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Vulcan selling Stratolaunch world’s largest airplane for $400 million

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Stratolaunch, the world’s largest airplane, lands at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California after its first successful flight on April 13, 2019.

Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch, the world’s largest airplane that flew only once, is up for sale.

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch at $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of the late billionaire Paul Allen. A Microsoft co-founder, Allen passed away last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Vulcan and Stratolaunch did not respond to multiple CNBC requests for comment. The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Allen’s vision of a massive flying airplane to launch rockets from the sky was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based in the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight. Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet – longer than an American football field. The airplane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Stratolaunch, the world’s largest airplane, lands at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California after its first successful flight on April 13, 2019.

Stratolaunch

The company has had various partnerships, as well as internal plans, for the rockets that Stratolaunch will carry. SpaceX was one of the company’s earliest partners but Stratolaunch later switched to a contract with Northrop Grumman-owned Orbital ATK to fly the Pegeasus XL rocket. Stratolaunch’s plan to develop its own fleet of rockets was scrapped in January.

Stratolaunch has been steadily downsizing this year, with much of the workforce laid off already, despite plans to launch a small Northrop rocket in 2020. The company is in the process of closing operations, Reuters reported last month.

One item holding up internal the sale of Stratolaunch, according to one of the people, is an internal disagreement between the company’s CEO Jean Floyd and Allen’s sister Jody, who serves as the chair of Vulcan as well as the executor of his estates. While Floyd appears to be petitioning that Vulcan keep the Stratolaunch program alive, especially by retaining the company’s intellectual property, Jody Allen would like to sell the company outright, the person said.

Branson expressing interest

There are number of possible suitors for Stratolaunch, especially the most active space industry trio of billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

While its unknown if either Musk’s SpaceX or Bezos’ Blue Origin are pursuing a purchase of Stratolaunch, people familiar told CNBC that the company has spoken to Branson about selling to his Virgin Group. Branson’s conglomerate owns three space companies: Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Virgin Orbit. As the former two were built using similar technology to Stratolaunch – all three have a similar manufacturing heritage, as they all originated from designs prototype aerospace manufacturer Scaled Composites – Virgin may be an ideal destination for Stratolaunch.

For the first time ever, the Stratolaunch aircraft moved out of the hangar to conduct aircraft fueling tests.

But Branson was hesitant to pay full price for Stratolaunch, a person familiar said. Instead, the person said Branson countered Vulcan’s offer in a similar way to his low-ball offer for the supersonic Concorde fleet in 2003 (British Airways was planning to retire the airplane and Branson offered the airline $8.30 to take the planes off their hands and continue flying the Concordes for Virgin Atlantic).

Branson pitched Vulcan that he would buy Stratolaunch… for $1.

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Hong Kong protesters, police face off in renewed clashes

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Protesters in Hong Kong threw gasoline bombs and police fired tear gas Saturday in renewed clashes over anti-government grievances.

Reporters saw at least one person arrested after violence erupted following an afternoon march by several thousand people in Tuen Mun, a district in the northwest of the Chinese territory.

Hong Kong is in the fourth month of sometimes violent protests that occur every weekend. They started with opposition to a proposed extradition law and have expanded to include demands for greater democracy.

Most protesters in Tuen Mun were peaceful but some threw gasoline bombs and bricks toward police who faced them down the street. They appeared to fall short of the police and there was no indication anyone was hit.

In the evening, protesters gathered at a shopping mall in another district, Yuen Long. Some threw gasoline bombs in the street. A government statement said some were thrown toward police vehicles, endangering the officers inside, but gave no indication anyone was injured.

In both areas, police with riot helmets and shields responded by firing tear gas.

Elsewhere, scuffles were reported as government supporters heeded a call by a pro-Beijing member of the Hong Kong legislature to tear down protest posters at subway stations.

The events are an embarrassment for China’s Communist Party ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations of its 70th anniversary in power. Hong Kong’s government has canceled a fireworks display that day, citing concern for public safety.

The protesters in Tuen Mun marched about 2 kilometers (1 1/2 miles) from a playground to a government office building. Many were dressed in black and carried umbrellas, a symbol of their movement.

Protesters chanted, “Reclaim Hong Kong!” and “Revolution of our times!”

Most were peaceful but some took down a Chinese flag from a pole outside a government office and set fire to it. Protesters also set up barricades to block traffic.

A government statement said protesters caused unspecified damage to the Tuen Mun light rail station and threw objects onto the tracks.

An organizer quoted by government broadcaster RTHK criticized police for sending armed anti-riot officers.

That will “only escalate tension between protesters and police,” the organizer, Michael Mo, was quoted as saying.

Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has agreed to withdraw the extradition bill. But protesters are pressing other demands, including an independent investigation of complaints about police violence during earlier demonstrations.

Protesters complain Beijing and Lam’s government are eroding the “high degree of autonomy” and Western-style civil liberties promised to the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.

The protests have begun to weigh on Hong Kong’s economy, which already was slowing due to cooling global consumer demand. The Hong Kong airport said passenger traffic fell in August. Business is off at hotels and retailers.

Police refused permission for Saturday’s march but an appeal tribunal agreed to allow a two-hour event.

Protesters in Tuen Mun also complained about a group of women from mainland China who sing in a local park. Residents say they are too loud and accuse some of asking for money or engaging in prostitution.

Those complaints prompted a similar march in July, highlighting tension between Hong Kong residents and migrants from mainland China.

Later Saturday, protesters gathered at a mall in Yuen Long, where men with sticks beat protesters and subway passengers there on July 21 in an incident that caused controversy in Hong Kong.

Some protesters threw gasoline bombs on the street outside the Yoho Mall but there was no indication anyone was injured. Others started small fires in the street.

Also Saturday, there were brief scuffles as government supporters tore down protest posters at several subway stops, according to RTHK, the government broadcaster.

That campaign was initiated by a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature, Junius Ho.

Near the subway station in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood, a woman who was tearing down posters threw a bag at a reporter and a man shoved a cameraman, RTHK reported. It said there was pushing and shoving between the two sides at stations in Yuen Long and Lok Fu.

Ho made an appearance in the Shau Kei Wan neighborhood but residents shouted at him and told him to leave, RTHK said.

Ho initially called for protest signs to be torn down in all 18 of Hong Kong’s districts but he said Friday that would be reduced to clearing up trash from streets due to “safety concerns.”

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong Jockey Club canceled a horse race after some protesters suggested targeting the club because a horse owned by Ho was due to run.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong airport announced restrictions on access Sunday following what it said were calls to disrupt traffic there.

The airport train from downtown will skip Kowloon and other stops en route, the Airport Authority said. Only passengers with valid tickets and travel documents will be allowed into the airport.

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French police break up ‘yellow vest’ and ‘black bloc’ protests in Paris

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A banner is displayed during a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Charles Platiau | Reuters

French police fired tear gas and made over a hundred arrests in Paris on Saturday as they dispersed “yellow vest” protesters attempting unauthorized rallies and black-masked demonstrators who disrupted a climate march.

Police had made 137 arrests in Paris by mid-afternoon and had pushed back around one hundred protesters who gathered on the Champs-Elysees shopping avenue, the Paris police prefecture said.

The government deployed a massive police presence as it feared yellow-vest supporters and other activists, including “black bloc” anarchists, would take advantage of authorized protests over climate change and pension reform.

Some 7,500 police were mobilized, several districts including the Champs-Elysees were made out-of-bounds for protests, and over 30 metro stations closed.

A woman gestures as she attends a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Charles Platiau | Reuters

The climate rally saw sporadic confrontations between police and masked demonstrators who had infiltrated the march.

Groups wearing black clothing associated with the so-called black bloc anarchist movement formed barricades, set fire to bins and a motorbike, and threw paint over the front of a bank.

Similar skirmishes occurred later in the march with the prefecture again attributing violence to black blocs. Police responded with tear gas.

The violence tarnished an otherwise peaceful march that brought thousands of people, including some yellow vests, onto the streets, a day after marches in Paris and other cities worldwide to demand government action against climate change.

Riot police officers stand next to a burning barricade during a protest urging authorities to take emergency measures against climate change, in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Demonstrators carried slogans like “End oil now” and “End of the world” while some held carnival effigies, including one of President Emmanuel Macron wearing a crown marked “King of bla-bla”.

The yellow vests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, were holding a 45th consecutive Saturday of action. The movement emerged late last year, triggered by fuel tax rises and swelling into a revolt against Macron’s style of government.

Some of their protests have been marked by rioting, partly blamed on black blocs.

A separate march on Saturday was called by the FO trade union to contest the government’s planned overhaul of France’s retirement system. The proposed reform prompted a strike by metro workers on Sept. 13, shutting most of the underground network.

Police officers look on during a demonstration on Act 45 (the 45th consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement in Paris, France, September 21, 2019.

Pascal Rossignol | Reuters

The authorities have also been taking precautions so protesters do not disrupt an annual heritage event this weekend that gives the public special access to many historic sites.

Some sites like the Arc de Triomphe monument have been closed while others like the Elysee presidential palace have required visitors to register in advance.

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Iran’s warnings to Saudi Arabia are ridiculous, Saudi’s Al-Jubeir says

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Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends a press event with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department on January 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Zach Gibson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Iran’s recent warnings to Saudi Arabia are “ridiculous” and “laughable” Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir told CNBC amid ongoing investigations by the kingdom tying Iran to a major attack on its oil facilities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in an interview Friday that he hoped to avoid conflict, but that Iran was prepared for “all-out war” in the event of attack by Saudi or U.S. forces. He then questioned whether Saudi Arabia was ready to fight “to the last American soldier.”

“This is not the first time Iran’s foreign minister has said something ridiculous and frankly laughable,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Riyadh on Saturday.

His comments come amid a state of heightened tension between Saudi Arabia, Iran and the U.S. following drone and missile attacks on two Saudi oil facilities a week ago. The attacks, claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have suggested that Iran had a role in, or was responsible for, the attack on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facility. Iran has denied the accusations, calling them “meaningless” and “pointless.”

Asked about next steps, the minister asserted that Saudi Arabia was responsible for its own defenses ⁠— which were criticized as having failed to effectively counter the drone and missile attacks ⁠— but stressed the international community’s role in reigning in what he called Iran’s aggressive behavior.

“It is our responsibility to protect our borders, our people, our infrastructure ⁠— but the world also has responsibility to make sure Iran isn’t allowed to get away with murder, to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf and Arabian Sea so global energy supply isn’t disrupted,” he said.

Engagement with Iran, like the efforts of Germany and France in launching a trade mechanism that would bypass U.S. sanctions, is nothing more than appeasement and will only condone the country’s behavior, al-Jubeir added.

“If you think being lax with Iran will make it behave better, that hasn’t happened in 40 years and won’t happen,” he said. “The idea that Iran can be offered loans we believe is appeasement. Anytime anybody has appeased Iran in the last 40 years, Iran has used that to cause mischief.”

Iran defends its testing and development of ballistic missiles as self-defense. Earlier this year the Donald Trump administration designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, accusing it of destabilizing activity across the Middle East and supporting militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have stopped short of any retaliatory action against Iran, although on Friday the Pentagon announced that it will deploy additional U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Jubeir said the strikes represented attacks not just on Saudi Arabia but on the entire international community.

Extensive repair work is underway on the two damaged oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive Amin Nasser has reportedly told employees of the state oil giant that the company had emerged from attacks on its oil facilities “stronger than ever” and added that full oil production would resume by the end of this month.

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