Red, white and extra blue as tight security marks U.S. July 4th celebrations

NEW YORK The United States celebrated the July Fourth holiday on Monday with parades, baking contests and picnics draped in red, white and an extra layer of blue, as police ramped up patrols because of concerns about terrorism and gun violence.Millions of Americans marked independence from Britain with celebrations as boisterous as a music-packed party by country music legend Willie Nelson for 10,000 people at a race track in Austin, Texas, and as staid as colonial-era costumed actors reading the Declaration of Independence at the U.S. National Archives in Washington. [nL8N19M5Q0]"It's a good day for reflecting on the positive things about America - the sense of freedom that you can go after and achieve whatever you want," said Helen Donaldson, 48, the mother of a multi-ethnic family of four adopted teens living in Maplewood, New Jersey.Donaldson, a white Australian immigrant, cheered with her two New Jersey-born African-American daughters, both 12 and dressed in red, white and blue, as a recording of the Star Spangled Banner played to kick off a children's relay race. Nearby, in the baking contest tent, 13-year-old Nate Fisher entered his cherry blueberry tart into competition."I have high hopes," he said, flashing a smile.History was made in the traditional hotdog-eating contest at New York's Coney Island when long-time champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut took back the Mustard Yellow International Belt from last year's upstart winner Matt Stonie. Chestnut set an unofficial new world record by downing 70 hotdogs in 10 minutes - topping his previous record of 69 franks. In the women's division, Miki Sudo successfully defended her title by eating 38 hotdogs in 10 minutes.With the holiday taking place days after attacks in Baghdad, Dhaka and Istanbul, the New York Police Department deployed eight new "vapor wake" dogs, trained to sniff out explosives on a moving target in a crowd. [nL1N19N1X6] The department's presence this holiday was boosted by nearly 2,000 new officers just days after they graduated on Friday from the New York City Police Academy."You're going to see a lot of people in heavy vests, helmets and long guns and they can respond at a moment's notice to any incident," NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill told a news conference. "There's also a lot you won't see." CHICAGO BRACED FOR VIOLENCEPolice in Chicago, which has seen a spike in gun murders this year, announced a stepped-up presence with more than 5,000 officers on patrol over the long weekend, traditionally one of the year's most violent, said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.The Chicago Tribune said at least three people had been killed and 34 wounded over the holiday weekend by Monday evening. Dry weather forecasts across the country thrilled fireworks lovers, although some spots in Michigan have been so rain-starved that pyrotechnic shows were canceled in a handful of communities near Detroit because of the risk of fires. A 19-year-old tourist in New York's Central Park suffered a severe foot wound on Sunday after an apparent homemade firework exploded when he jumped off a rock and stepped on the device, authorities said. [nL1N19P0CH]In Compton, California, a 9-year-old girl's hand had to be amputated when she was injured after unwittingly picking up a lit firework, media said. In New York, more than a million people packed balconies, rooftops and the East River's banks for the 40th annual Macy's Fireworks display, which the department store said showcased more than 56,000 pyrotechnic shells and effects.The musical accompaniment featured the United States Air Force Band playing patriotic numbers including "This Land is Your Land" and "Stars and Stripes Forever," and Grammy-winning vocalist Jennifer Holliday will sing "America the Beautiful." (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Daniel Wallis in New York, Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Adam DeRose in Washington, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Rigby and Phil Berlowitz)

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BRIEF-Xencor enteres into collaboration and license agreement with Novartis

June 28 Xencor Inc :* Xencor announces strategic collaboration for bispecific programs, including XMAB 14045 and XMAB 13676* Has entered into a collaboration and license agreement with Novartis to develop and commercialize novel therapeutics* Parties will collaborate and share development costs for worldwide development of XMAB14045 and XMAB13676, with Xencor * Will receive a $150 million upfront payment and is eligible to receive clinical, regulatory and sales milestone payments for successful programs* Says eligible to receive tiered, low double-digit royalties for sales of XMAB14045 and XMAB13676 outside of U.S. * Novartis to receive worldwide rights to co's bispecific technology to develop and commercialize four additional targets selected by Novartis * Says Novartis will receive a worldwide non-exclusive license to use Xencor's XMAB FC technologies in up to ten moleculesSource text for Eikon:Further company coverage:

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RPT-Saudi prince aims for Silicon Valley appeal to gleam at home

(Repeats June 23 story with no changes)* Powerful Saudi prince toured Silicon Valley this week* Facebook meeting showcased more modern approach* 70 percent of Saudis younger than 30* Prince Mohammed seeking big economic, social changesBy Celine Aswad and Angus McDowallDUBAI/RIYADH, June 23 The powerful young prince behind modernising reforms in Saudi Arabia presents himself as the champion of his nation's plugged-in youth, and his visit to Silicon Valley this week sought to bolster that image.The 31-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has unabashedly pitched his "Vision 2030" reforms at the 70 percent of the staid Islamic kingdom's people younger than him, promising to unlock their "talent, potential and dedication".He has also tried to overcome Western stereotypes of Saudis, meeting foreign media to sell his vision of market-oriented reforms and a transformation of the kingdom's society. Pictures of the denim-clad prince in Silicon Valley served both purposes.His modernising message has strongly resonated on social media with younger Saudis, whose concerns sometimes seemed misunderstood or ignored by older royals, and where hashtags referencing the prince receive large volumes of traffic."The Saudi youth and the government are finally speaking the same language," said Manal al-Sharif, a banker and mother of two teenage girls in Jeddah.Saudis are not accustomed to young rulers: King Salman is 80, the late King Abdullah died last year aged 90, his predecessor King Fahd died in 2005 aged 84 and each was surrounded by a coterie of similarly aged royal advisers.But in a country where rapid development has caused birthrates to soar since last century's oil boom, a majority of Saudis are young, urban and switched on, using the internet and social media more than their peers around the Arab world. Photographs of Prince Mohammed meeting Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, and trying out a virtual reality headset, were widely published in Saudi newspapers on Thursday.The social media barons of Silicon Valley are more relevant to many of these younger Saudis, at ease with the liberal mores of American television shows as well as the conservative piety of the kingdom's tradition, than Western political leaders."Prince of youth", accompanied by excitable emojis showing a purple heart, clapping hands and raised thumbs, was a typical Tweet on Thursday in response to Prince Mohammed's trip. Another Tweeted "All hopes are with the Prince of Youth".Still, some of Prince Mohammed's moves, which include a targeted increase in women working, promoting entertainment and celebrating pre-Islamic cultural heritage, have alarmed conservatives already fearful of liberal encroachment.DOUBLE EFFECTSaudis are used to seeing their leaders don the formal national dress of white robe, chequered head dress and black gauzy cloak for visits overseas, and to images of them flanked by a large entourage of flunkies and fellow princes.So Prince Mohammed's choice of Western attire - jeans, jacket and open-neck shirt in California, suit and tie in Washington to meet some political leaders in Washington - and with less pomp than is usual on such visits sent a clear signal. It is one he has already pushed at home, choosing to appear often without the fine cloak that distinguishes important Saudis, and sometimes even with his head bare - something unthinkable for his father's generation."His visit had a double effect: on the one hand it is showing a side of Saudi Arabia that has never before been seen in the West... on the other hand he is leveraging his age in a positive way," said Dina Suleiman, a 30-year-old Saudi woman in Jeddah.Her younger sister Randa, 16, was enthusiastic: "I think MbS is really cool and the way he's representing the country in a positive way makes me very proud," she said, using the prince's nickname.Younger Saudis face entrenched unemployment, a skills shortage, a lack of appropriate housing and a coming economic crunch as the kingdom's oil income grows ever less able to finance the needs of a rapidly rising population.Since his appointment to head an economy and development supercommittee early last year, Prince Mohammed has made addressing these long-term challenges a priority. His Vision 2030 and an associated National Transformation Plan are part of that effort.During his trip to the United States, Prince Mohammed pitched Saudi Arabia as an investment destination for American companies, securing some unbinding agreements from major corporates to look into projects in the kingdom. The idea is to promote Saudi Arabia as a dynamic economy that reforms are unshackling from the statist model of its past with the ultimate goal of creating new private sector jobs for younger people in the country.BACKLASHThe prince has faced criticism from some Saudis at what they perceive to be his focus on glamorous international affairs at the expense of their domestic problems."What I care about as a Saudi citizen is affordable housing. I don't care about his meeting with companies and other delegations because it won't benefit me in any way," was one Tweet.And others remain unconvinced. "Beyond it being a great photo op and good networking I think its too soon to say this will benefit us at this point," said Abdulaziz al-Abdullah, 34, an entrepreneur in Jeddah.Conservatives' criticism of the prince on social media are often phrased in coded language rather than as direct criticism, but the decision in February to impose restrictive new rules on the religious police triggered an outcry among ultra-conservatives.Among conservatives, the West's technological innovations, including those pioneered in Silicon Valley, are often admired while its political and cultural influence is regarded as a dangerous threat to Saudi Arabia's moral probity.So Prince Mohammed's abandonment of traditional dress for meetings on social media may have caused some trepidation. "When will you take a walk with your own people, your royal highness?" was one comment on Twitter."Mohammad bin Salman is bringing a refreshing change, and this may be met with a lot of backlash from certain sects in the country," said Mohammad bin Atef, 28, a manager at a supermarket chain who comes from the conservative Qassim Province."But God willing this prince of youth will come to be known as 'prince of change'," he added.(Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Peter Millership)

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Orlando families to bury victims, ask Obama for change

ORLANDO, Fla. Families of some of the 49 people killed in a massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub will mourn and bury their dead on Friday, a day after President Barack Obama met survivors and said the United States must act to control gun violence.Funerals are expected to be held over the next two weeks.Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, like many of the victims of the Pulse club mass shooting, was from Puerto Rico. He is to be buried on Friday, according to the Newcomer Funeral Home, a day after more than 150 friends and family mourned him at a wake.Obama, who traveled to Orlando on Thursday and met survivors and families of those who died, told reporters: "I held and hugged grieving family members and parents, and they asked, 'Why does this keep happening?'."He urged Congress to pass measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used in the attack on Sunday. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in Orlando after a U.S.-born gunman claiming allegiance to various Islamist militant groups carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.During the shooting rampage the gunman, Omar Mateen, exchanged text messages with his wife, CNN reported on Thursday, as well as posting on Facebook and placing a phone call to a television station. Police killed Mateen, 29, a U.S. citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrants.Obama, who has visited mass shooting victims' families in towns from San Bernardino, California, to Newtown, Connecticut, since becoming president, laid flowers at a memorial for the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but U.S. officials have said they do not believe Mateen was assisted from abroad. A married couple also claiming allegiance to Islamic State shot dead 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.BEFORE THE MADNESSOn Thursday, more than 300 people, including Florida Governor Rick Scott, attended the viewing for Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, who was born in Dorado, Puerto Rico. He was 36 when he was killed during a night of dancing to celebrate a friend's new house. His husband had stayed home that night in the couple's apartment. "He was in a Snapchat video that's out there, dancing away, so we know he had some fun before the madness," said his cousin, Orlando Gonzalez.Twenty-three of the 53 wounded remained hospitalized, six in critical condition, according to the Orlando Regional Medical Center.CNN reported, citing a law enforcement official it did not identify, that Mateen exchanged text messages with his wife, Noor Salman, during the three hours he was holed up in a bathroom inside the nightclub. Salman is under investigation to find out whether she knew about Mateen's plans ahead of time. CONGRESS UNDER PRESSUREThe massacre put pressure on Congress to act.Mateen carried out the slaughter with an assault weapon and handgun that had been legally purchased although he had twice been investigated by the FBI for possible connections with militant Islamist groups.Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said the chamber would most likely vote on four gun control measures on Monday.However, no formal deal between the parties for votes was announced, and it was unclear when and how the Senate would proceed with the votes, which would be amendments to an appropriations bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments.Republicans, who hold a 54-person majority in the 100-seat Senate, have blocked a number of Democratic-backed gun control measures over the years, saying they infringed on Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. (Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Peter Eisler in Orlando, Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay in Washington and Zachary Fagenson in West Palm Beach, Florida; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Exclusive: Obama approves broader role for U.S. forces in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON President Barack Obama has approved giving the U.S. military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces battling a resilient Taliban insurgency, in a move to assist them more proactively on the battlefield, a U.S. official told Reuters. The senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision would also allow greater use of U.S. air power, particularly close air support.However, the official cautioned: "This is not a blanket order to target the Taliban."Obama's decision again redefines America's support role in Afghanistan's grinding conflict, more than a year after international forces wrapped up their combat mission and shifted the burden to Afghan troops.It also comes ahead of Obama's eagerly anticipated decision on whether to forge ahead with a scheduled reduction in the numbers of U.S. troops from about 9,800 currently to 5,500 by the start of 2017.A group of retired generals and senior diplomats urged Obama last week to forgo those plans, warning they could undermine the fight against the Afghan Taliban, whose leader was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan last month.Under the new policy, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will be able to decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field - something they have so far only been doing with Afghan special forces, the official said.The expanded powers are only meant to be employed "in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield," the official said. That means that U.S. forces should not be expected to accompany Afghan soldiers on day-to-day missions."This added flexibility ... is fully supported by the Afghan government and will help the Afghans at an important moment for the country," the official said.AIDING AFGHAN OFFENSIVE The decision is a departure from current U.S. rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which impose limits on U.S. forces' ability to strike at insurgents.For example, the U.S. military was previously allowed to take action against the Taliban "in extremis" - moments when their assistance was needed to prevent a significant Afghan military setback.That definition, however, left the U.S. military postured to assist them in more defensive instances. The new policy would allow U.S. forces to accompany Afghans at key moments in their offensive campaign against the Taliban."The U.S. forces will more proactively support Afghan conventional forces," the official said. The Taliban control or contest more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since they were ousted by a U.S.-backed intervention in late 2001, and U.S. officials have acknowledged the uneven performance of Afghan security forces.Large portions of Afghanistan, including the provincial capital of northern Kunduz and multiple districts of southern Helmand province, have fallen, at times briefly, to the Taliban over the past year-and-a-half. Many other districts and provinces are also under varying degrees of Taliban control.The new authorities that Obama has given the U.S. military could give it greater leeway in addressing the shortcomings of Afghan security forces.Still, experts warn that its hard to predict when Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own against the Taliban, not to mention the country's enormous economic difficulties and fractious political system.The U.S government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan told Reuters that the United States had wasted billions of dollars in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan over the past decade, and now a renewed Taliban insurgency was threatening the gains that had been made. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler and Paul Tait)

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