the close watch of a Chinese sports official, during which the three-time Olympian insisted she is “safe and well” and wanted to have her “privacy respected.”

But Beijing has avoided any mention of Peng’s sexual assault allegations, with censors blocking all CNN broadcasts on this story in the country.

All the while, Zhang has remained completely outside of public view, and he has not issued any response to the accusation.

Since retirement, Zhang has kept a low profile and faded from public life, and there is no published information relating to his current whereabouts. CNN’s repeated requests for comment from China’s State Council Information Office — which handles press inquiries on behalf of the central government — have gone unanswered.

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Who is Zhang Gaoli?

While in office, Zhang had cut a dull, rather unremarkable figure — even by the standards of the Communist Party, where senior officials typically follow a tight script while on official business and stay out of the spotlight in private.

In photos and on state television, he was rarely seen wearing any expression, and always sported impeccable slicked-back, jet-black hair — a hairstyle traditionally favored by senior Chinese officials.
According to a 2013 state media profile, Zhang enjoyed tennis, reading and playing Chinese chess in his spare time.

“There was nothing outstanding about him. He’s a standard technocrat trained and cultivated by the Chinese Communist Party system,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of an official party journal who now lives in the United States.

“He had no notable achievements, nor was he involved in particular scandals — he had been a bland figure without any controversy.”

Even after he officially became one of China’s seven most powerful men, Zhang seldom stood out among his colleagues on the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, where he served alongside President Xi Jinping from 2012 to 2017.

But his low-key personality belied a tremendous power. As vice premier, he was in charge of aspects of China’s economy, its energy sector and Xi’s signature Belt and Road initiative — as well as preparations for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Zhang Gaoli (L) stands with the other six members of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 15, 2012.

Unlike Xi, who was born a “princeling” — a child of communist revolutionary heroes — which gave him inherent status and prestige within the party, Zhang came from a modest background.

Born in 1946 into a farmer’s family in a small seaside village in the southeastern province of Fujian, Zhang grew up impoverished. His father died before he turned 3 years old, and he helped his mother with farm work and fishing from a young age, according to state media reports.

But Zhang studied hard and was admitted to the economics department of Xiamen University, a prestigious institution in his home province. When he graduated, China was in the midst of the havoc wrought by the Cultural Revolution, a decade of political and social turmoil unleashed by late Chairman Mao Zedong in 1966.

Zhang was assigned a lowly job in a state-owned oil company in the neighboring province of Guangdong, carrying bags of cement from the warehouse. According to Chinese state media, it was while working there that he met Kang Jie, a colleague who would become his wife, though the report did not provide further details of their relationship. Zhang eventually rose through the ranks to become the party boss of the oil company, and started his political career from there.

In the ensuing three decades, Zhang continued his rise. In the 1990s, he was put in charge of economic planning for Guangdong, a pioneer for China’s economic reforms. In Guangdong, he also had a brief stint as the party chief of Shenzhen, home to a special economic zone set up by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and one of China’s fastest growing cities at the time.

After the turn of the century, Zhang was transferred to Shandong, the third largest provincial economy of China, before becoming the party chief of Tianjin, an important port city near Beijing, in 2007.

Zhang Gaoli, then-Communist Party Secretary of Tianjin, attends a panel discussion of the Tianjin delegation during the 18th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2012.

What are the allegations?

It was in Tianjin that Zhang is alleged to have begun a sexual relationship with Peng, according to the tennis star’s social media post. Peng claimed in the post that she first had sex with Zhang more than 10 years ago, though she did not explain the circumstances.

In 2012, when Xi took the helm of the party, Zhang was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Peng alleges he broke off contact with her soon after.

Then, the post alleges, one morning about three years ago after Zhang had retired, Peng was suddenly invited by him to play tennis in Beijing. Afterward, she wrote, Zhang and his wife brought Peng back to their home, where Peng claims she was pressured into having sex with Zhang.

“That afternoon I did not agree at first and was crying the whole time,” Peng wrote. Then, at dinner with Zhang and his wife, Zhang tried to talk her into it, according to the post.

“You said that the universe was so big that the earth was no more than a grain of sand in comparison, and that we humans were even less than that. You kept talking, trying to persuade me to let go of my ‘mental baggage,'” Peng alleges in the post.

She alleges she eventually relented, out of panic and fear, and with her “feelings” for Zhang from their time in Tianjin, according to the post.

Chinese tennis star accuses former top Communist Party leader of sexual assault, triggering blanket censorship

Peng said she then entered an extramarital relationship with Zhang, but she suffered “too much injustice and insults.” She claimed they got into a quarrel in late October, and Zhang refused to meet her and disappeared.

“I couldn’t describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human? I feel like a walking corpse. Every day I was acting, which person is the real me?” wrote Peng. CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the more than 1,600-word post.

At a news conference Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian declined to comment on whether the Chinese government will launch an investigation into Peng’s sexual assault allegations against Zhang. He repeated previous comments made to reporters, saying Peng’s situation “was not a diplomatic issue.”

He added that the government hoped “malicious speculation” about Peng’s well-being and whereabouts would stop, and that her case should not be politicized.

Peng’s original post sent shock waves through Chinese social media, and was deleted within 30 minutes. Since then, Chinese censors have been diligently scrubbing her name and even the vaguest references to her allegations from the internet.

And as individuals connected to Chinese state media push a narrative that Peng is well on international platforms that are blocked in China, mention of the tennis star remains entirely absent within the country’s own domestic media and online sphere.
Zhang, meanwhile, has remained silent. His last public appearance was on July 1, at a grand ceremony celebrating the 100th founding anniversary of the party in central Beijing. The septuagenarian was seen standing on top of the Gate of Heavenly Peace among a row of retired leaders.
Peng Shuai during her first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia on Jan. 21, 2020.

Will there be an investigation?

The Women’s Tennis Association, as well as some of the biggest names in tennis and the United Nations have called for a full, fair and transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations against Zhang.

But so far, there has been no indication an investigation is underway.

Chinese authorities have not acknowledged Peng’s accusation, and it remains unclear if Peng has reported her allegations to the police. Peng wrote in the post that she did not have any evidence, and “it was simply impossible to have evidence” because Zhang was always worried that she would record things.

Ling Li, an expert on Chinese politics and law at the University of Vienna, said if Peng’s allegations were true, Zhang’s extramarital relationship would no doubt be regarded as “improper” and a violation of the “lifestyle discipline” of the party.

According to the rules of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s much-feared disciplinary watchdog, the sanction for such an offense ranges from remonstration to expulsion from the party, depending how much damage the party has suffered from the offense, Li said.

“Having said that, there has been no party official of (Zhang’s) rank who has been expelled from the party based on a lifestyle offense alone. And an allegation of sexual misconduct does not necessarily trigger an anti-corruption investigation,” she added.

“If past practice is any guide, to launch an anti-corruption investigation against a member of the Politburo or above, the decision needs to be made by the Politburo Standing Committee collectively.”

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Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign has previously targeted senior officials — including a former Politburo Standing Committee member, but they were all initiated by the party itself. In China, party leaders of Zhang’s rank are beyond reproach from members of the general public, and it would be almost unthinkable that a sexual assault allegation could bring down a top leader.

Deng, the former party journal editor, said it is virtually impossible for the Communist Party to cave in to international pressure to conduct a transparent investigation into Zhang and release the results to the world.

Even though Zhang is not seen as an ally of Xi’s (instead, he is considered to be in the orbit of former President Jiang Zemin and his so-called Shanghai faction), publicly punishing a former elite official who worked so closely with Xi for alleged sexual misconduct would likely be considered a big embarrassment not only for the party’s image, but also to Xi himself — especially given that Xi has doubled down hard on enforcing party discipline.

While the private lives of senior officials remain a closely guarded secret, allegations of extramarital affairs among political elites are commonplace — and have long been fodder for public gossip.

“As soon as he came to power, Xi underscored that officials should be honest and upright, and act as moral role models for society. He has demanded Communist Party members to maintain their (ideological) purity,” Deng said. “While indiscretion in private life is still prevalent among officials, it is a different matter when it is thrust into the public view.”

And because of that, Deng says he believes the party has likely already quietly launched an internal investigation into Peng’s allegations. But neither the process nor the result of the probe is likely be announced externally, he said.

“The last thing they want to do is to give the international community an impression that they’ve been pressured into doing it,” Deng said.

Now, the ball is in the court of the international sports community — whether they’ll be satisfied by the “proof of life” videos of Peng, or if they will continue to press for a full investigation into her allegations.

As for Zhang, it’s likely he would never have expected that after committing much of the final years of his career to preparations for the Winter Olympics, allegations against him would one day fuel growing calls for a boycott of the Games.

“But if more and more countries join the Olympic boycott and the pressure becomes too acute, we can’t entirely exclude the possibility — however small — that (the party) might throw Zhang under the bus,” said Deng.

“This was originally a scandal against Zhang, but the (party’s) fetish for power has blunted its response, turning a personal scandal into a national scandal.”

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