This just in
July 3, 2014
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that his government will lift some of its restrictions against North Korea.

Currently, the hermit kingdom's citizens, ships, and commerce are banned from Japan, but Abe's decision will ease travel restrictions and "allow port calls for humanitarian purposes," The Associated Press reports.

The announcement comes after North Korea agreed to reinvestigate the fate of at least 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents. Abe told the AP he was "satisfied" with how North Korea is treating the investigation so far, calling the power granted to the investigative committee "unprecedented."

Abe's decision is expected to be formally approved by his cabinet on Friday. The AP reports that Japan will continue to follow U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, which include an arms trade ban and a freeze of North Korean assets. Meghan DeMaria

Crisis in Iraq
10:18 a.m. ET
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Two U.S. officials speaking anonymously with The Guardian on Friday said Iran has contributed troops to the Iraqi ground force operations against ISIS.

The U.S. military has previously stated that Iran's involvement would not be opposed, so long as its troops remain under the command of Iraqi government-led forces. Still, a U.S. statement released Friday detailing recent operations against ISIS made no mention of Iran's involvement.

The U.S. and its allies have staged a series of offensives over the past few days, in a bid to retake control of the Beiji refinery compound. U.S.-led airstrikes have also targeted the city of Ramadi, which was overtaken by ISIS earlier this week. Sarah Eberspacher

Foreign affairs
9:58 a.m. ET
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A gunfight between federal forces and suspected cartel members in the western Mexico state of Michoacán left at least 42 people dead on Friday night, government officials told Reuters.

Most of those killed were suspected gang members; while federal officials did not name the cartel involved, Michoacán's Governor Salvador Jara told a news station that the criminals were likely from the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which specializes in producing and trafficking methamphetamine to the U.S. from the region.

The Wall Street Journal reports that New Generation has orchestrated several police killings over the past few months, most notably on May 1, when its gang members targeted an army helicopter, while also setting fire to banks, gas stations, and cars in Guadalajara. Sarah Eberspacher

Quotables
9:24 a.m. ET
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Johnny Storm, also known as The Human Torch and one-fourth of Marvel's Fantastic Four, was originally written as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed daredevil. So when Michael B. Jordan was announced as the new face of Storm in Marvel's reboot, he says he expected some pushback.

"You're not supposed to go on the Internet when you're cast as a superhero," Jordan wrote in an open letter for Entertainment Weekly. "(But) I didn't want to be ignorant about what people were saying."

Jordan's online hunt turned up comments that boiled down to: "A black guy? I don't like it," he says.

"I can see everybody's perspective, and I know I can't ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books," Jordan adds. "But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961."

Read the actor's full letter, ahead of his new movie's August premiere, over at Entertainment Weekly. Sarah Eberspacher

Senate Says
8:52 a.m. ET
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President Barack Obama moved one step closer to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal with 11 other countries, as the Senate voted in favor of fast-track legislation on the deal, on Friday night. The legislation would help Obama move more quickly toward a finalized agreement on the TPP, by letting Congress use quick up-or-down votes, sans amendments, on specific trade deal details.

The bill now moves to the House, where it will likely face tougher passage, and where, The Washington Post notes, it has an unusual, bipartisan proponent: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and leading Republican support of the legislation. Sarah Eberspacher

This just in
8:17 a.m. ET
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With several hours left before official results are announced, Ireland already appears set to pass a historic referendum allowing same-sex marriage, The New York Times reports.

The country would be the first in the world to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote; early ballot counts have found voters resoundingly in favor of the measure. And while no official announcement has yet been made, opposition leader David Quinn already tweeted his concession to the proposal's supporters: "Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done." Sarah Eberspacher

Compromise!
May 22, 2015
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California officials on Friday accepted a compromise offer from Delta farmers, who proposed forgoing a quarter of their water supplies due to the state's "unprecedented drought," The New York Times reports.

California's agricultural industry accounts for 80 percent of the state's water consumption per year, but farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta own some of the state's most senior water rights — and The Sacramento Bee notes that they have historically held tight to those claims. Representatives for the Delta's nearly 4,000 farmers said they expected most to participate in the cutbacks, either by farming less of their acreage or planting crops that require less water. Sarah Eberspacher

For those who have everything
May 22, 2015
Courtesy photo

The Rare Tea Company caters to true tea connoisseurs, says Ming Lui at How To Spend It. Founder Henrietta Lovell specializes in creating bespoke blends of the world's finest teas, which will run you a hefty $7,870 for first blending and a three-month supply. Three one-on-one tasting sessions are usually required; if you can't visit her London shop, she can fly to you. After teasing out a customer's flavor and mouthfeel preferences, Lovell provides up to 10 samples before arriving at the final blend. Because flavors change depending on the season when the tea leaves are picked, each custom blend is tweaked regularly to provide a consistent flavor. The Week Staff

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