London's historic Admiralty Arch will become a hotel

Admiralty Arch in London
LONDON -- Admiralty Arch, a century-old stone archway and building that serves as the ceremonial gateway to Buckingham Palace, is to get a new lease on life as a luxury hotel, a government minister confirmed Thursday.

Built by King Edward VII to honor the long reign of his mother Queen Victoria, the arch has been leased to Spanish property entrepreneur Rafael Serrano, chief executive of the London-based investment company Prime Investors Capital. Serrano paid about $96 million for the 99-year lease.

From the top of the central archway on one side guests will enjoy a view toward Buckingham Palace down the Mall, the tree-lined avenue that is the traditional route of royal processions, including April’s royal wedding cortege of Prince William and his bride Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The other side looks down on Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and a meeting point for public celebrations, rallies and protests.

It is the latest of the government property fire sales around Europe over the last two years that come amid austerity drives to tame massive deficits. In France and Italy, government-owned palaces and villas have gone to wealthy private investors. In Greece, state-owned buildings, marinas and ports reportedly are up for sale.

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Cambodians mourn Sihanouk, their King Father

Cambodia
NEW DELHI -- As word spread Monday that former King Norodom Sihanouk had died of a heart attack in Beijing at age 89, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians gathered in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to mourn.

The impoverished nation, still emerging from decades of war, flew flags at half staff and announced a national week of mourning beginning Wednesday, according to local media. Top leaders, including King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, flew to Beijing on Monday morning to bring home Sihanouk's body for a traditional funeral at the palace.

Sihanouk reportedly laid out in a letter in January that he wanted to be cremated, with his ashes placed in an urn, preferably made of gold, in a stupa at the palace. His body will be on public display for three months before the funeral, the Phnom Penh Post reported, quoting Sihanouk’s longtime personal assistant Prince Sisowath Thomico.

Sihanouk, a quixotic and mercurial leader, held considerable power in the 1950s and 1960s after helping secure independence from the French. But in the 1970s, he became something of a puppet to the Khmer Rouge during its reign of terror, a period captured in the 1984 Academy Award-winning film “The Killing Fields.”

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French court: Kate Middleton topless photos to be turned over to her

In a victory for Britain's royal family, a French court ordered that published photos of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless be handed over to her and her husband, Prince William, within 24 hours
PARIS -- In a victory for Britain's royal family, a French court Tuesday ordered that published photos of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless be handed over to her and her husband, Prince William, within 24 hours.

The court also said the glossy celebrity magazine that published the pictures, Closer, would be fined $13,000 every time it republished or distributed the offending images.

The royal couple was said to have been "profoundly shocked and troubled" by the photos of them vacationing in the south of France at a secluded villa belonging to a relative of the prince. They had demanded that the pictures be turned over to them after what they called a "grotesque" invasion of their privacy.

They asked the court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to order the magazine to remove the pictures from its website and ban Closer from republishing them under threat of punitive fines.

At a hastily arranged hearing Monday, the lawyer for Closer, Delphine Pando, argued that the controversy raging over the pictures was a "disproportionate response" to an "ordinary scene."

However, Aurelien Hammelle, the lawyer for the royal couple insisted that the pictures were "profoundly intimate" and "shocking." Applying for an immediate injunction, he reminded the panel of three judges Monday that the photos had been taken on Sept. 5, almost 15 years to the day that William's mother, Princess Diana, had died in a "morbid, cynical and pointless chase" by paparazzi in Paris.

Hammelle asked that the magazine hand over the equipment on which the digital photos were stored and that the images be banned from sale in France or abroad.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as William and his wife are known, have also filed a criminal complaint under France's privacy laws, which could see Closer fined tens of thousands of dollars and its editor serve up to a year in prison. They also filed a complaint against "persons unknown," referring to the photographer, who has not yet been identified.

Hammelle told the civil hearing at the Tribunal de Grand Instance in Nanterre that the photos revealed "particularly simple and deeply intimate moments in the life of this couple that have no reason to be on a magazine cover."

"In the name of what did Closer publish these 'shock' photos? Certainly not in the name of information," Hammelle said. "The Duchess of Cambridge is a young woman, not an object ... and I ask you to put yourself in the place of her husband, Prince William, ... and the place of her parents."

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Photo: Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, on a royal visit Tuesday to the South Pacific. Credit: Tony Prcevich / AFP/Getty Images


Search for grave of King Richard III to be extended

Searching for grave of King Richard III
This post has been updated. See the note below.

LONDON –- Archaeologists searching for the tomb of Richard III are being given an extra week to excavate in light of promising findings of their dig beneath a parking lot in central England.

The medieval king made famous as a villain in Shakespeare’s play was buried in the city of Leicester after his death in battle against his successor, Henry VII, at Bosworth Field in 1485. Franciscan brothers interred Richard without ceremony in a friary whose location has been lost over the
centuries.

But based on a recent analysis of old maps, experts began looking for the site beneath a small municipal parking lot in downtown Leicester two weeks ago. The dig was scheduled to wrap up Sunday, but lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said city officials had granted a week’s extension.

"Things are going extremely well, and we are now confident that we have located the east end of the church, so identifying the quire is becoming a real possibility,” said Buckley, referring to an area near the church’s likely altar.

He and other scholars speculate that Richard would have been entombed close to the altar in homage to his exalted status.

[Updated 12:52 p.m. Sept. 9: So far, Buckley's team has discovered the ruins of what could be the walls of the old friary, the fragments of a frame that might have contained the east window, some medieval floor tiles and a silver coin from that era.

After digging three 6-foot-deep trenches, archaeologists also found vestiges of the garden of a manor house that stood on the site after the friary was demolished. Records show that a pillar in the garden once marked the spot where Richard was thought to be buried.]

Finding his bones would lay to rest a mystery surrounding what became of the remains of the last English king to die in battle. The usurpation of Richard III ushered in the Tudor dynasty and eventually led to Shakespeare’s indelible –- some say wildly inaccurate -– portrayal of Richard as a ruthless fiend
who ordered his innocent young nephews killed in the Tower of London so that he could take the throne.

Two years ago, scholars announced that they had identified the site of Bosworth Field, where Richard lost his crown and his life on Aug. 22, 1485. After the battle, the slain king’s broken body was paraded through Leicester, then buried by the Franciscans.

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Photo: An archaeologist prepares to excavate at a parking lot in the central English city of Leicester, where King Richard III is believed to be buried, as actors dressed as knights look on. Credit: Rui Vieira / Associated Press


Ex-Murdoch media legal executive arrested in British hacking case

LONDON -- Police have arrested Tom Crone, a former legal executive in the Murdoch-owned News International group, the latest to be apprehended in connection with ongoing investigations into illegal phone hacking. 

In a brief statement, Scotland Yard announced the arrest Thursday of a “60-year-old man ... on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications" as part their inquiry “into the hacking of telephone voicemail boxes.”  He was taken for questioning to a London police station.

Crone was a senior member in the legal department of News International, News Corp.’s British media branch, with responsibility for the legal affairs of News of the World.  He quit after revelations in July 2011 that the paper’s reporters had paid private investigators to illegally hack into the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2009, prompting myriad judicial, civil and political inquiries.

Questioned by a panel of lawmakers last year, Crone claimed he was “pretty sure” that in 2008 he had informed James Murdoch, then-News International executive chairman, of suspected widespread phone hacking within News International papers and that it went beyond one or two "rogue reporters" including Clive Goodman, jailed in 2007 for hacking into phones of the British royal family.  James Murdoch subsequently denied being informed of this.  

Crone also said he advised James Murdoch in 2008 to stave off a threatened lawsuit by paying almost a million dollars to soccer executive Gordon Taylor who claimed his phone had been hacked by NI journalists.

In a statement in April, Crone rejected evidence provided by Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman, implying that Crone was responsible for what Murdoch termed a "culture of cover-up" of phone hacking within the company. He called it a "shameful lie."

More than 70 phone- and computer-hacking-related arrests have been made in three different police operations.   Most of those nabbed have been media executives and journalists later released on bail. Eight have been charged with hacking-related offenses, including Andy Coulson, former media advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive.

Crone’s arrest comes a day after former London Times writer Patrick Foster, 29, was taken into custody on suspicion of computer hacking, the first journalist to be targeted from the flagship Murdoch daily.

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Queen Elizabeth, ex-IRA leader share historic handshake

LONDON -- In a meeting symbolizing the end of years of enmity between British rule and Northern Ireland republicans, Queen Elizabeth shook hands Wednesday with a former Irish Republican Army commander.

Martin McGuinness, now a deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and a member of the pro-republican Sinn Fein party, was a senior IRA member in the years of sectarian violence. During that time, the group was responsible for blowing up the yacht of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the queen's cousin, killing him and three others while they vacationed off the coast of Northern Ireland in 1979. 

The once unthinkable handshake took place away from media eyes -- apart from one camera crew -- behind closed doors at a charity arts event in Belfast, witnessed by the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, and leading politicians including Irish President Michael Higgins and Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson.

The seemingly mundane greeting was widely heralded as a turning point. Peter Sheridan, host of the event, told reporters, "It's a huge act of reconciliation, you cannot underestimate how important this is."

The queen, wearing a pale green coat and hat, also toured a local art exhibit, the work of a cultural charity aimed at fostering cross-community relations between Catholics and Protestants. As she left the Lyric Theatre, the carefully chosen apolitical context where the event took place, the queen smiled as she shook hands again with McGuinness, this time publicly as he was standing in line with other officials.

Afterward, McGuinness told reporters he spoke to the queen in Gaelic telling her his words meant “Goodbye and God speed.”

The show of reconciliation was generally judged to have cost both leaders a price. Some hard-line republicans view McGuinness as a traitor, but most agreed that it was a step forward.

"From the queen's point of view, she lost a member of the family, so it's a big step for her," Joe McGowan, a Northern Ireland historian, told Sky News. "Martin McGuinness is conceding something. He has to recognize that the struggle over the past 30 years was lost, in a military sense anyway."

Roy Foster, a professor of Irish history at Oxford University, told the BBC before the meeting that “a lot is going to have to be forgotten. It's hard to think that the queen can forget that Martin McGuinness was chief of staff [of the IRA] when Lord Mountbatten was blown up in 1979 ... and the extraordinary statements from the IRA after the event ... that they'd only done to Mountbatten what he'd spent his lifetime doing to other people."

On the other hand, he said, the occasion could help repair political damage to McGuinness' party after Sinn Fein boycotted the queen's visit in May 2011, the first by a reigning British monarch since Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922. That trip won approval from the majority of the Irish population.

The two-day royal trip, part of the queen’s diamond jubilee tour of Britain, was heavily policed but also feted by thousands of cheering crowds as the monarch and Prince Philip walked along streets of Enniskillen after their arrival Tuesday. The town was the scene of a devastating 1987 IRA bomb attack that killed 11 people.

Yhe visit was also marked by the action of small groups of anti-royalist protesters. On Tuesday night, nine police officers were wounded as they broke up a demonstration of about 100 youths throwing petrol bombs in West Belfast.

The area was once a stronghold of urban guerrilla warfare in the 30-year sectarian war waged between extremist Catholic IRA republican groups and Protestant Unionist pro-British movements, which a British army campaign battled to subdue until the gradual withdrawal of troops after a peace agreement in 1998.

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Saudi dynasty names 76-year-old defense minister as crown prince

Saudi Crown Prince Salman ibn Abdelaziz
A council of the multitudinous Saudi royal family named the kingdom's 76-year-old defense minister and former governor of bustling Riyadh as next in line to succeed King Abdullah, official Saudi media reported Monday.

Crown Prince Salman ibn Abdulaziz succeeds his brother Nayif, 78, whose death Saturday was the second in less than a year of an heir to Abdullah's throne. Succession in the House of Saud, as the royal family is called, typically passes from brother to brother among the more than two dozen sons of the kingdom's founding monarch, King Abdulaziz al Saud.

Grandsons of Abdulaziz are also eligible to be chosen as crown prince by the Allegiance Council, an appointed body of Saudi princes, and some analysts had speculated after Nayif's death that the kingdom might reach into the younger generation for a new next-in-line.

As governor of Riyadh, Salman oversaw the transformation of the city of 150,000 inhabitants as it grew to a vibrant tourism and business center now home to 5 million. Riyadh became the capital in the 1980s.

Salman is said to favor strategic and economic collaboration with Western countries, including the United States, but is also known to take a hard line on some political and social problems, as when he had Riyadh swept of beggars last year. Foreign paupers were deported and impoverished Saudis were sent to a rehabilitation program under the Interior Ministry, then run by the authoritarian Nayif.

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Former British prime minister contradicts Murdoch's statement

Gordon-brown
LONDON -- Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denied Monday that he had ever “declared war” on media mogul Rupert Murdoch's company after learning that its popular tabloid the Sun would not be supporting his 2010 election campaign.

Speaking to a civil inquiry into media standards and ethics in Britain, Brown attacked the coverage by Murdoch's tabloid of his term as prime minister from 2007 to 2010. He accused Murdoch of misleading the panel about an alleged conversation about political support.

“This conversation never took place,” Brown said. “I’m shocked and surprised that it should be suggested.”

Murdoch told the same inquiry in April that Brown had reacted with anger when the media chief told him the high-circulation Sun would back the opposition Conservative Party in May 2010 elections.  Brown, who led the Labor Party at the time, answered by threatening his company with “war,” Murdoch said. Some news reports said Brown then slammed the phone down.

“There was no such conversation. I never asked them for support directly,” Brown told the panel. “I'm surprised that first of all there's a story that I slammed the phone down, and secondly that there’s a story from Mr. Murdoch himself that I threatened him. This did not happen.”

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Britons join their queen for a floating celebration of her reign

Britain's Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant

LONDON — It was the reign that launched a thousand ships, a vast flotilla that sailed down the Thames on Sunday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne.

Canal boats, yachts, gondolas and tall-masted ships were among the hundreds of vessels that plied the river under gray skies, led by the barge carrying the woman who has served as British monarch longer than anyone except her great-great-grandmother Victoria.

The water-borne pageant down the Thames, the first such procession in more than 300 years, was the central event of a four-day weekend of celebrations of the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Undeterred by sporadic rain and chilly wind, tens of thousands of spectators lined the seven-mile route, which snaked past some of Britain’s most iconic landmarks, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament.

Photos: Queen's Diamond Jubilee

“We wanted to be in the atmosphere. There’s nothing like it really,” said 51-year-old Jackie Armstrong, who, like most Britons alive today, has never known any other monarch. “Sixty years is a remarkable achievement.”

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Spain's queen snubs distant cousin Queen Elizabeth II

Sofia
MADRID — As royals from around the world gather at Britain's Windsor Castle on Friday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne, a 300-year-old diplomatic spat is keeping one fellow crowned head away: the queen of Spain.

Queen Sofia canceled her visit at the last minute Wednesday amid fresh tensions over Gibraltar, a giant rock that both countries claim. Once a strategic gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, the tiny peninsula of Gibraltar, with its famous rock, was part of Spain until 1713, when Britain took control. Madrid wants it back.

Now Spain is upset that Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Sophie, plan to visit Gibraltar next month. The Spanish Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador May 8 to convey "disgust and unease" about the prince's travel plans. There have also been disputes over fishing rights in the waters off Gibraltar's coast, and talks between Spanish fishermen and British officials broke down earlier this week.

A Spanish government statement said it was "hardly appropriate" for the 73-year-old Spanish queen to attend a luncheon Friday in Elizabeth's honor — even though the two queens are distant cousins.

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