China trims 2017 GDP growth rate just before 2018 pace unveiled

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s statistics bureau on Friday revised down its final 2017 gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 6.8 percent from 6.9 percent, after scaling back initial estimates of the industrial and services sector.

The National Bureau of Statistics revised the final 2017 GDP to 82.08 trillion yuan ($12.11 trillion), down 636.7 billion yuan from the preliminary number.

The revision came ahead of Monday’s release of preliminary GDP growth figures for the latest quarter and full-year 2018.

Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, said of the 2017 revision “it’s only because GDP figures are so stable (in China) that it actually seems like a big deal. But I don’t think it really changes anything.”

Evans-Pritchard said the trim suggests” greater tolerance to publish lower growth figures”, which indicates China is “probably willing to not loosen policy quite aggressively, as they are willing to tolerate slower growth.”

Analysts expect Beijing to roll out more stimulus measures to shore up sliding growth but Chinese authorities have repeatedly said the government won’t resort to massive stimulus.

Sources have told Reuters that China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6-6.5 percent in 2019.

Final 2017 data shows the secondary sector – manufacturing and construction that account for 40 percent of GDP – grew 5.9 percent in 2017 to 33.3 trillion yuan. That compared with the bureau’s initial estimate of a 6.1 percent increase.

Growth in information technology services, the fastest growing sector in 2017, was revised down 4.2 percentage points to 21.8 percent, with output totaling 2.64 trillion yuan.

Growth estimates for construction, financial and leasing sectors were all revised lower.

The latest Reuters poll has forecast full-year growth of 6.6 percent for 2018 and 6.3 percent this year.

($1 = 6.7762 Chinese yuan)

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SIU ends probe into man who died while Guelph police investigated a reported break-in

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit says a Guelph police officer is not to blame in the death of man who collapsed while an officer was investigating a reported break-in last month.

Police were called to a house in the area of Speedvale Avenue and Victoria Avenue on the morning of Dec. 13 after the homeowner noticed footprints on his property.

While an officer was speaking to the man in the driveway, the 72-year-old collapsed.

The SIU said paramedics took the man to a hospital where he was treated for a cardiac arrest, but was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

“The evidence indicates that the man’s death resulted from a cardiac event in the presence of an officer conducting an investigation on the man’s behalf and had nothing to do with the officer’s conduct,” said SIU Director Tony Loparco.

Family identified the man as Clyde Abbott.

The SIU is an arm’s length agency that is mandated to investigate reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

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Raising awareness over the dangers of driving while drowsy

With the recent legalization of cannabis, there have been multiple warnings about driving while high. But, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Dr. Charles M. Morin, director or the Center for Studies on Sleep Disorders, and Christine Hollander, communication manager for Ford Canada, spoke to Global’s Laura Casella to raise awareness about the dangers of falling asleep behind the wheel.

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After speeding and alcohol, the third leading cause of death on Quebec roads is fatigue.

“Clearly, we need to work on raising awareness in the population,” Morin says. “The first step, [is] not to drive while drowsy or sleepy.”

Drivers will often get behind the wheel of a car and reach their destination, but then question how they got there.

“Often time people underestimate their degree of attention or sleepiness,” Morin says.

Drivers often don’t realize the effects surrounding fatigue while driving, but the consequences can be detrimental.

“The main consequences are slower reaction time, lapses in attention, even sometimes micro-sleep episodes,” he says.

Micro-sleep episodes are when someone has their eyes open but, they are essentially asleep for a few seconds. “Naturally, this increases the risk for accidents on the road,” Morin says.

Despite wanting to reach their destination, drivers should also listen to signs and know when it’s time to pull over.

“When you start yawning and yawning, if your eyes are itchy, if you forget an exit, that’s a big sign,” he says.

To teach drivers about the dangers of driving while tired, Ford Canada has developed a drowsy suit.

“It’s a suit that we use for our driving skills for life program where we invite young drivers from 17-21 [years-old] to come and experience good driving skills, but also create awareness on either drunk driving, drug driving or driving with a hangover,” Hollander says.

Drowsy driving suit.

The suit emulates the effects of being tired, by weighing down your body. “There’s about 10 kilos on the chest,” she says.

There is also weight on your wrist, ankle and head.

“But most important are the glasses,” Hollander says. “What the glasses do is simulate micro-sleep.”

Once the students have on the glasses, which darken the room, they are asked to walk around.

The lights are dimmed making the room darker, so the students stop. Later, the lights are turned on. Hollander says this “startles the students.”

It imitates what it’s like to micro-sleep. “They realize, ‘oh my God, this could happen while driving,’” she says.

Ford Canada not only tries to create awareness with students but also with the population. The sleepsuit will be available to try at the Salon D’Autos at the Palais des Congrès this weekend.

“People tend to underestimate their degree of sleepiness when they take the wheel, so that’s why it’s very important to raise this awareness about the danger of driving while sleepy,” Morin says.

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Tyendinaga Township home burns to the ground

Almost nothing is left of a two-storey Tyendinaga Township home after an early-morning fire Thursday.

Fire crews from Tyendinaga Township, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Belleville tackled the flames as they ripped through the building, leaving behind a pile of debris.

“I woke up, went downstairs, I saw the left side of the house was on fire. I continued watching it for about four hours,” said 13-year-old Simon Mahaffy, who lives across the street from the home on Legire Road.

Scott Anderson, who rents the home with his girlfriend, says they were sleeping on the ground level when they woke up to their dog barking and the sound of fire alarms.

He said their bedroom was filled with heavy smoke as the couple quickly wrapped themselves in blankets and ran outside to escape the fire.

The 120-year old wood-framed home couldn’t hold up to the blaze and quickly fell to pieces.

Anderson said he was shocked and devastated by the fire, having watched the house crumble in just a few minutes.

Nevertheless, he told Global News he was feeling fortunate his kids were out of the country at the time.

At this time, the cause of the blaze is still being investigated by the Tyendinaga Township fire department.

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Steel lining in mobile home 'acted like oven' during blaze, expert tells inquest

A fire safety expert has told the inquest into the tragic Carrickmines halting site blaze that the mobile home that became rapidly engulfed in flames was a modified security hut with a steel lining that acted “like an oven”.

The units on the site, which was provided for ‘temporary emergency accommodation’ by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, were required by Department of Environment guidelines to be six metres apart.

However, the inquest has previously heard that fire spread rapidly from the first mobile home to the second because they were just 81cm apart.

Five adults and five children died in the tragic fire at the Glenamuck Road halting site in south Dublin on October 10, 2015.

The jury heard the chip pan that caused the fire was sitting on a hot plate powered on to the highest setting.

Mechanical engineer Paul Collins said tests showed the rear right hot plate on the electric cooker was switched on to setting number six. The cooker was relatively new and there were no electrical faults detected.

Asked by the coroner if the chip pan was the definite cause of the fire, Mr Collins replied it was.

Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (30), their sons James (5) and Christy (3) were recovered from the main bedroom of the mobile home after the fire.

Willie Lynch (25), his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27), and their two daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4) were recovered from a second, smaller bedroom.

Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Willie Lynch, was removed from the kitchen area.

Six-month-old Mary Connors, daughter of Thomas and Sylvia Connors, was pronounced dead in hospital.

David O’Connor, a certified fire safety engineer, said he was asked by gardaí to carry out a fire safety assessment of the site, approximately three weeks after the event.

Fire safety requirements of building regulations did not technically apply to the dwellings as these units were considered temporary emergency accommodation and were exempt from requirements, he said.

The Department of Environment guidelines note that “temporary” sites providing Traveller accommodation should not be in place for more than five years – the Glenamuck Halting Site was operating for seven years.

New safety guidances issued after the fire, on December 2, 2015, compiled by the National Directorate for Emergency Management, advise the provision of a smoke detector, escape windows, and where a minimum distance of six metres between units is not possible, a firewall should be installed.

The fire had grown in two stages, he said, with an initial “local fire” filling the living room with “untenably hot smoke” in a number of minutes.

Petroleum-based polystyrene insulation in the walls meant that temperatures would have been much higher than that of a normal house fire. “It was off the charts,” he said, describing it as being like “an articulated truck going on fire”.

Mr O’Connor said he could find no evidence of a fire alarm but agreed with coroner Myra Cullinane that he could not be certain what was there because of fire damage, with the first mobile home “completely destroyed” and the second “very badly destroyed”.

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At Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike, a Rallying Cry: More Funding, Fewer Charters

LOS ANGELES — Maria Lopez had to rush off for her job at a nearby laundromat. Carmen Vasquez did not want her son to ruin his perfect attendance and needed to get to the home across town where she cleans a couple of times a week. Aurelia Aguilar needed to get to the restaurant where she cooks and serves.

Their children were a few of the hundreds who poured into Virgil Middle School on Thursday morning, the fourth day of a massive teachers’ strike in the nation’s second-largest school district. Their families could not pay for child care and were too worried to leave students at home alone. Just a few miles away, in a well-off Silver Lake elementary school, there were fewer than a dozen students in attendance; most parents could afford to keep their children out of school.

“What choice do I have, this is the best place for her to be,” Ms. Aguilar said. “I hope, I pray, the teachers get what they want and come back soon.”

After more than a year of protracted negotiations, the district’s 30,000 public schoolteachers walked out demanding higher pay, smaller class sizes and more support staff for students. But the union is also using the strike as a way to draw attention to what it sees as the growing problem of charter schools, saying that they siphon off students and money from traditional public schools.

Part of the issue here is school finances: Though California is one of the richest states in the country, it also has the highest poverty rate in the nation, when cost of living is factored in. And though it is a bastion of liberal policies, its urban public school systems are the most hurt by the state’s limits on how much money can be raised in property tax.

As in many urban school districts, the overwhelming majority of students in Los Angeles public schools are poor — more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Los Angeles’s sizable wealthy population has for decades largely chosen to send its children to private schools or to nearby cities, like Beverly Hills or Culver City, with higher performing schools.

For generations, California has spent less on public schools than many other states, despite Democratic control and an influential state teachers’ union. The state spent about half as much as New York did on the average student in 2016, the last year for which federal comparisons were available. Even now, with a $209 billion state budget with record-high reserves, that appears unlikely to drastically change. After decades of funding shortages, educators say that Los Angeles and other urban schools need far more than what they currently have to educate some of the neediest students in the country.

About one-fifth of students in the Los Angeles district are learning English and roughly 15 percent need special education services. The district is also highly segregated: Latinos account for roughly 75 percent of all students; about 7 percent are white and about 8 percent are African-American. Class sizes in the district often top 40 students, well above the national average for urban schools, which ranges between 16 and 28. Teachers say large classes are particularly challenging in schools with high-needs students.

This week, just a fraction of the district’s half a million students have shown up to schools; on Thursday, roughly 84,000 students were in attendance. But district officials say that schools with a larger proportion of the neediest students have had higher attendance rates.

The chronic funding shortage for California’s large urban school systems is primarily because of the state’s property tax law. Voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, capping property taxes and drastically limiting the amount of money the state could collect for public schools. The law has led to smaller, more affluent communities raising money with local bonds or parcel taxes, something that is virtually impossible in poorer urban districts like Los Angeles.

But despite widespread agreement from education experts that the law harms low-income schools, it is widely seen as a third rail of state politics and changing it would require statewide voter approval. There is now an effort, supported by both district and union leaders in Los Angeles, for a 2020 ballot measure that would change the law to increase commercial property taxes, but not change the law for homeowners.

Still, Democratic leaders are facing pressure to find significantly more money for public schools. The scrutiny is now turning to Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has suggested that the mayor use some of the city’s budget to help pay for student services. And many observers say that an agreement between the union and the district will ultimately require more money from Mr. Newsom’s budget.

Although the union and Mr. Beutner agreed that the state should spend more on public schools, they are locked in a bitter fight over how the district should use the money it already has — and cannot agree on how much that is.

The union has pointed to a nearly $2 billion reserve, which it says could be used to pay for more educators so that class sizes are significantly smaller and that all schools have full-time nurses, counselors and mental health professionals. But Mr. Beutner has said the district is already spending far more than it brings in. A state-appointed fact-finder supported both claims, and both sides have pointed to the report to bolster their arguments.

Mr. Beutner has been steadfast in his support for charters, saying they give parents more choices and are an essential option in Los Angeles. But Mr. Beutner has pushed back at the union’s claim that he wants to shutdown traditional public schools.

Mr. Garcetti has said he supports the teachers; on the first day of the strike, he said he was “immensely proud of Los Angeles’s teachers today for standing up for what I believe is a righteous cause.” But the mayor has also embraced his role as mediator between the union and district. On Thursday, Mr. Beutner and Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the union, met face-to-face for the first time in nearly 10 days, but negotiations appeared to remain at an impasse.

Education politics in largely Democratic California are vastly different than in the six states where teacher walkouts took place last year. In those states, picketing teachers traveled to capitols to demand that lawmakers, largely Republicans, raise taxes and increase education funding.

In contrast, the Los Angeles strike has been organized by a strong union against its bosses: the superintendent and the Board of Education. At the city and state level, union allies sit in many of the key political seats that make decisions on education. In Sacramento, Democrats hold a new supermajority in the State Legislature.

In many ways, this is a moment of strength for the California teachers’ unions, which have won a series of electoral victories against Democratic critics who support the expansion of charter schools, which are generally not unionized. (One of the small charter school groups with a union also went on strike this week.)

Virgil began sharing its campus with a charter school two years ago, a decision that came from the district despite protests from parents and teachers. Though there were fears that Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake would siphon off enrollment from Virgil, that has not happened. Instead, Virgil’s principal, William Gurr, said the school is “bursting at the seams.”

The populations of the two schools are markedly different. While nearly all students at Virgil qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the same is true for just 15 percent of students at Citizens of the World.

Though he supports charter schools, Mr. Gurr says he is still frustrated when he sees that the charter he shares a campus with has far more space.

He has gone to great lengths to find ways to pay for many of the things the union is demanding for all schools: a nurse, a social worker and academic counselors. “These are things that enable the students to learn on a normal school day,” he said.

This week, more than 220 of Virgil’s seventh graders gathered in the auditorium for geometry with Linda Lee, one of the assistant principals. Though Dr. Lee was prepared, with a movie-theater-size screen to display the lesson and a booming microphone, it was impossible to keep the students quiet for the nearly 90-minute period.

“Miss, Miss, Miss,” one student shouted, as he struggled to hear Dr. Lee.

As she sat near the back of the auditorium, Angie Hernandez, 13, found it hard to focus over the din of chattering students. But in some ways, it did not feel all that different than her usual classes, which have often swelled to 40 and are sometimes so crowded that there are not enough desks for students.

“It’s challenging for sure,” she said.

Dana Goldstein contributed reporting from New York.

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Divers find India mine worker body

Indian navy divers have found the body of a worker who was trapped with 14 others inside a flooded coal mine in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

The men had entered the illegal pit, known as a “rat hole”, on 13 December, and were trapped when floodwater from a nearby river poured in.

An underwater vehicle first detected the body at a depth of 160ft (48 m), the navy said.

The fate of the other trapped miners is unclear.

The navy added that the body would be brought out from the mine under the supervision of doctors.

The Indian Navy gave some details of the operation in a series of tweets early on Thursday.

#MeghalayaMineTragedy #Flash One body detected by Indian Navy Divers using Underwater ROV at a depth of approx 60 feet and 210 feet inside a rat-hole mine @SpokespersonMoD @DefenceMinIndia @nsitharaman @PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/sP1sv6ikRn

End of Twitter post by @indiannavy

#MeghalayaMineTragedy The depth is 160 feet (and not 60 feet) and the body has been pulled upto the mouth of Rat-hole mine and shall be extracted out of the mine under the supervision of Doctors

End of Twitter post 2 by @indiannavy

Some 200 rescuers have been deployed to the site, where they have been trying to drain the mine.

It is not clear whether the other miners are still alive – only three helmets had been recovered prior to the discovery of the body.

Earlier rescue efforts by India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) were hampered by a lack of equipment. Initially, only two low-power pumps were on hand to drain the water.

The 370ft (112m)-deep coal mine where the workers are trapped lies in the remote East Jaintia Hills district.

Rat-hole mining involves digging pits into the ground to create a narrow hole to find coal, and is dangerous for those involved. Workers, including children, descend into the mines using bamboo ladders and accidents are common.

The practice was banned in 2014, but mine owners have challenged the ruling in India’s Supreme Court.

Most of Meghalaya’s illegal miners are migrant labourers who come from neighbouring states to earn money.

India is the world’s third largest coal-producing nation and coal provides 60% of the country’s energy needs, but the industry is poorly regulated.

Workers, who are often faced with life-threatening situations, have little protection from health hazards.

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Shooting at Vanier fast-food joint leaves 1 injured, police seek 3 suspects who fled scene

Police are searching for three suspects and asking witnesses to come forward after what investigators believe was a targeted shooting at a Burger King on Montreal Road in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood on Wednesday night.

Three men entered the fast-food restaurant, located east of the downtown core, around 6 p.m., and got into verbal fight with a male customer, according to Ottawa police.

“Multiple shots were then fired at the victim who was struck and the suspects fled the restaurant,” the Ottawa Police Service said in a news release on Thursday morning.

The wounded man was taken to hospital and his injuries are now considered non-life-threatening, police said.

The force’s guns and gangs unit is probing the incident, saying the man who was shot is known to police. Investigators say they also believe all four men involved know each other.

The fast-food restaurant was closed down Wednesday night as police investigated the scene. It has since reopened, Ottawa police spokesperson Const. Chuck Benoit said Thursday morning.

Investigators urge any witnesses to contact them at 613-236-1222 ext. 5050.

Tips can also be submitted anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or by downloading the Ottawa police app.

Ottawa’s guns and gangs unit said earlier this week it’s also investigating a shooting in the Britannia Bay area on Monday night that left a 20-year-old man injured.

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First Indonesian presidential debate between Jokowi and Prabowo kicks off

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto on Thursday (Jan 17) faced off in a live debate ahead of the April 17 presidential election, watched by tens of millions of people on television, radio and through livestreams on the Internet.

They attacked each other’s record in the first of five live debates, with both men keen to capture the big pool of swing voters. The debate was broadcast live by 18 television and radio stations.

The topics covered were on the hot-button issues of corruption, terrorism, human rights and the law.

Mr Prabowo, 67, a retired army general, is running with businessman-turned-politician Sandiaga Uno, 49, who last year left his post as Jakarta deputy governor after serving less than a year.

They are the only rivals in a two-way race in the April presidential poll against Mr Joko, 57, and running mate Ma’ruf Amin, 75, a former leader of the 80 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organisation.

Both Dr Ma’ruf and Mr Sandiaga, standing beside the presidential candidates, chipped in with some of the answers.

Thursday’s debate was held as the latest surveys by six pollsters, conducted between November and January, revealed that should the polls be held during those periods, the Joko-Ma’ruf pair would garner between 47.7 per cent and 54.9 per cent of the votes.

On the other hand, the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair would get between 30.6 per cent and 35.5 per cent.

But there is also a big chunk of undecided voters – between 10.6 per cent and 16.8 per cent – that is targeted by both sides.

The live debates allow the candidates to deliver their message to the nearly 193 million voters in the world’s largest archipelago of 17,000 islands.

Mr Joko is backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) and eight other parties.

These include the country’s oldest Golkar party and two Islam-leaning factions, United Development Party (PPP) and National Awakening Party (PKB).

Mr Prabowo is running on the ticket of his party Gerindra and two Islam-leaning parties, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN), along with former-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s nationalist Democratic Party.

Some of the issues debated cut deep into what a section of Indonesians feel.

Mr Prabowo attacked Mr Joko for what he claimed was a discriminatory approach in enforcing the law, which is biased against the poor.

“You have ruled more than four years. People have experienced being discriminated against. You are the chief law enforcement officer. You must not discriminate based on religion, ethnics, or anything,” Mr Prabowo said.

He also argued that Indonesia needs to ensure state apparatus with enormous legal authority like judges and policemen must be well paid so they have a good quality of life and could resist bribes.

Mr Joko replied that the accusations about the law was baseless as the country operates on standard legal procedure and follows due process.

“Don’t make baseless accusations. If anyone has evidence, they can report to the law enforcement officers,” Mr Joko said.

The two candidates also spoke on the issue of corruption in politics and the civil service.

However, the police probe into the 2017 attack on anti-graft investigator Novel Baswedan did not feature in the debate even though Mr Joko had said on Wednesday that he would give an update on it.

Failure to solve the case remains a blemish on the President’s record against corruption, and many had hoped he would elaborate on the police investigations during the debate last night.

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Japan satellite blasts into space to deliver artificial meteors

TOKYO (AFP) – A rocket carrying a satellite on a mission to deliver the world’s first artificial meteor shower blasted into space on Friday (Jan 18), Japanese scientists said.

A start-up based in Tokyo developed the micro-satellite for the celestial show over Hiroshima early next year as the initial experiment for what it calls a “shooting stars on demand” service.

The satellite is to release tiny balls that glow brightly as they hurtle through the atmosphere, simulating a meteor shower.

It hitched a ride on the small-size Epsilon-4 rocket that was launched from the Uchinoura space centre by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday morning.

The rocket is carrying a total of seven ultra-small satellites that will demonstrate various “innovative” technologies, JAXA spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto told AFP.

By around noon on Friday, the first of the seven satellites had been successfully sent into orbit, he added, with JAXA officials waiting for signals to confirm the fate of the other six.

The company behind the artificial meteor shower plan, ALE, plans to deliver its first out-of-this-world show over Hiroshima in the spring of 2020.

The satellite launched on Friday carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret.

That should be enough for 20-30 events, as one shower will involve up to 20 stars, according to the company.

ALE’s satellite, released 500km above the Earth, will gradually descend to 400km over the coming year as it orbits the Earth.

The company plans to launch a second satellite on a private-sector rocket in mid-2019.

ALE says it is targeting “the whole world” with its products and plans to build a stockpile of shooting stars in space that can be delivered across the world.

When its two satellites are in orbit, they can be used separately or in tandem, and will be programmed to eject the balls at the right location, speed and direction to put on a show for viewers on the ground.

Tinkering with the ingredients in the balls should mean that it is possible to change the colours they glow, offering the possibility of a multi-coloured flotilla of shooting stars.

Each star is expected to shine for several seconds before being completely burned up – well before they fall low enough to pose any danger to anything on Earth.

They would glow brightly enough to be seen even over the light-polluted metropolis of Tokyo, ALE says.

If all goes well, and the skies are clear, the 2020 event could be visible to millions of people, it says.

ALE chief executive Lena Okajima has said her company chose Hiroshima for its first display because of its good weather, landscape and cultural assets.

The western Japan city rose from the ashes after the 1945 US atomic bombing and faces the Seto Inland sea where the floating gate of Itsukushima Shrine is.

ALE is working in collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities as well as local government officials and corporate sponsors.

It has not disclosed the price for an artificial meteor shower.

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