This just in
July 2, 2014
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Beijing has banned Xinjiang officials and schools from participating in Ramadan fasting and religious activities.

Students, teachers, and civil servants in the Xinjiang province, which is predominantly populated by Muslim Uighurs, are barred from participating in the Muslim holy month, reports the South China Morning Post.

Similar restrictions by the ruling Communist party — which is officially atheist — have occurred in recent years, but this year has seen a greater number of terror attacks across China, with critics calling for Beijing to expand religious freedoms. In the past, Beijing has claimed the restrictions are enforced to preserve government employees' health.

"We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast," the state-run Bozhou Radio and TV University said on its website. Other government agencies' websites reported similar statements. The South China Morning Post also reports that authorities inspected Uighur homes to ensure the fast was not being observed.

Cuba Libre
3:30 a.m. ET
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Watch out, Havana: The (North) Americans are coming. Starting Thursday, Airbnb will list 1,000 properties throughout Cuba, The Associated Press reports, with 40 percent of the rentals in Havana and the rest scattered throughout other tourist destinations on the island. Airbnb has spent three months lining up apartments and houses, but the idea is apparently nothing new in Cuba.

"We believe that Cuba could become one of Airbnb's biggest markets in Latin America," said Airbnb regional director Kay Kuehne. "We are actually plugging into an existing culture of micro-enterprise in Cuba. The hosts in Cuba have been doing for decades what we just started doing seven years ago." Some other U.S. businesses have entered the Cuban market since President Obama and Cuba's leaders started unfreezing relations in January, but this expansion will probably have the most impact on Cuba's citizens. For now, only U.S. Airbnb customers can book rooms in Cuba.

Tragedy at Sea
2:58 a.m. ET

Early Thursday, a Russian fishing trawler with 132 crew members sank rapidly into the frigid Sea of Oshotsk, in the Pacific Ocean near the Kamchatka Peninsula. Rescue workers and nearby fishing boats were able to rescue 63 crew and recover 54 bodies. "The rescue operation is going on, we are still looking for 15 people," local rescue coordinator Viktor Klepikov told Reuters. "At this time we do not know what might have caused the tragedy."

Most of the crew is Russian, but 42 are from Myanmar; the rest are from Latvia, Ukraine, and Vanuatu.

Golden Arches
2:13 a.m. ET
Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images

McDonald's is giving a raise and new benefits to the roughly 90,000 employees who work at the 1,500 U.S. restaurants the company owns and operates, the fast food giant announced Wednesday. Starting July 1, workers will get at least $1 over minimum wage, for an average pay of $9.90 an hour. Employees with at least a year on the job will also be eligible for up to five days of paid leave a year.

The across-the-board pay raise won't directly affect the bulk of McDonald's workers — 750,000 people work at 12,500 McDonald's eateries owned by 3,100 franchisees in the U.S. alone — but all U.S. workers will be able to take advantage of a new program allowing employees to get their high school diploma online free of charge, plus some assistance with college tuition.

"Motivated teams deliver better customer service," new McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook told The Wall Street Journal, "and delivering better customer service in our restaurants is clearly going to be a vital part of our turnaround." Outside analysts say the move by McDonald's is in response to wage pressures from the improving economy and raises handed down to hourly employees by other large U.S. customer-interacting companies.

April Fools
1:18 a.m. ET

Jimmy Kimmel is a huge fan of April Fools' Day, but he's usually the one pulling the pranks. Early Wednesday, with the help of Kimmel's wife, Rihanna turned the tables. You could argue that having Rihanna and her crew come in and perform a personal concert for you in your bedroom is a nice prank, but the flashlight in the eyes and the pillows to the head would be unpleasant. Plus, putting the video on national TV. "All right, well, that was a good one," Kimmel said after the prank. And so it was. Watch. —Peter Weber

Afro & Deziak?
12:54 a.m. ET

There really could have been an NBC show called American Power Hour in the early 1980s, but it's unlikely it would have featured a black-and-white R&B duo called "Afro & Deziak." But despite the spot-on VHS-quality look the Tonight Show crew managed to create, realism isn't the reason to watch Jimmy Fallon and guest Pharrell Williams sing and dance. You watch for the crazy outfits, cheap laughs, and quick costume changes. Isn't that reason enough? —Peter Weber

Time to move to Indiana
12:31 a.m. ET

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was David Letterman's guest on Wednesday night's Late Show, and Letterman asked about the kerfuffle over the "religious freedom" law in his home state, Indiana. Franken and Letterman both agree that gays and lesbians, because they are people, should not be discriminated against, and that Gov. Mike Pence (R) erred in signing the law. Then Letterman got down to brass tacks.

"Here's what I want to know," Letterman started. "I love Indiana, and I'll probably be buried in Indiana, and I know I've embarrassed the state many, many times.... What can I do now to make the governor feel uncomfortable." Franken had a brainstorm: "As a matter of fact, there's an open seat there," with Sen. Dan Coats (R) not seeking re-election in 2016. "I think you should run," he said. Letterman, who will be jobless next year, shakes his head no, but Franken has a point: Candidates with 35-40 years of professional comedy under the belt have fared pretty well in politics. —Peter Weber

RIP
April 1, 2015

Cynthia Lennon, the first wife of John Lennon and mother of their son, Julian, died of cancer on Wednesday at her home in Mallorca, Spain, at age 75. Cynthia Powell and John Lennon met in art school in Liverpool, and married in 1962 after she became pregnant but before the Beatles recorded their first single, "Love Me Do."

It was not a very happy marriage, according to her two memoirs and several interviews, and it ended after John started a relationship with his future second wife, Yoko Ono. After their divorce in 1968, Cynthia Lennon remarried three times, and her last husband died in 2013. She is survived only by Julian Lennon, who posted this video after her death. —Peter Weber

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