London, Nov 9 (AP/UNB) — A wheelchair used by physicist Stephen Hawking has sold at auction for almost 300,000 pounds ($393,000), while a copy of his doctoral thesis fetched almost 585,000 pounds ($767,000), auctioneer Christie's said Thursday.
The motorized chair, used by Hawking after he was paralyzed with motor neuron disease, raised 296,750 pounds in a Christie's online auction. It had been expected to fetch up to 15,000 pounds.
Proceeds from the chair's sale will go to two charities, the Stephen Hawking Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Hawking's 1965 Cambridge University thesis, "Properties of Expanding Universes," sold for 584,750 pounds, more than three times its pre-sale estimate, in the online auction.
Diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 22 and given just a few years to live, Hawking instead died in March at 76. He expanded scientific thinking about black holes and the origins of the universe and attained celebrity status, writing best-selling books and guest starring on "The Simpsons."
A script from one of his appearances on the animated TV show sold for 6,250 pounds in the sale of 22 Hawking items, while a collection of his medals and awards raised 296,750 pounds.
Hawking's daughter Lucy said the sale gave "admirers of his work the chance to acquire a memento of our father's extraordinary life in the shape of a small selection of evocative and fascinating items."
Hawking's children hope to preserve his scientific archive for the nation. Christie's is handling the negotiations to hand it over to British authorities in lieu of inheritance tax.
Rome, Nov 7 (AP/UNB) — Italy said Tuesday that it is working to help relocate the family of a Pakistani Christian woman acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy, amid warnings from her husband that the family's life is in danger in Pakistan.
The Foreign Ministry said it was coordinating with other countries to ensure safety for Asia Bibi and her family. In a statement, the ministry said it was ready to act on whatever the Italian government might decide — an indication that an offer of asylum might be in the offing.
Also Tuesday, a lawmaker in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party called for Germany to grant Bibi refuge, after her husband Ashiq Masih appealed for help from the West to relocate the family.
Bibi was convicted in 2010 of insulting Islam's prophet, but Pakistan's top court acquitted her last week. Protests by hardline Islamists prompted the government to impose a travel ban on Bibi until her case is reviewed.
Bibi's case has been closely followed in Italy for years, and Pope Francis met earlier this year with her family in a show of solidarity.
Even Italy's hardline, anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini stressed that he would do "all that is humanly possible" to ensure Bibi and her family are safe, either in Italy or some other country.
Salvini distinguished between Bibi and the tens of thousands of migrants who try to seek out a better life in Italy via smugglers' boats from Libya.
Madrid, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — Spain's maritime rescue service says at least 17 people have died trying to reach Spain in boats departing from North Africa.
The service says Tuesday that it rescued 80 people Monday, including five women, from two boats and recovered the bodies of 13 dead migrants in the Alboran Sea, part of the western Mediterranean migrant route into Europe. They were all transferred to the Spanish enclave of Melilla, which borders Morocco.
In a separate incident, the Spanish Civil Guard says it found four bodies of migrants and 22 survivors, all men from northern Africa, after the wooden dinghy in which they were travelling hit a reef close to the coast west of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The U.N. says over 2,160 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year.
Rome, Nov 4 (AP/UNB) — Storms lashing Sicily have killed at least 12 people with torrential floods, Italian authorities said as the country's leader headed Sunday to the stricken Mediterranean island. Divers pulled out nine of those victims from a home flooded by a rapidly swelling river in the countryside near Palermo.
State TV broadcaster RaiNews24 said the sole survivor of the flood that ravaged the home with water and mud was the owner, who had just stepped outside to walk the family dogs Saturday when the torrent hit.
News reports said the man at first clung to a tree, then ended up on the roof of a nearby house. He used his cellphone to call for help but it was too late for the others, who included a one-year-old baby, a three-year-old child and a teenager. The victims were from two families who had gathered in the country villa for the weekend.
A man's body was also found on a guardrail along a Palermo-area road after floodwaters swept away his car, Italian news reports said.
Across the island, in the town of Cammarata, near Agrigento, the fire department said its divers were working to recover the bodies of two people swept away while driving on a road near the flooding Saraceno River.
Also in Agrigento province, firefighters rescued 14 people from a hotel in the town of Montevago, which was threatened by floodwaters from the Belice River.
Agrigento, famed for the ruins of ancient Greek temples, is a popular tourist destination.
Elsewhere in Sicily, at least two other people were missing Sunday after floodwaters swept away their cars, including a doctor heading to the hospital in the hill town of Corleone.
Other storms had battered northern Italy earlier in the week, killing at least 15 people, uprooting millions of trees near Alpine valleys and leaving several Italian villages without electricity or road access for days.
In Casteldaccia, the hamlet where the river flooded the home in Sicily, neighbor Maria Concetta Alfano said she, her husband and their adult disabled daughter fled after barking dogs drew their attention to the rising waters in the Milicia River, the Italian news agency ANSA said. It quoted the husband, Andrea Cardenale, as saying he drove away as "water was up to the hood of the car."
Rescuers retrieved the bodies from the home. A Sicilian prosecutor opened an investigation to determine if any human error, such as possible inadequate drainage of the river, might have played a role in the deaths.
Noumea, Nov 3 (AP/UNB)— Voters in New Caledonia are deciding whether the French territory in the South Pacific should break free from the European country that claimed it in the mid-19th century.
A referendum being held on Sunday marks a milestone in the process of the archipelago's decolonization and will help define New Caledonia's future as an independent country or as a continuing extension of France.
More than 174,000 registered voters are invited to answer the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"
Observers expect a majority to favor remaining a part of France, based on opinion polls and previous election results.
Polling stations open at 8 a.m. (10 p.m. Saturday in mainland France; 9 p.m. GMT) and close 10 hours later. Results are expected later Sunday.
New Caledonia, a cluster of islands, is home to about 270,000 people. They include the native Kanaks, who represent about 40 percent of the population, people of European descent (about 27 percent) and others from Asian countries and Pacific islands.
It relies on France for defense, law enforcement, foreign affairs, justice and education, yet has a large degree of autonomy. New Caledonia receives about 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in French state subsidies every year, and many fear the economy would suffer if ties are severed.
The referendum is the result of a process that started 30 years ago to end years of violence between supporters and opponents of separating from France.
The violence, which overall claimed more than 70 lives, prompted a 1988 deal between rival loyalist and pro-independence factions. Another agreement a decade later included plans for an independence referendum.
Most Kanaks have tended to back independence, while most descendants of European settlers have favored keeping the French connection.
To ensure security during the vote, additional police were sent to New Caledonia. Authorities also banned the carrying of firearms and alcohol sales immediately before and during the vote.
If voters say no to independence Sunday, the 1998 agreement allows two more self-determination referendums to be held by 2022.