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Early elections in Italy could hamper recovery: president

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2010 at 11:22 am

ROME, Aug 13, 2010 (AFP) – Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano said Friday he was against early elections after a rift opened in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government coalition, as they could hamper the economic recovery.

“We have seen recent positive and encouraging signs of a productive recovery and a return to growth in Italy even as the world scenario remains difficult,” Napolitano said in an interview published on left-wing daily L’Unita.

“But I wonder, what could happen to this country if we head towards a political void and towards a brutal electoral clash?” Napolitano asked.

Italy’s economic output grew by 0.4 percent both in the first and second quarter of 2010, and it is expected to grow by 1.1 percent by the end of the year.

Berlusconi, 73, lost his once-comfortable parliamentary majority last month when lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini ended a 16-year alliance with him, leaving the People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Fini’s supporters set up breakaway parliamentary groups of 33 deputies and 10 senators.

Napolitano acknowledged the “serious political conflict within the coalition that won the 2008 elections, within the government coalition” that has fueled speculation about possible early elections in November or in early next year.

Berlusconi has said his government will face a crucial test of strength in September in the form of a confidence vote.

If the vote brings down the government, Napolitano will poll parliamentary group leaders on the possibility of forming a transitional government, failing which he will dissolve parliament and call elections.

“My institutional responsibilities will come into play only when it becomes clear in parliament that the majority has dissolved,” Napolitano said.

The president also invited Berlusconi’s camp to stop calling for Fini’s resignation as lower house speaker.

“It is time to end the institutionally very de-stabilising campaign that aims to take away legitimacy from the president of a branch of parliament,” Napolitano said.

“It is the time to lower tones… and look at the country that needs answers to its problems rather than showdowns and threatening proclamations,” he said.

Il Giornale, a daily owned by the Berlusconi family, has questioned the propriety of the sale of a house in Monaco by Fini’s former party, the National Alliance, which merged with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia into the PDL in 2008.

On Friday, Il Giornale devoted its first seven pages to Fini’s involvment in the sale and said it had collected 50,000 signatures calling for his resignation.

Berlusconi and Fini have been at odds since a public spat in April — largely over legislation that would help Berlusconi avoid prosecution on corruption and tax fraud charges — ahead of their dramatic split late last month.

Source: SGGP

Pakistan mourns as rains hamper black box search

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

ISLAMABAD, July 29, 2010 (AFP) – Pakistan observed a day of mourning Thursday for the 152 people killed in the country’s worst aviation disaster, as heavy rains delayed the search for the aircraft’s black box.

The Airblue passenger jet from Karachi crashed in a ball of flames, killing everyone on board and disintegrating in the heavily forested Margalla hills outside the Pakistani capital during heavy rain and poor visibility.

A Pakistani police commando watches rescue operations in the Margala Hills close to Islamabad on July 28, 2010. AFP

Pakistani flags were to fly at half mast from all public buildings on Thursday in mourning for the dead.

US President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences” to the families and friends of those killed. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and China’s President Hu Jintao also conveyed his condolences.

“Rescue teams will resume the search operation as soon as it stops raining as we still have to find the black box,” police official Bani Amin told AFP.

Investigators hope the flight data recorder will give clues to the fate of the 10-year-old Airbus which was piloted by an experienced captain.

The government said all possible causes would be investigated, including terrorism, bad weather and sabotage, although officials gave no indication that an attack might have been to blame.

Many of the victims were charred beyond recognition or ripped to pieces, forcing health officials to use DNA tests and ID documentation to identify them.

“Our main concern is to find identification papers and other belongings of the passengers, which will greatly help identify the bodies lying in the hospitals,” said Amin, who has been supervising the rescue operation.

“We may also find some body pieces during the search but it all depends how quickly it stops raining,” he said.

Two Americans, an Austrian-born businessman and seven children were among the 152 people on board flight ED 202 from the southern city of Karachi.

The Airbus 321 was coming in to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International airport when witnesses saw it flying at an unusually low altitude before hearing a deafening boom.

The plane broke apart into a gorge between two hills, scattering debris in three directions on hillsides enveloped in cloud and some distance from the road, severely hampering initial rescue efforts on Wednesday.

“I saw a big ball of smoke and fire everywhere with big pieces of aircraft rolling down the hill,” police official Haji Taj Gul said.

“Nobody survived,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Express TV. “It’s a big tragedy. It’s really a big tragedy.”

Authorities suggested the flight had been diverted due to bad weather, but it was unclear why the jet was flying so low and close to the Margalla Hills — off the normal route for aircraft arriving from Karachi.

Rescue official Arshad Javed told AFP of horrifying scenes at the crash site after the routine commuter flight turned to carnage.

“All we could see were charred hands or feet. I collected two heads, two legs and two hands in a bag,” he said.

“We shouted if anyone was there alive, but heard no voice.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his grief over the “tragic incident” and offered prayers for the dead.

Airbus said the single-aisle plane was a relatively young 10 years old, and the European company offered its full assistance to Pakistani investigators.

Airblue is one of Pakistan’s most respected airlines. It has been operating since 2004, using new Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft on domestic routes and international services to Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Manchester.

Wednesday’s crash was the worst in Pakistan. The only deadlier civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet saw a PIA Airbus A300 crash into a cloud-covered hillside on approach to Kathmandu, killing 167 people in 1992.

Source: SGGP

Stormy conditions could hamper Gulf oil spill cleanup

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Tropical Storm Alex headed toward the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, but while it was not expected to hit the oil spill area, experts warned strong waves and winds could hamper clean-up efforts there.

Workers remove a palm shade from the beach in preparation for the arrival of tropical storm Alex as winds begin to increase in Mahaual, Mexico, Saturday

With oil continually gushing into the fragile waters for the past 68 days, President Barack Obama’s pointman on the disaster cautioned that volatile weather conditions could set back oil recovery operations for up to two weeks.

Meanwhile, Alex dumped heavy rains over the Yucatan peninsula before moving back into the Gulf later Sunday. Its forecast track meant BP could continue its process without disruption, for now.

“The storm is not an issue for the spill,” said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

Feltgen said forecasters did not expect Alex to head into the northeast Gulf, where the spill is located, “but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some wave impact.”

Early Sunday, the storm packed sustained winds of 40 miles (65 kilometers) an hour, down from 60 miles (95 kilometers) an hour late Saturday, as it swirled 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Chetumal, Mexico, the center said.

It was expected to weaken later Sunday, but regain some punch as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico by nightfall.

“We are very pleased that there is no weather impact right now,” BP spokesman Ron Rybarczyk told AFP on Saturday.

But while the latest forecasts had BP breathing a sigh of relief, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen sounded the alarm about the potential for a devastating impact to efforts to contain and siphon off the oil.

“The weather is unpredictable, and we could have a sudden last-minute change,” said Allen, telling reporters that oil recovery operations would have to be suspended for two weeks if Alex, the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, were to hit the area.

Such a stoppage would exacerbate the spill that has defiled the Gulf Coast’s once pristine shorelines, killed wildlife and put a big dent in the region’s multi-billion-dollar fishing industry.

It would also mean the estimated 30,000 to 65,000 barrels of oil gushing from a ruptured wellhead down on the seafloor would be billowing crude and gas unchecked for days.

An estimated 1.9 to 3.5 million barrels (80 to 150 million gallons) have poured into the Gulf since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20.

Allen said vessels currently recuperating some of the oil and gas would need up to 120 hours to evacuate the site if weather conditions were deemed dire enough.

“If we get an indication that we have a chance for gale-force winds 120 hours before, we’ll make the decision,” he added before noting that “right now, we haven’t met that threshold.”

BP said it recovered 24,550 barrels of oil on Friday, a 3.5 percent increase from its Thursday total, and collected approximately 413,000 barrels since May.

Still, hundreds of demonstrators came to Manatee County, Florida, beaches Saturday to protest offshore oil drilling and support clean energy strategies advocated by President Obama.

About 350 people formed a human chain at Manatee Public Beach, according to local officials.

“We grew up coming to these beaches, and we want to make sure future generations – like my daughter, here – have a place like this to come to,” said local resident Joshua Spaid.

BP’s shares meanwhile hit a 13-year low in London trading after BP ramped up the costs of the spill so far to 2.35 billion dollars. The company’s share values have been cut by more than half since the disaster that killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst oil spill in US history.

The British energy giant said its plans to drill through 2.5 miles (four kilometers) of rock were on track. No permanent solution to the spill is expected before the relief wells are due to be completed in August.

Heavy drilling fluids would then be pumped into the existing well to drown the oil flow, allowing it to be plugged for good with cement.

Vice President Joe Biden heads to the region on Tuesday and is due to visit the New Orleans-based National Incident Command Center before traveling to the Florida panhandle.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Carol Browner, who heads the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, will also visit.

In Toronto, Canada, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron held their first face-to-face talks ahead of a G20 leaders’ summit and agreed BP should “remain a strong and stable company,” Downing Street said.

A still image from a live BP video feed shows oil gushing on June 23 from the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s containment system was removed for repairs when a robotic submarine crashed into it.


Source: SGGP