Jun 30, 2012

Quake Rattles Western China

Stated media in China reports a strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake rattled the country's northwestern Xinjiang region Saturday, injuring at least 24 people.

The US Geological Survey says the quake had a shallow depth of 9.8 kilometres and its epicentre was in a remote, mountainous area 99 kilometres south of the city of Dushanzi.

But the tremor was felt strongly in Xinjiang's regional capital of Urumqi nearly 300 kilometres away, as well as in the major cities of Dushanzi and Kuitun, China Central Television said.

At least 24 people were reported injured, one of them seriously, Xinhua news agency said. Many of the victims were hurt when houses collapsed, it said, and others were tossed from their beds.

The quake struck at 5:07 am (2107 GMT Friday), while nearly 200 aftershocks had occurred in the area by noon, the biggest measuring 4.2 in magnitude, Xinhua said.

Rescue teams were immediately dispatched to populated areas hit by the quake, CCTV said.

Later Saturday, CCTV reported that 22,000 people had been affected by the quake, while over 1,600 homes had collapsed.

The south Xinjiang railway was affected, it reported, but details were not immediately clear, and electricity was cut off in some quake-hit areas.

The China Earthquake Networks Centre measured the quake at 6.6 on the Richter scale.

Xinjiang is a vast region with a population of around 20 million, of whom some nine million are Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, mainly Muslim ethnic minority.

Source: ABC News   

US Approves New Weight-loss Pill

US health regulators have approved a weight-loss pill for the first time in 13 years.

Belviq, made by Arena Pharmaceutical, can be used by obese or overweight adults with at least one condition.

The drug achieved only modest results in clinical studies, helping people lose on average about 5% of their body weight.

Belviq was rejected in 2010 because of concerns over tumours that developed in animals tested with the drug.

After San Diego-based Arena resubmitted its application with more data, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found little risk of tumours in humans using the drug.

The medication is expected to launch in 2013.

Belviq is designed to block appetite signals in the brain, making patients feel fuller with smaller amounts of food.

It has been approved for use in obese adults with a body mass index of 30 or greater.

The drug can also be used by overweight adults with a BMI of 27 or greater if they have at least one other condition such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.

The FDA warned that Belviq is not for women who are pregnant or nursing.

With US obesity rates approaching 35% in adults and associated healthcare costs on the rise, many doctors have urged health regulators to give the green light to new weight-loss treatments.

But the agency has set high standards for such medication after safety problems with previously popular weight-loss drugs.

The so-called fen-phen combination had to be pulled from the market in 1997 after being linked to heart valve damage.

In a statement, the FDA said Belviq did not appear to carry the same risks.

However, known side effects of Belviq do include depression, migraine and memory lapses.

The FDA-approved label says the drug should not be used for more than 12 weeks if a 5% weight loss does not occur.

Arena will be required to conduct six studies after marketing the drug, including a study on the drug's effect on long-term heart health.

Source: BBC News  

US Storms Cut Power To Millions

Some two million people are without power after violent storms hit the region around the US capital, Washington DC.

The storms swept from the Midwest states to the region around Washington, packing winds of up to 80mph (130 km/h).

The power outages left many sweltering without air conditioning amid a record-breaking heatwave.

At least nine deaths have been linked to the storm, officials say.

The storm is locally referred to as a "derecho" - a violent, straight-lined windstorm associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms.

It left behind felled trees, streets littered with fallen branches and downed power lines.

Washington's transit authority said most metro lines were back to normal service after the storm disrupted service on all lines during Friday night. But many Metrobus routes were subject to detours or delay due to downed trees and power lines.

Amtrak suspended services from Washington to Philadelphia until at least mid-morning on Saturday, Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, a heatwave which has seen all-time records smashed with temperatures of 104F (40C) in DC, was set to continue, said the National Weather Service - and it warned that another round of severe weather should be expected.

The storms started in the Midwest and moved quickly eastward, hitting the mid-Atlantic states on Friday evening.

As well as gusty winds, users of the social network site Twitter reported spectacular, sustained displays of lightning. There were also reports of hail the size of a US quarter coin - just under an inch (2.4cm).

The storms left more than two million people without power, reported Associated Press, which said that a state of emergency had been declared in West Virginia where more than 500,000 were hit by power cuts.

Power companies said they were working hard to restore power to customers, but Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) were among those warning that it could be days before all services were reconnected.

Meanwhile, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission imposed mandatory water restrictions for all customers in Montgomery and Prince George counties because the storms cut power to two water filtration plants and other facilities.

It asked customers to stop all outside water use and restrict water use at home.

The storms have been blamed for at least nine deaths.

The Associated Press news agency said the storms were blamed for six deaths in Virginia, two in two in New Jersey and one in Maryland.

In suburban Washington, residents were told to call non-emergency phone numbers or go to fire and police stations if they needed help because even 911 emergency call centers were without electricity.

The US National Weather Service warned people in the region to alert to the latest weather warnings on Saturday.

"Another round of severe weather will develop across the Ohio Valley and track into the northern Mid-Atlantic states, where damaging winds will be the primary threat," it said on its website.

"At this time, it appears the greatest risk will stretch from southern Ohio into Maryland and northern Virginia."

Source: BBC News  

Annan Warns Talks Of Syria risks

UN envoy Kofi Annan has warned that a failure to agree at talks in Geneva today on his peace plan for Syria could spark an international crisis.

Mr Annan told the meeting history would judge harshly if there was no deal on ending the bloodshed in Syria.

Russia, which sees Syria as a close ally, is said to be resisting proposals that could exclude President Assad from a transitional unity government.

Some 15,800 people have died in the 16-month uprising, rights groups say.

Before the talks started, Russia said there was a "very good chance" of finding common ground, but a US official said areas of "difficulty and difference" remained.

Violence has continued in Syria, despite a nominal ceasefire brokered by Mr Annan as part of his six-point peace plan.

More than 180 people were killed on Friday, rights groups said, after Syrian forces shelled a suburb of the capital Damascus and the restive central city of Homs.

One Syrian human rights group said about 4,700 of the 15,800 killed since the uprising began had died since mid-April, when the ceasefire was supposed to enter into force.

Mr Annan warned participants at the Geneva conference that they would be responsible for any further loss of life inside Syria, as well the threat posed by a continuing conflict to the wider region and the world.

"History is a sombre judge and it will judge us all harshly if we prove incapable of taking the right path today," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the conference's decisions should be endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution permitting action to enforce the peace plan, according to the Reuters news agency, but noted that Russia was opposed to this.

He also reiterated that President Assad and his close allies should not be allowed to take part in the interim Syrian administration being discussed at the talks.

Russia has been hostile to any solution that would see Mr Assad forced out.

Meanwhile, Mr Assad said he would not accept any solution to his country's crisis imposed from outside.

He told Iranian television that it was an "internal issue" which had "nothing to do with foreign countries", stressing that no amount of foreign pressure would make his government change its policy on internal security.

Western powers, Russia, Turkey and Arab countries, including Qatar, are taking part in the Geneva meeting.

Saturday's conference in Geneva was called by Mr Annan after the violence intensified in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in St Petersburg on Friday in an effort to agree a consensus formula to end the bloodshed.

After leaving the talks with Mrs Clinton, Mr Lavrov said: "We have a very good chance to find common ground at the conference in Geneva tomorrow [Saturday].

But a US state department official later told reporters: "There are still areas of difficulty and difference."

Mr Annan wants support for an interim government that could include opposition members and officials serving under Mr Assad, but exclude those "whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation", his spokesman said.

Diplomats said this was an implicit reference to the Syrian president.

Source: BBC News  

Paraguay Suspended From Mercosur

The Mercosur trade bloc has suspended Paraguay over the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo on 22 June.

The presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay said Paraguay would remain outside the bloc until the next presidential election in April.

But at the end of a two-day summit in Argentina they decided not to impose sanctions on Paraguay.

They also announced that Venezuela would now become a full member of Mercosur.

Venezuela's application to join the Mercosur as a permanent member had been approved by the bloc's three other members, but blocked by the Paraguayan congress.

With Paraguay suspended, the doors were opened for Venezuela, South America's main oil producer.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said the bloc decided to suspend Paraguay "until a democratic process allows for popular sovereignty to be restored".

Mr Lugo was removed over his role in the eviction of landless farmers two weeks ago, which ended with the deaths of 17 people, including policemen and peasants.

Regional leaders described the dismissal of Paraguay's first left-wing president as a parliamentary coup.

Mr Lugo was impeached by the Senate after being given less than 24 hours to prepare his defence.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to dismiss Mr Lugo, a former Catholic bishop who left the priesthood in 2006 and became Paraguay's president two years later.

Hours later, his vice-president, Federico Franco, from the Liberal Party, was sworn in.

Paraguay was immediately suspended, temporarily, from the regional trade bloc.

The gathering had been scheduled before last week's developments.

But it was inevitably taken over by discussions on what measures to impose against the new Paraguayan government.

Paraguay is one of the four founding members of Mercosur, along with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Its economy relies heavily on trade within the bloc.

Source: BBC News  

China Spacecraft Returns To Earth

A Chinese space capsule carrying three crew members has returned to Earth following a 13-day mission.

Images of the capsule landing in Inner Mongolia at 10:05 local time (02:05 GMT) were shown live on television.

The astronauts, including China's first woman in space, carried out a successful manual docking with the Tiangong-1 laboratory module.

The mission is a key step towards China's goal of building a space station by 2020.

Premier Wen Jiabao hailed the mission as a "complete success".

This is another outstanding contribution by the Chinese people to humanity's efforts to explore and use space," Mr Wen said in Beijing.

"It feels so good to stand on Earth, and it feels even better to be home," astronaut Liu Wang was quoted by national broadcaster CCTV as saying.

"Tiangong-1, our home in space, was comfortable and pleasant. We're very proud of our nation," female astronaut Liu Yang said.

The crew of the Shenzhou-9 craft successfully carried out the country's manual docking manoeuvre earlier in the week.

The delicate procedure, which involved bringing together two orbiting vessels travelling at thousands of miles an hour, was mastered by the USSR and US space teams in the 1960s.

The crew also carried out automatic docking of the two crafts during their mission.

The three astronauts returned to the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft on Thursday and performed a manual separation from the space laboratory.

They touched down in Inner Mongolia's Siziwang county, with the capsule deploying a parachute to slow its approach.

All the astronauts were in good health, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. They were shown on CCTV leaving the capsule carried on chairs, smiling as they waved to supporters.

The crew included Jing Haipeng, 45, the mission commander and a veteran astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, and Liu Wang, 43, who performed the manual docking.

Ms Liu, 33, is a major in China's air force from the central province of Henan. On China's Tencent QQ messaging service, she goes by the name "little Flying Knight".

She was recruited into China's space programme only two years ago, but she excelled, the official news agency Xinhua says.

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft was launched on 16 June.

Source: BBC News 

Aid Workers Kidnapped In Kenya

A Kenyan driver has been killed and four foreign aid workers kidnapped at a refugee camp in Kenya close to the border with Somalia, police say.

The foreigners, from Canada, Norway, Pakistan and the Philippines, worked for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

They were travelling in a convoy when they were ambushed by gunmen in Dadaab, which houses more than 450,000 Somalis.

Several aid workers have been kidnapped from Dadaab in the last year and many groups have withdrawn from the camp.

The region's deputy police chief, Philip Ndolo, said two vehicles in the convoy had come under attack - and one had managed to get away.

He told the AFP news agency that the driver of the second vehicle was shot by a gunman and died while receiving treatment at hospital, correcting earlier reports that he had also been kidnapped.

Two other Kenyans were also shot, another driver and a contractor for the Norwegian Refugee Council, Reuters news agency reports Mr Ndolo as saying.

A spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council said its secretary general, Elizabeth Rasmussen, was in the convoy that came under attack, but she had escaped unharmed.

Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, and has been wracked by fighting ever since - a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.

Islamists from the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab control large swathes of the country.

"We suspect this could be the work of al-Shabab sympathisers," Mr Ndolo told Reuters.

Kenyan army spokesman Cyrus Oguna told AFP that the seized vehicle had been found abandoned about 30km (18 miles) from Daadab and it was believed the captives and their abductors were still inside Kenya, proceeding on foot.

"We have dispatched military helicopters to pursue the kidnappers," he said.

Last October, Kenyan troops entered Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab militants accused of being behind various kidnappings on Kenyan soil and of destabilising the border region.

Earlier that month, two Spanish doctors working for the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped from Dadaab and are still being held hostage.

Source: BBC News   

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Banned In US

A judge in California has blocked US sales of Samsung's Galaxy Nexus smartphones while the court decides on the firm's patent dispute with Apple.

US District Judge Lucy Koh said Apple "has shown a likelihood of establishing both infringement and validity".

Earlier this week, she barred sales of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the US until the case was resolved.

However, she said that Apple would have to post bonds of nearly $100m (£64m) to enforce the rare pre-trial injunctions.

The bonds serve to secure payment of damages sustained by Samsung should it win the cases.

Samsung, the South Korean electronics giant, said it was "disappointed" by Friday's decision.

"We will take all available measures, including legal action, to ensure the Galaxy Nexus remains available to consumers," it said in a statement.

California-based Apple and Samsung are involved in a variety of legal cases in various countries across the globe amid claims and counter claims of patent infringement.

While Apple had accused Samsung of "blatant copying" of its design and look, the South Korean firm has alleged that Apple infringed its patents relating to the way phones and tablet PCs connect to the internet.

Apple and Samsung are two of the biggest manufacturers of tablet PCs and smartphones in the world.

Sales of the iPad more than doubled to 15.43m for the three months to 31 December 2011.

And in the first quarter of 2012 it sold 13.6m, giving it about 63% of the global tablet market, according to research firm Display Search.

Samsung sold 1.6m tablets over the same period, giving it a 7.5% share.

The success of Apple's iPhone and iPad has seen the firm recently become the world's most valuable company.

Meanwhile, Samsung has enjoyed considerable success in the sectors with its Galaxy range of products.

The demand for tablet PCs and smartphones is likely to grow even further in the near term.

Analysts said that given the growth potential, the two firms were using every possible tactic to ensure that they capture a bigger share of the market.

Source: BBC News 

Islamists Damage Timbuktu Shrines

Islamist fighters in Mali have damaged the shrines of Muslim saints in the city of Timbuktu, witnesses say.

The fighters, from the Ansar Dine group, which controls much of northern Mali, attacked the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, one of 16 shrines in the city.

Last week, the UN cultural organisation Unesco put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites, fearing damage following the coup which toppled the Malian government in March.

Islamists regard shrines as idolatrous.

However, some Muslims, especially Sufis, regard them as an accepted part of Muslim worship.

Witnesses said Islamist fighters began attacking the shrines on Saturday morning, using shovels and pickaxes.

"This is tragic news for us all," Unesco chairperson Alissandra Cummins said in a statement to the AFP news agency. "I appeal to all those engaged in the conflict in Timbuktu to exercise their responsibility."

Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama told the AFP news agency the shrines would be destroyed, "all of them, without exception".

He went on: "God is unique. All of this is haram (forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. Unesco is what?"

"They have already completely destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud (Ben Amar) and two others," Malian journalist Yeya Tandina told the Reuters news agency.

In addition to the shrines, Timbuktu is home to some 700,000 ancient manuscripts held in about 60 private libraries.

On Thursday, Unesco said the city's capture by armed Islamists could endanger its "outstanding architectural wonders".

"It looks as if it is a direct reaction to the Unesco decision," Timbuktu official Sandy Haidara told Reuters.

Timbuktu, an ancient trading city on the edge of the Sahara Desert, is known for its distinctive architectural structures, constructed mainly from mud and wood.

The shrine of Sidi Mahmoud was also attacked in April and set on fire by armed men from Ansar Dine.

Ansar Dine, which has ties to al-Qaeda, seized northern Mali in March, in tandem with ethnic Tuareg rebels.

However, the alliance between the two groups has frayed and the Islamists now say they control the territory after driving out their former allies.

Islamist forces recently seized the town of Gao from the Tuaregs. The 17th Century tomb of Emperor Mohammed Askia, which is in Gao, has also been placed on the Unesco danger list.

Source: BBC News  

Mursi sworn in as Egypt's leader

Mohammed Mursi has been sworn in as Egypt's first civilian, democratically elected president at a historic ceremony in Cairo.

Mr Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, took the oath before the supreme constitutional court.

Later, in a speech to Cairo University, he promised to restore the parliament dissolved by the military this month.

He said that the army, which has run Egypt for decades, must respect the will of the people.

President Mursi will have to sort out a very difficult relationship with an entrenched military, regional analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says.

The regime of former President Hosni Mubarak is still largely intact and many in it will not work with the new president, he adds.

Overthrown in February last year after mass pro-democracy demonstrations, Mubarak was sentenced to life imprisonment at the beginning of this month for failing to prevent the killing of protesters by the security forces.

Egypt, the biggest Arab nation, is a key US ally in the region, as well as one of the few states in the Arab world to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

Parliament was dissolved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which assumed legislative powers under a controversial "interim constitutional declaration".

The Scaf is due to hand over power to Mr Mursi later on Saturday.

"The army now returns to his original role, protecting the nation and its borders," Mr Mursi said.

Parliament, the new president insisted, had been elected in a free and fair ballot and had been entrusted with drafting a new, democratic constitution.

He hailed those killed in the uprising against President Mubarak. Families of some of the dead were in the hall and they held up photos of their sons and daughters.

In the ceremony before the court, Mr Mursi said the Egyptian people had "laid the foundations for a new life, for full freedom, a genuine democracy, for putting the meaning and significance of the constitution and stability above everything else".

His government would be based on the democratic pillars of "the constitutional court, the Egyptian judiciary, and the executive and legislative powers".

Mr Mursi's oath of office had originally been scheduled to take place at the parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamists.

Mr Mursi said he was determined that the constitutional court, which had declared November's parliamentary election to be flawed, would remain "independent, strong, effective - away from any suspicion and abuse".

Unlike during the Mubarak days, Cairo traffic was not stopped for Saturday's ceremony - underlining Mr Mursi's wish to be seen as one of the people, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in the city.

Handling relations with the Scaf is likely to be a key test for Mr Mursi as he begins his term of office.

The Scaf had previously said it would hand over power to Mr Mursi by the end of June.

However, one of its members, Maj Gen Mohamed al-Assar, told Egyptian media that the head of Scaf, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, would remain as defence minister under Mr Mursi.

When the Scaf leader arrived at Cairo University for Mr Mursi's speech, hostile students standing outside chanted "The people want to execute the field marshal", according to Egyptian news website Al-Misri al-Yawm.

On Friday, Mr Mursi performed prayers at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque, one of the most prominent seats of learning in Sunni Islam.

He has sought to allay fears among some secular and Coptic Christian Egyptians that he will use his presidency to impose Islamic law.

Mr Mursi's campaign has said he plans to appoint a woman and a Coptic Christian as his vice-presidents.

In his speech at Cairo University, he said all Egyptians would be equal before the law.

Source: BBC News   

Jun 29, 2012

Adele Announces Pregnancy

Pop star Adele is expecting her first child, she has told fans via a message on her website.

The 24-year-old said she and her partner Simon Konecki were "delighted to announce" that they were expecting their first child together.

"Obviously we're over the moon and very excited but please respect our privacy at this precious time," she said.

The London-born singer had the world's biggest-selling album last year with 21, which sold more than 17m copies.

More than 4 million of those copies were sold in the UK, where 21 is now the fifth best-selling album in chart history.

The record largely deals with the painful break-up of Adele's previous relationship. It has earned her six Grammys, two Brits and two Ivor Novello awards.

The singer has been dating Konecki, who established the Life Water charity, since last year.

Adele was recently forced to deny UK tabloid reports that the couple were engaged, after she was seen wearing a ring to an awards ceremony.

"I'm not engaged, blah blah," she wrote on Twitter.

Source: BBC News 

Scientists Hack Flying Drone

American researchers took control of a flying drone by "hacking" into its GPS system - acting on a $1,000 (£640) dare from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A University of Texas at Austin team used "spoofing" - a technique where the drone mistakes the signal from hackers for the one sent from GPS satellites.

The same method may have been used to bring down a US drone in Iran in 2011.

Analysts say that the demo shows the potential danger of using drones.

Drones are unmanned aircraft, often controlled from a hub located thousands of kilometres away.

They are mostly used by the military in conflict zones such as Afghanistan.

Todd Humphreys and his colleagues from the Radionavigation Lab at the University of Texas at Austin hacked the GPS system of a drone belonging to the university.

They demonstrated the technique to DHS officials, using a mini helicopter drone, flown over a stadium in Austin, said Fox News, who broke the story.

"What if you could take down one of these drones delivering FedEx packages and use that as your missile?" Fox News quoted Mr Humphreys.

"That's the same mentality the 911 attackers had."

The spoofed drone used an unencrypted GPS signal, which is normally used by civilian planes, says Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

"It's easy to spoof an unencrypted drone. Anybody technically skilled could do this - it would cost them some £700 for the equipment and that's it," he told BBC News.

"It's very dangerous - if a drone is being directed somewhere using its GPS, [a spoofer] can make it think it's somewhere else and make it crash into a building, or crash somewhere else, or just steal it and fill it with explosives and direct somewhere.

"But the big worry is - it also means that it wouldn't be too hard for [a very skilled person] to work out how to un-encrypt military drones and spoof them, and that could be extremely dangerous because they could turn them on the wrong people.

Source: BBC News 

Tom Cruise And Katie Holmes To Get Divorced

Hollywood A-listers Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are divorcing, bringing an end to a five-year marriage.

The office of celebrity divorce lawyer Jonathan Wolfe confirmed the divorce. "This is a personal and private matter" he said in a statement.

The couple have a six-year daughter, Suri, and Cruise, 49, has two children from his marriage to Nicole Kidman.

Cruise married Holmes, 33, his third wife, in an Italian castle in November 2006.

A spokesman for Cruise said: "Kate has filed for divorce and Tom is deeply saddened and is concentrating on his three children. Please allow them their privacy."

It is not yet clear whether divorce papers have been filed in court.

The divorce brings to an end a relationship that began with very public declarations of affection.

Holmes once admitted she had a childhood crush on the Hollywood celebrity, while Cruise famously jumped on a sofa on the Oprah Winfrey Show as he declared his love for Holmes.

"I can't be cool. I can't be laid-back. Something happened and I want to celebrate it," Cruise said in his appearance on the show.

Cruise proposed to Holmes at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the couple were married by a Church of Scientology minister.

Tom Cruise is among Hollywood's highest-paid actors and has starred in blockbusters such as Top Gun, Jerry Maguire and the Mission Impossible series.

Earlier this week he was reported to be in Iceland shooting an upcoming film called Oblivion. He also starred in the recently released Rock Of Ages.

Katie Holmes rose to fame as a leading actress on US television drama Dawson's Creek. She has also appeared in Batman Begins and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark.

Source: BBC News 

Jun 27, 2012

Google To Sell Tablet And Glasses

Google has unveiled the Nexus 7 - its first own-brand tablet.

The device is made by the Taiwanese company Asus rather than the firm's own Motorola hardware unit. It runs the new Jelly Bean version of Android.

An 8GB version will be sold for $199 (£127) from mid-July pitching it directly against Amazon's Kindle Fire.

The firm also showed off its internet-connected augmented reality glasses revealing the first models would ship in 2013.

The announcements were made at Google's I/O developers' conference in San Francisco.

The 7-inch (17.8cm) Nexus tablet features a quad-core CPU (central processing unit) and a 12-core GPU (graphics processing unit).

Having so many cores means the machine can ramp up its processing power when dealing with complicated graphics or running several programs at once, but can use less at other times to extend battery life.

It is a similar size to Amazon's tablet and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0.

But it has a significantly smaller screen than Apple's bestselling 9.7-inch (24.6cm) iPad. At 340g (12oz) it is also lighter to hold.

The machine features Google's Chrome browser as its default option - the first Android device to do so.

The first countries to get the product are the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

The Google Play site said the 8GB model would sell for £159 in the UK, and the 16GB version for £199.

Google's co-founder Sergey Brin also took to the stage to showcase the firm's Glass project - augmented reality glasses that are still in development.

Rather than introduce a demo he brought up live feeds from devices being worn by Google employees sat in a floating airship above San Francisco.

Attendees then watched live footage screened through the headsets as the workers skydived to the roof of a building below.

Cyclists on the same roof then streamed pictures as they jumped over ramps before riding to the main floor of the I/O event.

Next engineers explained the "philosophy" of the equipment, saying that they had placed a screen above the right eye to make it easy to continue interacting with the real world, and a touchpad on one of the sidebars to control it.

They said they envisaged two main uses for the device.

The first, to capture videos and photos taken from the user's point of view as they took part in activities they wished to record.

The second, to overlay information onto what they are seeing in front of them such as how fast they are moving or the best way to get to another location.

Mr Brin added that the "Glass explorer edition" was being made available for pre-order to US-based developers attending the conference. He said it would cost $1,500 and was set to ship early next year.

Source: BBC News  

Gunmen Storm Pro-Assad Syria TV

Gunmen have attacked a Syrian pro-government TV channel, killing seven people, state media say.

Journalists and security guards died in the attack on al-Ikhbariya TV south of Damascus, Sana news agency reported.

Hours earlier, President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was in "a real state of war" and US intelligence officials predicted a long, drawn-out struggle.

UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has called a meeting of the UN action group for Syria for Saturday.

His deputy envoy said on Wednesday that the violence in the country had "reached or surpassed" levels before the April ceasefire deal.

Syrian TV dropped normal programming on Wednesday to run live coverage of the attack on the headquarters of Ikhbariya TV in the town of Drusha, some 20km (14 miles) south of the capital.

State TV showed pictures of burnt and wrecked buildings, with fires still smouldering.

Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi, on a visit to the site, said some of the victims had been abducted, bound, and killed in cold blood.

He also condemned the EU's decision to impose sanctions on Syria's state-run TV and radio agency for its support of the Assad government.

The Ikhbariya attack followed fierce clashes in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, described by opposition activists as the worst there so far.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting had taken place near positions of the Republican Guard, which is led by President Assad's younger brother Maher and has the role of protecting the capital.

The Observatory also reported violence on Wednesday in the central city of Homs, Deir al-Zour in the east and in Idlib in the north.

Mr Annan has announced there will be a meeting in Geneva on Saturday of the Syrian action group - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.

There was no mention of including Iran, whose presence in talks has been urged by Russia.

Mr Annan said the aim of the meeting was to secure full implementation of an agreed peace plan and back the "principles for a Syrian-led political transition".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will attend the meeting, said that if all the parties agreed to Mr Annan's roadmap for political transition then there was "great hope that this perhaps can be a turning point in the very tragic circumstances affecting the Syrian people".

In April, following months of bloodshed, the Syrian government agreed to a six-point peace plan. UN monitors were deployed to oversee a ceasefire but the truce never took hold and the monitors have suspended patrols.

Mr Annan's deputy envoy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, warned the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday that "time was running out".

He was speaking shortly before a commission of inquiry gave details of its report on the one of the worst attacks on civilians since the conflict began - the 25 May Houla massacre in which 108 people died.

Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro told the council that "forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths" but he said his team had been unable to determine who was behind the massacre.

Mr Pinheiro said the perpetrators were from one of three groups: "shabiha" or other local militia from neighbouring villages, perhaps acting with the army; anti-government armoured groups; or foreign groups.

"While the commission could not rule out the possibility of anti-government fighters being responsible for the killing, this was considered very much unlikely," he said.

Syrian ambassador Faisal Khabbaz Hamoui condemned the meeting as "flagrantly political" and walked out of the hall.

Source: BBC News  

Mass Evacuation For Colorado Fire

More than 32,000 people have fled their homes in the US state of Colorado as a growing wildfire breached perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs.

Traffic and smoke choked the streets as people hurried to evacuate the city and the nearby US Air Force Academy.

Over 800 firefighters are battling a fire that has scorched over 6,200 acres (2,509 hectares) and is 5% contained.

Extreme fire warnings are in place across several western US states.

The Waldo Canyon Fire began on Saturday but quickly became the top national priority for firefighters as winds of up to 65mph (104km/h) sent the flames surging towards Colorado Springs.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said after surveying the fire from the air on Tuesday.

"It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."

Heavy ash and smoke was billowing from the hillsides west of Colorado Springs and southbound traffic was temporarily closed on Interstate 25, which runs through the city.

Fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts to breathe through the smoke.

"People are freaking out," resident Kathleen Tillman told the Denver Post.

"You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road."

Meanwhile, Richard Brown, the Colorado Springs fire chief, described the blaze as a "firestorm of epic proportions".

The city is Colorado's second largest, situated just off the main north-south highway.

Elsewhere in Colorado, the High Park fire in the west of the state has been burning for weeks and remains just 45% contained, although fewer homes are under imminent threat.

Fires or fire warnings are also in place in Montana, Utah and Wyoming, just weeks into the annual wildfire season.

Dry, hot temperatures are expected to continue across much of the US this week, with little chance of rain forecast to dampen the blazes.

Source: BBC News  

Jun 26, 2012

Google Computer Works Out How To Spot Cats

A Google research team has trained a network of 1,000 computers wired up like a brain to recognize cats.

The team built a neural network, which mimics the working of a biological brain, that worked out how to spot pictures of cats in just three days.

The cat-spotting computer was created as part of a larger project to investigate machine learning.

Google is planning to use the learning system to help with its indexing systems and with language translation.

The computer system was put together by Google staff scientists from its X Labs division working with Prof Andrew Ng, head of the artificial intelligence lab at Stanford University, California.

The work of the team stands at odds with many image-recognition techniques, which depend on telling a computer to look for specific features of a target object before any are presented to it.

By contrast, the Google machine knew nothing about the images it was to see. However, its 16,000 processing cores ran software that simulated the workings of a biological neural network with about one billion connections.

In a similar way nerves in brains are heavily interconnected and it is believed that "recognition" involves the triggering of a specific pathway through that thicket of connections.

Pathways for particular objects, people or other stimuli are thought to be built up as organisms learn about the world. Some neuroscientists speculate that parts of the human visual system become so specialised they recognise very specific subjects such as a person's grandmother or their cat.

As millions of images were analysed by Google's network of silicon nerves, some parts of it started to react to specific elements in those pictures.

After three days and 10 million images the network could spot a cat, even though it had never been told what one looked like.

Despite their success the researchers were reluctant to speculate how closely it resembled biology. For instance, they said in an interview with the New York Times, their computer system might push the limits of current work on neural networks but it was dwarfed by the complexity of the human visual processing system.

The positive results, wrote the researchers, were a surprise and ran counter to the intuition that learning could not take place when so little context and guidance was given.

As well as spotting cats, the computer system also learned how to pick out the shape of the human body and to recognise human faces.

The work is now going beyond the lab and Google is looking into ways to use it in its main search business either to help categorise what is found online or to aid language translation and speech recognition.

The team is presenting a paper on its findings at the International Conference on Machine Learning that is being held in Edinburgh from 25 June to 1 July.

EU With New Vision For The Future

European authorities have unveiled their vision for the future, which gives them much greater powers.

It includes the creation of a European treasury, which would have powers over national budgets.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it was "a defining moment for European integration".

Described as a 10-year plan, it is designed to strengthen the eurozone and prevent future crises, as countries grapple with current debt problems.

This week, some markets fell sharply on fears that leaders at the EU summit on Thursday and Friday would fail to agree immediate measures to try to stem the current crisis.

The governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, expressed concern about the recent response of European authorities.

"I am pessimistic. I am particularly concerned because over two years now we have seen the situation in the euro area get worse and the problem being pushed down the road," he said, while appearing at a parliamentary hearing.

The latest document, titled Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union, was released by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and was drawn up with the presidents of the European Commission, the Eurogroup and the European Central Bank.

Eurogroup president Mr Van Rompuy said it was "not meant to be a final blueprint", but that he expected "to reach a common understanding amongst us on the way forward" at the EU summit.

Source: BBC News 

Facebook's Email Switch

Facebook is facing a backlash from users after replacing email addresses listed in members' contacts with those provided by its @facebook.com system.

The company said it had acted to make details "consistent" across its site.

If Facebook's email system takes off it could drive more traffic to the firm's pages helping boost advertising sales.

But some users have branded the move "annoying" and "lame" and publicised instructions on how to display original addresses instead of the Facebook ones.

Facebook first announced plans for the move in April, although the news attracted little attention at the time.

"We are providing every Facebook user with his or her own Facebook email address because we find that many users find it useful to connect with each other, but using Facebook email is completely up to you," said a statement from the company.

Emails sent to @facebook.com addresses appear alongside posts sent via the network's internal message system, allowing users to pick up both types of communication from the same place.

"It reeks of the same move Google did with its Buzz product when it automatically opted people in, and users recoiled against the action," said Anthony Mullen, interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research.

"This is a direction Facebook needs to move in - your email is a proxy for your identity on the internet and Facebook want to usurp people's pre-existing email identities with their own to help drive up traffic to its site and lock users into its service.

"The problem is the lack of transparency - it has acted without asking for members' permission first."

Messages posted to the rival social network Twitter suggested the move had annoyed some users.

"Warnings would have been nice Facebook, don't just go and change email addresses," tweeted Josselyn Arundell from Manchester.

"More stunningly bad work from Facebook," posted London-based Darren Gough.

"Good idea to get people to use it. Poorly executed!!!" added Brent Jagodnik from California.

Few messages supported the move.

Users wishing to undo the change can do so by clicking on the "about" link in their profile and then clicking the "edit" button next to their contact information.

They then need to click make their Facebook email address "hidden from timeline" and then - if they wish - make one or more of their other preferred addresses visible.

Source: BBC News  

Jun 25, 2012

Deadly Attack On Bar In Mombasa

Three people have now died after a hand grenade was thrown into a Kenyan bar where patrons were watching a Euro 2012 football match, the Red Cross says.

Earlier reports said one person had been killed in the blast in Mombasa, but two victims died later in hospital.

One of those injured at the Jericho bar is being held as a suspect.

The blast comes a day after the US embassy had warned that there was an "imminent threat of a terrorist attack" in the area.

Local police chief Aggrey Adoli told the AFP news agency that 30 people were still in hospital with injuries from the blast, while the Red Cross put the number at 25.

"One of those wounded people is assisting us because he is providing contradictory statements. He is being held as a suspect," Mr Adoli added.
Warning signs

Earlier this week, Kenyan police arrested two Iranian nationals over suspected links to a network planning attacks in the port city of Mombasa.

Police also said they had recovered suspected bomb-making material in the capital, Nairobi, on Saturday.

The explosion happened at around 22:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Sunday, a police source told the AFP news agency.

The bar was busy with people watching the quarter-final match between England and Italy in the Euro 2012 football tournament, witnesses said.

Along with the US, France had also warned its citizens to be "extremely vigilant".

US officials had also been told to avoid the area until 1 July.

In May one person died after explosive devices were thrown into a nightclub in Mombasa.

Kenya has seen a number of grenade attacks since sending troops into Somalia last year to fight the Islamist al-Shabab militia.

Earlier this year, the African Union force backing Somalia's interim government was boosted from 12,000 troops to nearly 18,000 to incorporate the Kenyan troops.

Source: BBC News  

Fatal tornado In Florida After Debby Storm

The expansive, stalled Tropical Storm Debby lashed Florida on Sunday, spawning apparent tornadoes in the central part of the state that killed one woman, a county spokeswoman said.

Gloria Rybinski, emergency operations spokeswoman for Highland County, said two twisters destroyed four homes in the southern end of the county and damaged others.

The woman was found dead in a home in Venus, located in the middle of the state roughly between Port St. Lucie and Sarasota, Rybinski said. In addition, a child in one of the affected homes was injured and transported to a hospital for treatment.

Packing 60 mph winds, Debby's eye was still 115 miles south-southwest of Apalachiocola, Florida (and 195 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana) according to the National Hurricane Center's 7 p.m. (8 p.m. ET) Sunday update.

Even so, it's already made a big impact -- and is likely to cause damage, flooding and worse for days to come. In fact, the heart of the storm was churning but not moving in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening, and forecasters still don't know where it will end up.

"Little movement is expected during the next couple of days, but this forecast remains uncertain due to weak steering currents," the Miami-based center said. "Some gradual strengthening is possible during the next 48 hours."

Offshoot tornadoes, like the ones that seemed to hit Highland County, are one major concern. The National Weather Service had tornado warnings out, indicating a high likelihood of a twister strike, in spots off-and-on throughout the day Sunday, and a less severe tornado watch is in effect for much of western Florida through 5 a.m. Monday.

And even if tornadoes don't occur, the combination of relentless rains and strong winds has proven enough to cause big problems.

The sprawling system's tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or stronger extend out 200 miles from its center. Such sustained winds were recorded early Sunday evening in several spots on the Florida Panhandle, west of Apalachicola.

Debbie Ponceti said wind was pushing run underneath the door to her home in Madeira Beach, about 10 miles east of St. Petersburg, while her front lawn has been reduced to mush and waters in a lagoon near her house are steadily rising. There was been no let up in the powerful rain, which is forecast to continue through Tuesday.

"Typically when a thunderstorm happens, it is over in 20 minutes," Ponceti told CNN iReport. "But this has been going on all day."

In nearby Redington Beach, fellow iReporter Keri Ann Eversole said winds appeared to be blowing between 40 to 50 miles per hour.

"The rain was coming down sideways," Eversole said. "(It) felt like glass."

Fire and rescue personnel in nearby Clearwater responded to 30 calls in an hour, as of 6 p.m. Sunday, to help people stranded in their cars due to the flooding or needing urgent medical help, the city's public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said. Beach areas were "basically underwater," as were many side streets and at least two major thoroughfares -- U.S. Highway 19 and Gulf to Bay Boulevard.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Alligator Point. St. George Island and other low-lying areas in Franklin County on the Florida Panhandle, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a Sunday night news release. Just to the east and also on the Gulf coast, voluntary evacuations are being encouraged in parts of Taylor and Wakulla counties.

And high winds have prompted authorities to shut down the Sunshine Skyway bridge on Interstate 275 connecting St. Petersburg and Bradenton, Florida, said Elizabeth LaRotonda with St. Petersburg police.

The hurricane center said tropical storm conditions will extend for the entire area from the Mississippi-Alabama line eastward to the Suwannee River, Florida, by night's end.

Beyond that, the new forecast track showed Debby remaining a tropical storm as it moves northward and makes landfall, possibly Thursday, on the Florida Panhandle. However, forecasters warned Debby's track remained uncertain and said the "new official track remains a low-confidence forecast."

Debby should dump 10 to 15 inches of rain in the Florida Panhandle and elsewhere in northern Florida before it's done, the hurricane center said, with as much as 25 inches possible in spots. Central Florida and southeast Georgia will likely be drenched with 5 to 10 inches, with smaller but still significant precipitation amounts in parts of coastal Alabama, southeastern Louisiana and south Florida.

"Given the recent heavy rainfall and wet soil conditions, these additional amounts will exacerbate the threat of flooding across portions of the central and eastern Gulf coast," the weather service said.

The combination of a storm surge and the high tide could cause 4 to 6 feet of flooding at Florida's Apalachee Bay to Waccasassa Bay, forecasters said. Parts of Florida's west coast and coastal Mississippi could see 2 to 4 feet deep waters.

The storm has raised concerns for those working on 596 manned oil and gas production platforms throughout the Gulf, run by various companies.

One of them, Shell, said in a statement Sunday morning that it had evacuated 360 staff the previous day and was planning further evacuations. ExxonMobil said it has "evacuated nonessential personnel" from its offshore facilities and is preparing to evacuate the rest.

And BP spokesman Brett Clanton said early Sunday evening that "we've evacuated the majority of our offshore personnel in the Gulf of Mexico" due to Tropical Storm Debby. "Those unable to be evacuated will shelter in place for the storm," he said.

Even though it was far from clear it would hit Louisiana, officials in that state weren't taking any chances -- with Terrebonne Parish and Lafourche Parish among those issuing precautionary states of emergency, after the governor did the same.

In Plaquemines Parish, the state's southernmost parish, authorities were using baskets and tubes to keep Highway 23 -- the parish's main evacuation and emergency route -- free of water should the 4-foot levees be topped, said Billy Nungesser, parish president. The levees were being sandbagged as an additional precaution

"We want to be ahead of that as a precautionary measure," Nungesser said. The area is forecast to get a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, he said -- "with a direct hit, if it goes up a little bit more, we'll have those levees topped."

Source: CNN News 

Jun 24, 2012

Troops End Taliban Hotel Siege

Afghan security forces have ended a 12-hour attack by Taliban militants on a hotel outside Kabul, in which at least 20 people died, officials say.

Insurgents attacked the Spozhmai Hotel in the Lake Qargha area on Thursday night, taking many hostages.

Kabul's police chief said 15 civilians, including hotel guests, died. All five insurgents were killed.

The Taliban claimed the attack, saying the hotel was used by wealthy Afghans and foreigners for "wild parties".

Lake Qargha is on the outskirts of Kabul and is favoured by residents of the Afghan capital for day trips and family outings.

this was an easy target for the Taliban, in a fairly remote area, with little security.

Foreigners rarely visit the lake, our correspondent says.

In addition to the five militants, those killed included civilians, hotel guards and a police officer.

Dozens of people were taken hostage.

AFP news agency photographer Massoud Hossaini, who went into the hotel after the siege ended, told the BBC: "All the walls have been torn apart with bullets; all the furniture and all the things that were there like carpets are torn and damaged.

"I saw the bodies of some fighters and their bodies were in bits and pieces. There are a lot of bullets casings here, lots of them."

The gunmen, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, launched the attack on the hotel late on Thursday, officials say.

Gen John Allen, of the Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force, said the "unspeakably brutal attack" bore the "signature" of the Haqqani group.

"There is no doubt that innocent Afghan civilians were the intended targets," he said in a statement.

Source: BBC News  

Bee Swarm Attacks Thai Monks

Dozens of novice monks have been taken to hospital after an attack by a swarm of bees in northern Thailand.

The monks were cleaning the Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai province on Saturday when the attack took place.

The Bangkok Post said more than 70 monks were admitted to hospital, quoting one doctor as saying he had seen 19 in serious condition.

Bee stings typically cause skin rashes and nausea but multiple attacks are more serious and occasionally deadly.

Temple abbot Phra Ratcha Jetiyajarn told the Post that 76 monks had been taken to three regional hospitals.

The paper quoted Naren Chotirosnimitr, the director of the Maharaj Nakorn hospital in Chiang Mai, as saying 53 had been treated there, with six arriving in a coma suffering with low blood pressure.

Most of the monks were later discharged.

The abbot said the bees were from hives kept at the temple. They had been no problem previously and it was unclear why they had attacked, he said.

Jun 23, 2012

Sandusky Found Guilty On 45 Of 48 Sex Abuse Charges

A jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 child sex abuse charges on Friday, ending a trial that rocked U.S. college football and renewed attention on pedophilia in America.

Sandusky, 68, faces potentially hundreds of years in prison for molesting 10 boys over 15 years. He was escorted immediately out of the courthouse in handcuffs and taken into an awaiting sheriff's cruiser.

A large crowd that gathered outside the Centre County Courthouse in central Pennsylvania broke into cheers upon learning of the news.

One of the victims who had testified burst into tears as the verdict was read. Sandusky, meanwhile, stood and faced the foreman and appeared expressionless, tucking his hands into his pockets.

His wife, Dottie, sitting behind him, showed no emotion.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly praised the eight victims, all now adults, who came forward to testify in the two-week trial that featured graphic sexual detail of Sandusky's abuse.

"Who would believe a kid?" Kelly said. "The answer is, ‘We here in Bellefonte, Pa., will believe a kid. ... A jury of 12 people in Bellefonte, Pa., most definitely would and did believe a kid."

She praised the victims for their courage to speak "not only to the jury and a packed courtroom ... but also the entire world."

Defense attorney Joe Amendola said he was examining the grounds for an appeal.

"They're devastated," Amendola said of Sandusky's relatives, "but they've been devastated ever since these charges came to light."

The decision came after 21 hours of deliberation over two days by a jury of seven women and five men. Nine of the 16 jurors and alternates had ties to Pennsylvania State University, and the final days of the trial drew large crowds to the courthouse in central Pennsylvania.

The case cast a pall over a university community known as Happy Valley and cost legendary head coach Joe Paterno his job after a half-century career in which he won more games than any major college coach. Paterno died of lung cancer two months later at age 85.

Sandusky, the defensive genius behind Paterno who helped give Penn State its nickname of Linebacker U, faced 48 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period, sometimes at Penn State facilities. The jury convicted him of 25 felonies and 20 misdemeanors.

The conviction came on the same day another landmark child sex abuse case was decided in Pennsylvania. A jury in Philadelphia found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.

The Sandusky case tore at the Penn State community that revolves around a football program generating tens of millions of dollars in profit each year.

Former athletic director Tim Curley and former finance official Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failing to alert authorities to one act of sexual abuse by Sandusky. A trial date has not been set in that case.

A shocking new revelation hit shortly after jury deliberations began on Thursday when a lawyer for Matt Sandusky, the coach's adopted son, said Matt Sandusky had met with prosecutors to tell them he had been sexually abused by the former coach. Matt Sandusky, 33, was adopted after living with Sandusky and his wife Dottie as a foster child.

The Centre Country grand jury indictment of Sandusky on November 5 set off a firestorm that led Penn State trustees to fire university president Graham Spanier and Paterno, who was faulted for failing to more forcefully intervene when he learned of the accusations years earlier.

The November 9 firing was a humiliating way for Paterno to end his career, and it prompted student demonstrations in support of their beloved "JoePa."

"The community owes a measure of gratitude to the jurors for their diligent service," said a statement from the Paterno family. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.

A former Penn State assistant coach, Mike McQueary, told the jury he had seen Sandusky abusing a young boy in a football locker room in 2001. He reported the incident to Paterno and campus authorities but neither police nor child protection services were informed.

Prosecutors accuse Sandusky of abusing at least three more victims after that incident.

As the Sandusky shockwaves spread, sex abuse hotlines and lawyers saw a surge in calls and emails.

To defend himself against the media onslaught, Sandusky gave an interview to NBC in November that was a public relations disaster. He only haltingly denied he was sexually attracted to young boys and admitted to horseplay and showering with them.

Source: Reuters 

Israel kills Gaza militant as truce unravels

Israeli air raids on Hamas security targets in Gaza killed one militant and wounded 20 people on Saturday, medical officials in the Islamist-ruled territory said, while increased rocket fire by militants wounded an Israeli man.

The escalating violence undermined a shaky truce brokered by Egypt on Wednesday, which sought to calm the new flare-up in fighting that began on Monday when an Israeli man and two gunmen were killed in a raid across Egypt's Sinai.

The Palestinian militant was killed in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, medical officials said. Israel confirmed the strike without providing further details, and denied a report that a six-year-old Palestinian boy had also been killed in an air strike.

The Israeli strikes followed the worst rocket assault in six days of fighting. Shrapnel from a rocket into the Israeli town of Sderot wounded an Israeli man in the neck just as he was trying to enter a concrete shelter.

After a relatively calm period, more than 150 rockets have been fired into Israel in the past week, the military said.

At least 15 rockets were fired at Israel on Saturday, nearly three times as a day ago, and at least six others were intercepted by the Israeli missile defense system, the military said.

Israel's military chiefs scheduled urgent consultations to weigh a "course of action", a military spokeswoman said. Israeli authorities also urged the roughly 1 million Israelis who live in the south to stay indoors or close to fortified shelters.

"Israel cannot be silent in the face of the recent days' events," Civil Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said in remarks released by his office.

"We regard Hamas as fully responsible for everything that is happening in the Gaza area. Israel is acting, and will continue to act, with a strong hand against those terrorists who want to escalate the situation in the area," Vilnai said.


Hamas's military wing, which had not claimed responsibility for any of the rocket fire in the past few days, said it was "ready to smash the Israeli arrogance in response to its aggression".

Hamas medical officials said a six-year-old Palestinian boy had been killed in an air strike and a that a baby had been hurt in a separate raid near the Egyptian border.

Israel denied involvement in hurting either of the children.

Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said on Twitter that the report of Israeli responsibility in the death of the six-year-old was the result of "false rumors" and that the boy had died due to an explosion of ordnance belonging to Palestinian militants.

Another Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no report of any air strikes in Rafah, where the baby was reported to have been hurt.

Israel confirmed its aircraft had struck three militant targets in Gaza in at least two predawn raids.

Nobody in Gaza claimed responsibility for the rocket fire at Israel, but a security source said the missiles had been launched by members of a fringe Salafi group sympathetic to al-Qaeda, two of whose militants were killed in Israeli raids on Friday.

Israel blamed the Salafis for Monday's cross-border raid from Egypt, after which Israel launched punitive air raids on nearby Gaza, killing 11 Palestinians, many of them militants but also including a 14-year-old boy.

Hamas militants had conditionally pledged to adhere to the truce brokered by Egypt if Israel also held fire. Israel never formally commented on the deal but its officials have pledged to respond to any rocket fire from Gaza.

Cairo has brokered such deals in the past and stepped in this time fearing the violence, which coincided with a hotly contested presidential race in Egypt, could spiral out of control.

Source: Reuters  

Bolivian Police Stage Mutiny Over Low Wages

Looting has broken out near Bolivia's presidential palace as junior members of the police force, angry over low wages, joined a nationwide mutiny.

A crowd of 200 officers, wearing civilian clothes and covering their faces, attacked the National Intelligence Directorate on Friday, smashing windows and pulling out furniture, documents, computers and even setting flags on fire.

The directorate is one block from the main square in La Paz, where the presidential palace is located.
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''Mutiny. Police mutiny!'' chanted the protesters as they ransacked the office. Some 20 police stations in 10 cities have joined the uprising. Protesters took over the headquarters of the country's riot police, as well as eight other police stations.

In an upscale La Paz neighbourhood, 300 protesters hurled rocks and shattered windows at national police headquarters. Police outside the building offered no resistance.

The protesters also demanded the resignation of the national police chief, Colonel Victor Maldonado.

They are demanding to negotiate directly with the President, Evo Morales, who was in the presidential palace under military protection. The Interior Minister Carlos Romero, however, said in a statement that the government was willing to raise pay and engage in a ''dialogue to find solutions''.

Police earn an average of $US195 a month, and want their lowest pay raised to $287 a month.


Pakistani Parliament Elects New Prime Minister

Parliament elected a new prime minister on Friday in a dignified ceremony that contrasted with the back-room intrigue of the preceding days and that offered at least a brief interlude in the wider struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari and the senior judiciary.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former cabinet minister with a controversial reputation, won a handsome majority of votes with the support of Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the coalition government.

After the vote, Mr. Ashraf strode through the wood-paneled chamber, smiling broadly, before rising for his maiden speech as the premier of this troubled, nuclear-armed nation of about 180 million people.

“We are standing at a critical juncture,” he said. “We can either move forward or lapse backward.”

Mr. Ashraf’s swift ascent to power, predicted by few, capped an unusually turbulent week that highlighted the fluid dynamics of Pakistan’s power game. As a former minister for water and power, he bears some responsibility for the chronic electricity shortages that provoked riots in Punjab Province early this week. He also faces a corruption investigation.

But for now, Mr. Ashraf’s greatest challenge may be to stay in office.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed his predecessor, Yousaf Raza Gilani, for refusing its orders. The court wanted Mr. Gilani to send a written request to the Swiss authorities that they reopen a corruption probe against Mr. Zardari dating from the 1990s.

Now the court is set to ask Mr. Ashraf to also write the “Swiss letter,” as the request has become known, setting up another potential confrontation.

“This letter business is not going away,” said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. “The Supreme Court is obsessed with the letter, and so is the government. Everything is hostage to it.”

The drama over the letter is part of a wider power struggle between Mr. Zardari and the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The government says Chief Justice Chaudhry has dramatically expanded his judicial powers to persecute Mr. Zardari and oust his government through early elections.

Chief Justice Chaudhry insists that he is merely holding corrupt and inept politicians to account. Last week, however, his court brushed aside accusations from a billionaire businessman that he had given $3.7 million in bribes to Chief Justice Chaudhry’s son.

While the judicial soap opera has consumed the political system, and riveted the media, some now worry it could threaten the country’s brittle democracy, and even invite military intervention.

“If the Supreme Court pushes this further, and there is more instability, the fear is that a uniform will come along and say ‘All right, boys, it’s our show now. Time to go home,’ ” said Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. “I personally don’t think the army has an interest in taking over. But this is Pakistan.”

This week, the military directly entered the drama when an army-run anti-narcotics agency obtained an arrest warrant on Thursday for Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Mr. Zardari’s first choice to replace Mr. Gilani as prime minister.

Mr. Zardari then turned to Mr. Ashraf, whom he swore in as prime minister at a ceremony at the president’s office, which overlooks Islamabad, late Friday. It was a contentious choice, even within Mr. Zardari’s own ranks, party officials said.

As minister for water and power between March 2008 and February 2011, Mr. Ashraf was blamed for the dilapidated and underfinanced state of the electricity grid.

As the temperatures have soared this summer, some areas have had up to 22 hours of power cutoffs. This week, rioters clashed with the police and burned properties in cities across Punjab, the country’s most populous province.

Mr. Ashraf is also battling accusations that he took kickbacks on the construction of privately financed electricity plants, known as Rental Power Projects, and used the proceeds to buy property in London. Those accusations have earned him the nickname Raja Rental.

In April, the National Accountability Bureau, which investigates corruption allegations, questioned Mr. Ashraf. He has denied the charges and called his accusers “liars.”

Although Mr. Zardari voluntarily surrendered many of his powers two years ago through a constitutional amendment, few doubt that he controls the government, with the prime minister doing his bidding.

The political crisis has stalled urgent American efforts to strike a deal over the reopening of NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Officials on both sides say negotiations are stuck over Pakistani demands for an apology into a border shooting by American warplanes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.

Source: NY Times

Jun 22, 2012

Uruguay To Be The First To Legalize And Sell Marijuana

We may at last be on the verge of discovering whether such unalloyed support is justified. Uruguay’s government has indicated it plans to become the first government to market and distribute marijuana directly to users.

    Under a plan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro announced late Wednesday, which the leftist government will soon present to lawmakers, the state will oversee sales, which would be allowed only to adults 18 and older.

    Mr. Fernández Huidobro said the government would try to attain “regulated and controlled legalization,” saying the prohibition of drugs and the violence that entails is causing “more problems than the drugs themselves.”

Uruguay, like a lot of countries, has marijuana laws that don’t make a lot of sense. Consumption is legal, but supply is mainly in the hands of  the black market.  Thus, you have to break the law to pursue a legal activity. By making the drug more easily available, the government hopes to drive out the illegal trade and end the violence that goes with it.

Some news reports indicated the government would set up an agency that would sell to customers who register with a data bank, so sales could be monitored. Sales would be limited to a maximum of  40 ”marijuana cigarettes” a month. But the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Huidobro appeared to be having second thoughts on that front, and details remained sketchy.

    Mr. Fernández Huidobro said Uruguayan farmers would plant the marijuana, but said more details would come soon.

    “The laws of the market will rule here: Whoever sells the best and the cheapest will end with drug trafficking,” Mr. Fernández Huidobro said, according to Associated Press. “We’ll have to regulate farm production so there’s no contraband and regulate distribution.…We must make sure we don’t affect neighboring countries or be accused of being an international drug production center.”

The pot industry in Uruguay is said to be worth $750 million, which is relative peanuts in the drug trade. But the  murder rate has nearly doubled in the past year – from 76 to 133. Mr. Huidobro said one motive of the decision is to wage a ”war on cocaine”, by convincing cocaine users to switch to less harmful marijuana.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. One problem with drug laws is that they are so often accompanied by contradictory codicils. For example, Postmedia reports that a new “patients rights” group protested in Ottawa on Friday because, a decade after medical marijuana was legalized, it still depends on obtaining a doctor’s approval, and very few doctors are willing to approve.

Supporters of a legalized marijuana trade insist that regulated sales will do far more to lessen crime and reduce violence than continuing the ineffective “war on drugs” that has turned parts of  Mexico into killing zones. Perhaps the experiment in Uruguay will prove that theory.

Source: National Post

Turkish Warplane Missing Near Syrian Border

Turkey's government has held an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces.

The F-4 Phantom disappeared over the Mediterranean, south-west of Hatay province, not far from Syria's coast.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was initially quoted as saying: "The other side have expressed regret".

Later he could not confirm what brought the jet down but said rescue teams were searching for the crew.

"Regarding our pilots, we do not have any information, but at the moment four of our gunboats and some Syrian gunboats are carrying out a joint search there," he said.

Relations between Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 1158 (0858 GMT) on Friday while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.

The private news channel, NTV, later cited unnamed military sources as saying that the plane had crashed off Hatay's Mediterranean coast, in Syrian territorial waters, but that there had been no border violation.

The Syrian coast guard was helping the Turkish coast guard, navy and air force search for the two crew members and the plane, NTV reported.

Witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia meanwhile told BBC Arabic that Syrian air defences had shot down an unidentified aircraft near the town of Ras al-Basit.

Lebanon's al-Manar television channel - controlled by Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement, an ally of the Syrian government - also reported that Syrian security sources had said that "Syrian air defences shot down a Turkish warplane and hit another in Syrian airspace".

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkish officials, but later it was announced that Mr Erdogan would be holding an emergency meeting to discuss the incident with his interior, defence and foreign ministers and the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Necdet Ozel.

Mr Erdogan was also said to have told Turkish reporters on a flight back from Brazil on Friday afternoon that "the other side" had expressed regret over the downing of the F-4, and also that the pilots had been recovered.

But in his televised news conference on arrival at Ankara airport, he appeared to play down suggestions of an apology.

"I cannot confirm whether they have apologised or on what grounds they did so if they apologised," the Hurriyet website quoted him as saying.

Source: BBC News 

Taliban Insurgents Attack Popular Kabul Resort

On a warm summer evening, with peacocks strutting amid the patio chairs and moonlight reflecting off the lake, the Spugmay Restaurant is one of the most elegant sanctuaries in Kabul, a place where the war feels almost far enough away.

Seven young men changed that with sickening speed Thursday night. Armed with guns and grenades and explosives strapped over their baggy clothes, a minivan-load of Taliban fighters stormed through the ivy-draped restaurant’s arched gateway, transforming a relaxed evening on the water into another scene of smoke, blood and broken glass. Over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning, the insurgents executed diners and staff and fought a prolonged gun battle with security forces.

By the end, at least 20 people lay dead, including restaurant patrons, cooks, guards, police and all seven of the attackers, according to Kabul police chief Ayoub Salangi. But the insurgents proved once again that few places, even in the heavily policed capital, lie beyond their reach.

The choice of targets — a restaurant frequented primarily by Afghan families — was somewhat unusual for the Taliban, which has tended to marshal its limited resources to assault symbols of government or U.S. military power, such as armored convoys, ministries or Western embassies. But the insurgents have also attacked hotels, shopping centers and supermarkets in recent years.

In claiming responsibility for the attack, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid characterized the restaurant and nearby Spozhmai Hotel as a den of booze, prostitution, dancing and “wild parties” that catered to foreigners and was an affront to Islam. But Afghan police strongly disputed the description, saying the resort on Qargha Lake outside Kabul was frequented by Afghans relaxing with their families.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, said the attack bore the signature of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied insurgent group based in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Haqqani group, which U.S. officials believe has links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, has organized many of the most dramatic and deadly assaults in Kabul. Its ruthlessness and effectiveness have made it one of the most important enemies of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“There is no doubt that innocent Afghan civilians were the intended targets of this unspeakably brutal attack,” Allen said in a statement.

“This is a crime against humanity because they targeted children, women and civilians picnicking at the lake,” said Gen. Mohammad Zahir, chief of the Kabul police investigation unit. “There wasn’t even a single soldier around there.”

Source: Washington Post

Jun 21, 2012

About Microsoft's Surface Tablet

Microsoft's introduction Monday of the new Surface tablet may have been dramatic -- one analyst said it was "radical" -- because of the company's decision to circumvent its hardware partners -- but the presentation left as many questions unanswered as it resolved.

Some are critical to the Surface's success, like its price point, while others may influence only a minority of would-be buyers as they weigh it against those already in the market, such as Apple's iPad, the current king of the tablet hill.

We've selected some of the up-in-the-air topics, and although we don't have answers for most, we've tried to use what is publicly known about tablets -- and Microsoft -- to give you some clues.

If you have questions you suspect Microsoft didn't answer this week, you can either wait for more revelations from the company -- it will undoubtedly disclose more as a launch grows closer, probably in dribs and drabs -- or add them to the comments below. (We'll likely do a follow-up to this initial Q&A a little later.)

What will these tablets cost? We don't know. Microsoft declined to set prices Monday, saying only that the Windows RT Surface (just "Surface" from here on out) would be "competitive with a comparable ARM tablet," and that the Windows 8 Pro Surface (Surface Pro) would cost about the same amount as "an Intel ultrabook-class PC."

Without definitive information from Microsoft -- not surprising since it's three, maybe four, months until Windows RT tablet goes public, six or seven before the other one shows up -- analysts are forced to guess. Their estimates for the Surface ranged from a low of $400 to a high of $700, while the Surface Pro will probably cost anywhere from $800 to more than $1,000, with many betting on the latter as the target.

When will they go on sale? Only Microsoft knows. The company also declined to pin itself to a launch date.

The most it would commit to was that the Surface would debut around the same time as Windows 8's release -- most expect that in September or October -- and that the Surface Pro would follow 90 days later.

That means the Pro could miss the holiday season if, for example, Windows 8 doesn't ship until the second half of October -- as did Windows 7 in 2009 -- which would push the Surface Pro launch into January 2013.

How long will the tablets' batteries last between charges? We have an idea, but it's just a guess.

Microsoft spelled out the watt-hour (Wh) capacity of the two tablets' batteries, but oddly, made no claims about how long those batteries would keep each device running under average conditions. (A 10Wh rating means the battery can produce one watt of power for 10 hours, or, say, 10 watts of power for one hours.) The Surface's battery is rated at 31.4 Wh, while the Surface Pro's is 42.

Source: ComputerWorld


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