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story.lead_photo.caption A Chinese rocket takes off from the Xichang launch center in Sichuan province on Saturday, carrying the Chang’e 4 lunar probe.

Chinese craft heads to far side of moon

BEIJING — China launched a groundbreaking mission Saturday to land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russia, the European Union and the U.S.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying a lunar probe blasted off at 2:23 a.m. from the Xichang launch center in Sichuan province in southwestern China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

With its Chang’e 4 mission, China hopes to be the first country to make a soft landing, in which the spacecraft incurs no serious damage.

China landed its Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” rover on the moon five years ago and plans to send its Chang’e 5 probe there next year and have it return to Earth with samples — the first time that will have been done since 1976. A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.

Chang’e 4 is also a lander-rover combination and will explore both above and below the lunar surface after arriving at the South Pole-Aitken basin’s Von Karman crater after a 27-day journey.

It will also perform radio-astronomical studies.

Chang’e is the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology.

Death toll in Brazil shootout rises to 14

RIO DE JANEIRO — Authorities said Saturday that two more people have died after attempted bank robberies in northeastern Brazil, raising the death toll to 14.

Brazil’s military police said that heavily armed assailants took hostages who were traveling on a highway around 2 a.m. on Friday. The highway leads to Milagres, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in the state of Ceara.

Military police said the criminals were planning to take the hostages to two banks when they came under police fire and a shootout started.

Police said eight robbers and six hostages between the ages of 13 and 60 were killed.

Lielson Macedo Landim, the mayor of Milagres, told the G1 news portal Friday that the hostages were executed by the criminal group and not killed by police fire. He said that two children were among the dead.

His account could not be verified.

Military police said Saturday that five of the criminals died during the shootout. Two others died a few hours later in a hospital and an eighth robber was killed in a separate clash with police on the outskirts of Milagres.

Tourist’s body found in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand police said today that a body has been found in the case of a 22-year-old British tourist they believe was killed.

Police said they found the body in a forested area about 30 feet from the side of the road in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland.

Grace Millane was on a yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She arrived in New Zealand last month and was last seen on the night of Dec. 1 entering a central Auckland hotel with a 26-year-old man.

Police said they escorted that man into the central Auckland police station on Saturday afternoon for questioning. Later in the day, police said they planned to charge the man with Millane’s slaying and that he would be held in custody until his first court appearance Monday.

Detective inspector Scott Beard told reporters today that police believe Millane’s body was taken to the forested area in a rental car.

Beard said Saturday that police were examining a vehicle and wanted to figure out where it had been driven recently.

Iranian warns West of surge in drugs

TEHRAN, Iran — President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned Western countries that they will face an influx of drugs if Iran becomes weakened by U.S. sanctions.

Rouhani spoke in Tehran at a six-nation conference on fighting terrorism attended by parliament speakers of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia.

“Weakening Iran by sanctions, many will not be safe,” he said. “Those who do not believe us, it is good to look at the map.”

Iran lies on a major drug route between Afghanistan and Europe and the Persian Gulf states. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin and Afghan farmers harvest about 80 percent of the world’s supply, according to U.N. reports.

Iran’s economy is reeling after the U.S. reimposed sanctions lifted under Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal and began restoring sanctions.

Rouhani called the U.S. sanctions “economic terrorism.”

Iran pays a heavy price to fight drug trafficking, with a number of border guards killed in fighting smugglers every year.

Until 2016, Iran annually spent some $2.5 billion to fight drug trafficking, officials say.

Photo by AP/EBRAHIM NOROOZI
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Saturday that “many will not be safe” if U.S. sanctions weaken Iran, which lies on a major drug route from Afghanistan.

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