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Bill and Melinda Gates to divorce, but charitable foundation to remain intact

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, filed for divorce on Monday after 27 years of marriage but pledged to continue their philanthropic work together.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health, spending more than $50 billion over the past two decades to bring a business approach to combating poverty and disease.

The Gates have backed widely praised programs in malaria and polio eradication, child nutrition and vaccines. The foundation last year committed some $1.75 billion to COVID-19 relief.

In a joint petition for dissolution of marriage, the couple asserted their legal union was “irretrievably broken,” but said they had reached agreement on how to divide their marital assets. No details of that accord were disclosed in the filing in King County Superior Court in Seattle.

Bill Gates, 65, who co-founded Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), and his spouse, Melinda French Gates, 56, met after she joined the software giant as a product manager, and they dated for a few years before marrying in January 1994 in Hawaii.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” the two said in a joint statement posted on each of their individual Twitter accounts.

“We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life,” they said.

The divorce petition, which states that the couple have no minor children, comes after the youngest of their three offspring recently turned 18.

Launched in 2000, the nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the world’s biggest, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of 2019, according to the latest full-year financials shown on its website.

From 1994 through 2018, the couple gifted more than $36 billion to the Seattle-based foundation, the website said.

Last year, investor Warren Buffett reported donating more than $2 billion of stock from his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) to the Gates Foundation as part of previously announced plans to give away his entire fortune before his death.

‘NO CHANGES TO THEIR ROLES’

In their divorce petition, the couple asks the court “to dissolve our marriage” and to divide their communal property, business interests and liabilities “as set forth in our separation contract,” though that accord was not made public.

Bill Gates is ranked No. 4 on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, with an estimated $124 billion fortune.

In a separate statement, the Gates Foundation said the couple would remain as co-chairs and trustees of the organization.

“They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and set the organization’s overall direction,” the foundation’s statement said.

The split comes two years after another leading Seattle-based billionaire and philanthropist, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos, said that he and his then-wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced.

At least one critic of billionaire benefactors cited the Gates’ split as a cautionary tale in the wisdom of concentrating so much sway over global humanitarian issues under the control of super-wealthy individuals.

“The Gates divorce will do more than upend a family’s life. It will ramify into the worlds of business, education, public health, civil society, philanthropy, and beyond,” Anand Giridharadas, author of the book “Winners Take All” told Reuters.

“That is because our society has made the colossal error of allowing wealth to purchase the chance to make quasi-governmental decisions as a private citizen,” he said.

Gates dropped out of Harvard University to start Microsoft with school chum Paul Allen in 1975. Gates owned 49% of Microsoft at its initial public offering in 1986, which made him an instant multimillionaire. With Microsoft’s explosive growth, he soon became one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.

After an executive tenure in which he helped transform the company into one of the world’s leading technology firms, Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on philanthropy. He remained chairman until 2014 and left the company’s board in March 2020.

Known in the technology industry as an acerbic and ruthless competitor, Gates drew the ire of rivals and eventually the U.S. government for Microsoft’s business practices.

The software giant was convicted of antitrust violations in the late 1990s. But the verdict was overturned on appeal, and the company then settled the case out of court.

Gates’ public persona softened into an avuncular elder statesman as he turned his attention to philanthropy, and he has largely steered clear of the many controversies currently roiling the technology business.

Melinda French Gates, who recently added her maiden name on most of her websites and social media, was raised in Dallas and studied computer science and economics at Duke University before joining Microsoft.

In 2015 she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment company focused on women and families, and in 2019 published a book, “The Moment of Lift”, centered on female empowerment.

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Death toll in Turkey wildfires rises to eight, coastal resorts affected

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(Last Updated On: August 2, 2021)

The death toll from wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast rose to eight on Sunday as firefighters battled for a fifth day to contain blazes still raging in coastal resort towns.

Two more people died on Sunday due to wildfires in the southern town of Manavgat, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, adding that 10 others were receiving treatment in hospital in the area, Reuters reported.

Most of more than 100 blazes that erupted in Turkey in the last five days have been contained, authorities said. However, fires were still blazing in Manavgat and in Marmaris and the inland town of Milas, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said, prompting the evacuation of some residential areas and hotels.

In the popular resort town of Bodrum, a group of tourists and hotel staff was evacuated by boat as flames spread and plumes of smoke filled the sky, footage showed. Pakdemirli said the blaze in the area had been contained by Sunday morning, Reuters reported.

Since Wednesday thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. Locals as well as support teams from Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Azerbaijan were deployed to help firefighters. The Turkish government pledged to rebuild damaged homes and compensate for losses in areas affected by the fires.

Pakdemirli said at least 13 planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 828 fire-fighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts, Reuters reported.

The EU said it had helped mobilise three fire-fighting planes on Sunday, one from Croatia and two from Spain, after Turkey activated a disaster response scheme to request help from other European countries. Turkey is not a member of the EU.

In neighbouring Greece firefighters were trying to contain a wildfire burning in the west of the country that destroyed houses and left 15 citizens in hospital with breathing problems on Saturday, authorities said. Temperatures have been high in much of the country in recent days and are expected to reach 44 degrees Celsius on Monday and Tuesday.

On the Italian island of Sicily firemen said on Saturday they were battling for a second straight day wildfires that reached the town of Catania, forcing people to leave their homes and the local airport to temporarily shut down, Reuters reported.

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Iran denies involvement in attack on Israeli-managed tanker off Oman

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(Last Updated On: August 1, 2021)

Iran said on Sunday it was not involved in an attack on an Israeli-managed petroleum product tanker off the coast of Oman, referring to an incident last week that killed two and which Israel blamed on the Islamic Republic.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for Thursday’s incident, and called its denial “cowardly”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference that the “Zionist regime (Israel) has created insecurity, terror and violence…These accusations about Iran’s involvement are condemned by Tehran.”

“Such accusations are meant by Israel to divert attention from facts and are baseless,” Khatibzadeh said.

A Briton and a Romanian were killed when the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime was attacked – apparently by a drone, a U.S. defense official said, though conclusive evidence was still needed.

Speaking during a weekly meeting of his cabinet on Sunday, Bennett said: “I declare unequivocally: Iran is the one that carried out the attack on the ship,” adding that intelligence supports his claim.

“We, in any case, have our own way to relay the message to Iran,” Bennett said. Israel‘s foreign minister said earlier the incident deserved a harsh response.

There were varying explanations for what happened to the tanker. Zodiac Maritime described the incident as “suspected piracy” and a source at the Oman Maritime Security Center as an accident that occurred outside Omani territorial waters.

U.S. and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting said Iran was their leading suspect for the incident.

Iran and Israel have traded accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

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Four killed as wildfires sweep Turkey, villages evacuated

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(Last Updated On: July 30, 2021)

The death toll from wildfires on Turkey‘s southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for a third day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey‘s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas, President Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that 14 were still burning.

Planes from Russia and Ukraine helped battle the flames and another from Azerbaijan was joining them. “As of midday, with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

“We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

In Turkey, firefighters on the ground and in helicopters were fighting a blaze that killed three people in Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of Antalya. Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said 27 neighbourhoods were evacuated there.

One person was found dead on Thursday in Mugla’s Marmaris area, 290 km west of Manavgat. The blaze continued in Marmaris but residential areas were not at risk, Pakdemirli said.

Erdogan said at least five planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 1,080 firefighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts at 1,140 sites.

Istanbul governor’s office banned entry to forest areas until the end of August as a precaution against fires.

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