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Arizona gunman in court as Obama leads mourning

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

The man accused of trying to assassinate a congresswoman in an Arizona shooting spree that left six dead appeared in court but said nothing to shed light on his motive.


President Barack Obama led the American nation in a somber minute of silence to honor the 20 people gunned down in Tucson — where he will attend a memorial service on Wednesday, the White House announced.


Flags were at half-staff at the Capitol in Washington, where hundreds of aides and lawmakers crammed the storied steps of Congress to pay silent tribute to the victims, including one of their own.


Democratic lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, 40, was shot through the head at point-blank range before the gunman sprayed a crowd of constituents with bullets, a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge among six who died.


Jared Loughner, who faces the death penalty for the murder of the judge, appeared, his head shaven, amid tight security around the federal court in Arizona state capital Phoenix.


Dressed in a brown prison jumpsuit for the less than 15 minute hearing, 22-year-old Loughner appeared to follow proceedings closely, but said little beyond answering “Yes” to basic questions from Judge Michael Anderson.


The judge agreed to his request to have Judy Clarke, who represented the Unabomber — an anarchist serving life without parole for a 20-year mail bombing spree — and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, as his attorney.


No plea of guilty or not guilty was entered during the hearing and a preliminary court appearance was scheduled for January 24. A mug shot released by police showed the gunman with a haunting smile.


In an update on Giffords’ condition Monday, doctors said she was still responding to basic commands such as squeezing medics’ fingers, fueling growing hope for her recovery, though she remains in a critical condition.

People wait in line to sign condolence books for the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Arizona in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill

Authorities said Loughner, a troubled young man booted out of a community college last year, fired a full clip of 31 shots.


He was reloading another clip into his 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol when bystanders, including a 74-year-old retired colonel whose head had just been grazed by a bullet, brought him to the ground.


Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of those who tackled the gunman, including a young Giffords aide and a woman who helped disarm him.


At the Capitol, Democratic representative Emanuel Cleaver recited a prayer: “We ask blessings on the spirit of this nation… help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine… we ask that you help keep our hearts pure.”


Outside the Tucson hospital where Giffords clung to life with part of her skull removed, tearful well-wishers gathered, praying and hoping.


A search of Loughner’s home on Saturday unearthed a trove of evidence in a safe, according to the criminal complaint.


A letter from Giffords thanked Loughner for attending one of her earlier public meetings, in August 2007.


Also in the safe they found an envelope with the hand-written notes, “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords,” the affidavit said.


Officials declined to assess Loughner’s motives or mental state. He wrote a stream of barely coherent postings on the Internet that showed an interest in developing a new currency and criticism of “illiterate” fellow residents.

A US senator meanwhile said he plans to present legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition clips of the type used by the Tucson gunman.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Giffords, who narrowly won re-election last year over a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, is a centrist Democrat who supports increased border security and, incidentally, loose restrictions on gun ownership.

Lawmakers of the rival Republican Party, which made huge gains in November midterm elections, denounced the attack and suspended proceedings of the House of Representatives whose new leadership had taken over just three days earlier.

Source: SGGP

Sudan border clashes kill 36 as south votes

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:07 am

At least 36 people have died in clashes between Arab nomads and southerners near Sudan’s north- south border, leaders in the contested Abyei region said on Monday, on the second day of a vote on southern independence.


Analysts say the central region of Abyei is the most likely place for north-south tensions to erupt into violence during and after the vote, the climax of a troubled peace deal that ended decades of civil war.


Southerners are expected to vote to split from the mostly Muslim north, depriving Khartoum of most of its oil reserves.


Senior southern official Luka Biong condemned the fighting and told Reuters both sides were still trying to settle their bitter dispute over the ownership of Abyei as part of a package of negotiations, including how the regions will share oil revenues after a split.


In a separate, more positive, development, former President Jimmy Carter told CNN on Monday that Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had offered to take on all of the country’s crippling debt if the south seceded.


Bashir’s spokesman confirmed the south would not take on any of the debt but said the north, south and the international community had a “joint responsibility” to work toward debt relief.


“A division of the debt between the north and south if the south secedes would not be useful … and if the south secedes it will not be able to service this debt,” a statement from the spokesman said.


The comments are a conciliatory gesture from Bashir and will lift a huge fiscal burden from the south in the early days of its expected independence.


The violence in Abyei followed a warning to both northern and southern leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama not to use proxy forces over the voting period, highlighting international concerns that both sides might be resorting to tactics used in past campaigns.


MORE CLASHES FEARED


Leading members of Abyei’s Dinka Ngok tribe, linked to the south, accused Khartoum of arming the area’s Arab Misseriya militias in clashes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and said they were expecting more attacks in days to come.


The speaker of the Abyei administration, Charles Abyei, said the Misseriya attacked because they had heard false rumors the Dinka were about to declare themselves part of the south.


“A large number of Misseriya attacked Maker village yesterday (Sunday), backed by government militia … The first day one person died, the second day nine, yesterday 13 … It will continue,” he said.


The south’s Biong warned the Misseriya could provoke the wrath of an independent southern Sudan if the attacks continued.


Misseriya leader Mokhtar Babo Nimr told Reuters 13 of his men had died in Sunday’s clash and accused southerners of starting the fighting.


Residents of the central Abyei region were promised their own referendum on whether to join the north or the south but leaders could not agree on how to run the poll and the vote did not take place as planned on January 9.


A U.N. source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been another clash in the village of Todach on Monday morning.


The source said Misseriya were attacking police posts in the area, suspecting them of being occupied by southern soldiers, and said the death count could be higher. “Both sides are concealing their casualties,” the source said, adding southern police and Dinka youth had been caught up in the fighting.

In another sign of tension, southern army spokesman Philip Aguer said two men — a Ugandan and a northern army soldier — were arrested with four boxes holding 700 rounds of AK-47 ammunition in the southern capital Juba on Sunday night.

The northern army’s spokesman, al-Sawarmi Khaled, on Monday denied any link to the ammunition or the clashes.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the otherwise peaceful roll-out of the vote in the south. “This could be a great example of a peaceful ending to a longstanding conflict,” she said in Abu Dhabi.

PEACEFUL VOTING

Observers said thousands of voters queued up for a second day of voting that continued peacefully across other areas of the south. The final results are expected by February 15, with preliminary results a week earlier.

“Yesterday I tried my best but it was too much for me. Queues were too long. People were too emotional. Everyone wants to be first to decide his destiny,” said Salah Mohamed, waiting outside a booth on the outskirts of the southern capital Juba.

“Today I could vote but still as you can see the crowds are still there … I think the commission might need to extend the voting days.”

The referendum’s organising commission said 20 percent of registered southerners had already cast their vote. The turnout needs to be 60 percent for the result to be valid.

Source: SGGP

Schools near empty as freeze hits north

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:05 am




Schools near empty as freeze hits north


QĐND – Tuesday, January 11, 2011, 21:36 (GMT+7)

Primary schools and kindergartens in the capital are struggling to maintain normal operations during the current cold spell.


Hanoi’s schools saw massive student absences on Jan. 10 despite the temperature staying above the 10 degree Celsius benchmark, below which children are not required to attend primary schools and nurseries.


Trang An Kindergarten in Thanh Xuan district, for instance, welcomed only a quarter of its students. And Vu Thi Hang, a teacher at Hoa Tra My Kindergarten in Cau Giay district, said only half of her students had turned up.


Le Minh Khanh, the mother of an 8-year-old girl, said she still took her daughter to school although 27 of 50 children in the class had not shown up.


“It was very cold; I just wanted to let her stay home but unfortunately the weather forecast at 6.30am today said it was 11.3 degree Celsius, which meant she had to go,” she said.


Meanwhile, Nguyen Hoang Ha said he preferred to keep his 4-year-old son at home as the boy was already suffering from a cough caused by the weather.


Dinh Thuy Duong, principal of Thanh Xuan Trung Primary School, said almost one sixth of her students had not come to class on Jan. 10, a much higher than normal absentee rate but still lower than other schools in the area.


She said the students staying home would make it hard for teachers to keep up with the curriculum given that a new academic term had started.


Teachers would have to work more to help those absent children catch up with the rest of the class, she explained.


She also said that school activities had been adapted to minimise the effect of the current cold weather on children.


Changes included cancelling outdoor activities, turning on heaters, providing warm drinking water, and warm blankets and mattresses for children when taking naps, Duong said.


Nguyen Thi Dong, principal of Hoa Sen Kindergarten in Ba Dinh district, said her school was now serving meals that would give children more energy in the cold.


Hanoi ‘s Education and Training Department has also allowed schools to stay open later than usual in cold weather.


“I hope parents don’t panic. Children are being kept warm in class,” said Duong.


“Please trust us. Bring your children to school so that they won’t fall behind with their schoolwork.”


The Department’s office head Nguyen Hiep Thong said the 6.30am forecast were used to decide if children had to go to school.


While children at primary school and kindergarten level were not required to attend if their local day temperature fell below 10 degree Celsius, the benchmark for lower secondary school students was 7 degree Celsius.


However schools had to take care of students who still turned up despite temperatures lower than these benchmarks, said Thong.


“It is a good, flexible decision as not all parents can afford to have their children at home. They still have to go to work no matter how cold it is,” said Khanh.


The temperature on the peak of Mau Son mountain in the northern province of Lang Son dipped to -1 degree Celsius on Jan. 10 morning, the lowest this winter, while temperatures in other northern provinces were between 1 and 11 degrees Celsius after the arrival of a new cold spell on Jan. 9.


Meteorologists said another cold spell was going to northern Vietnam on Jan. 11, keeping temperatures low.


Source: VNA


Source: QDND

Shock as Australians return to flood-hit homes

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:11 am

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia, Jan 7, 2011 (AFP) – Australians were greeted by scenes of devastation as they picked through their flood-shattered homes, with forecasts of more heavy rain Friday threatening a multi-million dollar clean-up.


More than 300 houses have been completely inundated by the floods caused by the torrential rain which has lashed Queensland for weeks, wiping out crops, slashing mine production and forcing thousands from their homes.

An aerial photo shows the flooded Depot Hill area south of the flood disaster area of Rockhamption on January 6, 2011. AFP

The large town of Rockhampton moved into recovery mode as the massive volume of water — estimated to cover an area the size of France and Germany combined — moved towards the sea, while residents of other communities returned home.


“It’s devastation,” said publican Shane Hickey as he surveyed the impact of the one-metre (three-feet) high inundation of his business in Condamine, west of Brisbane.


Hickey, allowed back into the town along with other evacuated residents on Thursday, said it looked like a cyclone had hit his Condamine Bell Hotel.


“It’s just flattened everything, all the grass is mud, all the plants have been torn out of the ground, the trees have gone over and are just covered in silt and mud,” he told Australian news agency AAP.


“All the fridges are gone, the freezers, washing machines, all the laundry.


“It smells. You think to yourself the best way to fix this up is to just bulldoze the lot and start again.”


Inland of Rockhampton in Emerald, which suffered 80 percent floods, the clean-up was well underway with residents removing rubbish and sorting out their homes.


But the waters are set to recede slowly from Rockhampton, which is facing another dump of heavy rainfall over the weekend, and residents are not expected to be able to return to their homes for another week.


Mayor Brad Carter said the “enormous body of water”, which animal protection officials say is seething with up to one million snakes and deadly saltwater crocodiles, was moving slowly.


“We are not going to see much movement, just a slight drop, so it will be a long time before many of our residents can return to their homes,” Carter told the Seven Network on Friday.


The full impact of the flood is not yet known but the Queensland government has estimated the total damage bill will hit about $150 million.


Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said heartache was in store for many residents who would be returning to towns such as Theodore, which was completely evacuated during the floods, to inspect their homes.


“They’re coming home to a lot of heartache, a lot of suffering and for many of them the first glimpse of what’s been left behind of what was their precious possessions, their homes,” Bligh told the Nine Network.


“I think it’s going to be a very painful process.”

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Source: SGGP

Primary schools to shut as temperatures drop

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 4:09 am

The Hanoi Department of Education and Training announced on Wednesday that primary schools would close in the event of temperatures dropping below 10 degrees Celsius whilst secondary schools would shut down if temperatures dropped below 7 degrees Celsius.

A primary class student (in pink) braves the cold to go to school in Hanoi (Photo: VNA)

The department also instructed school administrative departments to remain open to monitor students who continued to come to school despite the cold temperatures and chilly winds.


The weather bulletin will be broadcasting the daily weather report at 6:30 am on the city radio station and television so that the district education departments could notify all schools in case of extreme cold conditions.


In the northeastern province of Cao Bang, several schools remained closed due to extreme weather conditions in Thong Nong and Quang Uyen districts.


Ho Thi Kim Hoa, head of the Lao Cai Province General Hospital pediatric ward claimed the number of children hospitalized during the last few days had doubled because of extreme cold weather. The hospital is already receiving around 70-80 children a day suffering from respiratory problems, diarrhea and fever.


Most of these children come from the worst affected districts of the province such as Sa Pa, Bac Ha, Muong Khuong and Si Ma Cai.

Source: SGGP

Two Koreas take tough stance as think-tank warns of war

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 5:57 am

The two Koreas are still talking tough one month after the North’s artillery bombardment sent tensions soaring, with Pyongyang threatening nuclear war and Seoul vowing strong retaliation for any new attack.


One day after deploying tanks, artillery and jet fighters in a military show of force, Seoul’s defence ministry said Friday that a giant Christmas tree near the North Korean border would stay lit up till January 8.


The move is likely to anger Pyongyang since the date marks the birthday of its heir apparent Kim Jong-Un. The communist North sees the tree topped with a glowing cross as a provocative propaganda symbol.


The ministry said it hoped to send “a message of peace to the North” and the timing was just a coincidence.

South Korean Army K-9 155mm self-propelled Howitzers fire live rounds during joint air and ground military exercises on the Seungjin Fire Training Field, in mountainous Pocheon.

An international think-tank urged the two Koreas to accept international arbitration to redraw the flashpoint disputed Yellow Sea border.


“Measures must urgently be adopted to reduce the possibility of all-out war”, the International Crisis Group said in a report.


The North said Thursday it was ready for a “sacred war” using its nuclear weapons, as the South held its second live-fire drill in a week.


Pyongyang’s armed forces minister Kim Yong-Chun said the South’s firing drill Monday, on Yeonpyeong island near the Yellow Sea border, was a preparation for a new Korean war.


“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK (North Korea) are getting fully prepared to launch a sacred war of justice of Korean style based on the nuclear deterrent at any time necessary to cope with the enemies’ actions deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war,” Kim said.


The North on November 23 bombarded Yeonpyeong, killing four people including civilians. Pyongyang said it was retaliating for a South Korean firing drill that dropped shells into waters that it claims are North Korean territory.


The South’s military, accused of a perceived feeble response to last month’s bombardment, has been stressing it will hit back harder next time, using air power.


President Lee Myung-Bak, visiting a frontline army unit Thursday, warned of severe retaliation for any new attack.


“We’ve endured for long enough. We thought we could maintain peace on this land if we endured, but that was not the case,” Lee said. “Now we need to strongly retaliate to maintain peace, deter provocations and prevent war.”


People in the North, the president said, “are almost starving to death, and with the money spent to make atomic bombs, people could live”.


The United States has firmly backed its ally the South and urged China to do more to restrain its own ally, the North.


The North’s latest comments prompted the US State Department to chide it for its “belligerent tricks”.


“We need constructive actions, not heated rhetoric,” spokesman Philip Crowley said.


Despite earlier strong threats, the North did not retaliate for Monday’s firing drill on Yeonpyeong. It also offered nuclear concessions, according to US politician Bill Richardson, who ended a visit to Pyongyang this week.

Richardson said the North agreed to readmit UN atomic inspectors and negotiate the sale of nuclear fuel rods to a third party.

The New Mexico governor, who has longstanding contacts with North Korea, said Thursday the United States should consider resuming talks with the North.

Richardson said a resumption of six-nation talks — under which the North earlier agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return for aid — could help prevent a new escalation of tensions.

If “they don’t react militarily again to this recent drill, then maybe the time has come for the six-party talks,” he told CNN, referring to the South Korean exercise staged Thursday.

Source: SGGP

VN-Index slides as support disappears

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:38 am

Vietnam’s benchmark VN-Index, which tracks 274 companies and five mutual funds listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, failed to protect its good performance on December 22 as investors opted to sell by the end of the trading session.

The gauge pared 0.05 percent, or 0.25 points, to close at 481.53 points.


Among the index members, 61 advanced, 159 retreated, while 59 remained unchanged.


Trading volume slightly dropped over the previous trading session. Around 61.5 million shares changed hands at a value of VND1.44 trillion.


Saigon Thuong Tin Commercial Bank or Sacombank (STB) was the most active share in volume with 4.3 million shares traded


It was followed by Saigon Securities Inc. (SSI), the country’s largest brokerage, with 4.14 million shares.


Tan Tao Investment Industry Corporation (ITA) came in third with 2.68 million shares changing hands.


Cuu Long Pharmaceutical Joint Stock Corporation (DCL) sank 6.42 percent to trade at VND33,500. The company will pay dividends for the first term of this year to its current shareholders in cash at a ratio of 10 percent since January 20.


Ocean Group Joint Stock Company (OGC) plunged 5.79 percent to VND24,400. The company will pay dividends for this year in cash at a ratio of 10 percent to its current shareholders since January 6.


Ho Chi Minh City Metal Corporation (HMC) tumbled 5.52 percent to VND15,400. Since January 10, the company will pay dividends to its current shareholders in cash at a ratio of 8 percent.


Binh Thuan Hamico Mineral Joint Stock Company (KSA) capped its four-day losing streak, rallying 4.98 percent to VND48,500.


South Logistics Joint Stock Company (STG) closed up 4.94 percent to VND25,500.


Rang Dong Plastic Joint-Stock Company (RDP) gained 4.86 percent to VND15,100.


The trading floor in the north performed the same sketch as the Hanoi’s HNX-Index slumped 1.1 percent, or 1.27 points, to close at 113.73 points. Trading volume dropped to more than 36 million shares worth VND685.37 billion.


Meanwhile, the UPCom-Index added up 0.54 points to 41.76 points this morning. A total of 139,120 shares changed hands at a value of VND1.23 billion.

Source: SGGP

Europe airport chaos slammed as snow misery grows

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:30 am

LONDON (AFP) – The EU lashed out at airports Tuesday for the “unacceptable” disruption caused by freezing weather across Europe as fresh snowfall added to the woes of thousands of stranded Christmas travellers.


Britain said it could use troops to end the disruption at London Heathrow, where passengers have been sleeping in terminals throughout four days of chaos, while Frankfurt and Dublin airports faced severe disruption.

A woman keeps warm in a foil blanket, as she waits with other passengers for flight information, outside of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3. AFP

The cold snap chaos also hit Europe’s rail network with long queues snaking outside the London terminal for the Eurostar train link between Britain, France and Belgium.


In Brussels, the European Commission warned snowbound airports they could face regulation unless they “get serious” and provide airlines with enough support during severe weather in future.


“I am extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow. It is unacceptable and should not happen again,” European transport commissioner Siim Kallas said.


Eurocontrol, the continent’s air traffic supervisory body, said about 3,000 flights had been cancelled across Europe on Tuesday, with similar numbers of cancellations for each of the past four days.


At Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, around two-thirds of flights were cancelled but the air hub’s second runway reopened late Tuesday, prompting hopes an end to the crisis was in sight.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had offered to use the military to help Spanish-owned British airports operator BAA, but this offer had been refused.


“The people stuck there are having an incredibly difficult time, especially just a few days from Christmas, and everything must be done to either get them on holiday or get them home safely,” Cameron told a press conference.


Despite the opening of the second runway, BAA chief executive Colin Matthews warned people not to expect the situation to return to normal immediately.


“It is good news to see aircraft taking off and landing from two runways but it’s really important that passengers understand that doesn’t mean the full schedule is going to be restored instantly,” he told Sky News television.


Anger was meanwhile mounting among passengers queuing in the cold outside the terminal buildings at Heathrow.


“I think this hurts the reputation of the whole country. The airport is the first experience you have and this is not a good experience,” Gustaf Malmstrom, 23, told AFP as he tried for a fifth day to get a flight to Stockholm.


Most of Heathrow’s five terminals were only letting in people who were flying on Tuesday morning, mainly on flights to Asia, while others had to queue outside. Workers handed out silver foil blankets and set up two heated tents.


Eurostar said it was running a restricted service and asked all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge if their journey was not essential.


The queue of passengers stretched for more than a kilometre around the imposing St Pancras station, and Eurostar warned the chaos looked set to continue.


“It’s too early at the moment to say when we will get back to normal,” a spokeswoman told AFP.


In Germany fresh snowfall caused gridlock at the country’s main airport Frankfurt with no flights taking off or landing for around three and a half hours in the morning.


By the time it reopened at around 0800 GMT, 300 of the 1,300 daily flights at Europe’s third-largest airport were cancelled, while others were diverted to Munich.


More than 1,000 travellers spent the night at Frankfurt airport, which laid out camp beds and distributed drinks, sandwiches and soft buttered pretzels.


Many internal flights were cancelled because of the arctic conditions, prompting German train company Deutsche Bahn to announce additional services on major routes across the country to help stranded travellers.


Dublin airport grounded all flights until 0800 GMT on Wednesday after Ireland was hit by more than 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow.


In France authorities allowed the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, to remain open around the clock to clear the backlog of delayed flights.


One hundred civil security personnel had been sent on Monday evening with 300 beds and 2,500 blankets for those still stranded at Charles de Gaulle.

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Source: SGGP

S.Korea holds major new drill as N.Korea raps ‘warmongers’

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:29 am

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s military Thursday held a live-fire drill involving tanks, artillery and jet fighters, in a major show of strength staged exactly a month after North Korea’s attack on a border island.


Washington expressed support for the live-fire exercise by its ally, the second this week, but Pyongyang criticised the South’s “puppet warmongers”.

AFP file – South Korean marines patrol Yeonpyeong island.

The South’s President Lee Myung-Bak, visiting a frontline army unit elsewhere, told troops to hit back hard for any new attack. He accused the North of letting its people starve while it spent money on nuclear bombs.


The exercise at the Pocheon range, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the tense land border with North Korea, lasted about 40 minutes.


Some 800 troops took part along with 30 K-1 tanks, 11 K-200 armoured personnel carriers, two F-15K jets, four KF-16 jets, 36 K-9 artillery pieces, three multiple long-range rockets, four 500MD helicopters, three AH-1S Cobra helicopters, and other equipment.


The navy is also conducting a four-day exercise off the east coast, which began Wednesday.


The South says its drills are defensive. But tensions have been high on the peninsula since the North shelled a South Korean island near the contested western sea border on November 23.


The North said its shelling was in response to the South’s live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong island. The South said it had been staging such artillery exercises for 37 years and the North was seeking a pretext to attack.


Seoul staged a repeat drill on the same island on Monday, backed up by jet fighters and warships, but the North did not follow through with threats to hit back.


Some analysts said Seoul’s show of force deterred the North. Others said the hardline regime had been told by close ally China to exercise restraint before a visit to Washington by President Hu Jintao starting on January 19.


The military invited students and other civilians to watch the exercise.


“We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came to see this air and ground operation,” Kim Tae-Dong, a 70-year-old Internet businessman, told a pool reporter.


“I want to feel and see the level of South Korea’s armed forces,” Kim said.


“Another North Korean provocation will happen. We should prepare our military perfectly for that.”


Analysts agreed, saying that while Pyongyang had shown restraint this time it was likely just biding its time for another military strike.


“It’s not a question of whether there will be another provocation, but when,” said Peter Beck, a North Korea expert with the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.


The North’s official news agency said the South’s claims that the drills are routine were an attempt “to conceal the provocative and offensive nature of the exercises”.


The wording was relatively mild. In another sign that tensions are easing, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had lowered a military alert issued for frontline areas before and during Monday’s drill.


Vulcan artillery vehicles fired into a wide valley with numbers carved on hills below to launch the show of strength.


Tanks raced along roads, firing as they went. A hillside blossomed smoke as artillery and rockets opened up.


Hovering helicopters fired rockets at targets, and F-15 aircraft dropped bombs into the valley, sending up huge plumes of smoke.


Lee, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said the military should retaliate without hesitation in case of another surprise attack.


The South’s military was heavily criticised for a perceived feeble response to last month’s attack. It has been stressing its battle-readiness and determination to hit back harder next time, using air power.


“We should make a stronger and bigger counter-strike so they cannot provoke us again,” Lee was quoted as saying.


“We’ve endured enough for long. We thought we could maintain peace on this land if we endured, but that was not the case,” Lee said. “Now we need to strongly retaliate to maintain peace, deter provocations and prevent war.”


People in the North, the president said, “are almost starving to death, and with the money spent to make atomic bombs, people can live”.


The United States, which has 28,500 troops based in the South, earlier warned North Korea there was no reason for it to respond to the latest drills.


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the manoeuvres had been announced well in advance and were transparent and defensive, and “should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans”.

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Source: SGGP

Christmas chaos as snow snarls European travel

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thousands of angry travellers struggled Monday to get home for Christmas as snow and ice caused fresh chaos at European airports and paralysed roads and railways across the frozen continent.


International hubs London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels tried to clear a backlog of passengers forced to sleep on terminal floors for up to three days as they sought to reach their destinations by the end of the week.


Authorities in Frankfurt sent in clowns in a bid to cheer up travellers, but fury mounted in Britain, especially at Heathrow where severe disruption reigned despite the last major snowfall having been on Saturday.

Pedestrians walk on a snow-covered Pont des Arts towards the Louvre Museum in Paris, as heavy snow disrupts the Christmas holiday getaway in Europe, forcing the continent’s biggest airports to close

“I am ashamed to be British,” Marian Perkins, 65, who was hoping to fly to Australia to see her new grandson for the first time, told AFP.


“It’s disgusting. We are here in the cold with the same clothes since Friday, because we don’t carry winter clothes when we go to Australia,” she said.


Heathrow’s Terminal 3 had been turned into a makeshift camp with exhausted passengers crashed out on temporary mattresses as money and patience wore thin at the world’s busiest international airport.


American musician Giovanni Bet, 22, who was trying to get back to Chicago after a tour, said: “We were here last night. It was like a shanty camp with people sleeping on the floor.”


The airport warned travellers to anticipate chaos “potentially beyond Christmas Day”. It cut flights to a third until 0600 GMT Wednesday in a bid to get diverted jets and crew back to their normal positions.


British Airways meanwhile asked passengers travelling to or from Heathrow up until December 24 to switch their flight to another date or cancel it in return for a refund.


As Britain was hit by more heavy snow and temperatures plummeted again, London’s Gatwick airport announced it was grounding all flights until early Tuesday.


“Sorry. No outbound flights from Gatwick until 6am [0600 GMT] Tuesday 21st December because of heavy snow,” the airport said on microblogging site Twitter.


Amid mounting criticism of the travel chaos, British airport operator BAA defended its handling of the crisis.


Chief executive Colin Matthews said Heathrow had to bring in earthmoving equipment and 50 trucks to remove the snow. “I cannot remember in my lifetime any episode of cold and snow remotely like today,” he said.


Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, also faced chaos.


Five-hour queues stretched around the block in freezing weather from London’s St Pancras station as Eurostar cancelled some services and operated speed restrictions on trains that did run, nearly doubling some journey times.


“We started queuing yesterday, we were here until seven o’clock and then… we took a hotel and now we have been waiting for an hour already today,” Anne-Sophie Prevost, a 24-year-old bank worker from France, told AFP.


A brass band played at the station in an attempt to provide some Christmas spirit inside the imposing Gothic station.


Temperatures reached a record low in Northern Ireland, hitting minus 17.6 degrees Celsius (0.3 degrees Fahrenheit).

There were fresh snowfalls in France, hitting both Paris international airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, where three out of 10 flights were cancelled Monday.

Air traffic at all airports in the Paris region is very disrupted,” the civil aviation authority said.

At Charles de Gaulle, 3,000 people were forced to spend Sunday night in the terminals after 40 percent of flights were scrapped.

Late Monday, 100 soldiers were sent to the airport with 300 beds and 2,500 blankets as stranded travellers faced another night camped in terminals, local authorities said.

Authorities banned heavy trucks from the roads around Paris and many buses were cancelled in the region, the RATP Paris transport network said.

French railway operator SNCF handed out 12,000 ready meals and booked 500 hotel rooms in Paris for stranded passengers but said services were expected to be mostly back to normal for Christmas.

Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest, resorted to clowns to keep stranded children entertained — after the police were sent in, according to press reports, to calm some angry passengers.

The airport scrapped around 340 flights Monday — mainly because others airports around Europe were closed — after more than a thousand travellers spent the night on camp beds.

There was also disruption at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport and Brussels airport Monday.

In Italy, the bodies of two homeless people were found Monday, likely victims of the cold.

Source: SGGP