May 31, 2012

French Reporter Freed In Colombia

French journalist Romeo Langlois, abducted a month ago by left-wing Farc rebels in Colombia, has been released.

He was handed over to a group of international mediators in the jungle in the south of the country.

A smiling Mr Langlois spoke to reporters and said that he was fine and had been well-treated.

The France 24 reporter was captured while filming the destruction of cocaine laboratories by army soldiers in the Caqueta region.

Colombia suspended operations in the area for the handover.

On Sunday, the rebels announced they would release Mr Langlois, 35, to a mediation committee consisting of members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), French envoy Jean-Baptiste Chauvin and peace activist Piedad Cordoba.

The journalist walked through a crowd of villagers with Farc rebels before giving a short news conference.

"Other than being held for a month after being wounded, the rest has gone well," he said, adding that he was "a little tired but fine".

"I was treated just like any guerrilla combatant who was injured, I mean, it was harsh with few supplies, with what there was, but I was never tied up... They always treated me like a guest," he added.

But Mr Langlois also said he was sorry both sides in the conflict had tried to use him for political reasons.

From the village of San Isidro, Mr Langlois will go to the city of Florencia, in Caqueta, a few hours away by road.

It is not yet clear whether he will spent the night there, or if he will then travel to the Colombian capital, or go straight to France.

Mr Langlois had been filming the destruction of cocaine laboratories by army soldiers in the Caqueta region.

The army said he was wounded in the arm when the group came under attack.

He then ran towards the rebels who later declared him a "prisoner of war".

A video broadcast by Venezuelan TV channel Telesur earlier this week showed Mr Langlois in a camp in the jungle.

He appeared with a bandage around his left elbow and was also shown being treated for his wound.

Mr Langlois said he expected his reporting trip to last no more than a couple of hours.

"You know what you are exposed to when you undertake this kind of activity, but the truth is I didn't think it was going to get so big," he said.

He said he did not know the area was a danger zone.

It is not clear when the video was recorded.

Despite his experience Mr Langlois hopes the Colombian army will keep taking journalists to the front line saying: "This is a forgotten conflict, and we need to keep covering it from both sides".

Since 2002 Farc has seen its numbers halved in the face of concerted attacks from the US-backed military.

But in the last three years they have stepped up their attacks and re-taken the initiative in some parts of the country, helped with income from the drugs trade and extortion.

Caqueta is home to the Farc's Southern Bloc, one of seven fighting divisions spread across the country.

The area is also important for the cocaine trade, with guerrillas growing coca and processing cocaine.

In February Farc announced it was ending its policy of kidnappings, and earlier this month released 10 hostages who had been held for more than a decade.

The Farc commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Londono, better known by his alias of Timochenko, has offered to hold peace talks with the government. So far President Juan Manuel Santos has refused.

Source: BBC News  

Judge Shot Dead In Nepal Capital

A Nepalese Supreme Court judge under investigation for corruption has been shot dead in the capital, Kathmandu.

Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on Rana Bahadur Bam and his bodyguard while he was being driven to work during morning rush hour, police said.

Mr Bam, 64, died in hospital. His bodyguard sustained serious injuries.

Mr Bam had been under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes from criminals in return for giving them lighter sentences, reports say.

The judge had just left the Bagalamukhi temple in the city centre when he was shot at 11:08 (05:23 GMT), police spokesman Rabi Raj Shrestha told AFP news agency.

He was brought to Norvick Hospital, where he died.

"He succumbed to multiple bullet wounds," Mr Shrestha told AFP. "We will interrogate the [judge's] driver to find out more."

The incident happened just a few days after Nepal's Constituent Assembly was disbanded after it failed to agree on a new constitution.

The assembly had also been hearing the case for the judge's impeachment.

The country is currently run by a caretaker government.

Source: BBC News  

DR Congo Army Mutineers Sentenced To Death

A military court has sentenced two soldiers to death in absentia for taking part in a mutiny in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another eight officers, present in court, were handed life sentences, and three others prison terms between two to 20 years.

The mutineers confessed to taking part in a meeting with Gen Bosco Ntaganda to plan the mutiny, a judge told the BBC.

Gen Ntaganda, wanted for war crimes, denies masterminding the mutiny.

Five officers were acquitted of multiple offences including insurrection and desertion, after a trial that lasted more than two weeks in the town of Uvira, in South Kivu province.

April's mutiny was led by former CNDP rebels who were integrated into the Congolese national army in 2009 as part of a peace deal.

Thousands of people have fled their homes as a result of heavy fighting - which has stopped in South Kivu province but continues in neighbouring North Kivu.

The BBC's Thomas Hubert in Kinshasa said Wednesday's heavy sentences - including life for Col Bernard Byamungu who led the South Kivu mutiny - seems to be a sign that the Congolese authorities are determined to crack down on the renegade soldiers - despite recent offers of negotiations from the M23 rebels.

During the trial, it emerged that the mutiny was planned during a meeting that was held in March in Goma, the main town in eastern Congo, and chaired by Gen Ntaganda, Col Freddy Mukendi told the BBC.

The general, also known as the "Terminator" ordered those in the meeting to delay payments to the troops in an attempt to create discontent and encourage a mutiny, before taking to the bush with weapons stolen from army barracks, according to Col Mukendi.

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Gen Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, denied any links with the mutineers.

He also rejected an internal United Nations report seen by the BBC quoting demobilised M23 fighters who said they had been recruited and armed in Rwanda.

Kigali has also denied the allegations - and on Wednesday a United Nations spokesman in Kinshasa told reporters the fighters' testimonies were not proof that Rwanda had a direct role in the renewed fighting in eastern Congo.

Source: BBC News  

Abducted German Engineer Killed In Nigeria

A German engineer abducted in January by gunmen in Kano in northern Nigeria has been killed, a security source in the city has told the BBC.

It happened during a rescue bid, military officials told news agencies.

Two expatriates, seized in the north-west of the country last year, died when Nigerian and British forces tried to free them in March.

The latest developments came as the authorities said an Italian engineer had been kidnapped western Nigeria.

Kidnappings are uncommon in the western state of Kwara. But oil workers are often targeted for ransom in the south, and Islamist militants are active in northern Nigeria, where the German engineer was seized in January.

Details about the circumstances of Thursday's raid are still sketchy - police in Kano are due to brief the media later on Thursday.

"The German abducted in January has been killed by his abductors early this morning," a military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Following intelligence reports, men of [a military task force] raided a hideout where he was being held by his abductors."

Residents in the west of the city say they heard gunfire during the morning.

A crisis team set up by Germany's foreign ministry is trying to find out further information, German news website Die Welt reports.

It is not clear who was behind his abduction, but in March a video purported to be from al-Qaeda's north African wing demanded Germany free a woman jailed on terror charges in return for his release.

It was obtained by a private Mauritanian news agency, ANI, which frequently publishes statements by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Italian man abducted in Kwara reportedly works for Borini Prono, an Italian building and civil engineering firm that focuses mainly on roads.

A government spokesman in Kwara state confirmed to the BBC that the kidnapping had occurred and said the engineer was at a work site when he was seized on Monday.

An Italian foreign ministry spokeswoman said Italian officials were in contact with the Nigerian authorities and the man's family.

"We can confirm an Italian engineer has been kidnapped. We don't yet know why or by whom," she told the AFP news agency.

Source: BBC News  

Israel Returns The Remains Of Palestinian Bodies

Israel has handed over to the Palestinian Authority the remains of 91 Palestinians who died carrying out attacks against Israel.

The remains include suicide bombers and militants who died in operations as far back as 1975.

The repatriation of the bodies forms part of a deal to end a mass hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israeli officials say the transfer is a confidence-building gesture.

Coffins containing the remains, which had been interred in numbered graves in an Israeli military cemetery for "enemy combatants", were handed over at dawn.

The head of the Palestinian general committee for civil affairs said 79 had been transferred to Ramallah, and 12 taken to Gaza.

Special ceremonies will be held later, before the bodies are buried again.

According to Israeli media, Hamas will hold a full military service for the remains in Gaza, with each coffin receiving a 21-gun salute. They will then be shuttled to various towns for burial.

In Ramallah, rows of coffins have been draped in Palestinian flags outside President Abbas's compound ahead of a ceremony later today.

The repatriation has long been a sensitive issue often subject to prolonged negotiations, the BBC's Jon Donnison in Ramallah says.

The dead are considered martyrs by Palestinians, but terrorists by Israelis, and their remains are used as bargaining chips, he says.

Earlier this month Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed to end a mass hunger strike, which had been going on for more than two months.

More than 1,500 Palestinians had been refusing food to demand an improvement in conditions.

There were fears of a violent Palestinian backlash, had any of the inmates died.

The mother of one of the dead, Um Ramez Obeid, said the transfer made her "very happy".

"We have waited for this moment for 16 years. The more they talked about the deal to hand over the bodies, the more we hoped his body will be among them.

"God willing they will hand over his body to us, to be buried next to his father at the cemetery. We will visit him, even if he is dead and is in the grave, I feel that he is returned to me."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he hoped the "humanitarian gesture" would help get the peace process back on track.

"Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever," he said.

Direct talks collapsed in December 2010 over Israel's refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Source: BBC News  

SpaceX Cargo Ship Departs Station For Pacific Splashdown

Space station astronauts unbolted a commercial cargo ship early Thursday, used the lab's robot arm to pull it away and released it into open space to set the stage for re-entry and splashdown off the Baja California peninsula to close out a successful test flight and set the stage for the start of routine cargo delivery missions later this year.

With the space station's Canadian-built robot arm locked onto the Dragon cargo craft, four gangs of motorized bolts holding the capsule in place were driven out, releasing the spacecraft from Harmony's Earth-facing port at 4:07 a.m. EDT (GMT-4).

Flight engineer Joseph Acaba, operating the robot arm from a computer work station inside the lab's multi-window cupola compartment, pulled the Dragon capsule away, moving it to a pre-determined release point well away from station structure.

One orbit later, Acaba and flight engineer Donald Pettit released the spacecraft, opening snares in the arm's latching end effector at 5:49 a.m. as the space station sailed 250 miles above the southern Indian Ocean. SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, Calif., working in concert with NASA's flight control team at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, then monitored three quick rocket firings to begin Dragon's departure and eventual descent to Earth.

Within 11 minutes or so, the capsule was outside a pre-defined safety zone around the space station and SpaceX assumed full responsibility for the remainder of the mission.

"The departure sequence is fairly quick, it's a three-burn series, two small burns then one big burn," said NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings. "The Dragon will head away from the space station outside the integrated space and that'll be the end of our integrated activity with the SpaceX/Dragon team. That process is 10 or 11 minutes after the release time."

"So again, very quick, very different from rendezvous day when we spent a lot of time in integrated space. The Dragon will head on out and be on its own in terms of the Dragon team controlling and managing the rest of the activities through the day."

Once outside the safety zone, the SpaceX team planned to close a protective door over navigation sensors and the grapple fixture used by the robot arm.

"We'll be closing that up, performing some checkouts and then performing our large re-entry burn, which till take about 10 minutes," said SpaceX mission director John Couluris. "And with that, about five-and-a-half hours after release from the arm, we should be in the water."

Deorbit ignition, the rocket firing designed to drop the far side of the capsule's orbit into the atmosphere, was targeted for 10:51 a.m. Stabilizing drogue parachutes were expected to deploy at an altitude of 45,000 feet around 11:35 a.m. with three main parachutes opening one minute later at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Splashdown was targeted for 11:44 a.m.

The Dragon capsule, making only its second test flight -- the first to the International Space Station -- was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 22 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The solar powered spacecraft chalked up a near flawless performance and on May 25, the capsule maneuvered to within about 30 feet of the space station, turned off its thrusters and stood by while Pettit, operating the lab's robot arm, locked on and pulled it in for berthing.

SpaceX and NASA originally planned three test flights before beginning routine space station resupply missions under a $1.6 billion contract calling for at least 12 missions. After the initial 2010 test flight, the first time a commercial entity had successfully recovered a spacecraft from orbit, SpaceX lobbied to combine the objectives of the second and third planned test flights into a single mission.

NASA managers ultimately agreed. The objectives of the second test flight were accomplished with a series of navigation and abort tests the day before berthing and the goals of the third flight were accomplished with the space station linkup.

The capsule carried a relatively light load of low-priority supplies and equipment for the test flight and the astronauts off-loaded the bulk of the 1,100 pounds of gear in a single day. That left re-entry and splashdown as the final objectives of the mission.

The SpaceX team successfully brought a Dragon capsule back to Earth at the end of the 2010 test flight and Couluris said he was not expecting trouble Thursday.

"We're really looking forward to it," he said. "We've done it once (before), but it's still a very challenging phase of flight. Only a few countries have done this before, so we're not taking this lightly at all. But the crew looks good and we should be ready for it."

The splashdown zone is roughly 575 miles southwest of southern California. American Marine of Los Angeles, under contract to SpaceX, is providing a 185-foot crane-equipped barge to recover the capsule, along with an 80-foot crew boat and two rigid hull inflatables. The SpaceX recovery team consists of about a dozen engineers and technicians and four divers.

If all goes well, the spaceraft will be hauled onto the deck of the primary recovery ship and taken to the Port of Los Angeles for shipment to SpaceX's McGregor, Texas, facility for post-flight processing.

The Dragon vehicle is the only space station cargo craft designed to return to Earth, giving NASA the ability to send home experiment samples and hardware for the first time since the space shuttle's retirement last year. During routine resupply missions, SpaceX plans to get high-priority items off the craft within 48 hours of splashdown with the remainder going to NASA within 14 days.

For the test flight, environmental samples will be turned over to NASA in the Port of Los Angeles in a run through of the early access protocols. The remainder of the 1,455 pounds of return cargo will be off-loaded in McGregor and turned over to NASA.

Source: CNET News  

Tibetan Woman Sets Herself On Fire

 A mother of three is the latest Tibetan to self-immolate to protest Chinese rule, reports said Thursday, while authorities have rounded up hundreds of people after two men set themselves alight in front of Tibet's main temple.

The woman, identified as 33-year-old Rechok, set herself on fire outside a Buddhist monastery Wednesday afternoon in an ethnically Tibetan region of western Sichuan province, according to London-based Free Tibet and U.S. government-backed broadcaster Radio Free Asia.

They said she died at the scene and her body was being kept at the temple for cremation.

That would mark at least the 35th Tibetan self-immolation since March of last year to draw attention to China's restrictions on Buddhism and call for the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Chinese authorities have confirmed some of the self-immolations but not all.

The self-immolations of two men outside Jokhang Temple in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa on Sunday have sparked a massive security crackdown, RFA said, citing unidentified sources in the city that has been flooded with Chinese police and military since deadly anti-government protests in 2008.

Residents and pilgrims from outside Lhasa have been held at detention centers around the city, while those not from Tibet have been expelled, it said, estimating the number detained at about 600.

Those held include several suspected of recording the self-immolations on their cell phones, while foreign tourists who may have witnessed the event were escorted back to their hotels and their cameras checked for images of the incident, RFA said.

Sunday's self-immolations, in which one of the men died, were the first in Lhasa, marking a worrying development for Chinese authorities who have blamed them on supporters of the Dalai Lama seeking an end to Chinese rule over Tibet.

Exiled Tibetans say the self-immolations are desperate acts born of the suffering imposed by Chinese political repression and restrictions on Buddhism and cultural expression.

Source: Fox News  

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In Seattle A Gunman Kills 5 And Then Himself

A gunman killed five people in Seattle on Wednesday - four at a cafe and another in a carjacking - before he apparently shot himself as officers closed in following a citywide manhunt, authorities said.

Both the suspect and one of his victims died after the incident at a local hospital. One man wounded in cafe shooting remains in the hospital. He is in critical but stable condition following surgery earlier in the day.

Police searching for the suspect in the first shooting near the University of Washington also had to respond to another fatal incident near the city's downtown. They say a man killed a woman in an apparent carjacking and fled in a black SUV. Authorities said late Wednesday they believe one man was responsible for both attacks.

"At this time, we feel pretty confident that we have the suspect," said Assistant Seattle Police Chief Nick Metz.

Officers found a black Mercedes SUV believed to be involved in the incident. CBS affiliate KIRO's Chopper 7 could see a black handgun sitting on the driver's seat.

The latest spasm of deadly gun violence to hit the city worried Seattle's leaders and prompted police to consider increasing patrols in high-crime areas. The five deaths bring the number of homicides so far this year to 21, compared with 21 in all of last year.

Gunfire erupted late Wednesday morning at Cafe Racer, a restaurant and music venue north of the University of Washington. The gunman was described as a man in his 30s wearing dark clothes.

Police released two photos from inside the cafe, apparently taken from a security camera.

One shows a man walking into the establishment, with a woman nearby reading a book. Another photo shows stools overturned, and the man standing and holding what appears to be a handgun.

Two men died at the scene. A woman and a man from the cafe died at a hospital.

Evan Hill, who lives above the building where the shooting happened, said the cafe was an artists' collective and performance space.

"It's the strangest place to think of a shooting," said Hill, who heard four to five shots. He said he ran to his balcony and called 911, but didn't see a suspect.

On a street corner across from the cafe, friends of the victims gathered by the ivy-covered wall of an apartment building. Some collapsed in grief. The cafe's owner hugged them and commiserated.

Units of police officers marched by with rifles and shotguns, knocking on doors and checking driveways and yards in the neighborhood of single-family, bungalow-style homes, restaurants and businesses.

Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel said late Wednesday afternoon that a plain-clothes detective spotted the cafe suspect in the southwestern part of the city and called for unformed officers and a SWAT team. As those officers arrived, the man put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, Pugel said.

During the manhunt, Roosevelt High School, Eckstein Middle School and Greenlake Elementary were locked down, according to the school district.

In the second shooting, the SUV that the gunman fled in was later found, but the suspect remained at large, police said.

In the last month, there have been two random killings in the city.

Last week, a man died when a stray bullet struck him as he and his family drove down a Seattle street. In late April, a woman died of injuries suffered in an apparently random drive-by shooting near downtown.

No arrests have been made in either of those fatalities.

On Saturday, a bystander was wounded near the iconic Space Needle when he was struck by a bullet allegedly fired by a gang member involved in a dispute with another man, authorities said.

Later that night, about 60 shots were fired in drive-by shootings at four houses. No one was hit.

Besides the plan to increase the number of officers on patrol in high-crime areas, police are urging people with information about shootings to come forward.

At a news conference, Mayor Mike McGinn said the spate of violence had "shaken" the city.

"It's going to take our political leaders, coming together, to give our police officers the support and tools they need to do their jobs," McGinn said.

City Councilman Bruce Harrell said leaders needed to consider everything — from changing laws to addressing the culture of violence.

"If we are to be honest, there's no easy fix," he said.

Source: CBC

Hollywood Release: Snow White And Huntsman [Watch Trailer]

Snow White and the Huntsman is a 2012 British/American action, fantasy film based on the fairy tale "Snow White" by the Brothers Grimm, directed by British director Rupert Sanders and written by Evan Daugherty.

The ruthless Queen Ravenna has conquered several of kingdoms and plans to take over the entire continent. But she soon learns from her Magic Mirror that she will be overthrown by her stepdaughter Snow White, who will also surpass her as the "Fairest of Them All." The the only way for Ravenna to remain in power is to consume Snow White's heart and achieve immortality.

When Snow White manages to escape into the Dark Forest, the Queen summons a Huntsman named Eric to kill the Princess. Eric, however, takes pity on her and teaches Snow White unique skills in the art of war. Now, with the aid of several dwarves and her childhood love Prince William, Snow White begins a powerful revolution to kill her stepmother once and for all.

May 30, 2012

Bin Laden Doctor Jailed For Militant Link

A Pakistani doctor was jailed last week for alleged links to a banned militant group - not for helping the CIA to track down Osama Bin Laden, the text of the trial court's judgement shows.

The BBC's Orla Guerin says the papers add a bizarre twist to the case.

It was originally thought that Shakil Afridi had been imprisoned for running a fake vaccination programme to gather information for US intelligence.

His family called the allegations "rubbish" and his lawyers will appeal.

Shakil Afridi was jailed for 33 years by the tribal court in a controversial hearing held behind closed doors under Pakistan's tribal justice system.

He has been accused of treason - his family have said all the charges against him are baseless.

Even people who carry out bombings do not seem to get jail terms like this, one human rights campaigner said.

The text of the judgement - released on Wednesday - makes clear Dr Afridi was tried for "anti-state activities".

It shows he was convicted for providing support and medical treatment to members of the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. The judgement says there is also evidence that he was involved with foreign intelligence agencies, and this should now be considered by other courts.

Our correspondent says that whatever the official reason for his conviction, many in Pakistan will believe that Dr Afridi was jailed for helping the CIA locate Osama Bin Laden.

Dr Afridi's conviction on terrorism charges may be an attempt to change opinion in the US, where some see him as a hero, our correspondent says.

Legal experts say that they cannot recall anyone else getting a sentence of 33 years for such an offence.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says no militant leader or abettor has been tried and jailed in Pakistan's tribal regions.

Meanwhile, Jamil Afridi has told the BBC that suggestions that his brother supported Lashkar-e-Islam were "rubbish".

He said that far from giving a donation to the militants, Dr Afridi had been kidnapped by them and forced to pay a ransom.

"The authorities keep changing their tune," said Jamil Afridi. "Last week they were accusing him of something else. What kind of justice is that?"

In an earlier BBC interview, Jamil Afridi said that he was concerned for his safety and the safety of his brother.

There is some speculation that the judgment - which will be the subject of a legal appeal by Dr Afridi's lawyers on Thursday - may have been released following pressure from Washington.

On Friday a US Senate panel cut $33m (£21m) in aid to Pakistan in response to the jailing - $1m for every year of his sentence.

US officials say Dr Afridi was instrumental in tracking down the al-Qaeda leader and have called for his release. It is not clear if any DNA from Bin Laden or any family members was ever obtained, or whether the doctor even knew the identity of the target.

His conviction has added to strains in US-Pakistani relations, already under pressure because of continuing US drone strikes in Pakistan and because of Islamabad's refusal to re-open overland Nato supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan. The routes were shut down in November since a US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.

Bin Laden was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

His presence in Pakistan embarrassed Islamabad, which argued that the covert US operation was a violation of its sovereignty.

Source: BBC News 

Liberia's Taylor Jailed For 50 Years

Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in jail by a UN-backed war crimes court.

Last month Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war.

Special Court for Sierra Leone judges said the sentence reflected his status as head of state at the time and his betrayal of public trust.

Taylor, 64, insists he is innocent and is likely to appeal against the sentence, correspondents say.

The appeal process could last up to six months, the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague reports.

Taylor, wearing a suit and yellow tie, showed no emotion during the hearing.

"The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history," Judge Richard Lussick said.

The crimes - which took place over five years - included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children, he said.

The prosecution had wanted an 80-year prison term to reflect the severity of the crimes and the central role that Taylor had in facilitating them.

Taylor, wearing a suit and yellow tie, showed no emotion during the hearing.

"The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history," Judge Richard Lussick said.

The crimes - which took place over five years - included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children, he said.

The prosecution had wanted an 80-year prison term to reflect the severity of the crimes and the central role that Taylor had in facilitating them.

Taylor, who accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses in his war crimes trial, had asked judges to consider his age when making their decision, saying he was "no threat to society".

But the trial chamber said that, given his social background and standing, "rehabilitation" was not likely.

The fact that he had not expressed remorse or apologised for his part in the conflict also affected the sentence, the judge said.

Earlier, his lawyers had urged the court not to support "attempts by the prosecution to provide the Sierra Leoneans with this external bogeyman upon whom can be heaped the collective guilt of a nation for its predominantly self-inflicted wounds".

Taylor's brother-in-law in Liberia, Arthur Saye, maintained the whole process had been "politically motivated".

"The sentence is outrageous. How can you give a man 50 years for only aiding and abetting?" he told the BBC.

Suzanah Vaye, whose husband was killed during the last days of Taylor's rule, was less sympathetic: "Today, I join Sierra Leoneans in saying this should be a lesson to people that God has his own way of bringing judgement to people."

The case was heard in The Hague for fear that a trial in Sierra Leone could destabilise the region.

The Dutch government only agreed if Taylor would serve any sentence in another country.

He will serve any prison term in the UK but will be held in The Hague until the results of his appeal.

Source: BBC News   

Russia Against Syria Intervention

Russia is "categorically against" foreign intervention in Syria and believes any new steps by the UN Security Council would be "premature", its deputy foreign minister has said.

Russia wields a veto at the UN Security Council and the remarks are a blow to hopes of a fresh initiative there.

International outrage has been expressed at the massacre of 108 people - mostly women and children - in Houla.

Neighbouring Turkey is expelling all Syrian diplomatic staff in Ankara.

The move goes further than the co-ordinated action by a number of other countries, which restricted their expulsions to the most senior staff, although Syrian consular staff in Istanbul will remain.

Turkey's foreign ministry said it was "out of the question to remain silent".

In apparent retaliation for the diplomatic expulsions, Syria gave the Dutch charge d'affaires - one of the few remaining top-level Western diplomatic representatives in Damascus - 72 hours to leave.

The violence in Syria is continuing, with the head of the UN observer mission there saying 13 bodies have been discovered in al-Sukar, east of the city of Deir al-Zour, with their hands tied behind their backs and signs that some had been shot in the head from close range.

Norwegian Maj Gen Robert Mood said he was "deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act".

China and Russia have previously blocked two UN Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action on Damascus.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande said military intervention authorised by the Security Council had not yet been ruled out.

China and Russia have previously blocked two UN Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action on Damascus.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande said military intervention authorised by the Security Council had not yet been ruled out.

Source: BBC News 

May 29, 2012

Al Qaeda’s No. 2 Leader In Afghanistan Killed In NATO Airstrike

The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan killed Al Qaeda’s second-highest leader in the country in an airstrike in eastern Kunar province, the coalition said Tuesday.

Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, was responsible for commanding foreign insurgents in Afghanistan and directing attacks against NATO and Afghan forces, the alliance said. He frequently travelled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, carrying out commands from senior Al Qaeda leadership and ferrying in weapons and fighters.

The airstrike that killed al-Taifi and another Al Qaeda militant took place Sunday in Kunar’s Watahpur district, the coalition said. A follow-on assessment of the area determined that no civilians were harmed, it said.

The coalition declined to reveal the name of Al Qaeda’s top leader in Afghanistan “due to ongoing operations and security concerns.”

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan was carried out because Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden used the country as his base to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

Most of Al Qaeda’s senior leaders are now believed to be based in Pakistan, where they fled following the U.S. invasion. The terrorist organization is believed to have only a nominal presence in Afghanistan.

Many senior Al Qaeda commanders have died in U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, and bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad last May.

Bin Laden advised Al Qaeda militants to leave Pakistan’s North and South Waziristan tribal areas because of the threat of drone attacks, according to letters seized from the compound where he was killed. The documents were later released by the U.S.

In one of the letters, bin Laden recommended they go to Afghanistan’s Kunar province because of “its rougher terrain; too many mountains, rivers, and trees that can accommodate hundreds of brothers without being spotted by the enemy,” according to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which published the documents.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, two would-be suicide bombers riding in a vehicle packed with explosives in eastern Nangarhar province were killed when the vehicle exploded prematurely, said a local government official, Shakrulla. Three others in the vehicle were severely wounded.

The explosion occurred on the main highway between Jalalabad city and Torkham, a town on the Pakistani border.

Source: The Star

Suu Kyi Takes First Trip Outside Myanmar In 24 Years

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi set off for Bangkok late Tuesday, her first overseas visit in 24 years and a fresh indication of how much Myanmar has changed after over a year of political reforms in what was once one of the world's most repressive countries.

Ms. Suu Kyi spent a total of 15 years under house arrest in Yangon while the country's former military regime was ensconced in power. The last time she was in a foreign country was in 1988, when she left Britain to nurse her ailing mother in Yangon.

But after a series of reforms after Myanmar's military leader gave way to a nominally-civilian government, Ms. Suu Kyi has moved from political prisoner to opposition leader in the country's Parliament and now apparently feels able to leave the country without worrying about whether she will be allowed back in. When British Prime Minister David Cameron invited her to the U.K. to visit her old university in Oxford in April, she replied: "'Two years ago I would have said 'Thank you for the invitation, but sorry.' But now I am able to say 'Perhaps,' and that's great progress."

The Associated Press reported that Ms. Suu Kyi's flight to Bangkok took off shortly before 8 p.m. local time.

In Thailand, Ms. Suu Kyi, 66 years old, is scheduled to address the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok Friday and meet with refugees and migrant workers from Myanmar before returning home to prepare for another series of overseas visits in June. Her itinerary includes visits a number of European countries, including Britain, Switzerland and Norway, where she plans to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 for leading a prodemocracy campaign against the former ruling junta.

During her visit to Thailand, Ms. Suu Kyi will encounter the economic transformation that has changed the face of Bangkok and much of the rest of Southeast Asia during her time in Myanmar, also known as Burma. While Thailand and other neighboring countries have ratcheted up decades of rapid growth, Myanmar remains an impoverished backwater, cut off for years by strict sanctions from the U.S. and European Union and beset by power outages and crumbling infrastructure.

Those sanctions, though, are now for the most part suspended. Former general President Thein Sein's reforms, including freeing political prisoners, partially freeing the media and initiating fresh moves to resolve a series of ethnic conflicts in the country's border regions, have encouraged the U.S. and European Union, among others, to allow companies to do business there, potentially triggering a race to invest in country rich in natural resources.

Global business leaders gathering in Bangkok for the World Economic Form meetings will likely seek assurances from Ms. Suu Kyi about doing business in the country and attempt to learn more about what kind of policy agenda she might intend to pursue in Myanmar's Parliament.

Among other things, Myanmar's leaders are working on a new foreign investment law designed to lure more foreign businesses to the country now that many sanctions have been frozen. Finance officials also have begun liberalization the country's arcane foreign-exchange system, switching in April from the old system—where the official exchange rate was set at six kyat to the dollar but street rates ranging to 800 kyat—to a "managed float" whereby banking officials let currency float within set limits.

Ms. Suu Kyi's own support for suspending sanctions, meanwhile, was instrumental in encouraging Western nations to freeze their embargoes on Myanmar.

She did, however, urge caution, suggesting that suspending rather than lifting sanctions outright is an appropriate course of action, and a way to ensure that reforms are rewarded while reminding the country's leaders that more changes are needed.

Mr. Thein Sein also was scheduled to attend the World Economic Forum but canceled his plans to take care of urgent matters in Myanmar after Ms. Suu Kyi's trip was publicized. He will visit Thailand from June 4 to 5, Thailand's Foreign Ministry said.

Source: WSJ

Peru Declares Emergency After Mine Protest Violence

The government of Peru declared a 30-day state of emergency in the southern Andean province of Espinar after violent anti-mining protests left two civilians dead and at least 76 police officers injured since Sunday.

The riots are between hundreds of police officers and people who support an indefinite strike against the Tintaya copper mine owned by Swiss-based Xstrata plc.

The emergency measures, announced Monday, include the suspension of freedom of assembly and give special powers to the police in the hopes of restoring order in the province, said Peru's Prime Minister Oscar Valdes.

Peru's ministers of interior, environment, and energy and mines were also at the Monday news conference with Valdes.

At the news conference, Valdes accused the protesters of taking a radical position.

"We ratify that as a government we want a dialogue to take place. In the case of Espinar, up to now we have tried without success to hold that dialogue," Valdes said.

Wilver Calle, the interior minister, confirmed the two deaths on Monday and said that 30 police officers were injured on Monday and 46 on Sunday.

Residents around the mine were without power, according to CNN affiliate, America Noticias, and the network showed images of a mine building on fire.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala asked for a moment of silence for the two victims, during a graduation ceremony on Monday night.

Many people in the Espinar province have being protesting since last week and they are calling for an investigation into alleged environmental damage caused by the Tintaya copper mine and an increase of the company's contribution from three to 30% to the local authorities.

Source: CNN News  

Emergency Plan To Eradicate Polio Launched

Tackling polio has entered "emergency mode" according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative after "explosive" outbreaks in countries previously free of the disease.

It has launched a plan to boost vaccination in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the only countries where the disease is still endemic.

Experts fear the disease could "come back with a vengeance".

The World Health Organization says polio is "at a tipping point".

There have been large outbreaks of the virus in Africa, Tajikistan and China has had its first cases for more than a decade.

Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO's polio eradication campaign, said: "Over the last 24 months on three continents - in Europe, in Africa and in Asia - we have seen horrific explosive outbreaks of the disease that affected adults, and in some cases 50% of them died.

"What it reminded people is that, if eradication fails, we are going to see an huge and vicious upsurge of this disease with consequences that it is very difficult even to foresee right now."

He said the initiative was "now on an emergency footing" which would result in a "big shift" in the way the virus is tackled.

The strategy has been summarised as the "relentless pursuit of the unvaccinated child".

However, Dr Aylward also cautioned that there was a $950m shortfall in funding and admitted they had been forced into "cutting corners" with vaccination campaigns being stopped in some countries.

India, once regarded as one of the most challenging countries, was declared free of the disease in February.

Kalyan Banerjee, the president of Rotary International, said: "We know polio can be eradicated, and our success in India proves it.

"It is now a question of political and societal will.

"Do we choose to deliver a polio-free world to future generations, or do we choose to allow 55 cases this year to turn into 200,000 children paralyzed for life, every single year?"

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a partnership between governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children's Fund.

Members of the WHO, meeting in Geneva, will vote this week on whether to declare polio eradication an "emergency for public health" in the three countries where it is still endemic.

The WHO estimates that failure to act could lead to as many as 200,000 paralyzed children a year worldwide within a decade.

The WHO originally set the year 2000 as its target for polio eradication. Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said the organisation was now working "in emergency mode".

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the programme has claimed some remarkable successes, most notably India, which was declared polio-free in February.

She says the WHO hopes to shake donor countries out of their complacency and support one last effort at eradication. The WHO believes that with one last push, the disease could be eradicated globally, she says.

It is thought conflict and a lack of trust in vaccinations mean fewer children are being immunized.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.

One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said: "All our efforts are at risk until all children are fully immunized against polio - and that means fully funding the global eradication effort and reaching the children we have not yet reached

"We have come so far in the battle against this crippling disease. We can now make history - or later be condemned by history for failing."

Nasa Team Find New Way To Spot Osteoporosis

Nasa scientists believe they have found a way to spot osteoporosis bone loss at the earliest disease stages.

Currently, the condition can go undetected for years and may only be diagnosed with scans after weakening of the bones has led to a fracture.

The new test - designed partly with astronauts in mind as they too can suffer bone loss due to the microgravity of space - looks for traces of bone calcium in the urine.

The work is published in PNAS journal.

The technique developed by scientists at Arizona State University working with the US space agency analyses calcium isotopes - different atoms of the element calcium, derived from bone and each with their own specific number of neutrons.

The balance or abundance of these different isotopes changes when bone is destroyed and formed and can therefore indicate early changes in bone density.

To put it to the test, the researchers studied a dozen healthy volunteers whom they confined to bed rest for 30 days. Prolonged bed rest triggers bone loss.

The technique was able to detect bone loss after as little as one week of bed rest - long before changes in bone density would be detectable on conventional medical scans such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).

And, unlike other biochemical tests for bone loss that look for blood markers of increased bone turnover, it can give a direct measure of net bone loss.

Lead researcher Prof Ariel Anbar said: "The next step is to see if it works as expected in patients with bone-altering diseases. That would open the door to clinical applications."

As well as being useful for diagnosing osteoporosis it could help with monitoring other diseases that affect the bones, including cancer.

Nasa nutritionist Scott Smith said: "Nasa conducted these studies because astronauts in microgravity experience skeletal unloading and suffer bone loss. It's one of the major problems in human spaceflight, and we need to find better ways to monitor and counteract it."

Dr Nicola Peel of the National Osteoporosis Society in the UK said: "It is always exciting to see new techniques being developed with the potential to increase our understanding of the evolution and mechanism of bone disease.

"This approach of using calcium isotopes is very interesting and appears to have potential to detect very early changes of bone loss.

"This could therefore have a future role in the clinical evaluation of patients."

Source: BBC News 

Major US Law Firm Files For Bankruptcy Protection

Dewey & LeBoeuf is set to become the biggest law firm to collapse in the US.

The firm filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late on Monday and said it plans to liquidate its business after failing to find a merger partner.

It was hit by the economic downturn, having promised large guaranteed payments to some of its lawyers.

It ran out of cash earlier in the year, which led to the immediate resignation of the majority of its partners.

Dewey & Leboeuf was formed in 2007 by the merger of Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae, which left it with more than 1,300 lawyers in 12 countries.

It has now reduced that to 150 employees, who will wind down the business.

The firm's management promised millions of dollars in guaranteed packages to about 100 of its partners, which left it unable to cope with the downturn in revenues during the recession.

"The full extent of the partner compensation arrangements is subject of continuing investigation," said Joff Mitchell, its chief restructuring officer.

Source: BBC News

Denmark Arrests In Terror Plot

Two men suspected of planning a terrorist attack have been arrested in Denmark, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) says.

The men, who are brothers with suspected links to a militant Islamist group in Somalia, were arrested late on Monday night.

One was arrested in the city of Aarhus, the other was apprehended at Copenhagen airport as he returned to the country.

PET says the arrests "have prevented a specific act of terrorism".

The men are Danish citizens of Somali origin, aged 18 and 23, and have lived in Aarhus for 16 years.

PET says the detainees had discussed the method, the target and the weapon types that would be used in an attack.

It says one of the brothers had attended a training camp with al-Shabab militants in Somalia.

"A specific act of terrorism has been averted, and as such the perceived threat level against Denmark is not affected, although it remains high," PET said in a statement.

The men will appear in court on Tuesday, charged with offences under the Danish criminal code.
Cartoon revenge

Denmark has been targeted by a number of alleged plots with an Islamist motive.

Last month three men were arrested in Copenhagen on suspicion of plotting an "act of terror".

Meanwhile, four men are being tried for allegedly plotting a shooting rampage at the offices of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The paper sparked outrage in some quarters when in 2005 it published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Its property or staff have since been the targets of several attempted revenge attacks.

Source: BBC News   

Barry Bonds Sentenced To 30 Days of House Arrest

Former Major League Baseball star Barry Bonds was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest and 2 years probation on Friday for his federal conviction of obstruction of justice.

Bonds arrived at the federal courthouse in San Francisco in an SUV with tinted windows and emerged from the back seat wearing a dark suit and tie. He was met by a phalanx of cameras, though the crowd was much smaller than when he was charged about four years ago. In 2007, Major League Baseball's all-time home runs leader was still playing for the San Francisco Giants.

Bonds had faced up to 21 months in prison for giving misleading testimony before a grand jury.

A federal judge stayed Bonds' sentence of house arrest, pending appeal.

Prosecutors in September dropped those deadlocked charges, giving up on another trial.

Bonds, Major League Baseball's career leader with 762 home runs, now has 14 days to file his intention to appeal his conviction.

Bonds is the highest-profile defendant, and the last, to come out of the government's investigation of the steroids distribution ring built around the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, founded by Victor Conte.

Besides the former National League MVP, 10 people were convicted of various charges. Six of them, including track star Marion Jones, were ensnared for lying to grand jurors, federal investigators or the court. Others, including Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson, pleaded guilty to steroid distribution charges.

Bonds was one of two former baseball superstars to stand trial in doping-related cases this year.

The trial of pitcher Roger Clemens was halted after just two days in July because prosecutors used inadmissible evidence. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has set a new trial for April 17.

Source: Fox News  

Boxer Paul Williams Paralyzed In Motorcycle Crash

Paul Williams, the always exciting, ever-smiling boxer known as "The Punisher," and long considered one of the most avoided fighters in the sport, faces the toughest battle of his life after being paralyzed from the waist down during a motorcycle crash in suburban Atlanta on Sunday morning.

Williams, 30, was involved in the crash in Marietta, Ga., where he was supposed to attend his brother's wedding that afternoon.

He severed his spinal cord after falling on his back and head when he was thrown from his motorcycle after swerving to avoid an oncoming car, his trainer and manager, George Peterson, said.

"From the waist down, he has absolutely no movement," Peterson told the Associated Press. "He's in very good spirits, though. He still believes he's going to fight again."

However, doctors have said Williams will not walk again. He is listed in serious but stable condition and will undergo surgery on Wednesday to stabilize his upper body.

"I don't know the specifics about the spinal cord being severed. I do know that I've been told by George that he will never walk again, and it makes it hard for me to believe that it's not something Paul can overcome," Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter, told USA TODAY Monday night.

"They're having the surgery on Wednesday to kind of protect the body movement above the waist, and hopefully by some miracle and some prayers, he's able to overcome the odds that are against him right now."

Williams (41-2, 27 KOs) was scheduled to fight undefeated Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez for the WBC light middleweight title on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas, but that event has been canceled, Peterson said.

Williams' accident is the second tragedy in the boxing world during the holiday weekend, the traditional kickoff of summer. Former five-time world champion Johnny Tapia, who suffered through a brutal upbringing, and later from drug addiction and depression throughout his career, was found dead in his home at the age of 45 on Sunday night.

"It's amazing how things turn on the blink of an eye, and it makes boxing so much less important and life that much more important," Goossen said.

Peterson said he believes Williams, from Aiken, S.C., will make a statement after his surgery on Wednesday, "because he's that kind of person," he said. "He's 100 percent coherent and still has the will to want to get back on the motorcycle."

He said he hopes, along with Williams, that the fighter's career isn't over. "I want to think along with him, 'cause I've seen him do things in his boxing career that shouldn't have happened," Peterson said.

The crash happened when Williams tried to avoid another car in the next lane that was negotiating a curve, and had to maneuver to avoid an oncoming car.

"You can be wearing goalie equipment on those motorcycles and it's not going to protect you, with what I see these riders of these motorcycles do," Goossen said. "On the freeways they're going as fast if not faster than a car and they're up on your side before you know it, and if you neglect to see them, in a split second they can be right in your (line of fire)."

Goossen said this is probably the worst thing he's had to deal with during his many years in the sport.

"As it relates to physical injury to one of our fighters, it's devastating, it's shocking, it's going to be something hard to me to deal with," Goossen said. "I think of Paul as always smiling, always happy, tall, lean, bad-ass out there. He was able to switch that kindness and happiness into being one of the most exciting fighters in the last 10 years."

Williams has won world titles as a welterweight and junior middleweight, and his 6-foot-2 height and freakishly long arms made him one of the toughest fighters to face, and many fighters refused to face him.

He suffered the toughest loss of his career in a rematch with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in November 2010, when Martinez caught Williams with a powerful left hand and knocked Williams out cold. It was the most devastating knockouts in years, and was USA TODAY's and the boxing writers' knockout of the year for 2010.

Williams had defeated Martinez by majority decision 11 months earlier in a middleweight non-title fight.

Williams' last fight was a unanimous decision victory against Nobuhiro Ishida in February of this year.

Goossen said the outpouring of support for his longtime fighter has been amazing.

"I'm astounded by the emails and the tweets and the texts and calls that I've received in the last few hours," he said.

"It's astonishing how many people have been hit by this. It really is in the prime of his life. We were looking forward to his countenance in 2012 resurrecting itself to great statures, but right now the most important thing is taking care of these unfortunate circumstances."

Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Alvarez, tweeted, "To Paul williams.On behalf of my family and I, stay strong my friend hang on to the love of your family, our hearts and prayers are with u."

Pawel Wolak, a Polish fighter now living in the U.S., tweeted: "If Paul Williams doesnt walk again I know he will be even a bigger champion outside of the ring as he was inside. He will motivate others."

Goossen said he hopes to talk to Williams after his surgery on Wednesday and plans to visit him by the end of this week or early next week.

"I'll wait until after the surgery, and right now his words of encouragement have to come from within," Goossen said. "From what I've been told by George, he's very strong right now and knows what happened, he's alert, and preparing for surgery on Wednesday."

Peterson told the AP: "We want his fans to know he's going to be all right and he'll be back. He said if he wasn't going to be boxing, he's going to be a stand-up comedian."

Source: USA Today

Another Earthquake Shakes Northern Italy [Watch Video]

A new earthquake has struck the Emilia region in northern Italy, killing at least 10 people and burying several others under rubble, local media say.

All the deaths were in the Modena area.

Three were killed when an industrial shed collapsed in Medolla. Three also died in San Felice, two in Mirandola and one in Cavezzo.

Tuesday's tremor, estimated at magnitude 5.8, hit the same region where a quake 10 days ago killed seven people and destroyed many buildings.

Milan and Bologna were shaken too.

Some people fled from buildings when they felt the tremor, which struck at 09:03 local time (07:03 GMT).

There have been several aftershocks since, including a large one at about midday which sent people back out into the streets, says the BBC's Mark Dizzani in Modena.

Italian media report that some buildings damaged by the larger 20 May quake have now collapsed in Mirandola, Finale Emilia, San Felice and Cavezzo. That quake measured 6.0.

Many historic buildings now lie in ruins in Cavezzo, where the roof of a church damaged by the earlier quake collapsed on Tuesday, Il Messaggero news website reports.

Calls to emergency services have overloaded the telephone network in some areas, causing a system blackout. Train services have been halted in some parts of northern Italy.

Office workers were evacuated in Bologna and there are reports of evacuations elsewhere too.

The quake struck 40km north of Bologna and 60km east of Parma, at a depth of 9.6km (six miles), Reuters reports. It was felt as far away as Venice, the Austrian border and Piedmont.

Chris Brewerton, living in Mantua, told the BBC that Tuesday's quake appeared stronger than the one on 20 May. Mantua is 58km (36 miles) north of Modena.

He described how "the chair starts shaking and there's a feeling of waves below me. I rush out into the garden; the shutters and garage door are banging, the ground below me swaying. It lasted about 15 seconds - it was frightening."

A Londoner living in Modena, Christopher Gilbert, said he felt "a rolling earthquake lasting around 15 seconds - people were quite frightened.

"I was having a coffee when the quake struck and felt a swaying motion so I clutched onto a bar in the cafe to steady myself. Schools and offices were evacuated," he said.

The 20 May quake destroyed many centuries-old buildings of cultural value. It was the worst to hit Italy since the L'Aquila tremor that killed nearly 300 people in 2009.

About 7,000 people who fled that quake are still living in dozens of tented camps erected in public spaces, AFP news agency reports. There have been many tremors in the region since that quake.

Source: BBC News  

Syria: Most Houla Victims Were Executed

Most of the 108 people killed in Syria's Houla region on Friday were summarily executed, the UN says.

A spokesman for the UN's human rights office says witnesses told investigators that pro-regime militias carried out most of the killings.

Survivors have described gunmen entering homes, firing indiscriminately and slitting the throats of children.

The UN statement came as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told journalists in Geneva that initial investigations suggested that fewer than 20 of the victims in the village of Taldou, near Houla, were killed by artillery or tank fire.

"Most of the rest of the victims in Taldou," he added, "were summarily executed in two separate incidents."

He said 49 children and 34 women were among the victims.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that those who carried out the killings were pro-government shabiha militiamen. Survivors said they had hid or played dead.

UN observers who visited Taldou said many of the victims had been killed by close-range gunfire or knife attacks.

Syrian leaders insist that the massacre was the work of rebels - whom they called "terrorists" - who carried out the killings to derail the peace process and provoke intervention by Western powers.

Mr Annan called the massacre "an appalling moment with profound consequences".

Ahead of his meeting with President Assad on Tuesday, the former UN secretary general said the Syrian government had to take "bold steps" to show it was serious about peace.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says it is make-or-break time for Mr Annan's peace plan, and he has to get something out of his visit to stop the drift towards a vicious sectarian civil war.

Under the plan, both sides were meant to stop fighting on 12 April ahead of the deployment of monitors, and the government was to withdraw tanks and forces from civilian areas.

Western leaders have expressed horror at the killings, and the UK, France and US have all begun moves to raise diplomatic pressure on the Assad government.

The French government said "the murderous folly" of the Damascus regime threatened regional security, and announced it was expelling the Syrian ambassador in Paris.

A meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group is to meet in France in July, President Francois Hollande's office said on Tuesday.

However Russia, which supplies arms to the Syrian government and has blocked UN resolutions calling for action against Damascus, has blamed both sides for Friday's massacre.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern that "certain countries" were beginning to use the Houla massacre "as a pretext for voicing demands relating to the need for military measures to be taken".

Source: BBC News  

May 28, 2012

Calcium Pills Pose Heart Risk

People who take calcium supplements could be increasing their risk of having a heart attack, according to researchers in Germany.

Calcium is often taken by older people to strengthen bones and prevent fractures.

But the study, published in the journal Heart, said the supplements "should be taken with caution".

Experts say promoting a balanced diet including calcium would be a better strategy.

The researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre, in Heidelberg, followed 23,980 people for more than a decade.

They compared the number of heart attacks in people who were taking calcium supplements with those who did not.

There were 851 heart attacks among the 15,959 people who did not take any supplements at all. However, people taking calcium supplements were 86% more likely to have had a heart attack during the study.

The researchers said that heart attacks "might be substantially increased by taking calcium supplements" and that they "should be taken with caution".

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from The Health Supplements Information Service which is funded supplement manufacturers, said: "Osteoporosis is a real issue for women and it is irresponsible for scientists to advise that women cut out calcium supplements on the basis of one flawed survey, particularly when the link between calcium, vitamin D and bone health is endorsed by the European Food Safety Authority."

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said patients prescribed the supplements should keep taking their medication, but should also speak to their doctor if they were concerned.

Natasha Stewart, a senior cardiac nurse with the BHF, said: "This research indicates that there may be an increased risk of having a heart attack for people who take calcium supplements.

"However, this does not mean that these supplements cause heart attacks.

"Further research is needed to shed light on the relationship between calcium supplements and heart health. We need to determine whether the potential risks of the supplements outweigh the benefits calcium can give sufferers of conditions such as osteoporosis."

Ian Reid and Mark Bolland, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said: "The evidence is also becoming steadily stronger that it is not safe, nor is it particularly effective.

"Therefore, the administration of this micro nutrient should not be encouraged; rather people should be advised to obtain their calcium intake from an appropriately balanced diet.

"We should return to seeing calcium as an important component of a balanced diet and not as a low cost panacea to the universal problem of postmenopausal bone loss."

A spokeswoman for the UK's Department of Health said it would consider the study carefully once the complete article had been published.

"The majority of people do not need to take a calcium supplement," she said.

"A healthy balanced diet will provide all the nutrients, including calcium, that they need. Good sources of calcium include milk and dairy foods, fortified dairy food alternatives, e.g. soya drink, and green leafy vegetables."

Source: BBC News 

Fire At Egypt Presidential Candidate Ahmed Shafiq's HQ

A fire has broken out at the campaign headquarters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, according to local media reports.

Egyptian television stations broadcast footage of the fire in the district of Dokki in the capital Cairo.

There are currently no reports of injuries.

The fire comes hours after it was announced that Mr Shafiq and Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi would compete in a run-off election next month.

Male Pill: Gene Discovery May Lead To Contraceptive

It may be possible to develop a new male contraceptive pill after researchers in Edinburgh identified a gene critical for the production of healthy sperm.

Experiments in mice found that the gene, Katnal1, was vital for the final stages of making sperm.

The authors of a study in PLos Genetics said a drug which interrupts Katnal1 could be a reversible contraceptive.

A fertility expert said there was "certainly a need" for such a drug.

Contraception in men is largely down to condoms or a vasectomy.

Researchers at the Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh were investigating the causes of male infertility.

They randomly altered the genetic code of mice to see which became infertile. They then traced the mutations which led to infertility, which led them to Katnal1.

It contains the blueprints for a protein which is important in cells which support the development of sperm. Without the protein, sperm do not fully form and the body disposes of them.

Scientists hope they will be able to perform a similar trick in humans to stop sperm developing, without causing lasting damage.

One of the researchers Dr Lee Smith said: "If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive.

"The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm.

He said it would be "relatively difficult" to do as the protein lives inside cells, however, he said there was "potential" to find something else that protein worked with, which might be an easier target.

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said there was "certainly a need" for a non-hormonal contraceptive for men and that this had been a "Holy Grail" of research for many years.

He added: "The key in developing a non-hormonal contraceptive for men is that the molecular target needs to be very specific for either sperm or other cells in the testicle which are involved in sperm production.

"If they are not, then such a contraceptive could have unwanted side effects on other cells and tissues in the body and may even be dangerous.

"The gene described by the research group in Edinburgh sounds like an exciting new possible target for a new male contraceptive, but it may also shed light on why some men are sub-fertile and why their sperm does not work properly."

Source: BBC News 

Facebook Smartphone To Be Released Next Year

Social networking giant Facebook is to launch its own smartphone by next year, reports have suggested.

The New York Times cited unnamed sources, including Facebook employees, suggesting that the network had been hiring several smartphone engineers.

Facebook recently admitted it was struggling to make money out of its growing mobile audience.

The company, which recently floated on the stock market, has also just launched its own mobile app store.

The App Center currently offers links to Facebook-enabled apps within Apple's iOS and Google Android stores but developers will soon be able to write apps to be placed exclusively in Facebook's store.

According to the New York Times, Facebook has hired experts who worked on the iPhone and other smartphones.

It quoted a Facebook employee as saying the site's founder Mark Zuckerberg was "worried that if he doesn't create a mobile phone in the near future... Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms".

A Facebook smartphone has reportedly been in the works for some time.

In 2010, Techcrunch reported that Facebook was "secretly" building a smartphone - although this particular project is said to have broken down.

The company's desire to enter the smartphone market could be a result of increasing pressure to improve the potential of mobile to make money.

In a statement for potential investors ahead of its initial public offering earlier this month, the company admitted it had concerns about more users accessing Facebook through their mobile - a trend which could make it more difficult to sell advertising.

When asked by the BBC, a spokeswoman for Facebook said the company did not comment on speculation, and referred instead to a written statement.

"Our mobile strategy is simple: we think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social," the statement read.

"We're working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world."

Source: BBC News  

Quebec Talks To Student Protesters

The provincial government of Quebec, Canada, has resumed talks with student groups in Quebec City in an effort to end a standoff over tuition fee hikes.

Students say the hikes and an emergency law aimed at curbing the protests must be up for discussion.

The Quebec government insists it will not change its mind on the fee hike.

Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada, but the government aims to raise the fees by 80%, in increments of $254 (£160) per year for seven years.

More than 2,500 arrests have been made since the protests began in February, as more than 165,000 students have boycotted classes.

More than 1,000 arrests were made last week following the passage of Bill 78, a controversial law that aimed at stifling protest.

The bill has been widely criticised and the students have mounted a legal challenge against it.

Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said she was "open" to discussions with the students but did not know how long the talks would last.

A tentative deal was reached after marathon talks between the government and students a month ago, but it soon fell apart.

There is renewed urgency to Monday's discussions as the government aims to reach an agreement with the student groups before Montreal's summer tourism season gets under way, correspondents say.

Source: BBC News 

Two Men Held Over Death Of Irish Student

 Two American men are being held in Japan over the death of an Irish student.

Nicola Furlong, 21, from Curracloe, Co Wexford, was killed after she and a friend went to see a concert by the rapper Nicki Minaj in Tokyo on Wednesday night.

It is believed she had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Diplomatic staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin are providing consular assistance to her family.

In a statement, the family said they were devastated by the loss of their beautiful daughter and sister.

"Nicola was a warm, generous, stunning person who always had time for her family and other people," they said.

"Nicola will always be at the centre of our lives. She stood for everything that is good in life."

Ms Furlong had been in Japan as an exchange student from Dublin City University.

She had been studying at the Takasaki City University of Economics in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, about 60 miles north-west of Tokyo.

The two Americans are a 23-year-old dancer, James Jamari Blackston, and a 19-year-old musician.

It is understood the pair have been arrested in connection with Ms Furlong's death and are being held on charges related to assault while the police investigation continues.

She was at the concert with a friend where they met two men and the four ended up in a hotel together.

Reports in the media from Tokyo have claimed that a guest complained about loud noise from a hotel room at about 3.20am on Thursday morning before an employee went to the room and found Ms Furlong lying on the floor near the bed.

Ms Furlong had been due to return to Ireland in July.

Source: BBC News  

Colombia's Farc Rebels Release Video Of French Reporter

Colombia's left-wing Farc rebels have released the first images of French journalist Romeo Langlois since he was captured a month ago.

On a video broadcast by Venezuelan TV channel Telesur, the journalist appears in good health and good spirits.

The tape was released the day after the Farc set a date to release Mr Langlois.

He is due to be handed over on Wednesday to a international committee that has been mediating with the rebels.

The tape shows Mr Langlois, 35, in a camp in the jungle, probably in southern Colombia, where he was captured.

He was on a reporting trip for international broadcaster France 24, filming the destruction of cocaine laboratories by army soldiers in the Caqueta region.

The army said he was wounded in the arm when the group came under attack.

He then ran towards the rebels who later declared him a "prisoner of war".

In the video, he appears with bandage around his left elbow and is also shown being treated for his wound.

Mr Langlois also discusses the reporting trip and says he expected the operation to last no more than a couple of hours.

"You know what you are exposed to when you undertake this kind of activity, but the truth is I didn't think it was going to get so big," he says.

The French journalist says he did not know the area was a danger zone.

It is not clear when the video was recorded.

In a statement published on the internet on Sunday, the Farc says Mr Langlois will be handed over to a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a French government envoy and a peace group led by former Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba.

The French envoy, who has not been named, was due to arrive in the Colombian capital, Bogota, on Monday.

The French ambassador to Bogota, Pierre-Jean Vandoorne, said they could only hope that "everything goes well on the day."

The head of the ICRC in Colombia, Jordi Raich, says security arrangements are in place for Mr Langlois' release on Wednesday.

In previous hostage releases, the Colombian armed forces agreed to cease all operations in the designated area.

Nepal Parties Resign As Constitution Deadline Passes

Three political parties have resigned from Nepal's Maoist-led government as fears grow that the country is descending into constitutional chaos.

Nepal's prime minister called fresh elections in six months after politicians failed to meet a deadline on Sunday to agree a new constitution.

Baburam Bhattarai said he was left with no choice after four years of deadlock.

Nepal no longer has a sitting parliament or a constitution and some are questioning the PM's legitimacy.

After two days of protests, the streets were quiet on Monday.

Parliament has been extended four times since 2008 while a special assembly has struggled to reach consensus over the drafting of a new constitution.

Political parties were unable to agree on the issue of whether states in a new federal system should be along ethnic lines.
Elections 'unconstitutional'

When the latest deadline was missed, Baburam Bhattarai said there was "no alternative" but polls in November and that he would form a caretaker government.

"Though we were unable to promulgate the constitution, we have decided to seek a mandate through elections for a new Constituent Assembly on 22 November," the prime minister announced in a televised address to the nation.

The move came after a cabinet meeting decided to hold elections rather than declare a state of emergency, which would have allowed parliament to be extended for six months.

But political parties disagree on his right to call elections and take this position- and three of them have now resigned from government. Some political parties within the coalition also argued elections were unconstitutional.

The prime minister argues that the Supreme Court supports this stance, because it had ruled earlier that if the constitution was not drafted in time "the alternative would be to hold another election".

Mr Bhattarai, who is a member of Nepal's Maoist party and led the national unity government made up of Nepal's four major parties, blamed rival groups within the coalition for the breakdown of talks.

There is acrimonious debate over the ethnic identity of states and this has sparked violent protests in recent weeks.

The Maoists want state boundaries which reflect different ethnic groups and are named after them. They say this would bolster the groups' sense of identity and give them more autonomy.

Those who disagree say that such ethnic divisions could cause instability and could sow the seeds of disintegration.

Nepal's interim constituent assembly was elected for a two-year term when the country became a republic in 2008.

The assembly's formation came two years after pro-democracy protests forced Nepal's king to give up his authoritarian rule and restore democracy in the country.

One of the assembly's first decisions was to abolish the centuries-old monarchy and convert Nepal into a republic.

Its tenure has been extended four times, as political parties have repeatedly failed to draft a new constitution. Recently, the Supreme Court rejected any further extensions.

Political parties have been able to resolve some differences in the past, such as the future of Maoist rebel fighters who were confined to camps after they gave up arms in 2006.

But the ethnic issue has proved intractable.

Meanwhile, correspondents say that many ordinary Nepalis are fed up of the stalemate and political in-fighting.

They want a government which can start addressing issues such as economic growth and the desperate need for development.

Source: BBC News 


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