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Archive for April 11th, 2010|Daily archive page

Economy in tatters, Kyrgyzstan awaits Russian aid

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

Its economy in ruins after a popular revolt last week, Kyrgyzstan‘s interim government on Sunday awaited news of financial aid from Moscow, following talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Almazbek Atambayev, first deputy head of the interim Kyrgyz government, flew to Moscow on Thursday seeking help with the Central Asian country’s disastrous finances, said interim government chief of staff Emil Kaptagayev.


Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders on Friday froze the national banking system, saying deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had pillaged the state coffers before fleeing the capital amid riots that left dozens dead and thousands injured.


“Atambayev met with Putin in Moscow. Discussions were held about the request for not just moral support for our temporary government, but also economic and financial support,” Kaptagayev told AFP.


Kyrgyz people attend mass burials at the Ata-Beyit memorial complex on the outskirts of Bishkek.

“We are facing a deficit of oil products, a shortage of funds in the state treasury and many important government objects were damaged during the revolution,” he added.


Atambayev is expected to arrive back in Bishkek on Sunday, Kaptagayev said.


Thousands of protestors clashed with police across the country during riots over corruption and rising utility prices which saw Bakiyev flee the capital and a temporary government formed under ex-foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva.


The number of dead during the unrest grew to 81 on Sunday, the Kyrgyz health ministry said in a statement, after two more people died of their wounds overnight.


But even as police said the security situation in the country was improving, the interim government was turning its attention to the financial woes which are now threatening the country’s stability.


The coffers of the impoverished ex-Soviet state now hold only 986 million Kyrgyz soms (16 million euros, 22 million dollars), Otunbayeva’s chief of staff Edil Baisenov told AFP on Friday.Related article: Revolution turns against Bakiyev


Putin pledged economic assistance to the former Soviet republic last week in what was perceived as a sign of warming between Moscow and Bishkek following dismal ties between the Kremlin and the Bakiyev government.


The stability of the ex-Soviet nation is also key to the United States, which has an air base there vital to its military operations in Afghanistan, and Otunbayeva spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday.


Clinton telephoned Otunbayeva and urged the leadership to “renew Kyrgyzstan’s path to democracy,” the State Department said.


Clinton “spoke about regional security and the important role Kyrgyzstan plays in hosting the Transit Center at the Manas Airport,” said spokesman P.J. Crowley.


Still, all flights carrying troops from the Manas base were suspended from Friday evening amid security concerns and the United States will instead transport forces to and from Afghanistan via Kuwait, officials said.


The interim government has accused Bakiyev — who told AFP in an interview in southern Kyrgyz on Friday that he has no intention to resign — of attempting to foment a civil war.

Source: SGGP

Astronauts take 1st spacewalk of shuttle mission

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:28 am

 A pair of spacewalking astronauts disconnected an old empty ammonia tank outside the International Space Station on Friday and got a new one ready to put in its place.


In the first of three spacewalks needed to complete the job, Clayton Anderson had no problem taking apart the ammonia lines on the old tank. But he needed a pry bar to remove the new tank out of space shuttle Discovery‘s payload bay. The tank got hung up on a bolt.


“Go nice and easy, Clay,” spacewalking partner Rick Mastracchio warned as Anderson pushed and prodded with the pry bar. After several tries, the tank finally came free. “We got it!” Anderson called out.


The two men lifted the 1,700-pound tank out of Discovery and handed it off to a robot arm, which maneuvered it to a temporary storage location at the space station.

In this image made from video and released by NASA, astronauts Rick Mastracchio, center, is seen preparing the external stowage platform on the International Space Station for the new ammonia tank during the first spacewalk on the International Space Station, Friday April 9, 2010

The actual swap-out of the two tanks will take place during the second spacewalk Sunday, with the entire effort wrapping up on the third and final outing Tuesday. It will be “a big juggle” with the tanks, said David Coan, Mission Control‘s lead spacewalk officer.


Besides the tank work, Mastracchio and Anderson collected a science experiment from the space station’s Japanese lab and replaced a failed station-positioning device.


Then the game plan changed. Instead of tackling battery work, they focused on hoses and clamps. Astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, directing the spacewalk from inside, urged the men to go slow because of the switch.


Mastracchio and Anderson were originally scheduled to work on old batteries on the far left end of the space station, along the sprawling power truss. But based on new findings, NASA canceled the task this week because of concern the two might get shocked. The job instead will be carried out on the next shuttle flight, once the spacesuits are better protected.


There were a few tense moments early in Friday morning’s spacewalk when Mastracchio reported that he bumped a large V-shaped bar in the shuttle payload bay and it was sliding around. He said it did not appear to be off its mooring. Mission Control later said engineers were “pretty convinced” it was normal for the clamp to move around a bit, but as a precaution, warned the spacewalkers to stay away from it.


The V-shaped bar serves as a guide for the cargo carrier that flew up on Discovery and was attached to the space station Thursday. The compartment was unloaded by some of the 11 astronauts inside, as the spacewalk unfolded 215 miles up.


As the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk drew to a successful close, Mastracchio noted there was lot more distance to cover, moving hand over hand, than the last time he worked on the space station in 2007. The orbiting outpost has grown considerably since then.


“Like a marathon with your arms,” Metcalf-Lindenburger observed.


After the spacewalkers were back inside, one of them joked, “Of course, she’s a former teacher, so we do exactly what she tells us, otherwise she might rap our hands with a ruler.” That prompted a big laugh from Metcalf-Lindenburger, one of only a few educator-astronauts.


Later in the day, as expected, mission managers approved a one-day flight extension for Discovery.


Discovery and its crew of seven will remain at the space station until April 17, a day longer than planned, because of the failure of the shuttle’s main antenna. NASA wants the shuttle astronauts to inspect their ship for any signs of micrometeorite damage before they depart. That way, all the laser images can be transmitted to Mission Control through the station.


That stretches the shuttle mission to 14 days, with a landing on April 19.


As for the inspection conducted the day after Monday’s liftoff, no significant launch damage was found in those images or in any of the other data, officials said.


Only three shuttle missions remain after this one to wrap up space station construction.

Source: SGGP

Sudanese head to the polls in landmark vote

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

 Sudanese were voting on Sunday in the country’s first multi-party elections in a quarter of a century, but the polls have been marred by an opposition boycott and accusations of fraud.


Polling stations opened on schedule in Khartoum at 08:00 (0500 GMT) but election organisers in several areas were still unwrapping ballot boxes as queues began to form, an AFP correspondent said.


In the southern capital of Juba, doors opened on time, but minor logistical problems forced southern leader to Salva Kiir to delay casting his ballot.

Sudanese police officers guard a ballot box being dispatched to a polling station in Khartoum.

More than 16 million registered voters are asked to vote in over 10,700 polling stations for their president as well as legislative and local representatives. Southern Sudanese will also vote for the leader of the semi-autonomous government of south Sudan.Related article: Low tech to the fore in Sudan campaigning


President Omar al-Beshir, who has ruled Africa’s largest country since 1989 when he came to power in a military coup backed by Islamists, is expected to secure a comfortable win after the pullout of his key challengers.


Yasser Arman, a northern Muslim representing the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party both withdrew from the race before polling day.


They accuse Beshir of fraud and say free and fair conditions for the elections are not in place, particularly in Darfur, the western region under a state of emergency since civil war broke out seven years ago.


Darfur rebel movements, who control parts of the vast region, firmly rejected the elections but have so far not stated any intentions to derail the process.


While the result of the presidential poll holds little suspense, elections for parliamentary and local representatives are still fiercely competitive in many parts of the country.Related article: Carter hopes vote will meet ‘international standards’


Election organisers rushed on Saturday to get ballot papers to remoter parts of the country.


Sixteen airplanes, 16 helicopters and more than 2,000 vehicles have been mobilised in the past two weeks to transport ballot boxes around the country.


“I hope that it will be completely compatible with international standards, and safe and free and fair, and that the decision of individual voters will be expressed freely without intimidation,” said US former president Jimmy Carter whose Carter Centre is monitoring the three-day vote.


These are “very troubled potential times (and) we hope it will be safe and free,” Carter said.


“We know there is no perfect election in the world, this is not an exception,” said Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, vice chairman of the national electoral commission.


Carter said on Friday that he expected polling to proceed without major hurdles, although some delays could be expected in more remote areas.Related article: Sudan female candidate tells women ‘yes they can’


“We see no reasons for any concern except on a few isolated stations way out,” said the former US leader.


Voting materials “may get there a bit late, but they will have three days at least in which to vote,” he told reporters in the capital.


In the run-up to the elections, opposition parties accused Beshir’s ruling National Congress of fraud, particularly when the contract for ballot papers was given to a state-owned printer arousing suspicions of potential ballot stuffing.

Security forces deployed in strength ahead of the country’s first multi-party election since 1986, as did international peacekeepers in both the war-torn western region of Darfur and in the south.

More than 100,000 police officers will be on duty over the election period, a security official said, as embassies in Khartoum advised their nationals to adopt “precautionary measures” such as stocking up on food and fuel.

Source: SGGP

IMF chief plays down raising inflation targets

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:26 am

The head of the International Monetary Fund said Saturday it still believes in “low and stable inflation” despite a suggestion from its chief economist that targets could go higher.


At a conference in Cambridge, eastern England, Dominique Strauss-Kahn played down proposals made by Olivier Blanchard in February that inflation targets could be raised from about two percent to four percent to allow central banks to respond better to shocks.


“I think this is an interesting idea that merits serious discussion, but it is not the principal question for monetary policy and should not distract us from more important concerns,” he said.


“Let me also be clear: we remain an institution that believes that low and stable inflation delivers positive benefits for growth and macroeconomic stability.”

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, pictured on April 4

Earlier this week, it was reported that Germany’s Bundesbank had sharply criticised a joint IMF-EU aid plan for stricken Greece, saying the IMF had become the “Inflation Maximising Fund”.


The EU-IMF scheme to bail Greece out has been highly contentious, mainly because of German ambivalence linked to its concerns over protecting the credibility and stability of the eurozone and monetary conditions in Germany.


Protesters briefly disrupted Strauss-Kahn’s speech at Cambridge university’s King’s College, which was hosting a conference organised by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a body set up with a grant from financier George Soros.


Concealed above the stage in the main hall, the protesters unveiled a large banner behind Strauss-Kahn which read: “The IMF is part of the problem, not the solution”, and one of them cried: “Shut down the IMF.”


The banner was quickly removed and Strauss-Kahn brushed off the protest. Security staff, who said the protesters were young people and likely students, escorted them from the building.


Commenting on the global economic crisis, Strauss-Kahn said the world was on the path to recovery but it remained “sluggish and uneven” and the costs, such as high unemployment and public debt, “will take many years to overcome”.

Source: SGGP

Brazil searches for answers as flood death toll rises

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:26 am

 Rescuers raced against time Saturday amid fading hopes of finding survivors of a huge mudslide, with over 400 people now feared dead in some of the worst flooding to swamp Brazil in decades.


At dawn, rescuers pulled four more bodies from the thick mound of dirt and debris in the Niteroi shantytown of Morro do Bumba, bringing the updated death toll to 219, while another 200 people were believed to be buried alive in the slum, itself precariously perched atop a garbage dump.


Some 60 hours after the heaviest rains in half a century unleashed floods and mudslides, rescue workers appeared far from having finished the work of recovering bodies.

Workers with heavy machinery dig in the mud left by a landslide at Vicoso Jardim shantytown in Niteroi, a city 25 kms from Rio de Janiero

The floods tore through the metropolitan area’s precarious hillside slums, or favelas.


Niteroi was hardest hit, with at least 134 dead, according to the civil defense authorities. Across the bay, another 60 were found in Rio de Janeiro.


Amid confusion over exact toll numbers Saturday, officials updated the number of confirmed dead to 219 after earlier lowering the figure to 214.


The heavy rain forced some 50,000 people to leave their homes, officials said, either because their homes were damaged or because they were ordered to leave due to fear of fresh landslides.


Geologist Marcelo Motta, who participated in an investigation of the mudslide, told Globo News television that two cracks in the rocky soil made the mound move and pushed down the hill a huge amount of trash saturated with water that had trapped methane gas.


Focus quickly turned on responsibility for the huge death toll and damage. Experts blamed government “complacency” for allowing the country’s poorest to build housing haphazardly in areas at risk of natural disasters, such as on the sides of steep hills.


Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral, who briefly visited Morro do Bumba late Friday, laid blame on “all of society.”


“I was criticized in some favelas when I got walls built to prevent them from expanding. In Rocinha, the state compensated 300 families (for relocation). But demagogues criticized us, and sometimes rabble-rousing can be deadly.”


Cabral, who called for “strict measures to withdraw” from areas at risk, said he asked the Brazilian military to help in rescue efforts.


Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has adopted a decree to remove “by force,” with the help of police, people living in areas at risk.


Some 150 people worked through the night searching for survivors in Morro do Bumba shantytown, with the help of eight excavators, as a stream of trucks came and went loaded with debris.


“There is a possibility” of finding survivors, said the Niteroi Civil Defense chief, Marival Gomes. “It’s not easy but there is hope.”


Firefighters working at the site since Wednesday, however, said there was little chance of finding new survivors after part of the hillside fell away and swallowed everything in its path, including 50 houses, a day-care center and a pizzeria.


A handful of people were rescued from the mud in the few hours after the landslide.


Cristiane Oliveira, 27, saved her daughters from the mudslide but lost her mother, uncles and cousins and still waited to see their bodies emerge from the piles of earth.

“I look and I think, ‘Everyone is under there.’ It’s really sad,” Oliveira told AFP.

Labor Minister Carlos Lupi said a 30-year credit line of 567 million dollars, with a three-percent interest rate, was set up to seed construction of public housing.

The federal government released 113 million dollars in aid for municipalities in Rio state affected by the floods and mudslides, Cabral said.

After five days of rains, aggravated by numerous floods in the region, the sun was shining Saturday in Rio.

Source: SGGP

Toyota could face a second US fine: document

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 10:25 am

The National Highway Transport Safety Administration could slap another fine on Toyota after the 16.4-million-dollar penalty it imposed for the Japanese carmaker’s not disclosing facts faster on involuntary acceleration.


The first fine was imposed after a Department of Transportation review of 70,000 pages of documents found Toyota “knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from US officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.”


And in a letter to Toyota obtained Saturday by AFP, the NHTSA warned Toyota it was considering a second penalty.


Toyota recalled more than nine million vehicles worldwide including more than six million in the United States mainly for involuntary acceleration problems but also for some faulty brakes on some hybrid vehicles.

Cars for sale at a Toyota dealer in Hollywood on April 6.

Problems related to sudden, unintended acceleration that have been blamed for more than 50 US deaths and resulted in the recall of more than eight million vehicles worldwide.


The recalls have caused an outcry in the United States, with Toyota executives hauled over the coals by Congress and the company’s previously stellar reputation for safety left in tatters.


Toyota is facing at least 97 lawsuits seeking damages for injury or death linked to sudden acceleration and 138 class action lawsuits from angry customers suing to recoup losses in the resale value of Toyota vehicles following the recalls.

Source: SGGP

‘Green’ classes aim to raise teens’ environmental awareness

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

Students from four high schools in Ho Chi Minh City are participating in a series of “green” classes this month aimed at raising their environmental awareness. The classes are part of a program organized by Vietnamese information portal Zing.vn. 

Students from HCMC’s High School for the Gifted attend a “green” class aimed at raising their environmental knowledge (Photo: ZING)The website, part of online game publisher and e-commerce company Vinagame, launched the project in collaboration with the Saigon 350 Group.
 
Under the program, teens from HCMC’s High School for the Gifted; Nguyen Thi Minh Khai High School; Practicing High School under the HCMC University of Pedagogy; and Le Hong Phong High School are learning about environmental issues and responsibility.
 
The three-hour classes are designed to be dynamic and engaging, beginning with a short documentary film about environmental topics, followed by a talk from a representative of the HCMC Institute of Tropical Biology.
 
Students are encouraged to ask questions during the discussion and are then quizzed on the material they’ve learned.
 
Organizers hope the classes will help teens come away with a greater appreciation for the environment and become more involved in environmental protection efforts.

Source: SGGP

Jazz duo gearing up for HCMC performance

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

Vietnamese jazz legends Quyen Van Minh and Tran Manh Tuan have announced a collaborative performance on April 17 in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7.

“Sensational Jazz,” a concert performed by musicians Quyen Van Minh and Tran Manh Tuan, will take place on April 17 in District 7, HCMC Titled “Sensational Jazz,” the event will also feature a sophisticated buffet dinner in an elegant and luxurious outdoor venue at Ho Ban Nguyet .
 
The duo will be accompanied by Minh’s band, Bigband Song Hong, who have been playing together for the past decade.
 
The group will treat audiences to different genres of jazz from the past and present including blues, swing and bebop. In addition, jazz-inspired Vietnamese songs like Ha trang, Mot coi di ve, Co hong and Thu hoai niem, are part of the lineup.
 
Guest singers Tuyet Loan, Ho Quynh Huong, Kasim Hoang Vu and Duc Tuan will also join Minh and Tuan onstage.
 
The concert is organized by stage director Le Thuy while architect Nguyen Chung Nhan, who completed a master’s degree in architecture at the US-based South Florida University, will be in charge of the venue design.
 
Tickets cost VND1.7-2 million (US$87-102) and are available at Khong Ten Bar and the Duxton Saigon Hotel. The buffet dinner will be served from 6-8pm, before the performance.   

Source: SGGP

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