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Archive for December 4th, 2009|Daily archive page

Putin hints at 2012 presidential run

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:43 am

Russia’s strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday he would consider running for president again in 2012, putting him on a potential collision course with incumbent Dmitry Medvedev.

“I will think about it. There is plenty of time,” Putin said in televised remarks when asked whether he would seek to return to the Kremlin when Medvedev’s first term expires.

But just hours later Medvedev, Putin’s handpicked successor in 2008, said during a visit to Italy that he might run for a second term.

Related article: Medvedev considers re-election in 2012

“If Putin is not ruling it out, neither am I,” Medvedev told a press conference in Rome.

Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

There has been intense speculation that Putin, who is still widely seen as Russia‘s most powerful politician, might be planning a return to the presidency.

Putin stepped down as president in 2008, barred by Russia’s constitution from running for a third consecutive term, but nothing prevents him from running in 2012 and he has never ruled out the possibility.

The president and premier have portrayed themselves as a unified “tandem”, even though Medvedev, a 44-year-old former corporate lawyer, is often seen as more liberal than Putin, a 57-year-old ex-KGB agent.

“We have known each other many, many years,” Putin said, referring to Medvedev, during a live phone-in show where he took questions from ordinary Russians.

“Both of us graduated from the same university, learned from one and the same professors, who instilled in us not only knowledge but (the same) approach to life.”

Putin also stressed it was too early to talk of 2012: “Right now it is only 2009. I think the biggest mistake would be to take efforts going on right now and make them subordinate to the interests of a future election campaign.”

Medvedev for his part indicated that the two men would continue working in close cooperation.

Related article: Putin slams jailed tycoon Khodorkovsky

“We are close to each other and work well together,” he said in Rome. “We can come to an agreement. We will take a reasonable decision.”

Of the two men, it was Putin who commanded the attention of Russians on Thursday as he answered 80 questions during a marathon four-hour, phone-in show, a tradition he has continued from his presidency.

Putin urged “very tough” measures against terrorism, as he sought to assure Russians shocked by a weekend train bombing that killed 26 people and injured around 100 more along one of the country’s busiest railroads.

“It is necessary to act in a very tough way against criminals who carry out these kinds of terrorist attacks,” he said.

“We need all of society — every one of us — to be aware of this threat which has been with us all these years,” said Putin, who earned a reputation for toughness by cracking down on Chechen rebels during his rise to power a decade ago.

Most questions in Putin’s phone-in focused on bread-and-butter economic issues such as pensions, unemployment and even the low salaries of kindergarten teachers.

In one of the few forays into foreign policy on the show, Putin lashed out at the United States for “hindering” Russia’s long-running bid to join the World Trade Organization.

The back-and-forth between Putin and Medvedev reflected growing competition within their tandem, said political analyst Alexander Konovalov, president of the Centre for Strategic Assessments, a think tank in Moscow.

“Medvedev is more and more coming out of Putin’s shadow, competition between the two men can be felt more and more,” Konovalov said.

“It’s clear now that if they both run, it is Putin who will win because he is more entrenched, with more financial and economic resources.”

State television said over two million questions had been sent to Putin by telephone, SMS and email for Thursday’s phone-in, the eighth such show he has conducted and the second since he became prime minister last year.

Some questions were also asked by video link from people in various parts of Russia, including hardhat-wearing workers who addressed Putin from factory floors.

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S.Africa tightens security as World Cup draw looms

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:42 am


Police stand for a briefing outside the Cape Town International Congress Centre (CTICC)

South Africa has beefed up security around Cape Town for the World Cup draw to be held on Friday to prevent any incident and reassure fans about visiting one of the world’s most crime-plagued nations.

With an average of 50 people killed every day, fears about crime have dogged South Africa since it was named host nation.

With Africa’s first World Cup just six months away, the country has been recruiting new police, putting them through tough training, and buying hi-tech new equipment.

About 100,000 people are expected to watch the draw at the Waterfront in Cape Town. More than 100 million people will likely watch the event on television in 200 countries around the world.

Keenly aware that any incident would only heighten the country’s reputation for crime, security forces have pulled out all the stops to ensure the draw runs smoothly — with 1,000 police on patrol around the event, armed forces onstandy and even tightened air security protocols for flights around the city.

“There is adequate security that has been put in place,” South African Football Association president Kirsten Nematandani told AFP.

“We are more than happy with the security measures for Friday and preparations that have been put in place when the actual World Cup starts.”

South Africa’s chief World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan said the country is spending 1.3 billion rands (177 million dollars, 117 million euro) to beef up security.

That includes the 41,000 police officers deployed for the event, but also new equipment including helicopters, water cannons, body armour and 100 new patrol vehicles.

South African Police Service (SAPS) spokeswoman Sally de Beer said 14 government departments have worked for two years to create the security plans for Friday’s draw and the month-long tournament that begins June 11.

“The SAPS, the South African National Defence Force and intelligence agencies are ready to deal with any contingency, be it land on land, in the air or at sea,” she said in a statement.

While South Africa’s general crime rate is alarming, Jordaan noted that the country has staged other high-profile sports events without incident.

“For 15 years, we have not failed anybody, South Africa’s track record in that is unquestionable,” he told the Soccerex business conference this week.

“In 2009, we hosted the British and Irish Lions, then we had the Indian Premier League, Confederations Cup and then the International Cricket Council matches,” he said.

“Currently the England Cricket team and the Barmy army is here and I have not had complaints. If you believe South Africans are aggressive, it’s a label which is unfair and unjust. There has not been a single incident of security during the hosting of these events.”

“Societal crimes are not my responsibilities,” Jordaan said. “Events crime are my responsibilities. Events crime starts from arrival at the airport, fan parks and venue security.”

Since taking office in May, South African President Jacob Zuma has taken an agressive new tone about fighting crime, sparking a national debate about how much force police should use in chasing criminals.

With parliament mulling greater leeway for police to use force, debate over a so-called “shoot-to-call” intensified last month with the accidental shooting death of a three-year-old boy, killed as officer chased a murder suspect.

Zuma on Tuesday urged South Africans to welcome the 450,000 foreign fans expected for the World Cup.

“Welcome visitors who come to be with us, handle them with care,” he said.

“We expect that everyone who comes here must go away without a single complaint,” he added.

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U.S. approves first “ethical” human stem cell lines

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:42 am

 The U.S. government approved the first 13 batches of human embryonic stem cells on Wednesday, enabling researchers using them to get millions of dollars in federal funding as promised by President Barack Obama in March.

The batches, known as lines, were made by two researchers at Harvard University and Rockefeller University using private funds, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

“Today we are announcing the approval of the first 13 stem cell lines,” Collins told reporters in a telephone briefing.

In March, Obama lifted restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

He could not lift a restriction set by Congress, called the Dickey-Wicker amendment, that forbids the use of federal money to make the stem cells, which require destruction of a human embryo. But the decision made it possible for researchers to use federal funds to work with cells that others have made.

Ampoules containing a medium for stem cell storage in a file photo

The NIH set up a panel to decide which stem cell lines met strict ethical restrictions. The cells, for instance, have to have been made using an embryo donated from leftovers at fertility clinics, and parents must have signed detailed consent forms.

Stem cells are the body’s ultimate master cells. They make up days-old embryos and have the power to give rise to all the cells and tissues in the body.

Scientists hope to use them to transform medicine by growing new tissue and repairing damage. Opponents say it is wrong to destroy human embryos for any reason.


But Collins said the NIH-approved lines represent an acceptable compromise. “I think the broad consensus among most of the public … is that stem cell research of this ethically acceptable kind should go forward,” he said.

“These were derived from embryos derived under ethically sound consent processes.”

The first 13 lines were “open and shut” cases, he said. Another 96 lines are under consideration and more approvals can be expected in the coming days, Collins said.

“I think people are champing at the bit,” he said. “This is the first down payment in what is going to be a much longer list of such lines.”

Eleven of the lines were made by Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Massachusetts. He said his lab started making the stem cells in 2006 using private donations and is looking forward to getting federal money.

“It is a huge boost. It is a stimulus to my research,” said Daley, who said he has hired three technicians in the past two weeks.

“I can point to people and say ‘Thank God for Obama — you’re here’,” Daley said in a telephone interview.

“We have been very fortunate at Harvard to have been the beneficiaries of philanthropy but it has dried up in past years, in part because of the economy and in part because of the perception that the government was about to step in and clear everything up.”

The NIH says it has funded 30 proposals totaling more than $20 million that would use human embryonic stem cells. Now the researchers can get the cells and get going, it said.

“This group of grants includes research using human embryonic stem cells for the therapeutic regeneration of diseased or damaged heart muscle cells, developing systems for the production of neural stem cells” among others, it said.

Collins said these cells are still needed for research even though scientists have found ways to turn ordinary cells into what resemble embryonic stem cells.

“I think one could make a very strong case that we need both,” he said.


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Rain, winds, record heat hit Northeast on same day

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:42 am

A storm packing blustery winds and driving rain knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses in the Northeast on Thursday before giving way to sunny skies and record high temperatures — all in the same morning.

Utility officials reported sporadic power outages from Maine to New Jersey after wind knocked down trees and power lines early Thursday. Winds reached up to 49 mph in Brunswick, Maine, while the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire recorded a 61 mph gust. In New Jersey, wind speeds topped out at 45 mph.

But the rain and wind that battered the region early Thursday gave way to sunny skies and unseasonably high temperatures by mid-morning.

Visitors to Fort Williams Park watch the heavy surf explode onto the rocks, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine

In Boston, the temperature hit 69 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1932. In Portland, the temperature climbed to 68 degrees — crushing the old high of 55 for the date. Providence, R.I., had a record high of 66, and Concord, N.H., set a record at 65.

“It’s not right. It’s December. It’s supposed to be snowing,” said Jennifer Sporzynski, who sat on a park bench Thursday in Portland’s Old Port. “I like warm weather — but not in December.”

But for others, the balmy weather was just fine.

In Boston, joggers ran downtown in shorts and T-shirts, while walkers strolled through the city with jackets tied around their waists.

David Montero, 36, exited his Downtown Crossing apartment Thursday morning wearing a heavy coat to walk his 2-year-old Boston Terrier named Bolt.

“I personally would take this all week, if we could have it,” Montero said as he watched Bolt play with two other dogs in the Boston Common.

Still, Montero said he couldn’t get over the sight of seeing people in the grassy park exercising in shorts. “Totally bizarro,” he said.

For many, the day started with lashing rain. Central Maine Power, the state’s largest electric utility, reported 6,700 customers in the dark at the storm’s peak. In New Jersey, more than 10,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. Other northeastern states, including New Hampshire, also suffered power outages.

High winds disrupted some ferry services from Cape Cod to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Two scheduled passenger ferries and a freight ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket were canceled Thursday morning, while ferries from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard were running on a trip-by-trip basis, the Steamship Authority reported.

Heavy waves pounded the shore, causing beach erosion up and down the Atlantic coast. Coastal flooding closed several roads in New Hampshire at high tide late Thursday morning.

Jim Brown from the National Weather Service says the cooldown will be nearly as swift as the arrival of the record warmth. Seasonably cooler weather is expected by the weekend in the Northeast.

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Mexico City police free 107 ‘slave workers’

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:42 am

 Mexico City police on Thursday freed 107 people who were forced to work under slave-like conditions in a clandestine factory making shopping bags and clothing clasps, authorities said.

Police raided the factory, which was hidden inside an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, after a worker escaped and informed authorities, Mexico City Attorney General Miguel Angel Mancera said. Twenty three people were arrested for human trafficking.

“The victims were being exploited and some were sexually abused,” Mancera said. Many were suffering from dehydration and malnutrition, and some had cuts and broken bones.

Most were from indigenous communities and didn’t speak Spanish. They were abducted or lured from communities across Mexico and taken to the St. Thomas-The Chosen by God rehabilitation center, Mancera said.

Suspect members of a gang that allegedly traficks with people are shown to the press in Mexico City, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

The freed workers, whose ages ranged from 14 to 70, were forced to work for 16 hours a day, with just a 30-minute break. Mancera said they were fed chicken feet and rotten vegetables.

Mancera said the rehabilitation center in Mexico City’s populous Iztapalapa district had been open for at least eight years. But he didn’t say for how long the factory had been operating or where the shopping bags and clothing clasps were sold.

He didn’t say how many were men and how many were women.

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Ammo crates unearthed at Philippine massacre suspect’s home

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:41 am

 Philippine soldiers using metal detectors, sniffer dogs and an excavator unearthed more than a dozen crates of bullets Friday in the mansion of a local mayor linked to last week’s massacre of 57 people, a spokesman said.

Hundreds of army and combat-trained police units searched the houses of local mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., main suspect in the country’s worst election-related violence, and his father for evidence.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (R) talks to family members of journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre as she visits their wake in General Santos city in southern Philippines December 3.

A third house was being searched, an army spokesman said.

“Our troops were armed with a search warrant,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner told reporters, adding security forces were looking weapons in the houses in the southern province of Maguindanao.

Security forces disarmed the Ampatuan family after entering their houses. Ampatuan Jr is already in custody.

On November 23, gunmen attacked a convoy of the family of a local politician planning to run for elections next year, lawyers and journalists. Fifty-seven bodies were later found off the highway, some on a grassy hillside and some buried in a hastily dug pit.

More than half the victims were journalists.

Ampatuan Jr and several as yet unidentified suspects face 25 counts of murder before a regional trial court in Cotabato City on the southern island of Mindanao.

They were accused of conspiracy in the execution of the wife, sisters and relatives of a rival politician, two lawyers, dozens of journalists and other civilians in Ampatuan town.

Local radio reports said soldiers with metal detectors and dogs searched through Ampatuan Jr.’s house, tearing down a concrete wall where the boxes of ammunitions were found. An excavator was also brought in to dig inside the housing complex.

Thursday, soldiers unearthed a large cache of weapons, including three mortars, four machineguns, three anti-tank bazookas, dozens of assault rifles and hundreds of boxes of bullets from a vacant lot about 500 meters from the Ampatuans’ residential complex.

Some of the boxes bore markings of “DND” — initials of the Department of National Defense — and “national arsenal.”

“We’ve started an internal inquiry to determine if these weapons and ammunition were issued by the government and if these were sold by some soldiers,” Brawner said.

The illegal sales of military weapons and corruption in the army bureaucracy are issues raised in the past by rogue soldiers who mounted coup attempts against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Half a dozen armored vehicles mounted with machineguns stood guard Friday outside the walled compound enclosing the mansion of the Ampatuans that ruled for nearly a decade the Muslim-dominated Maguindanao province. Hundreds of security forces also manned checkpoints leading to the Ampatuans’ houses.

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