Jul 24, 2012

116 Dead In Iraq Attacks

Two bombs killed nine people in Iraq late on Monday, police and hospital sources said, taking to 116 the death toll in a string of co-ordinated bomb and gun attacks against mostly Shia Muslim targets.

A car bomb exploded near a cafe in the Shia district of Ameen in south-eastern Baghdad, killing six men and wounding 24 others as they sat smoking shisha water pipes and drinking tea.

Three other people died when a roadside bomb went off near their minibus about 12 miles west of Baquba, a city north-east of the capital. Seven others were wounded in the blast, police said.

The attacks took to at least 299 the number of people wounded on the bloodiest day of violence to hit Iraq this year.

The bloodshed, which coincided with an intensifying of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, highlighted deficiencies in the Iraqi security forces, which failed to prevent insurgents from striking in multiple locations across the country.

No group has claimed responsibility for the wave of assaults but a senior Iraqi security official accused the local wing of al-Qaida, made up of Sunni Muslim militants hostile to the Shia-led government, which is friendly with Iran.

Sectarian slaughter peaked in the country in 2006-07, but deadly attacks have persisted, while political tensions among Iraq's main Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions have increased since US troops completed their withdrawal in December.

Source: The Guardian

German Appeals Court Bans Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 in Europe

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 was banned in Europe by the Duesseldorf Higher Court on Tuesday because it found the tablet infringes on Apple's design rights and looks too much like the iPad.

The appeals court also ruled that the altered Galaxy Tab 10.1N, does not infringe on Apple's designs, and will be allowed to be sold in Germany.

The Galaxy Tab 7.7 infringed on Apple's community designs, unitary industrial design rights that protect the intellectual property of products sold in the European Union, the court said in a press release. Parent company Samsung Korea is not allowed to distribute the Tab 7.7 in the European Union, except in Germany, the court added.

Germany was not included in the ban in the E.U. on Tuesday, because the distribution of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 was already banned in Germany by the lower regional court of Dû³¥¬¤orf in October 2011, when it ruled that Samsung's German subsidiary infringed on Apple's design rights, the court said. However, the lower regional court rejected an Europe-wide ban at the time because it said Samsung Germany and Samsung Korea were two separate entities. The German subsidiary was legally independent from parent company Samsung Korea and both companies are not the same when it comes to the design regulations, the court said.

The appeals court however decided on Tuesday that the German subsidiary is a branch of the parent company and acted on its behalf, and that is why Samsung Korea was also banned from selling the Tab 7.7 in Europe, the court said. The back side and edges of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in particular resemble the iPad in an unacceptable way, the court said.

The court also ruled in another proceeding between Apple and Samsung on Tuesday concerning the Galaxy Tab 10.1N. The 10.1N is an adjusted version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, that was banned in Germany along with the Galaxy Tab 8.9 by the higher regional court of Dû³¥¬¤orf in January.

The higher court ruled on Tuesday that the 10.1N is sufficiently adjusted and does not infringe on Apple's community designs. The court thereby confirmed the decision of the lower regional court of Dû³¥¬¤orf made earlier this year and declared that the Galaxy Tab 10.1N can legally be traded in Germany.

Both rulings are final, the court said.

Apple did not immediately comment on Tuesdays ruling. Samsung said it was disappointed with the court's ruling on the Galaxy Tab 7.7, and would take all available measures to ensure the product is available in Europe. The company welcomed the ruling on the Galaxy Tab 10.1N and added that "should Apple continue to make legal claims based on such a generic design patent, design innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted."

At the beginning of July, a U.K. judge reached a completely opposite conclusion from his German colleagues. He ruled that Samsung tablets do not infringe on a registered Apple design because "they are not as cool" and the Galaxy Tablets "do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design."

The decision of the higher court of Dû³¥¬¤orf will impact all markets across the E.U. according to a statement from Samsung. The U.K. is also a member of the E.U.

Source: PCW

Jul 23, 2012

Colorado shooting suspect shows little emotion in court

The 24-year-old former graduate student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 at a Colorado movie theatre last week has made a brief court appearance, looking sleepy and disoriented with dyed orange-red hair.

James Holmes kept his eyes downcast and said nothing during the brief hearing. He is scheduled to be formally charged next Monday.

Holmes was arrested outside a movie theatre in Aurora shortly after a mass shooting at a midnight Friday screening of the latest Batman film.

He has been held in solitary confinement at a Denver-area county detention facility, Aurora police Chief Dan Oates said, and is not co-operating with police.

"He's not talking to us," Oates said.

District Attorney Carol Chambers said Monday her office is considering pursuing the death penalty against Holmes. She said a decision will be made in consultation with victims' families. Uniformed sheriff's deputies were stationed outside the courthouse, and deputies were positioned on the roofs of two buildings at the Arapahoe County Justice Center.

Before the court appearance, new details emerged about Holmes's personal life. He had applied to join an area gun club on June 25, saying that he was not a user of illegal drugs or a convicted felon, said owner Glenn Rotkovich.

When Rotkovich called to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week, he heard a message on Holmes' voicemail that he described as "bizarre — guttural, freakish at best."

Rotkovich later told his staff not to accept him into the club, he said.

Meanwhile the pastor for the suspect's family said he was a shy boy who was driven to succeed academically.

"He wasn't an extrovert at all. If there was any conversation, it would be because I initiated it, not because he did," said Jerald Borgie, senior pastor of Penasquitos Lutheran Church.

"He had some goals. He wanted to succeed, he wanted to go out, and he wanted to be the best," Borgie said. "He took pride in his academic abilities. A good student. He didn't brag about it."

Monday's court hearing comes a day after U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to Colorado to visit the victims' families and console a community reeling from a devastating loss.

"I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband," Obama said afterward. "It was an opportunity for families to describe how wonderful their brother or their son or daughter was, and the lives that they had touched, and the dreams that they held for the future."

The president said he told the families that while the media spotlight is on the alleged perpetrator for now, eventually the shooter's presence in the collective mind will fade, and "what will be remembered are good people who were impacted by this tragedy."

Residents of the Denver suburb also came together Sunday to pray for the victims and their families.

A gospel choir sang as people gathered in a park outside Aurora's town hall, CBC's Lyndsay Duncombe reported. Some carried painted signs with the names of the victims, and many paused to wipe tears from their eyes.

Terri Sims sat under a tree with her sister and two young nieces. Sims told Duncombe she hasn't been able to sleep all weekend.

"Yesterday I was just crying all day, and my heart just goes out to everybody that was involved," she said.

Mayor Steve Hogan said people in Aurora were coming together "as a family would" and spoke of people inside the theatre who put their bodies in front of bullets to try and save others.

He thanked emergency workers who responded to the devastating shooting.

"It is the lives and acts of these heroes and the innumerable acts of kindness, love and care for our neighbours that defines who we are," the mayor said during Sunday's vigil.

Police who travelled to Holmes's apartment after his arrest found it rigged with explosives that were later cleared from the unit so law enforcement could safely enter and gather evidence.

The police chief said over the weekend that it could take months to determine a motive, noting that police are working with FBI behavioural analysts.

The tragedy has stirred memories of another Denver-area mass shooting, at Columbine High School in 1999, that left 12 students and one teacher dead.

Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, one of the students killed at Columbine, has campaigned for more measures to prevent gun violence, but says his efforts haven't made any progress.

U.S. legislators are afraid to enact policies that might limit gun rights, Mauser said, because they believe, "'If something threatens our rights, our liberties, no we can't do that. Let's just punish the people who do bad. Let's be armed so we can try to stop them.'"

But Mauser believes that approach hasn't worked.

"Punishing them afterward is too late," he said.

The Aurora shooting is the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas, where an army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians, and wounding more than two dozen others.

Source: CBC

Jul 21, 2012

Pakistan Explosion Kills Nine

A suicide bomb attack has killed at least nine people in north-western Pakistan, officials say.

The blast went off at the entrance to an anti-Taliban commander's compound in Kurram, part of the tribal regions which border Afghanistan.

The compound is used by a local militia and also contains residential units, reports the Reuters news agency.

Pakistan's military has been carrying out operations against militant groups in the tribal regions for months.

Three children were among the dead, tribal police officials told the Associated Press (AP). At least 15 people were injured.

The compound belongs to a militant commander, Mullah Nabi, who split from the Pakistani Taliban.

He has been involved in clashes in the past with other commanders loyal to the Taliban.

The bomber tried to enter the guest quarters in Nabi's compound, tribal police official Amjad Khan told AP.

When the bomber was challenged by guards outside, the explosives were detonated, he said.

Mullah Nabi was unhurt, residents said.

It is unclear who carried out the attack.

Mullah Nabi used to belong to the Pakistani Taliban but broke away to form his own group.

His main rival is another prominent commander, Mullah Toofan, a Taliban ally.

Source: BBC News  

Syria Crisis: Heavy Clashes In Second City Of Aleppo

There have been heavy clashes between security forces and rebels in Syria's second city of Aleppo, activists say.

The fighting was centred on the Salah al-Din district, but had also spread to Sakhur and Haydariya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Aleppo has so far been spared the daily bloodshed seen in other cities since the uprising began in March 2011.

The violence came a day after the UN Security Council voted to extend the UN observer mission for a "final" 30 days.

A resolution stated that after that period the monitors would leave if they were unable to carry out their job of verifying the peace plan brokered by the UN and Arab League's special envoy, Kofi Annan.

Their mandate may be renewed if the use of heavy weapons ends.

The observers' work has been mostly suspended since June because of the escalating violence, which reportedly left more than 300 people dead on Thursday and another 200 on Friday.

On Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to forge a united way forward and exercise its collective responsibility.

Mr Ban also said he would send his Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, to Syria and had asked his top military adviser to take charge of the observer mission.

Activists said the clashes in Aleppo between troops and members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) began in Salah al-Din on Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, they had spread into Sakhur and Haydariya.

Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed said the fighting continued throughout the night until Saturday morning, most of it in Salah al-Din.

"Last night was very bad," he told the Associated Press. "There were huge explosions and the gunfire didn't stop for several hours."

"The uprising has finally reached Aleppo," he added.

Mr Saeed said dozens of FSA fighters had entered from the countryside. Aleppo is not far from Turkey, where the FSA commanders are based.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said there had been an "exodus" of Salah al-Din residents "because of fear of a regime bombardment and offensive".

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says fighting in Aleppo is ominous for President Bashar al-Assad's government, since the city has so far stayed out of the uprising.

So too had the capital, Damascus, but those days are now over, our correspondent adds.

Government forces hit back hard on Friday, using all their firepower to retake the southern district of Midan, causing massive damage. Sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard by residents of the city throughout the night.

The governor of Damascus has said all resistance will be cleared up within five days, but not far south of Midan, at Yarmouk, video published online by activists appeared to show the local police station overrun by rebels.

On the other side of the city, in the northern suburb of al-Tal, another video purportedly showed the head of the local Political Security Directorate (PSD) branch and all his staff surrendering to FSA fighters.

There was also a violent and prolonged battle in the rebel-held town of Talbasiya, north of the city of Homs in central Syria. Activists said government forces tried to storm the town then bombarded it heavily.

Source: BBC News  

Aurora Batman Shootings: Police Prepare To Enter Flat

Police in the US state of Colorado are to make a second attempt to enter the flat of James Holmes, suspected of shooting dead 12 people and injuring 58 at a Batman film screeing on Friday.

They spotted booby-traps and wires in an initial reconnaissance of his home.

A man in a gas mask and body armour threw tear gas canisters at a midnight screening, then fired on the crowd in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.

Mr Holmes, 24, was arrested outside the cinema, police said.

FBI agents and police discovered his flat was booby-trapped when they used a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole to look inside.

Technicians made a first attempt on Friday to disarm the traps, believed to include explosives, but withdrew when it became clear the property was too dangerous to enter.

Federal government experts are due to arrive on Saturday for a second attempt.

Aurora police chief Dan Oates said the apartment contained "things that look like mortar rounds", adding: "I've personally never seen anything like what we've found in there."

Residents were evacuated from the building and four other premises nearby.

Firefighters are monitoring the block of flats for gases in an effort to identify what chemicals might have been used in the booby-traps.

Hundreds of mourners joined a vigil near the cinema in Aurora on Friday night, leaving candles and flowers outside.

James Holmes was said to be armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols when he launched his assault on the midnight screening of the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.

He also bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the internet, Mr Oates said.

All weapons and ammunition were purchased legally within the past few months, he said.

Thirty people remained in hospital, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said, with 11 of those in a critical condition.

Authorities have established no terrorism link, nor any motive, and Mr Holmes had no criminal record other than a speeding fine.

He will appear at Arapahoe County District Court, in nearby Centennial, Colorado, on Monday at 09:30 local time (15:30 GMT).

Source: BBC News  

Colo. Shooting Suspect Not Cooperating

The suspect in a shooting that killed or wounded 71 people in suburban Denver is reportedly not talking to investigators.

A law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that 24-year-old James Holmes has asked for a lawyer.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing case.

The person also says police found jars of chemicals in Holmes' booby trapped Aurora apartment with wires nearby.

Source: AP

Jul 20, 2012

Thousands of refugees flee violence in Syria

Thousands of Syrian refugees are pouring into neighbouring countries as fighting between government forces and rebels intensifies.

The UN refugee agency says up to 30,000 people are reported to have crossed into Lebanon over the past 48 hours.

The UN Security Council agreed on Friday to extend its observer mission in Syria for a "final" 30 days.

Meanwhile, clashes have continued in Damascus, with the military repelling a rebel assault in the Midan area.

State media announced on Friday that Midan had been "cleaned" of "terrorists".

Rebels said they had withdrawn from Midan after coming under bombardment.

Journalists were allowed into Midan on Friday, and pictures showed dust-covered corpses lying in the streets, with tanks and burnt-out cars littering the area.

Activists said fierce fighting was also taking place in Syria's second city, Aleppo.

In other developments:

    Syria's national security chief Hisham Ikhtiar has died from injuries received in Wednesday's attack on the national security bureau, state TV announced, the fourth high-ranking fatality.
    Russia has agreed to delay a shipment of attack helicopters to Syria, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Russia's envoy to France has sparked a row by saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was ready to step down.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that between 8,500 and 30,000 Syrian refugees had crossed into Lebanon in the previous 48 hours.

One of the busiest crossing points is said to be at Masnaa, the main road link between the capitals of Beirut and Damascus.

Many are believed to be fleeing the recent eruption of violence in the capital, Damascus.

The UNHCR says there are already 26,900 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although activists say the real figure is much higher.

A UNHCR spokesman told AFP news agency that about 2,500 people had arrived in Jordan over the past four days, adding to the 35,000 registered Syrian refugees already there.

A spokesman described it as "a steady flow".

About 140,000 Syrians are believed to have fled to Jordan since the uprising against President Assad began in March last year. The Jordanian government is building several refugee camps for them.

Reports also suggested that more than 3,000 Syrians had crossed into Iraq in the past 24 hours.

Some Iraqis, who were returning from Syria, have told the BBC they had been forced to flee their homes near Damascus because of sectarian violence and intimidation. They said they had been targeted by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

BBC Caucasus correspondent Damien McGuinness says that Armenia is seeing an influx of ethnic Armenians who have lived in Syria for generations, but the government is accused of not doing enough to help them.

Refugees have been staging protests outside the Armenian parliament, saying they have received no help with housing or jobs, he adds.

Reports say thousands of refugees are also continuing to cross Syria's northern border with Turkey where more than 40,000 are already registered with aid agencies.

Source: BBC News  

China artist Ai Weiwei's tax evasion appeal rejected

A court in China has rejected an appeal by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei against a tax evasion fine, his lawyer says.

Police barred Mr Ai from attending court in Beijing's Chaoyang district to hear the verdict delivered.

Tax authorities imposed a 15m yuan ($2.4m, £1.5m) fine on Mr Ai's firm for tax evasion in 2011.

Supporters say the fine is politically motivated and Mr Ai wanted the court to overrule the penalty.

''We will keep appealing, until the day comes when we have nothing to lose,'' Mr Ai said via Twitter.

His lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was in court for the verdict, told reporters that the ruling was ''totally without reason''.

The artist, a outspoken critic of the government, was detained for almost three months without charge last year.

12 Dead, Dozens Injured In Movie-theatre Shooting

One man has been arrested following a mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado left 12 people dead and 50 injured.

A suspected gunman opened fire in a packed theatre about 16 kilometres outside of Denver during a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” early Friday morning.

Police have identified the 24-year-old suspect as James Holmes. The FBI said Holmes is not connected with any terrorist groups.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said witnesses reported that at about 12:30 a.m. the gunman released some sort of canister at the front of the threatre before shots were fired.

“They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire,” he said.

No motive for the shooting is known yet and police said the shooter acted alone. A reported 250 police officers are at the scene assisting Aurora police in their investigation.

Rene Marsh said on Friday that witnesses at the scene said the shooter was wearing a riot helmet, a bullet-proof vest and dressed from head to toe in black.

Marsh said that “very young” victims were seen being carried out of the theatre in police officers’ arms.

Ten people were reportedly killed on the scene.

Local Denver reporter Bertha Lynn said police evacuated an apartment in the suburb of about 325,000 after the suspect made reference to explosives in his home.

“It’s a very terrifying scene,” Lynn told Canada AM. “The thing that comes to mind immediately is the Columbine High School shooting, this incident dredges up those horrible memories,” said Lynn.

Around 48 victims are being treated at Denver-area hospitals, some are in critical condition. Local media are reporting the youngest victim is only three months old.

A man inside the theatre said the gunman opened fire during a shoot-out scene.

“A loud bang came from the right of the theatre. Smoke took over the entire theatre and it was really thick and no one could really see anything,” he told local media.

Professor of criminology and author of ‘Extreme Killing: Understand Serial and Mass Killing’ James Alan Fox said mass shootings in public places are almost always premeditated.

“These tend to be well-planned executions,” he told Canada AM. “Although he did not know his victims, and in that case it’s random, what was not random was when he chose to commit this murder and where.”

Fox predicted that in the aftermath of the shooting the issue of increased security in public places will arise. However he warned, “We can’t make our society look like an armed fortress.

“Unfortunately, these such events, and they are rare although they don’t seem it, are one of the big prices we pay for the freedom we enjoy.”

Source: CTV News  

Jul 18, 2012

Next iPhone To Slim Down

Apple Inc.'s AAPL -0.05% next iPhone, currently being manufactured by Asian component makers, will use a new technology that makes the smartphone's screen thinner, people familiar with the matter said, as the U.S. technology giant strives to improve technological features amid intensifying competition from Samsung Electronics Co. 005930.SE -1.20% and other rivals.

Japanese liquid-crystal-display makers Sharp Corp. 6753.TO +0.32% and Japan Display Inc.—a new company that combined three Japanese electronics makers' display units—as well as South Korea's LG Display Co. LPL -3.24% are currently mass producing panels for the next iPhone using so-called in-cell technology, the people said.

The technology integrates touch sensors into the LCD, making it unnecessary to have a separate touch-screen layer. The absence of the layer, usually about half-a-millimeter thick, not only makes the whole screen thinner, but improves the quality of displayed images, said

The current iPhone 4S is 9.3 millimeters thick, according to Apple's official website.

For Apple, the new technology would also simplify the supply chain and help cut costs as it would no longer need to buy touch panels and LCD panels from separate suppliers.
Technology
[image] Getty Images

It was previously reported that the new iPhone will likely come with a screen larger than the current iPhone's 3.5-inch display. A thinner screen could help offset an increase in weight due to the larger size.

More on Gadgets:

    8 mm Camera? Nope, Just an iPhone
    Nokia Halves Price of Flagship Phone
    From Google, the Toughest iPad Challenger

Technological progress at LCD makers such as Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display is crucial for Apple, given that Samsung has been pushing its organic light-emitting displays as one of the unique features of its Galaxy phones. Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S III, comes with a 4.8-inch OLED screen and is thinner than the current iPhone.

The vast majority of OLED screens used in mobile devices today are supplied by Samsung. OLED screens, which don't require backlighting, tend to be thinner than conventional LCD panels.

While Apple and Samsung together dominate the lucrative market for high-end smartphones, the companies are under constant pressure to meet high expectations for more-powerful, capable devices that are easier to carry.

A thinner screen in the next iPhone could make the whole device slimmer, or make extra room available for other components such as batteries. But in-cell touch screens are harder to manufacture than conventional LCD screens.

The people familiar with the situation said that LCD makers are finding the manufacturing process challenging and time-consuming as they scramble to achieve high yield rates.

Analysts have said that the new iPhone is expected sometime in the fall.

In May, people familiar with the matter said that the new iPhone will likely come with a screen larger than the current iPhone's 3.5-inch display. A thinner screen could help offset an increase in weight due to the larger size.

The LCD industry has been working on the in-cell touch technology for several years. For LCD panel makers like Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display, Apple's iPhone provides the environment where they can demonstrate their latest technological progress to show that LCD screens can continue to evolve and stay competitive against OLED displays. In the meantime, Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display have also been developing OLED displays.

At the same time, the adoption of in-cell technology is bad news for makers of conventional touch panels used in many smartphone screens now. Taiwan's Wintek Corp. 2384.TW -1.08% and TPK Holding Co., 3673.TW -2.04% which supplied the touch-panel layer of the iPhone 4S screen, didn't get orders for the next iPhone, people familiar with the situation said.

Source: WSJ 

Train Derails In Egyptian Capital Cairo

A train has derailed south of Egypt's capital Cairo, injuring at least 15 passengers, officials have said.

There are differing reports on what caused the crash, and on the number of people hurt.

One passenger said that some people had been killed, although a health ministry spokesman said no-one had died.

The train was heading into Cairo from the province of Suhag when it came off the line in the Badrashin area of Giza.

"Three wagons of train number 990 came off the tracks without any loss of life," Kamal el-Daly, head of Giza police investigations department, told Reuters news agency.

"The injured received treatment in hospital and were able to leave."

According to other accounts, only two carriages derailed.

Egyptian Railway Authority chief Hani Hegab earlier explained that the train had hit planks of wood and metal that had been put on the tracks by passengers of another train to allow them to cross the lines.

Earlier reports claimed that the train had crashed into a lorry, and one report on the AFP news agency said it had hit another train.

Egypt's last major rail crash was in 2009, when some 18 people were killed and dozens injured in a collision between two passenger trains in the Giza area.

In 2002, a train caught fire in Cairo killing 373 people.

Source: BBC News   

Indonesia Seeks To Mend SE Asia Rift Over South China Sea

Indonesia's top diplomat began a Southeast Asian tour on Wednesday to try to patch up an internal rift within the ASEAN group over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying the split represented a critical moment for the regional bloc.

The 10-nation group could not agree a concluding joint statement at a ministerial meeting last week, riven with discord over how to address China's increasingly assertive role in the strategic waters of the South China Sea. It was the first time in almost half a century it has failed to deliver a communique.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' reputation for harmony and polite debate was left in tatters by the Phnom Penh meeting. One ASEAN diplomat accused China of buying the loyalty of Cambodia and some other states with economic largesse.

Indonesia, the region's biggest country and one seen as a neutral given it has no claim to the disputed waters, has taken on the role of mediator -- tasked with drawing up a code of conduct to prevent any acts of brinkmanship spilling over into conflict.

"Unfortunately last week there were some difficulties but I believe ... what took place in Phnom Penh was an exception, it's not the rule," Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Hanoi, the second stop on his regional tour after Manila.

"Let's keep it that way, let's keep it as an exception," he said, adding the divide represented a "critical moment" for the group's unity.

Natalegawa said he received the backing of both the Philippines and Vietnam on Wednesday to push ahead with a South China Sea code of conduct, and also expressed hopes of producing a statement of unity at the end of his trip this week.

"The end product is having a common ASEAN position on the South China Sea," Natalegawa told reporters in Manila.

"That's why I am now in ASEAN capitals identifying core issues of the South China Sea. I believe we can find other means to ensure there is no vacuum in ASEAN."

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint. Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.

Natalegawa said he was leaving Vietnam on Wednesday evening for Bangkok and will conclude his trip with a meeting in Phnom Penh to try to convince his Cambodian counterpart to "restore ASEAN cohesion and unity on the South China Sea".

Cambodia was at the center of the storm over the failed communique, accused of siding with China which had objected to the mention of a standoff with the Philippines in the contested waters. Beijing maintains the dispute should be resolved bilaterally.

The discord exposed how deeply ASEAN's member states have been polarized by China's rapidly expanding economic influence in the region.

Natalegawa said there was a need to push for a binding code of conduct and a declaration allowing for safe passage of ships in the disputed waters.

"The next task (is) to pursue in an aggressive way ... the code of conduct on the South China sea," he said adding there was a need "to see the code of conduct adopted now, not in three years."

"Then we have a benchmark on which to measure the behavior of countries in the region," Natalegawa said.

ASEAN brings together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In 2002, the regional bloc and China adopted an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid conflict and ease tensions.

Source: Reuters 

Blast Kills Core Syrian Security Officials

President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law and Syria’s defense minister were killed on Wednesday when a suicide bomber attacked a crisis group of senior ministers and security chiefs meeting in central Damascus, according to state television and activists.

The assassinations were the first of such high-ranking members of the power elite in the 17-month revolt against Mr. Assad’s rule, and could represent a turning point in the conflict, analysts said. The nature and target of the attack, they said, confirmed that opposition forces have been marshaling their strength to strike at the close-knit centers of state power.

President Assad’s whereabouts on Wednesday were not immediately clear.

According to state television, the dead included the defense minister, Daoud Rajha, and Asef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military. But the television report rejected claims by activists that the minister of the interior also was killed, saying he was in stable condition.

Opposition activists and Lebanese satellite channels reported later that Hassan Turkumani, a former minister of defense and military adviser to Vice President Farouk Sharaa, had died from injuries sustained in the bombing.

General Rajha was appointed minister of defense in August. A Christian, he was one of the prominent minority figures used by the Assad government to put a face of pluralism on the military and security services dominated by the president’s Alawite sect.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad activist organization, said all the members of the crisis group set up by President Assad to try to put down the revolt were are either dead or injured. But there was no official confirmation of that account.

At the Pentagon on Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that situation in Syria "is rapidly spinning out of control" and warned Mr. Assad’s government to safeguard its large stockpile of chemical weapons. "It’s obvious what is happening in Syria is a real escalation of the fighting," he said at a joint news conference with the British defense minister, Philip Hammond.

The attack came as diplomatic maneuvers to seek a cease-fire remained deadlocked by differences between Syria’s international adversaries and its sponsors, principally Russia, ahead of a United Nations Security Council vote scheduled later on whether to extend the mission of 300 United Nations monitors. The work of the unarmed observers has been suspended because of the violence, and they have basically been trapped in their hotel rooms since last month.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, offering Russia’s first official commentary on the bombing, said via his Twitter account that the attack had put consensus between members of the Security Council even farther out of reach.

“A dangerous logic: While discussions on settling the Syrian crisis are being held in the U.N. Security Council, militants intensify terrorist attacks, frustrating all attempts,” he wrote.

With tensions already high in Damascus after three days of clashes between the Syrian Army and rebels near the city center, SANA, the official news agency, described the assault as a “suicide terrorist attack” without offering any explanation of how such an assault could have been carried out in such heavily secured location. Opponents claimed a major victory.

“The Syrian regime has started to collapse,” said the activist who heads the Syrian Observatory, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for reasons of personal safety. “There was fighting for three days inside Damascus, it was not just a gun battle, and now someone has killed or injured all these important people.”

Rumors swirled around Damascus that the bomber was the minister’s bodyguard, but there was no confirmation of those reports. The attack came despite a huge security presence to isolate embattled neighborhoods of the capital.

The casualties were from the core team trying to enforce a security solution to the uprising in Syria, and in such a tense, suspicious climate, it was not clear who Mr. Assad might find to replace them.

“If a bodyguard blew himself up, then there was a major internal security breach,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese military officer and a military analyst knowledgeable about Syria.

 “Who will replace these people?” Mr. Hanna said. “They are irreplaceable at this stage, it’s hard to find loyal people now that doubt is sowed everywhere. Whoever can get to Asef Shawkat can get to Assad.”

“Everyone, even those close to the inner circle, will now be under suspicion,” he said.

The government moved rapidly to project an image of control, naming Fahed Jassem al-Freij, the military chief of staff and a man once assigned to subdue restive Idlib province in the north, as the new minister of defense.

An Army statement quoted by state television said in part: “This terrorist act will only increase our insistence to purge this country from the criminal terrorist thugs and to protect the dignity of Syria and its sovereignty.”

The information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, also went on a talk show to reject claims by those calling it the beginning of the end. 

  “The morale of our people is very high and our armed forces are at their highest level,” he said.

Activists reached in Damascus said the city appeared deserted, aside from the security cordon thrown up around the leafy, well-to-do neighborhood where the explosion took place — just down the road from the American ambassador’s residence, which has been vacant for months. The area is dotted with embassies and government offices.

“All the stores and shops are closed,” said an activist in Damascus reached via Skype. “Some people are scared and some are happy, you can hear people firing off gunshots in many places.”

The injured from the explosion were evacuated to the Alshame hospital, an elite medical facility used to treat the Assad family, ministers and other senior officials. Security forces threw up a cordon around the facility.

After word spread of the death of at least the defense minister, a series of cars were seen heading to the site of the bombing from the presidential offices. Republican guards and other security forces sealed off the entire area around the explosion and the hospital, activists said.

In the confusion after the attack, and in the absence of an authoritative official account, there were conflicting reports about who was killed and who survived.

Activists and media reports spoke of fatalities among the most senior figures in the very inner circle of the Assad administration, a close group that includes the deputy chief of staff of the military, Mohamed Sha’ar, the minister of the interior and Hisham Ikthtiar, the head of the national security bureau.

Other members of the group include Gen. Ali Mamlouk, the chief of general intelligence; Abdel-Fattah Qudsiyeh, the head of military intelligence, and Mohammad Nassif Kheyrbek, a senior security adviser.

Since the uprising began in March, 2011, Syria has been run by an ever tighter circle of army and security officials close to the president. The killings represented as much a psychological blow as a physical one, emboldening the opposition, analysts said, and challenging Mr. Assad to demonstrate quickly that his forces can still confront the rebels.

“Can they demonstrate the ability to put down this challenge and show that they are on the way to survival?” said an analyst with long experience in Damascus, speaking in return for anonymity because he still works there. “The opposition cannot defeat the regime militarily but they can defeat it through psychology.”

Even as state media reported the attack, the country’s Russian-armed military was reported to have suffered further defections among its top ranks, with two brigadier generals among 600 Syrians who fled to Turkey overnight, Reuters reported.

Their action brought to 20 the number of such high-ranking figures, who include a onetime close associate of Mr. Assad, Gen. Manaf Tlass, the son of a former defense minister.

There was also new evidence, reported by Israel’s intelligence chief, that Mr. Assad was moving troops into Damascus from Syria’s border with the disputed Golan Heights territory held by Israel, a possible sign of the seriousness of the fighting shaking regions at Mr. Assad’s doorstep.

Before the bombing on Wednesday, the epicenter of the Damascus fighting remained an area in the capital’s southwest where street battles first erupted on Sunday, particularly the Midan neighborhood where rebel fighters concentrated after Mr. Assad’s forces chased them from surrounding quarters.

Activists also reported continued government attacks on the northern suburb of Qaboun overnight and spoke of a clash around a military base near the presidential palace. Those reports, however, were sketchy and difficult to confirm.

Opponents posted videos online showing what they said was the destruction of civilian homes by earlier artillery in Qaboun and Midan. Images said to be from Midan showed a series of traditional, arched stone buildings with the roofs collapsed.

Midan is one of the oldest, more traditional quarters, a labyrinthine patchwork of narrow streets and old stone houses that attracted the rebel fighters partly because the army’s heavy weaponry is difficult to maneuver in the neighborhood.

But it is best known for the bustling Jazmateyeh food market, packed with popular restaurants and food shops, and the go-to address for Damascenes seeking the city’s famous honey-pistachio pastries. With the holy month Ramadan looming, when such foods are popular for the sunset feast to break the daily fast, the fighting in Midan suddenly threw the quarter’s traditional role into question.

In fact, Damascenes, having seen residents of other cities where fighting raged over the past 16 months flee to the capital, were suddenly casting about, alarmed over where they could turn should the fighting spread. “People from other areas sought refuge in Damascus — where would the people of Damascus go now?” one activist said.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from London, Hwaida Saad from Istanbul, J. David Goodman and Rick Gladstone from New York, Ellen Barry from Moscow, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, Elisabeth Bumiller and Eric Schmitt from Washington, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.

Source: NY Times   

Jul 13, 2012

Scores Dead Or Missing In Japan Deluge

At least 17 people have died, 20 are missing and 50,000 have been ordered to evacuate as the heaviest rainfall on record pounded the south-western Japanese island of Kyushu.

Emergency workers in Kumamoto prefecture responded to multiple reports of mudslides swallowing houses and people being trapped, with access roads blocked by mud or gushing water, officials said.

Troops have been deployed with nearly 100 millimetres of rain falling in an hour in some areas.

''Particularly in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, we are seeing the heaviest rain that [the region] has ever experienced,'' the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Kyodo news agency put the death toll at 17.

Kumamoto prefecture confirmed the deaths of five women in their 60s, 70s and 80s and an 87-year-old man after waters destroyed their houses.

The local government has received reports of at least 19 missing people, many swept away by swollen rivers or going missing after their homes were destroyed.

''Unfortunately, we believe the numbers [of dead and missing] will rise as we get more and more information from the field,'' a Kumamoto spokesman said.

Local emergency responders have received ''many requests'' for rescue operations, the spokesman added.

''We may get more rain later and we are increasing our alert level for rivers overflowing,'' another Kumamoto official said.

In neighbouring Oita prefecture, a man in his 70s died after being swept into a raging river, while another man remained missing.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised full relief efforts to help residents. ''I have heard that this is a record for heavy rainfall. We will take effective measures,'' he said.





Source: SMH


9 Die As Gunmen Attack Compound Housing Policemen In Pakistan

Taliban gunmen opened fire on a compound housing policemen in eastern Pakistan on Thursday, killing nine of them, officials said.

The police who were targeted in the city of Lahore were training to become prison guards, said Habibur Rehman, the chief of police in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the police torture of their fighters in prison. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The police who were attacked were recruited from northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a one-time base for the Taliban, and were brought to Lahore for training, said Rehman.

Eight policemen also suffered bullet wounds, said Salman Saddiq, a government official.

One of the wounded, Shafqat Imran, said that eight to 10 attackers, their faces hidden behind hoods, stormed into the compound and started shooting randomly. They shouted "God is great," then shot the policemen one by one, said Imran, speaking from a hospital bed.

The Pakistani military launched a massive offensive against the Taliban in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Swat Valley in 2009, and many militants were captured and imprisoned.

Police said they suspect the gunmen who attacked the housing compound were the same ones who killed seven soldiers and a policeman at an army camp Monday about 160 kilometres northwest of Lahore. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack as well.

The Pakistani Taliban have waged a blood insurgency against the government over the past few years, demanding it break ties with the United States and establish Islamic law throughout the country. The militants have killed thousands of soldiers, police and civilians in attacks.

Source: The Gazette

South Africa Train Crash Kills 20

Twenty people were killed in South Africa on Friday when a goods train ploughed into a truck carrying farm workers at a level crossing, an official said.

The train transporting coal to Mozambique collided with a four-tonne truck and dragged it down the tracks, leaving dismembered bodies in its wake in what rescue officials described as a gruesome scene.

The accident occurred shortly before 7:30 am (0530GMT) near the town of Malelane in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, south of the famed Kruger National Park.

"Nineteen people died on the scene and one more died in hospital," said Joseph Mabuza, spokesman for the provincial department of community safety.

"As far as I know this is the worst rail accident in our region since 1994," he added.

The truck was carrying 44 farm workers and 25 of them suffered severe injuries. Some were airlifted to hospitals, with the death toll initially estimated at 30.

"It would appear as if the truck driver may have crossed the railway line without having a proper look-out and as a result the train hit him and then pulled him for about a kilometre to two kilometres," said Thulani Sibuyi, head of the province's community safety department.

"The bodies are lying all over the scene. People torn apart and so forth."

A woman at the scene described the aftermath to local radio, saying: "You can smell blood. There are bodies everywhere. It's a very gruesome sight."

The driver of the truck survived the crash.

"It is understood that a coal train consisting of four locomotives and 39 wagons... collided with a four-tonne truck," said Sibongiseni Hena, the spokesman for the railway safety regulator.

Police told AFP they were investigating and considering laying a charge of culpable homicide.

Railways and freight rail in South Africa are owned and operated by Transnet, the state-run transport and logistics company.

The firm said in a statement that the driver of the truck had failed to stop at a level crossing.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the country's largest labour federation, said the accident exposed the terrible labour conditions where "workers are transported in open trucks".

"The accident also points to the need to re-examine all railway level crossings to make sure that drivers are fully aware of the approaching hazard," it said in a statement.

Accidents at level crossings are common in South Africa as drivers often ignore safety signs.

This year a court handed a 20-year prison term to a Cape Town minibus taxi driver who ignored safety signals at a railroad crossing and was hit by an oncoming train, killing 10 school children.

Source: AFP  

Woman Weighed 55 Lbs At Time Of Death

A 70-year-old Illinois man has been charged following the 2011 death of his wife, accused of neglecting to care for her.

When health officials went to the home of Mary Jane and Joseph Duffy in August 2011, they found the 61-year-old woman weighed just 55 lbs. Mary Jane had been suffering dementia, and when police arrived on Aug. 23, they discovered she had multiple ulcers covering her body, severe bruising, multiple fractured bones and missing teeth, was blind and did not move from the fetal position.

When police called Joseph Duffy about his wife's condition, he said he was out with a friend at that moment, but not to remove Mary Jane from the house because, "He would lose money," the Cook County Sheriff's office said in a release.

An ambulance was called, but Mary Jane died in hospital Sept. 1, 2011.

The medical examiner ruled her death was a homicide as a result of severe neglect and elder abuse.

Joseph Duffy was charged this week with two counts of criminal abuse.

Source: Toronto Sun

Cop Allegedly Threatened To Shoot Michelle Obama

A Washington police officer who worked as a motorcycle escort for White House officials and other dignitaries was moved to administrative duty Wednesday after he allegedly was overheard making threatening comments toward Michelle Obama, according to several police officials.

The police department’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating the alleged comments and notified the U.S. Secret Service Wednesday, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give details of the investigation.

The motorman allegedly made the comments Wednesday morning as several officers from the Special Operations Division discussed threats against the Obamas. It was not immediately clear where the alleged conversation took place or exactly how many officers took part in the conversation.

During that conversation, the officials said, the officer allegedly said he would shoot the First Lady and then used his phone to retrieve a picture of the firearm he said he would use. It was not immediately clear what type of firearm was allegedly shown.

An officer overheard the alleged threat and reported it to a police lieutenant at the Division, who immediately notified superiors, the officials said.

“We received an allegation that inappropriate comments were made. We are currently investigating the nature of those comments,” D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said in an e-mail. She declined to discuss the matter further.

Police officials declined to identify the officer. Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office declined comment.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, police union chief Kristopher Baumann said he did not have details on the matter.

There was no indication of a legitimate danger to Michelle Obama. A Secret Service spokesman declined to provide further details, saying in an email that the agency was aware of the incident and “will conduct appropriate follow-up.”

Police officials immediately reassigned the officer to other duties, the police officials said.

The police escorts the Special Operations Division performs for the First Family are dignitary escorts. Police escorts for non-dignitaries drew attention in April 2011 when District officers accompanied actor Charlie Sheen from Dulles Airport to DAR Constitution Hall when Sheen was running late to a concert.

The propriety and cost of that run — which was reimbursed by a concert organizer — was debated later at a District Council hearing and reviewed by the District’s Office of the Inspector General which concluded, among other findings, that the department needed clearer guidelines on conducting escorts.

Source: The Star

Jul 12, 2012

Israeli Military Strikes Gaza, Kills 1 Militant

A Palestinian militant was killed and four people were wounded in Israeli air and artillery attacks in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, a Gaza health official said.

The Israeli military confirmed a combined air and artillery attack, which Gaza health official Dr. Ashraf al-Kidra said wounded three Palestinians, including one critically.

Al-Kidra said a second airstrike later Thursday morning killed the militant and wounded another. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on that report.

The Palestinians had no information on the identities of the three men wounded in the first attack, so it was not clear whether they were militants or civilians.

The military said that strike targeted militants from Gaza's ruling Hamas group who were preparing to launch an antitank missile at Israeli soldiers patrolling the Israel-Gaza border. The second strike targeted an abandoned militant training site, Palestinian officials said.

Source: ABC News  

Nigerians Die In Fuel Tanker Fire

More than 100 people have died in southern Nigeria after a tanker carrying petrol crashed.

The authorities say the vehicle did not immediately burst into flames so nearby villagers rushed to collect the fuel.

But the tanker then exploded, burning many of them to death.

Journalist Emeka Idika said a mass burial for those burnt beyond recognition would take place in Rivers state and about 35 people had been taken to hospital.

He said the death toll might be higher as some people from the nearby village of Okogbe were on fire as they ran into the bush - and their bodies had not yet been located.

Another journalist, Oluchi Iwuoha Chimezie, said she had counted more than 100 bodies.

"Early this morning a tanker loaded with petrol fell in Okogbe and people trooped to the scene obviously to scoop the spilled fuel and suddenly there was fire resulting in casualties," Reuters news agency quotes Rivers state police spokesman Ben Ugwuegbulam as saying.

The country's road safety body said the petrol tanker had crashed into three other vehicles, Nigeria's Daily Times reports.

Such disasters are not unusual in Nigeria.

Many hundreds of people have died over the last decade when trying to take fuel leaking from pipelines that have broken or been vandalised.

Nigeria is a major oil exporter, but millions of its citizens live in poverty.

Source: BBC News  

French Alps Avalanche: Nine killed Near Chamonix

Nine climbers have been killed in an avalanche near the French Alpine ski resort of Chamonix and four others are missing, officials say.

Those killed were reported to be from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Nine other climbers were injured.

Local authorities deployed rescue teams in helicopters and said it was the deadliest avalanche in recent memory.

The alarm was sounded at 05:25 local time (03:25 GMT) by one of the injured on the slopes of Mont Maudit.

The route is popular with summer tourists heading for the summit of Mont Blanc.

In all, 28 climbers were roped together in several groups on Thursday morning.

They are believed to have reached 4,000m (13,120 ft) when the avalanche struck.

Six bodies had been found.

Hours later, rescuers found the bodies of three more victims, believed to be Britons.

Four more climbers - said to be two UK nationals and two Spaniards - are still missing.

Chamonix mayor Hean-Louis Verdier told Reuters news agency the avalanche was completely unexpected.

"We had no more reason than usual to be alarmed," he said.

"It's a steep mountain face. There are big plates of snow where an avalanche can easily occur. But this morning we had no reason to expect an avalanche of this size and such a tragedy."

Rescue teams are using helicopters and heat-seeking devices to try to locate the missing.

The French authorities described the avalanche as "the most deadly" in recent years.

The weather in the region has been warm and windy over the last few days, which could have led to an increased risk of avalanche at high altitudes, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Berne reports.

Chamonix-based mountain guide Richard Mansfield described the area as "very beautiful", but said that it was avalanche-prone.

He said the slopes on Mont Maudit faced away from the prevailing wind, which meant snow could be pushed over forming slabs.

"These can easily be set off by a passing climber, causing an avalanche," he said.

French officials said that Interior Minister Manuel Valls would arrive to the region later on Thursday.

"The interior minister wants to assure the families of his deep sympathy and full support," Mr Valls said in a statement.

Mont Maudit - meaning the cursed mountain - is the third-highest peak in the Mont Blanc massif range, rising to 4,465m.

Eight climbers were killed in an avalanche near Mont Maudit in 2008.

Source: BBC News  

Jul 10, 2012

"It's A Boson:" Higgs Quest Bears New Particle

Scientists at Europe's CERN research center have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs.

"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world's media near Geneva on Wednesday.

"The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."

Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN's Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle.

It is unclear that it is exactly the boson Higgs foresaw, which by bestowing mass on other matter helps explain the way the universe was ordered after the chaos of Big Bang.

But addressing scientists assembled in the CERN auditorium, Heuer posed them a question: "As a layman, I would say I think we have it. Would you agree?" A roar of applause said they did.

For some, there was no doubt the Higgs boson is found: "It's the Higgs," said Jim Al-Khalili of Surrey University, a British physicist and popular broadcaster. "The announcement from CERN is even more definitive and clear-cut than most of us expected.

"Nobel prizes all round."

Higgs, now 83, from Edinburgh University was among six theorists who in the early 1960s proposed the existence of a mechanism by which matter in the universe gained mass. Higgs himself argued that if there were an invisible field responsible for the process, it must be made up of particles.

He and some of the others were at CERN to welcome news of what, to the embarrassment of many scientists, some commentators have labelled the "God particle", for its role in turning the Big Bang into an ordered universe. Clearly overwhelmed, his eyes welling up, Higgs told the symposium of fellow researchers: "It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime."

Scientists see confirmation of his theory as accelerating investigations into the still unexplained "dark matter" they believe pervades the universe and into the possibility of a fourth or more dimensions, or of parallel universes. It may help in resolving contradictions between their model of how the world works at the subatomic level and Einstein's theory of gravity.

END OF AN ERA

"It is very satisfying," Higgs told Reuters. "For me personally it's just the confirmation of something I did 48 years ago," he said of the achievement of the thousands who labored on the practical experimental work which had, finally, confirmed what he and others had described with mathematics.

"I had no expectation that I would still be alive when it happened," he said of the speed with which they found evidence.

"For physics, in one way, it is the end of an era in that it completes the Standard Model," he said of the basic theory physicists currently use to describe what they understand so far of a cosmos built from 12 fundamental particles and four forces.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider is the world's biggest and most powerful particle accelerator. Two beams of protons are fired in opposite directions around the 27-km (17-mile) looped pipe built under the Swiss-French border before smashing into each other.

The collisions, which mimic the moments just after the Big Bang, throw off debris signals picked up by a vast complex of detectors and the data is examined by banks of computers.

The two separate CERN teams worked independently through that data, hunting for tiny divergences which might betray the existence of the new boson, a class of particle that includes the photon, associated with light. The class is named in honor of Albert Einstein's Indian collaborator Satyendra Nath Bose.

Both teams found strong signals of the new particle at around 125 to 126 gigaelectron volts (GeV) - a unit of mass-energy. That makes it some 130-140 times heavier than a proton.

Scientists struggling to explain the theory have likened Higgs particles to a throng of paparazzi photographers; the greater the "celebrity" of a passing particle, the more the Higgs bosons get in its way and slow it down, imparting it mass; but a particle such as a photon of light is of no interest to the paparazzi and passes through easily - a photon has no mass.

Presenting the results, Joe Incandela at CERN showed off two peaks on a graph of debris hitting the detectors, which he said revealed the hitherto unseen presence of the enigmatic particle. "That is what we are sure is the Higgs," a CERN scientist said.

LESS THAN ONE IN A MILLION

"It's a boson!" headlined Britain's Science and Technology Facilities Council in a statement on the role its researchers had played in the delivery of the "dramatic 5 sigma signal" for the existence of the long-sought particle.

Five sigma, a measure of probability reflecting a less than one in a million chance of a fluke in the data, is a widely accepted standard for scientists to agree the particle exists.

"The fact that both our teams have independently come to the same results is very powerful," Oliver Buchmueller, a senior physicist on one of the research teams, told Reuters.

"We know it is a new boson. But we still have to prove definitively that it is the one that Higgs predicted."

"If I were a betting man, I would bet that it is the Higgs. But we can't say that definitely yet. It is very much a smoking duck that walks and quacks like the Higgs. But we now have to open it up and look inside before we can say that it is indeed the Higgs."

Al-Khalili said the researchers' caution was extreme: "Cutting through all the jargon about sigmas and decay channels, the bottom line is that CERN have indeed discovered the Higgs boson," he said. "In my view, if it looks like the Higgs, smells like the Higgs and is exactly what we expected from the Higgs, then it's the Higgs."

UNIVERSAL THEORY

The Higgs theory explains how particles clumped together to form stars, planets and life itself. Without the Higgs boson, the universe would have remained a formless soup of particles shooting around at the speed of light, the theory goes.

It is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental make-up of the universe. The model is for physicists what the theory of evolution is for biologists.

What scientists do not yet know from the latest findings is whether the particle they have discovered is the Higgs boson as exactly described by the Standard Model. It could be a variant of the Higgs idea or an entirely new subatomic particle that could force a rethink on the fundamental structure of matter.

The last two possibilities are, in scientific terms, even more exciting.

Packed audiences of particle physicists, journalists, students and even politicians filled conference rooms in Geneva, London and a major physics conference in Melbourne, Australia, to hear the announcement.

Despite the excitement, physicists cautioned that there was still much to learn: "We have closed one chapter and opened another," said Peter Knight of Britain's Institute of Physics.

Paul Nurse, president of Britain's science academy The Royal Society, said: "This is a big day for science and for human achievement ... Today moves us a step closer to a fuller understanding of the very stuff of which the universe is made."

Higgs himself called it a great achievement for CERN's collider. Without it, his ideas would remain just a paper theory and he conceded that he personally was never cut out for laboratory experimentation: "I certainly did some lab work as a schoolboy in Bristol," he told Reuters. "I was incompetent."

Source: Reuters

Holmes Faces Cruise, Scientology In Fight For Suri

Actress Katie Holmes faces two strong adversaries in her legal fight for sole custody of 6-year-old daughter, Suri, as she battles estranged husband Tom Cruise and his Scientology religion, experts said on Monday.

The "Dawson's Creek" actress, 33, made headlines last week when she filed for divorce from "Mission: Impossible" actor Cruise after nearly six years of marriage and one child.

While Holmes, Cruise and representatives for both have remained quiet about the reasons for the high-profile split, speculation in the media is that Suri, now at the age when she begins a formal education, and the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a key member, are central to the breakup.

"What's interesting is that there's three players in this case - the mother, the father and this very controversial concept of Scientology," said New York-based divorce lawyer Lubov Stark.

"The daughter is in the middle of this whole divorce. She seems to have been raised in Scientology up to this age, so if the judge comes in and gives custody to Katie Holmes, she can change (Suri's) religion," Stark said.

The Church of Scientology was founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and it describes its practices as a religion. The organization believes man is an immortal being whose experience extends beyond one lifetime, and it has attracted followers including Cruise and John Travolta.

But some observers - including media mogul Rupert Murdoch - liken it to a cult. Critics think the group coerces followers to think like they do, and they accuse Scientologists of harassing people who seek to quit.

On Sunday, following last week's news of Holmes' divorce filing, Murdoch took to Twitter and called Scientology "a very weird cult" and Scientologists "creepy, maybe even evil."

SCIENTOLOGY AND THE MEDIA

"Scientology is a potentially unsafe, if not dangerous, organization," said Rick Ross, a New Jersey-based expert on cults and controversial movements who has served as an expert witness in court cases.

"I've received complaint after complaint over the years from former members."

Ross said Holmes' custody battle could hinge on whether Cruise decides to fight Holmes for custody of Suri and how much information comes out about Scientology practices, which the Church may not find in its interest.

Representatives for the Church did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Ross said it is unlikely the Church would get directly involved in the custody battle as it could bring negative publicity, but he believed members could leak information to "intimidate or discredit" Holmes.

Lawyer Stark said custody proceedings will differ substantially depending on whether they take place in New York, where Holmes filed, or California if Cruise can get the case moved to the state in which he resides.

In California, Stark said the courts presume joint custody, leading to a greater likelihood a judge would give both Holmes and Cruise the ability to make decisions for Suri.

"If the judge says they should have joint custody in California, then Katie would not have the ability to take Suri out of this religion altogether," said Stark.

In New York, the courts look at the best interests of a child and who's going to make decisions and care for the youngster. In that case, a judge might be asked to consider Cruise's religion, although the possibility appears remote.

"Religion can always come into it, but it's rare for a custody battle," said Josh Forman, a matrimonial attorney and partner at Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert in New York.

Like Ross, Forman believed any negative publicity from a long trial might lead to a private settlement.

"I don't think it would be very good for Tom's career if he is seen as having a huge, dragged-out custody battle with Katie. I think they should really settle, and I see this as settling."

Source: Reuters

Russian Wikipedia Closes Site To Protest Internet Law

The Russian version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia closed its site on Tuesday in a one-day protest against what it said were plans by President Vladimir Putin to create his own version of the "Great Chinese Firewall" to block dissent on the Internet.

Supporters of amendments to Russia's information law, which were proposed by the ruling United Russia party and will be discussed in parliament on Wednesday, say changes are needed to protect children from harmful sites.

But leaders of anti-Putin protests say the new law could shut down websites in Russia such as Facebook and Twitter without a court order and is meant to stop their opposition movement, which is organized via social networking sites.

"These amendments may become a basis for real censorship on the Internet - forming a list of forbidden sites and IP addresses," Russian Wikipedia said in a statement.

"The following provisions and wording undertaken for discussion would lead to the creation of a Russian equivalent of the 'Great Chinese Firewall' ... in which access to Wikipedia could soon be closed across the entire country."

The changes to the information law would give government officials power to request the closure of Internet pages without a court order simply by blacklisting them. China has some of the most effective methods of blocking dissent on the Internet, tightly controlling what can and cannot be viewed.

Under the changes proposed in Russia, if a website owner does not remove the content that is deemed inappropriate, access to the entire website in Russia can be blocked.

Opposition leaders and ordinary Russians have used Facebook, Twitter and Russian networking site Vkontakte to organize protests and distribute anti-Putin information since protests began over alleged violations in parliamentary elections last December.

"This is basically an attempt to infiltrate the opposition's last bastion - the Internet. It's an attempt to kill the protest movement which depends on the Internet. To me it spells out 'China' which looks like the direction in which we're heading," said opposition activist Natalia Pelevine.

Since Putin returned to the presidency in May after four years as premier, parliament has rushed through legislation increasing fines for protesters who step out of line and is considering tighter rules for non-government organizations.

The opposition says the proposed changes in the law, and recent raids on the homes of protest organizers, are intended to stifle protests against Putin. The Kremlin denies this.

Internet sites provided the main platform for videos and photographs from bloggers illustrating alleged fraud in the December 4 election which gave Putin's United Russia party a majority in the State Duma lower house.

Russians see both houses of the legislative body as offering only token debate before bills are rubber stamped into law.

The OSCE representative on media freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, said the law could pave the way for a crackdown on media freedom.

"Any attempt to ban vaguely defined Internet content in a non-transparent manner will almost certainly lead to over-blocking and possibly censorship," Mijatović wrote in a letter to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and State Duma Chairman Sergei Naryshkin, the OSCE said.

Putin is widely seen as less enamoured of the Internet than his tech-savvy predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. The chief of Russia's Security Council has said foreign-based websites are being used to foment anti-Kremlin protests.

Russia's advisory human rights council has criticised the planned changes, saying "many well-intentioned Internet resources with legal content could suffer from massive blocking".

Source: Reuters 

Congolese Warlord Gets 14 Years For Using Child Soldiers

The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence Tuesday, imprisoning for 14 years a Congolese warlord convicted of using child soldiers.

Thomas Lubanga was convicted in March of recruiting and using children in his Union of Congolese Patriots militia, sending them to kill and be killed during fighting in Congo's eastern Ituri region in 2002-2003.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the sentence reflected the need to protect children in wartime.

"The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection," he said at the sentencing hearing.

The 51-year-old Lubanga is the first person convicted by the 10-year-old permanent war crimes tribunal.

Rights activists hailed the case as a milestone in efforts to prosecute the widespread use of child soldiers in conflicts around the world.

Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence, but said they would be willing to cut it to 20 years if Lubanga offered a "genuine apology" to victims of his crimes.

Lubanga, wearing a gray suit and tie, showed no emotion as Fulford read out the sentence. He can appeal his conviction and sentence.

Fulford said that time Lubanga has served in pretrial detention since March 2006 would be deducted from the sentence.

It was not immediately clear where Lubanga would serve his sentence. The court has no prison cells for holding convicted war criminals, but has deals with seven countries to jail them — Denmark, Serbia, Mali, Austria, Finland, Britain and Belgium.

Fulford gave Lubanga three sentences of 13, 12 and 14 years each, respectively for conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers but the sentences are to be served concurrently.

Conscripting involves abducting children and pressing them into military service while enlisting them can be voluntary.

Franck Mulenda, a legal representative for 140 victims in the case, welcomed the sentence.

"It is very important. It consoles the victims," he said outside court. He said he is now waiting for the court to order reparations for former child soldiers, "so they can get back their education and their place in society."

Fulford criticized former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo for not bringing charges of sexual violence against Lubanga or presenting evidence of such crimes at a sentencing hearing last month.

Rights activists say Lubanga's militia was responsible for widespread rape in Ituri.

He also praised Lubanga for being "respectful and cooperative" throughout the case despite it twice being held up by prosecutors defying court orders linked to identifying witnesses.

Source: CBC

Kofi Annan Says Iran Can Help End Syria Crisis

U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday that “Iran can play a positive role” in ending a bloody 17-month standoff between Syrian rebels and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and declared that Iran should be “part of the solution in the Syrian crisis.”

Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, Annan, a former U.N. secretary general, held a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi after a meeting in which they discussed how Iran — a stalwart ally of Assad’s — might help end the violence.

“I have received encouragement and cooperation from the minister and the government and am looking forward to continue working together to resolve this conflict,” Annan said. “The U.N. has pushed very hard for an end to the violence. We want all sides to stop the violence. . . . We are opposed to any further militarization of the conflict.”

Annan, a joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League on the Syria crisis, has tried in vain to implement a peace plan. He first focused on an approach that would have included a cease-fire starting in April and then turned to a proposal for a transitional government forged at an international conference in Geneva, which did not include representatives from Iran.

On Monday, Annan said that he had met at length with Assad and had established “an approach” for stopping the violence that he intended to share with rebel leaders.

The Syrian opposition, however, has said any plan to end the conflict must start with Assad’s departure — a precondition Assad shows no sign of being willing to accept.

After meeting with Salehi, Annan reiterated the need for a speedy solution to the conflict. Salehi, he said, “has made it clear that if we do not make a real effort to resolve this issue peacefully, and it were to get out of hand and spread throughout the region, it could lead to consequences that none of us could imagine.”

Salehi reasserted Iran’s desire to be a part of ending the crisis. “Mr. Annan has said explicitly over and over that Iran is part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said. “We have expressed our views very clearly that people of Syria, just like other people, have the right to freedom, free election . . . and the government of Syria should meet the legitimate demands of their people.”

At the same time, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, cautioned against efforts by “foreigners” to intervene in the conflict, echoing repeated statements by Assad that the rebels have been organized and influenced by outside terror groups and enemies of the state.

“The solution to Syria’s crisis is a Syrian solution that should be implemented by its people and government without the interference of foreigners,” said Jalili, who also met with Annan during his visit.

Iran has strengthened Assad’s military in recent years, providing it with advisers, advanced communications technology and weapons, according to the Associated Press. All of this makes Iran unlikely to support change in Syria.

“Inviting Iran to discuss how to best transition to a post-Assad Syria is akin to inviting vegetarians to a barbecue,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the AP.

Russia Blames Local Officials Over Fatal Floods

The Russian government accused local authorities on Monday of mishandling floods that killed 171 people near the Black Sea, hoping to deflect public anger over the high death toll and devastation from President Vladimir Putin.

The head of the Krymsk district, which bore the brunt of the damage at the weekend when a wall of water flooded homes and streets, lost his job hours after Russia's emergencies minister blamed officials on the ground for being slow to issue warnings.

Putin himself was shown on television in the Kremlin sternly demanding his subordinates report back to him by the end of the week on how the relief effort was going.

"We must help these families, help all the people who are in very difficult circumstances and have lost almost all their belongings," said Putin, anxious to appear in control after being accused of reacting too slowly to national disasters when he first rose to power in 2000.

In Krymsk, a town of 57,000 between the regional capital Krasnodar and the large port of Novorossiisk, people complained they had been let down by their leaders as they buried the victims, many of whom were sleeping when the flooding began.

"The old man woke up, managed to get out of the house but the water carried him away. We found his body the next day without any clothes on," said Igor Markozov, 52, as he buried his 92-year-old father Valentin.

Another victim, 82-year-old Anna Dudnik, survived floods a decade ago but the water then reached only up to her waist. This time it reached the ceiling of her home.

"Her cat lived with her and her dog was tied up. They drowned together. The flooding hadn't been expected. There was no chance of survival," said 81-year-old Melaniya Usenko, standing at her sister's freshly dug grave.

Others salvaged what they could from their shattered homes and, two days after Putin flew in to view the damage and grill officials on their actions, postal workers went from house to house making initial $300 compensation payments.

Relatives had earlier lined up to identify bodies stored in a refrigerated truck behind a local hospital at the start of a national day of mourning. Clean-up crews destroyed rotting carcasses of livestock drowned in the floods.

BLAME GAME

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov signaled that the blame would be directed at regional leaders - rather than national figures - because they had been slow to warn people when torrential rain started falling late on Friday.

"Mistakes were allowed by local leaders and various services," Puchkov said in televised comments. "Not all the population was warned in time."

The governor of the Krasnodar region later dismissed Vasily Krutko as head of the Krymsk district. He was the first official known to have lost his job over the floods.

Krymsk residents said the wall of water that swept through the mountain town was so high that the gates of a nearby reservoir must have been opened - a version denied by officials.

"Nothing is left. We are like tramps," said Ovsen Torosyan, 30, as he scoured the wreckage of his home. "I bought all the furniture and electrical goods on credit and still have to finish paying for them but they have all gone."

A woman wearing a dirty pink shirt and standing outside the muddied ruins of her home said: "We were barely able to get out of our house and started screaming down the street for help. But we weren't able to save our things. We saw the water carry away the roof of our house."

In nearby municipal buildings, survivors who had lost their belongings picked through heaps of clothing - donations from nearby cities. Outside, dozens of white tents were set up in a large camp for flood victims who had lost their homes.

Putin, a former KGB spy, now 59, has increasingly struggled to project his customary image of mastery since the outbreak of protests against him in December.

In his 12 years in power, as president and prime minister, Russia has been plagued by natural and man-made disasters that have laid bare a longstanding shortfall in investment and management of Russia's transport and other infrastructure.

After the deaths of the crew of the crippled submarine Kursk in 2000, Putin conceded that continuing a summer holiday during that crisis had damaged the public's opinion of his leadership.

GRAIN HARVEST

Analysts and trade sources said they did not expect any impact on Russia's grain and oilseed harvest, although damage to the roads and railways could delay new grain deliveries to port.

The floods followed more than a month of heavy rainfall in the prosperous southern "breadbasket" region of Krasnodar, where agriculture and tourism thrive.

Torrential rain, equivalent to a third of the annual average rainfall in some places, temporarily paralyzed transport and briefly halted exports from the nearby docks at Novorossiisk on the Black Sea, Russia's biggest commercial port.

Port operations resumed and the railway was operating normally again for passengers, but a railway spokesman said some freight traffic had been halted because of flood damage.

There was no report of damage around Sochi, where Russia will host the Winter Olympics in 19 months time. Sochi is about 250 km (160 miles) from Krymsk.

Source: Toronto Sun

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