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story.lead_photo.caption A rocket carrying an unmanned spacecraft lifts off Saturday from Kourou, French Guiana, on a mission conducted by the European and Japanese space agencies.

Spacecraft lifts off for Mercury mission

TOKYO -- European and Japanese space agencies said an Ariane 5 rocket successfully lifted a spacecraft carrying two probes into orbit Saturday for a joint mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

The European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the unmanned BepiColombo spacecraft, named after Italian scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, successfully separated and was sent into orbit from French Guiana as planned to begin a seven-year journey to Mercury.

The European Space Agency says the $1.5 billion mission is one of the most challenging in its history. Mercury's extreme temperatures, the intense gravity pull of the sun and blistering solar radiation make for hellish conditions.

The BepiColombo spacecraft will have to follow an elliptical path that involves a fly-by of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury itself so it can slow down before arriving at its destination in December 2025.

When it arrives, BepiColombo will release two probes -- Bepi and Mio -- that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury.

Scientists hope to build on the insights gained by NASA's Messenger probe, which ended its mission in 2015 after a four-year orbit of Mercury. The only other spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA's Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s.

Mercury, which is only slightly larger than Earth's moon, has a huge iron core about which little is known. Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo mission.

3 rampage suspects charged in France

PARIS -- Three people have been charged in France over an Islamic extremist's shooting rampage and supermarket hostage-taking earlier this year.

French regional media reported that the three are suspected of providing help to assailant Redouane Lakdim before his March attack in Carcassonne and the nearby town of Trebes. Four people were killed, including a police officer who traded himself for a hostage.

A judicial official said Saturday that the three were charged with criminal association with terrorists, and one was also accused of possessing arms in connection with a terrorist enterprise.

They were among six people arrested in raids last week. The other three were released. It was unclear why the arrests occurred so long after the attack.

Lakdim was fatally shot by police. His girlfriend was charged earlier this year.

Train mows down India fireworks crowd

NEW DELHI ---- Indian police Saturday began investigations after a train struck and killed 60 people watching fireworks during a religious festival, as new evidence emerged showing negligence by organizers and the railway system.

The victims, including 134 people who were injured, were standing on the railway tracks in the northern city of Amritsar to watch the burning of an effigy of demon king Ravana during the Hindu festival of Dussehra when the accident occurred Friday night.

Those who were hit could not hear the approaching train because of the exploding firecracker-filled effigy, officials said.

Most of the victims were poor migrant workers.

Police detained the train driver for questioning. Official sources told the IANS news agency that the driver claimed that he was given a green signal and an all-clear, and that he had no idea there were hundreds of people on the tracks.

Questions were been raised as to how permissions were granted to hold the Dussehra celebrations near the railway tracks.

Senior officials said Indian Railways was not informed about Dussehra celebrations near the tracks.

Local media reported that railway officials were questioning the lineman who gave the train the green signal and did not inform the driver about the crowds on the tracks.

Taiwanese demonstrate against China

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Thousands of pro-independence demonstrators gathered in Taiwan's capital on Saturday to express their disapproval with China's stance toward their island.

China cut off contact with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's government shortly after her inauguration in 2016 and has been ratcheting up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan in a bid to compel her to agree to Beijing's insistence that the self-governing island democracy is a part of China.

"I want to loudly say no to China," said 43-year-old demonstrator Ping Cheng-wen, who is self-employed. "I just don't agree with China's rhetoric. We have our own sovereignty, and Taiwan is a country."

In an Oct. 10 National Day address, Tsai called on China not to be a "source of conflict" and pledged to boost Taiwan's defenses against Beijing's military threats. Tsai said the best way to defend Taiwan was to "make it indispensable and irreplaceable to the world," while remaining nonconfrontational in its attitude toward China.

China and Taiwan separated amid civil war in 1949 and China considers the island part of its territory to be taken control of by force if necessary.

-- Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports

A Section on 10/21/2018

Print Headline: Spacecraft lifts off for Mercury mission France charges 3 people over rampage Train mows down India fireworks crowd Taiwanese demonstrate against China 3 rampage suspects charged in France

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