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Saudi energy company opens research center in Cambridge

Saudi Aramco, a company that last year produced an average of 9.5 million barrels of crude oil a day, on Wednesday opened a research center in Cambridge, the first of three new US research facilities the global energy giant will set up by the end of next year.

Workers at the 32,000-square-foot office in Kendall Square will focus on several tasks, including developing computer simulations of oil reservoirs to help increase the amount of crude the company can extract. The center, owned and operated by the company’s US-based subsidiary Aramco Services Co., is expected to create roughly 50 high-tech science and research jobs.

Speaking at the center’s inauguration, Aramco chief executive Khalid A. Al-Falih and other company representatives listed the state’s innovation economy and research universities as a major reason for locating here.

“This area — specifically Cambridge — is at the frontline of global innovation with elite schools for research and innovation, and we want to be part of this exciting mix,” Al-Falih said in a statement.

Aramco already has ties to Massachusetts. The company is a founding member and financial backer of the MIT Energy Initiative, which works with the industry and across the school’s disciplines to research and address energy issues. An Aramco senior vice president, Abdulrahman R. Al-Wuhaib, serves on the Energy Initiative’s external advisory board. The company’s new research center will not be affiliated with the school.

Robert C. Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, said Aramco’s presence in Massachusetts is a sign that the state’s energy technology industry one day could be as significant as its lucrative biotechnology sector.

Armstrong said Aramco seems interested in what it can learn from research in other industries, such as nanotechnology and material sciences, that can then be applied to energy.

—Erin Ailworth, The Boston Globe

Production is shut down for ‘Fast & Furious 7’ after star’s death

LOS ANGELES — Universal Pictures is shutting down production on “Fast & Furious 7” for an indefinite period following the death of one of the film’s stars, Paul Walker, ensuring a delayed release date for the big-budget picture.

Universal said in a statement Wednesday that it would halt filming “for a period of time so we can assess all options available to move forward with the franchise.” The studio added, “We are committed to keeping ‘Fast & Furious’ fans informed, and we will provide further information to them when we have it.”

Simultaneously, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office released the results of an autopsy of Walker’s remains.

Walker, 40, was the passenger in a Porsche that crashed into a light pole and tree Saturday afternoon. He died of the combined effects of “traumatic and thermal” injuries, the coroner said. The driver of the car, Roger Rodas, died of “multiple traumatic injuries.”

The deaths were ruled accidental.

Walker died in suburban Los Angeles while on a Thanksgiving break from filming. “Fast & Furious 7,” which Universal had scheduled for release July 11, is only about half-finished.

“Right now, all of us at Universal are dedicated to providing support to Paul’s immediate family and our extended ‘Fast & Furious’ family of cast, crew and filmmakers,” the studio’s statement said.

—Brooks Barnes, The New York Times

Lawmakers in France move to discourage sex trade

PARIS — After months of heated debate, the French Parliament’s lower house on Wednesday took the first step in criminalizing the purchase of sex, approving a package of legislation to discourage prostitution.

The proposed legislation, in a country usually associated with more liberal attitudes toward sex, elicited vocal and often angry views over the measure. It brought prostitutes into the streets to condemn what they saw as a damper on their business, drawing support from an unlikely coalition of celebrities, intellectuals and ordinary citizens.

But by the time the bill came to a vote, President François Hollande’s government, which had supported the measure as a step toward abolition of prostitution, had easily gathered the necessary support. In France, prostitution is tolerated but soliciting is illegal.

On Wednesday, 268 lawmakers in the lower house, the National Assembly, voted in favor of the bill, with 138 opposed. It would levy a fine of 1,500 euros, or about $2,000, on those who “solicit, accept or obtain relations of a sexual nature” from a prostitute in exchange for remuneration.

Clients would also be required to undergo awareness classes on the abuses that prostitutes suffer and the dangers of sex work.

The legislation approved by the lower house Wednesday also intends to provide programs for prostitutes to train for, and find, new jobs.

On Wednesday, many French feminists who view prostitution as a form of violence against women welcomed the vote as a significant step in the evolution of French society.

“It is excellent news. We are thrilled,” said Anne-Cécile Mailfert, the spokeswoman of Osez le Féminisme, or Dare to Be Feminist.

But some French prostitutes, doctors and many human rights associations denounced the vote, arguing that it could push prostitutes farther underground and worsen their working conditions. A recent editorial signed by several associations and nonprofit organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, called the measure “deceitful” and dangerous for prostitutes’ health.

“There is a true social regression behind this new repressive measure,” the editorial said. “Under the new law, the prostitutes will be sent away from the city centers, far from health care and prevention centers, they will be more exposed to health risks, to AIDS, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

About 20,000 prostitutes work in France, and 85 percent are women, according to the figures issued by the French government office that combats human trafficking.

—Maïa De La Baume and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times