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Sydney Hostage Crisis Over After Police Storm Cafe with Stun Grenades

Sydney Hostage Crisis Over After Police Storm Cafe with Stun Grenades

Daniel Munoz/Getty Images

(SYDNEY) — Police have declared the siege over in Sydney after armed officers stormed the chocolate shop at the center of a hostage crisis and hostages were seen fleeing amid the sound of explosions. At 10:19 a.m. ET, a group of at least seven heavily armed police officers went into the Lindt cafe under the cover of loud bangs of what local news Channel 9 is calling stun grenades. Shortly after the police stormed the café, at least two hostages emerged, looking visibly shaken. A few minutes later, a few paramedics were seen entering the café behind police officers with medical packs -- followed by at least two stretchers. The explosive police action came shortly after a new wave of hostages emerged from the shop. The suspect was identified as Man Monis, according to Australian news reports. Monis is believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News. He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the station. Earlier in the day, seven new people fled from the popular Sydney cafe after they had been taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down, authorities said. Two people inside the cafe were seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it that has been used by extremists in the past -- raising fears that a terror attack was unfolding in Australia's largest city. Video also emerged early in the standoff showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air. The first three people who fled sprinted out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe about six hours into the standoff, while two women -- wearing aprons -- frantically ran from a side exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police officers waiting outside. At the same time, media personalities said they received calls from hostages during the standoff. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, speaking at a news conference as the situation stretched into the night, said authorities remain committed on ensuring that the hostages are safely released. "We have the very best negotiators in the world on the job," Scipione said. Earlier in the day, Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding the hostages in the cafe, who have been kept there against their will since 9:30 a.m. local time on Monday. In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them." Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in Australia condemned the attack on Facebook, saying they "condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam." "We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day. "We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm." Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said. The State Department said the nearby U.S. consulate was evacuated. People inside buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows. "There's a real sense of alertness, awareness and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering." Abbott, the prime minister, said the country's National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation. "This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.

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Sydney Hostage Crisis: Hostages Share Gunman’s Demands in Chilling Phone Calls

Sydney Hostage Crisis: Hostages Share Gunman’s Demands in Chilling Phone Calls

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images(SYDNEY) — Media personalities in Australia say they received calls Monday from hostages in the Sydney cafe standoff.Ray Hadley was hosting his radio show on Australia’s 2GB station when he says a hostage called in on his show’s open line. Hadley did not put the hostage on-air live -- worried about the risks -- but says he spoke to the hostage in four conversations before police negotiators took over."I could hear the hostage-taker in the background issuing instructions to him on what to request me to say on air,” Hadley told ABC News.With the armed gunman nearby, the hostage couldn’t say much over the phone, especially nothing negative, Hadley recalled.After speaking with the male hostage, Hadley consulted with police. A negotiator eventually arrived to his studio, picking up the conversation.Other hostages, meanwhile, spoke off-air to the negotiator, Hadley said.Hadley says the situation became “heart-wrenching” when a mother called into his show, saying her 18-year-old son was being held hostage inside the café.“She was in a situation where she was feeling terribly bad for the hostages, and then she suddenly realized her own boy was inside there, being held hostage,” Hadley said.Mark Burrows, a reporter with 9 News Australia, said he also spoke with two hostages who called his newsroom directly.“The first one, as I spoke to her, the gunman was actually reeling his demands through her, a long list of demands,” Burrows said. “I think No. 1 was that he wanted to speak to someone with authority, but mainly the prime minister, and there were quite a few other of those demands."“I asked her whether she was OK, she seemed reasonably relaxed.”About an hour later, another hostage called, Burrows said, with the second hostage in a more “agitated” state.“Again she had the gunman hovering over her, making these demands through her,” Burrows said. "That lady was far more anxious, far more agitated, because she got the feeling nothing was being done, but that’s not the case."

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Sydney Hostage Situation: 5 People Flee Lindt Chocolate Shop

Sydney Hostage Situation: 5 People Flee Lindt Chocolate Shop

WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images(SYDNEY) -- Five people have fled from a Sydney cafe after they were taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down as police tried to make contact with the armed perpetrator, authorities said. 

The hostages were being held in the Lindt Chocolat Café, a chocolate shop and cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, the city's financial district where the Reserve Bank of Australia and several commercial banks have their main offices. The area is also close to the New South Wales state parliament.

Two women wearing Lindt Cafe aprons were seen running out of the building's side door.

Earlier, New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn confirmed that three other people had gotten away.

"The first thing we will do is make sure they are OK and then we will work with these people to find out some more information,” Burn said. “Our No. 1 aim is to resolve this incident peacefully."

Police negotiators are in contact with the armed hostage-taker, but the motive remains unclear, Burn said.

Earlier in the day, video emerged showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air. Two women were also seen inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding an undisclosed number of hostages in the cafe. Police have not yet had contact with the hostage-taker, he said, adding that the situation began Monday at 9:45 a.m. local time.

In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."

They are also looking at the flag the hostages have been pictured holding. Scipione also said police have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism event, but they are acting in a manner consistent with a terror attack.

"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day. "We don't know that this is politically motivated, although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."

Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said. People in buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows.

"There's a real sense of alertness, awareness, and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering."

Earlier, video that aired on Channel 9 Australia showed police with weapons drawn, their attention focused on the cafe. Police said emergency services had responded and streets around the area had been closed.

"New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney," Abbott said.

He said the National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation.

"This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.

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Sweden: Russian Military Jet Nearly Collides with Passenger Plane

Sweden: Russian Military Jet Nearly Collides with Passenger Plane

iStock/Thinkstock(STOCKHOLM) -- Alarms have been raised after a close call in the air between a Russian military jet and a passenger plane.According to Swedish officials, the Russian aircraft switched off its transponder on Friday, making it almost invisible to commercial radar. A Scandinavian Airlines flight in the area nearly collided with the jet as a result.Russia has denied everything, but Sweden and NATO aren't buying it. The Swedes say Russia even conducted a practice bombing run over Stockholm last year.The incident is the latest sign of growing tension between Russia and the West.

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American Accused of Illegally Entering North Korea Speaks to Media

American Accused of Illegally Entering North Korea Speaks to Media

iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korea rolled out Arturo Pierre Martinez for the media on Sunday, accusing the American citizen of illegally entering the country.The details surrounding Martinez's entrance into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are not clear, but he apparently is not in custody.In a news conference in Pyongyang Sunday, Martinez said he crossed a river from China."I would like to offer a sincere apology to the leadership of the DPRK for knowingly having violated its nation's laws and boundaries by illegally entering as I did in such a foolish way," the 29-year-old from El Paso, Texas said."And I am extremely grateful for having been pardoned from the punishments given to violators of these laws, and for the most generous reception I have received," Martinez added.Martinez opened his remarks reading a statement seemingly written by North Korean officials."I would like to reveal some facts about America's imperialistic influence and dominance as well as much of its corrupt and threatening practices, through which it has proven itself to have little to no regard for human rights or serving the greater good," he said.He also said he doesn't plan on returning to the United States anytime soon."After I am done with my stay in the DPRK, I plan on seeking political asylum in the country of Venezuela," Martinez noted.Following the news conference, the State Department said it is aware of reports that an American citizen crossed into North Korea and "stand[s] ready to provide all possible consular assistance."The State Department also reiterated its warning that Americans should not travel to North Korea.

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Miss South Africa Crowned Miss World 2014

Miss South Africa Crowned Miss World 2014

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Miss South Africa Rolene Strauss was crowned Miss World 2014 in London on Sunday.The 22-year-old medical student was the favorite to take the title. Miss Hungary Edina Kulcsár followed in second place and Miss United States Elizabeth Safrit came in third.From Albania to Zimbabwe, 121 contestants competed for the title. But one country was not represented: Honduras.The bodies of Miss Honduras, María José Alvarado, and her sister were found buried by a river in the northern part of the Central American country last month on the day before she had planned to leave for London to prepare for the pageant. Police are accusing Alvarado's sister's boyfriend with their murders.

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Turkish Police Arrest Nearly Two Dozen During Crackdown on Media

Turkish Police Arrest Nearly Two Dozen During Crackdown on Media

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images(ISTANBUL) -- Nearly two dozen people were arrested in a nationwide crackdown on Turkish media outlets on Sunday, according to witnesses.The arrests targeted critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has attempted to quiet his detractors following a corruption scandal last year."Those detained are accused of forming an illegal organisation and trying to seize control of the state," reports the BBC. They include journalists, producers, scriptwriters and a police chief, the BBC says.The raid was predicted earlier this week by an unknown online tipster who claims to be a part of Erdogan's inner circle.

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Netanyahu Vows to Fight Palestinian UN Proposal

Netanyahu Vows to Fight Palestinian UN Proposal

Uriel Sinai/Getty images(JERUSALEM) -- Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday in Rome to try to defuse rising tensions.Ahead of his meeting with Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed once again to fight a Palestinian United Nations proposal that sets a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Kerry wants to avoid a showdown in the U.N. where a U.S. veto of the West Bank withdrawal plan may alienate Arab allies in the fight against ISIS.Israeli sources believe Kerry will make a last ditch effort to convince the Palestinians in Rome to shelf their U.N. plan and agree to a European draft that calls for a resumption of peace talks.

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Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies

Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies

File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(NEW YORK) -- The Geminids meteor shower was on full display early Sunday morning as some lucky stargazers caught the meteors streaking through the sky.The shower happens every December when Earth glides into a stream of space debris left over from an extinct comet called 3200 Phaethon.The meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini. Meteors shoot out of the constellation, producing many fireballs.The Geminids are older than the Civil War and were first documented in the early 19th century.

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New Photos of Prince George Released by Kensington Palace

New Photos of Prince George Released by Kensington Palace

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge/PA Wire via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Kensington Palace has released three new photos of Prince George. Taken in the Kensington Palace courtyard in November, the pictures show the third in line to the crown increasingly resembling his father.In each of the three photos, Prince George, dressed in a sweater adorned with the Queens Guards in traditional bearskin hats, has different expressions.George will be joined by a sibling in April next year.Prince William joked with President Obama they want the sex of their unborn baby to be a surprise, and said when George was born, he hadn't realized initially whether the baby was a boy or girl."We want a surprise. When George was born, I forgot to work out whether it was a boy or a girl. The excitement of the event and everything else was just chaos. You are suddenly ... well actually it's a boy," the Duke of Cambridge told the president.Will and Kate are just coming off a tour of the United States. They decided to leave Prince George in London while they made the 48-hour trip to New York and Washington, D.C., for the first time.William made a quick trip to Washington, D.C., that included a stop at the White House.In New York, he hit the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The couple paid their respects at the 9/11 Memorial.The real life royalty also rubbed shoulders with American royalty -- LeBron "King" James, "Queen Bey" Beyonce and Jay Z at a basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets.The couple spent their final night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a fundraiser celebrating the 600th anniversary of St. Andrews University, their alma mater where they met and fell in love."One of the reasons the photographs have been released by Their Royal Highnesses is in grateful acknowledgment of the fact that their request for Prince George to grow up without intrusion from photography has been, and continues to be, honoured," Royal sources told ABC News.The Cambridges want George to be able to experience a childhood that is as normal as possible, but they also acknowledge the great public interest in their young son.

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At Least 20 Dead Amid Uptick in Taliban Violence in Afghanistan

At Least 20 Dead Amid Uptick in Taliban Violence in Afghanistan

iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) — At least 20 people were killed throughout Afghanistan in Taliban attacks on soldiers and civilians, according to a U.S. military official.Afghan officials say a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a bus in Kabul carrying Afghan troops, killing at least seven of them. Earlier, two U.S. troops were killed when their convoy was attacked just outside of Kabul.Meanwhile in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban say they killed 12 workers clearing land mines in Helmand Province. The sharp uptick in violence comes as U.S. and NATO forces are drawing down troops levels in Afghanistan.

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Ukraine PM: Putin Made People in Donbas Region ‘Hostages’

Ukraine PM: Putin Made People in Donbas Region ‘Hostages’

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk proclaimed on Thursday that his country would regain control of the Donbas region occupied by Russia-aided rebels."Ukraine will resume control over her territory, and we will pay off all the social expenditures," Yatsenyuk said during the presentation of an Action Program of the Government at the Parliament. "Let the Russians with their bandits get out of the Ukrainian land, and then the Ukrainians will get pensions."Further, Yatsenyuk claimed that Russia, and specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin "made people who live in Donbas as hostages." He urged Putin to honor the cease-fire in the Donbas, "take off bandits, stop to supply weapons" and allow Ukraine to take control of the territory.

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Video Shows Ocean Floor During Search for Missing Flight MH370

Video Shows Ocean Floor During Search for Missing Flight MH370

Australian Transport Safety Bureau(CANBERRA, Australia) -- Australian officials released new video that shows what the bottom of the Indian Ocean looks like as the search there continues for missing flight MH370.The plane vanished in March, and Australian search teams have been scouring the southern seas ever since for any signs of the missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner.The computer-animated video offers a visualization of the sea floor terrain in the search area, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. It was necessary to map the sea floor before the underwater search begins, the ATSB said.Bathymetry is the study and mapping of the floors of oceans, seas or lakes.

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Pope Francis Suggests Heaven Is Open to All Dogs

Pope Francis Suggests Heaven Is Open to All Dogs

iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Maybe it's true: All dogs really do go to heaven.At least that's what Pope Francis recently suggested when he consoled a young boy whose dog had just died, telling him "paradise is open to all of God's creatures."Here's a look at some other dogs who we would like to think are up there, too:LassieLassie is arguably the most famous dog to hit the big screen. But there have been many dogs we've come to know and love as "Lassie," as the story spanned several decades and films.The first, Lassie Come Home, came out in 1943.BeethovenWho doesn't love the slobbery St. Bernard we met in the 1992 film Beethoven?Taco Bell ChihuahuaGidget, better known as the Taco Bell Chihuahua, died in 2009 after a successful career as the star of the fast-food chain's ad campaigns.She became famous when she debuted in a 1997 commercial as a male dog who proclaimed, "Yo quiero Taco Bell."BuddyOne of Hollywood's most popular golden retrievers, Buddy was famous for playing Air Bud in the Disney film, and Comet, the family dog, in the Full House series.He died in 1998, according to his IMDb page.MarleyOur hearts broke for Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson when Marley died at the end of the 2008 film Marley and Me. We'd like to think the lovable lab is in Heaven with that little boy's dog, too.WishboneKnown as Soccer the Dog in real life, his claim to fame was playing Wishbone in the PBS series. But the perky Jack Russell terrier died in 2001, according to his IMDb page.

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Alleged Palestinian Acid Attack Injures Israeli Family

Alleged Palestinian Acid Attack Injures Israeli Family

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) — One day after a Palestinian leader who died protesting Israel was laid to rest, Middle East violence continues to build.

The latest incident happened Friday when a Palestinian allegedly threw acid inside an Israeli car, lightly burning five family members, including three children, according to the Israeli Army and eyewitnesses. The alleged suspect in the acid attack reportedly posed as a hitchhiker and tried to stab the Israeli driver with a screwdriver as well. He was shot and wounded by an armed Israeli civilian while trying to flee the scene.Meanwhile, Friday muslim prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem were open to all and went off without incident.

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Italian Retiree Can Keep Stolen Gauguin Masterpiece, Court Rules

Italian Retiree Can Keep Stolen Gauguin Masterpiece, Court Rules

Hemera/Thinkstock(ROME) -- It's finders keepers for an Italian retiree who unwittingly bought a stolen Gauguin masterpiece now worth $40 million. An Italian court has ruled that the man who spent a lifetime working night shifts in a FIAT car factory gets to keep the painting he bought for a few dollars at an auction in 1975.The Gauguin artwork, entitled Fruits on a table or still life with a small dog, was stolen in 1970 from Mathilda Marks, heiress to the Marks and Spencer department store empire, and her American husband in Chester Terrace. Both are now dead and have no children.Theives left the paintings in a panic on an Italian train, where railway inspectors found them and eventually put them up for auction with other lost items.

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Australian Catholic Church Report Suggests Link Between Celibacy and Sex Abuse

Australian Catholic Church Report Suggests Link Between Celibacy and Sex Abuse

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A church document -- for the first time -- links celibacy to sex abuse. A report by the Catholic Church of Australia’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council says, “Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances.”The report, released Friday by the council tasked with investigating abuse allegations in religious settings, suggests some church institutions and leadership have neglected the issue of child sexual abuse. Now the commission is recommending that clergy members undergo “psychosexual” training to increase understanding of sexual behavior and development.The report may put the larger Catholic Church under more pressure to reconsider the celibacy requirement, something Pope Francis has defended.

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Former Korean Air Executive Apologizes for Outburst over Nuts

Former Korean Air Executive Apologizes for Outburst over Nuts

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- A former Korean Air Lines executive apologized Friday for going "nuts" on a flight earlier this month, delaying hundreds of passengers in New York. Cho Hyun-Ah resigned Tuesday following the outburst, stemming from the way an attendant served snack nuts.Cho reportedly burst into anger when the crew served her macadamia nuts in a bag, not on a plate as instructed in the company service manual for first-class passengers. Dressed in a black suit on her way to the transport ministry's investigation, she told reporters she will apologize to the crewmember with a deep bow. The ministry is to decide whether Cho's action was a breach of law.

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North Korea Still Unwilling to Reopen Talks on Nuke Program

North Korea Still Unwilling to Reopen Talks on Nuke Program

iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Despite recently freeing three American captives, North Korea remains uninterested in reopening talks with the United States over its nuclear program. That's according to America's top envoy for North Korea, who is wrapping up a visit to the region. Ambassador Sung Kim told reporters in Beijing Friday that Pyongyang ignored an opening to restart the six-party talks, which also include Japan, Russia, China and South Korea. The talks stalled six years ago when North Korea pulled out. Kim said that the U.S. would even welcome direct talks with the reclusive nation, but only if there was going to be substantive discussions.

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London: Technical Failure Behind Major Delays at Airports

London: Technical Failure Behind Major Delays at Airports

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images(LONDON) — A "technical problem" at an air traffic control center more than 100 miles away from Heathrow has affected all London airports, including Heathrow.

A technical failure at Swanwick control center Friday, according to NATS, formerly the National Air Traffic Services, was behind the issue that temporarily grounded some planes at all London airports.

"NATS can confirm that a technical problem has been reported at Swanwick air traffic control center. We apologize for any delays and our incident response team has been mobilized. Every possible action is being taken to assist in resolving the situation and to confirm the details," a statement from NATS read.

A later statement from Britain's national air traffic body said the system had "been restored and we are in the process of returning to normal operations."

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