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NEW YORK, August 7, 2018 (News Wires) - Pop legend Janet Jackson and fast-rising rapper Cardi B will headline the Global Citizen festival in New York to rally support for preserving international aid to eradicate extreme poverty.

The critically acclaimed experimentalist Janelle Monae, R&B sensation The Weeknd, activist songwriter John Legend and young pop star Shawn Mendes will also play the September 29 festival in Central Park, organisers announced on Tuesday.

Taking place each year since 2012 as world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, Global Citizen distributes tickets for free to supporters who pledge to take actions such as sending letters to their governments in support of development aid.

Global Citizen has gradually broadened its reach with international editions and panel discussions and is planning a major festival in Johannesburg on December 2 led by Beyonce and Jay-Z to mark the centennial of the birth of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Hugh Evans, the CEO of Global Citizen, said that the festival was expected to draw more than 60,000 people and would also demand that world leaders fight to improve maternal health, end child marriage and reduce the use of plastics.

“It’s essential that we speak out - and continue to vote - so that our voices are heard,” he said.

Global Citizen set a goal of pressing the Group of Seven major industrialised democracies to commit $2 billion to addressing maternal health, pointing out that more than five million mothers and children die each year of preventable diseases.

Global Citizen has been pushing to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which call for an end to the world’s worst poverty by 2030.

BEIRUT, August 6, 2018 (News Wires) - Shakira and Elton John played one-off concerts in Lebanon in recent months but the summer music festivals that helped make the country a cultural lodestar for the Arab world are struggling.

In the 1960s and 1970s, jazz legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Miles Davis, and the greatest Arab singers, Um Kulthoum and Fairouz, performed at ruined Roman temples during the Baalbek festival or at pretty seaside towns.

Elite tourists from the Gulf came to watch and spend big in the country and the festivals helped bring ordinary Lebanese people together. That pre-war heyday is long gone.

“We worry that we will get to the point where we cannot go on,” said Nora Jumblatt, head of the Beiteddine Art Festival.

While this year’s festivals are putting some well known singers on stage, regional instability, Lebanon’s economic malaise and a funding crunch have hit organisers.

Years of political sclerosis have played havoc with fiscal policy, aggravating one of the world’s highest rates of public debt. As the government began tightening its belt, it cut subsidies for festivals and increased the taxes they pay.

“We call on the Lebanese government not to reduce its help, not to increase taxes,” said Nayla De Freij, chairwoman of the Baalbek International Festival.

Gradual economic decline has hit private sponsorship. And fear of the Syria war spilling over, as well as Lebanon’s growing entanglement in a power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, have kept away Gulf tourists.

But after a deal in 2016 that led to the first parliament elections for nine years in May, and as warfare in Syria has moved away from Lebanon’s borders, politicians have started to speak of recovery.

“Today we are at a crossroads in Lebanon. We are starting to move towards rebuilding infrastructure in Lebanon and at the same time its economic vision is being formed,” said caretaker economy minister Raed Khoury.


Whether that can help the festivals, or bring back Gulf tourists, is uncertain. The main winners in May’s elections were allies of the Iran-backed Hezbollah - which Gulf states see as a terrorist group and a threat to their citizens.

“What affected us is the absence of all the Arab brothers who came from their countries. We used to get a very big number and some of them used to fly in to watch one concert,” said Elham Kallab, head of the cultural board of Byblos International Festival.

The Byblos festival takes place on the ancient city’s seafront, near the old city, with its Phoenician temple, Roman theater, Crusader castle and winding souk.

“The stage, with the Mediterranean in front of it, and dozens of civilizations behind it, when we stand and look at it, we feel so much pride to be in Byblos,” said Kallab.

The stage of the Baalbek International Festival - Lebanon’s oldest having been started in 1956 - is even more spectacular, wedged between the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, among the largest and best preserved Roman temples in the world.

But it, too, faces economic pressures. Like the other festivals, its revenue comes from ticket sales, sponsorship and government subsidy - all under pressure.

“There are challenges and we have to fight, but it’s very important that we preserve the standard of the festival,” said De Freij.

Festival organisers - and many politicians - see the events as important not only for the tourists they bring but because they portray Lebanon as a safe, stable and attractive place to visit.

“They show this open, cultural image of Lebanon to the world,” said Jumblatt, recalling the first Beiteddine festival during the civil war year of 1986 as an event that brought people together.

That festival takes place in the elegant Ottoman-era palace of Beiteddine located in the Chouf mountains, where her husband Walid Jumblatt is a major dynastic political leader.

But for all their importance to the tourism sector and even, for some people, to Lebanon’s image of itself, the festivals remain in difficulty.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but this year is the toughest for the festivals yet,” said Zalfa Bouez, head of the Zouk Mikael International Festival.

BEIJING, July 17, 2018 (MENA) - The fourth Arabic Arts Festival kicked off on Tuesday in Chengdu city, the capital of southwestern China's Sichuan province.

During a press conference marking the launch of the festival, an official at the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism said about 20 cultural activities will be held from July to October within the framework of the festival whose theme focuses on "communication along the Silk Road .. linking people's hearts".

The event is organised by the Chinese ministries of culture, tourism and foreign affairs in tandem with the Arab League.

A forum of Arab and Chinese culture ministers will be held within the framework of the festival in addition to a cultural and tourism forum among Chinese and Arab cities, he said.

The official added that several artistic exhibitions will be also held.

He noted that an Arab fashion show was held on the fringe of the festival's opening.

PRAGUE, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) — I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, a film by Romanian director Radu Jude, won the top prize at the Karlovy Vary film festival which ended on Saturday.

The Crystal Globe award winner tells the story of an ethnic massacre committed by the Romanian Army in 1941.

Rain Man director Barry Levinson and Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins also received Crystal Globes for outstanding contribution to world of cinema at the 53rd edition of the Czech festival.

Twilight star Robert Pattinson received the Festival President’s Award.

The festival in the spa town of Karlovy Vary, around 120 kilometres west of Prague, ran from June 29 to July 7 and attracted 140,135 cinemagoers, roughly the same number as in 2017.

PAMPLONA, Spain, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) — The second running of the bulls at this year's San Fermin festival in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona kicked off under heavy rain, with both bulls and runners slipping throughout the race.

Two people were injured and taken to the Navarra hospital after being trampled during the race, according to hospital doctor Tomas Belzunegui.

He added that two of the four people injured in the bull run a day before had undergone surgery and were doing well.

The animals in Sunday's race were reluctant to exit their pen and begin the 850-meter race that leads to Pamplona's bullring. They completed the course in two minutes and 45 seconds.

The nine-day fiesta was immortalised by American novelist Ernest Hemingway and draws huge crowds every year.

PAMPLONA, Spain, July 5, 2018 (News Wires) - Pamplona's famed San Fermin festival begins on Friday, overshadowed by a sexual abuse case that has tarnished one of Spain's best-loved traditions.

This year, in an attempt to reassure the thousands of tourists who come to party and take part in the hair-raising runs, the city in the northern Navarra region has dubbed itself "a city free of sexist assaults".

During the San Fermin festival in 2016, five men who called themselves "The Pack" filmed themselves having sex with an 18-year-old woman.

She said they had gang raped her while they claimed she had consented in a case that sparked a powerful feminist wave of indignation across the country.

An April court decision to sentence them for "sexual abuse" rather than the more serious offence of "sexual assault", a category that includes rape, pushed thousands of Spaniards onto the streets in anger.

Further fanning the flames, the five men were freed on bail just two weeks before the start of the festival, which means they could -- in theory -- return this year.

Incidents of sexual harassment are not new to the festival. In 2013, photos of women being groped by men shocked Spain.

Until then, "there was very backward thinking that justified men assaulting others under the effect of alcohol and in the party context", Laura Berro, in charge of gender equality at Pamplona city hall, told AFP.

Since then, police and the authorities have at least been more alert to the issue, although the 2016 sexual abuse case is an indicator of the scale of the problem.

A phone number is available 24/7 for people to report sexual violence. Police then attempt to identify perpetrators using CCTV footage.

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