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Japan's corpse hotels upset some of the neighbors

TOKYO Tucked away in a quiet residential street in Kawasaki city in Japan is a refurbished workshop with a plain silver exterior and black draped windows that residents describe as creepy.The business inside, Sousou, is one of Japan's latest so-called corpse hotels, a camouflaged morgue used to store some of Japan's mounting pile of bodies waiting for a spot in one of the nation's overworked crematoriums.“Crematories need to be built, but there isn’t any space to do so and that is creating funeral refugees," said Hisao Takegishi, who opened the business in 2014.At a daily rate of 9,000 yen ($82) family members can keep their deceased relative in one of Sousou's 10 rooms for up to four days until a crematorium can be found. Unlike other such morgues-in-disguise, which try to blend in by looking like hotels, Sousou doesn’t refrigerate corpses, relying on air conditioned rooms instead.As Japan ages its people are dying off at a faster pace. About 20,000 more people per year are expiring with the death rate expected to peak at about 1.7 million a year by around 2040, according government estimates. By then, barring any major influx of immigrants, Japan will have 20 million fewer people.Residents of Kawasaki are unhappy about living next to Sousou's hidden corpse refugees, with placards and flags dotting the neighborhood expressing outrage at the presence of the morgue. Yoko Masuzawa, 50, who, lives behind Sousou, demanded it put air ventilation grills above ground level, a request that she says it ignored. "It was built so close, less than a meter away in some places," she said. Sousou's customers, however, are grateful for a place to keep their deceased relatives. “I think it’s great that families and acquaintances can come and visit before she heads off to the crematorium,” said 69 year-old Hirokazu Hosaka, as her mother's body lay in a decorated coffin in Sousou.Takegishi, who used to help organize weddings, is looking to tap growing demand, with plans to bring corpse hotels to other cities. (Reporting by Teppei Kasai; writing by Tim Kelly)

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Finding lifeless Bobbi Kristina was traumatize, boyfriend says

The boyfriend of Bobbi Kristina Brown said on Wednesday he tried to revive her after finding her in a bathtub last year in an incident that recalled the death of her mother, singer Whitney Houston.Nick Gordon also said Brown, who died in July 2015 at the age of 22 after suffering irreversible brain damage, became addicted to drugs after Houston's death in 2012.Gordon, 26, denied responsibility for Brown's death in interviews with the Daily Mail online on Wednesday and with U.S. television personality Dr. Phil to be aired Thursday and Friday.He said the couple had gotten into a fight the night before Brown was found in January 2015 and that when he arrived back at the Atlanta home they shared, she had been drinking and was "messed up." They later made up and Gordon went to play a videogame.A friend who was staying at the house later found Brown in the bathtub, Gordon said. "I ran to my room and then I saw my girl on the floor," Gordon told the Daily Mail online. "It was so traumatizing. I dropped to my knees and kept giving her chest compressions and blowing into her mouth."Gordon said Brown spat up some water. "I thought she was going to come round but that never happened," he said. An could not establish whether the death of Brown, the only child of Houston and R&B singer Bobby Brown, after six months in a coma was accidental or intentional. It found she had cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and anxiety medication in her system and that her face had been immersed in water.In a 2015 civil lawsuit filed by the conservator of Brown's estate, Gordon was accused of causing her death and stealing from her bank account while she was in a coma. Gordon's spokesman has called the lawsuit "slanderous and meritless." Gordon told Dr. Phil that Brown smoked marijuana socially before her mother died but that her drug use increased after Houston drowned in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub in 2012."It’s unfortunate but at the time, that’s kind of the only way we knew how to deal with what had happened," Gordon said, according to advance excerpts of the TV interview. (Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bill Trott)

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In Damascus, young Syrians try to revive their lives

DAMASCUS By a military checkpoint in Damascus's Old City, just a mile from the battered frontline between government and rebel-held territory, young Syrians sit on a garden wall smoking, drinking beer or soft drinks, and talking about anything but the war. It is a week night, but the Damascenes are keen to head out to a strip of new bars that have opened in the last few months -- some to socialize and others to work in the venues.The revival of activity in this once-vibrant quarter is part of efforts to project an air of normality in the Syrian capital, even as the five-year-old war that has killed more than 250,000 people and created 5 million refugees continues to rage nearby.To the east and southwest, opposition-held Ghouta remains under blockade and bombardment by government forces. In Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, to the south, residents have recently faced starvation as rival jihadist groups al Qaeda and Islamic State battle for control.Shells were hitting Damascus's city center late last year, including near Bab Sharqi gate. Now, people smoke water pipes outside Pub Sharqi -- a play on words that reads the same in Arabic -- or watch football at noisier bar "80's" next door."This is something you certainly wouldn't see two years ago, and it's picked up even more recently," said Nicolas Rahal, a 23-year-old graphic designer, speaking over loud music in a bar.The number of people going out has grown as venues have opened one after the other and employed more people, Rahal said."I can now go to this pub or that nightclub. Places opened and people came."The war is still felt inside the capital. Soldiers carrying assault rifles sweep vehicles for bombs at army roadblocks, causing traffic jams throughout the city, while distant artillery fire can sometimes be heard.Young people in the city are apprehensive about the future. They have lost loved ones to violence and displacement, rampant inflation is making life impossibly expensive, and some young men are anxious to avoid army enlistment.But encouraged by improved security after Russia's intervention strengthened the government's position and a partial truce in February brought some calm, these Damascus residents want to enjoy life where possible."People are tired of war and just want to live a normal life, so they go out, they socialize," said bartender Dana Daqqaq, a 21-year-old with bleached-blonde hair who works at night while studying for her fine art degree."In the last few months it's not just at the weekends, it's every day. Places are crammed. You practically see a cross-section of society coming out." 'I STAYED HERE'Daqqaq said bar life was more than just a way to forget the war, but all the revelers had traumatic personal stories."Family on my dad's side serving in the army were killed under siege in Homs," said Dana Ibrahim, 21, sitting at the same bar as Rahal. "My mum and four sisters live close to the military airport in Mezze." The air base in western Damascus has come under shellfire and is next to the suburb of Daraya, which is besieged by the government side."At times there's been bombing every day. Once a rocket hit right next to the house. I was out of town and didn't hear any news for two days. I thought my family was hit," she said.Ibrahim had thought of leaving, like many friends who have fled for Europe or neighbouring countries. But now, able to socialize, she would rather stay put. "When I started to see life I stayed here. I don't want to be a refugee," she said.Rahal also wants to stay, despite his experiences of conflict. "More than once, near my house, I've seen people get blown apart by shells," he said.He was arrested for protesting in 2011, near the start of the uprising that shifted into a full-scale civil war, and his political views have cost him friendships. Facebook arguments have turned into physical fights on the street, Rahal said."In the early days of the crisis, I had to hang out with other people. I know two brothers who don't talk to each other anymore."COST OF LIVINGOne factor might push him to leave, however. "I haven't done military service. It could happen, I could get called up, and you've no idea where they'll send you or how long you'll be there. I have friends and relatives in the army, Aleppo, Palmyra, for example," Rahal said."If they call me up I'll leave the country. I could try and find work in Beirut."Across the frontlines, young residents have even less choice.Maher Abu Jaafar, a 23-year-old agricultural engineering student living in Western Ghouta, said escalating violence and a siege by government forces mean he cannot leave the town. "At the moment I work at a street stall selling household items. My family is big, we can't guarantee getting essential supplies," he said via an Internet message. "And things are getting worse because of the cost of living."Inflation has seen the Syrian pound lose 90 percent of its value since 2011.In the Old City bar, Rahal tossed notes worth 550 Syrian pounds, or just over $1, onto the table."The situation has improved perhaps a bit for work, but the economic situation is bad. Things are expensive, living standards have fallen," he said.At night, generators whirr outside homes, while blocks are plunged into darkness after perhaps half a day with electricity.Daqqaq, the bartender, said a packet of cheap cigarettes which cost 250 Syrian pounds a few months ago now costs 450.Tonight, though, she and her friends and customers are preoccupied not with the war, the economy or thoughts of migration. They want to drink, listen to the Levantine-Western fusion of "Shamstep", and enjoy life. (Additional reporting by Omar Sanadiki; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Catherine Evans)

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Clippers reeling after Game 4 loss, Paul injury

(The Sports Xchange) - The Los Angeles Clippers did not just lose Game 4 of their first-round playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday at the Moda Center. They lost their point guard, leader and best player, too.Chris Paul left the game in the third quarter of the Trail Blazers' 98-84 victory with a right hand injury and did not return. X-rays showed a fractured third metacarpal.He might be sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs.Al-Farouq Aminu scored 30 points -- a career high for both the regular season and the playoffs -- as the Blazers evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Aminu made 11 of 20 shots from the field, including six of 10 from 3-point range.The 6-foot-9 forward also had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.CJ McCollum scored 19 points, and Mason Plumlee contributed two points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for Portland.Clippers forward Blake Griffin had 17 points and seven rebounds before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a sore left quad. Jeff Green added 17 points off the bench for Los Angeles, and Paul scored 16. Aminu scored 13 points and Plumlee had two points, nine rebounds and five assists to stake Portland to a 47-43 halftime lead. Paul scored 14 points and Green added 10 for the Clippers, who shot 33.3 percent from the field and were outrebounded 31-21 in the half. He left with his injury with the Clippers trailing 58-52. Green nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to narrow Portland's advantage to 66-64 after three quarters. The Blazers outscored the Clippers 11-4 to start the fourth quarter go ahead 77-68. The difference was 84-72 with 5 1/2 minutes to play. The Clippers got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.Portland jumped to a 12-4 lead, with Aminu scoring eight of the points. The Blazers led 20-12, with Paul scoring all of the Clippers' points. To that point, Paul was 6-for-6 from the field, his team mates 0-for-13. The first non-Paul field goal by the Clippers came on a DeAndre Jordan dunk with 1:43 left in the first quarter. The Blazers took a 24-20 advantage into the second quarter despite 6-for-22 shooting and four combined points from Damian Lillard and McCollum.Allen Crabbe's 3-pointer gave Portland a 34-26 lead midway through the second quarter. The Clippers countered with a 10-3 run to get to within 37-36. The Blazers intentionally fouled Jordan, who airballed both free-throw attempts. Portland scored the next five points to go on top 42-36, and the Blazers carried a four-point advantage into the half. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Death toll from Ecuador earthquake surpasses 650

QUITO The death toll from Ecuador's devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake last week has risen to 654 people, the country's emergency management authority said on Saturday. Last Saturday's quake, the worst in nearly seven decades, injured around 16,600 people and left 58 missing along the country's ravaged Pacific coast. One hundred and thirteen people were rescued from damaged buildings."These have been sad days for the homeland," President Rafael Correa said during his weekly television broadcast earlier on Saturday. "The country is in crisis."Several strong tremors and more than 700 aftershocks have continued to shake the country since the major quake, sparking momentary panic but little additional damage. Tremors are expected to continue for several weeks. With close to 7,000 buildings destroyed, more than 25,000 people were living in shelters. Some 14,000 security personnel were keeping order in quake-hit areas, with only sporadic looting reported.Survivors in the quake zone were receiving food, water and medicine from the government and scores of foreign aid workers, although Correa has acknowledged that bad roads delayed aid reaching some communities. Correa's leftist government, facing mammoth rebuilding at a time of greatly reduced oil revenues for the OPEC country, has said it would temporarily increase some taxes, offer assets for sale and possibly issue bonds abroad to fund reconstruction. Congress will begin debate on the tax proposal on Tuesday.Correa has estimated damage at $2 billion to $3 billion. Lower oil revenue has already left the country of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment. The country's private banking association said on Saturday its member banks would defer payments on credit cards, loans and mortgages for clients in the quake zone for three months, to help reconstruction efforts. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Diego Ore; Editing by David Evans and Bill Trott)

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