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UK unveils spending cuts to tackle huge deficit

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 11:04 am

LONDON (AFP) – Britain will unveil billions of pounds in public spending cuts Wednesday in a sweeping review of government expenditure expected to trigger half a million job losses as it tackles a huge deficit.


Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition wants to cut spending by 83 billion pounds (130 billion dollars, 95 billion euros) by 2014-15, and the review will reveal exactly where the axe will fall.

A job seeker (R) attends a work-finding workshop in east London. AFP file

In its biggest challenge since taking power in May, the coalition wants to eliminate Britain’s 154.7-billion-pound deficit — a legacy of the previous Labour government and the recession — over the next five years.


Finance minister George Osborne is expected to say his plans, which will see departmental spending reduced by an average of 25 percent, will map out “a hard road to a better Britain,” according to reports.


Osborne is set to brace the public sector for nearly 500,000 jobs to be culled over the next four years — a fact unwittingly revealed by a Cabinet minister who was photographed reading confidential briefing papers.


Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, was snapped Tuesday with the documents on his lap as he was driven away from his office.


Britain’s welfare and justice systems are expected to be hard hit, and the BBC is braced for a 16 percent cut to its budget in real terms over the next six years, the broadcaster’s website reported.


The coalition started the process Tuesday, announcing that it would shrink the country’s armed forces and scrap key assets like its flagship aircraft carrier in a defence review that forms part of the wider programme of cuts.


Cameron said 17,000 service personnel would go from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy by 2015 — but vowed there would be “no cut whatsoever” to the level of support for forces in Afghanistan.


The harshness of the measures has worried some economists who fear they could plunge Britain’s economy back into recession, a concern shared by the opposition Labour party, which was ousted from power in the May election.


The International Monetary Fund has enthusiastically endorsed Osborne’s plans, and European governments are watching closely.


Trade unions have reacted with anger and thousands of union members and protesters rallied in London Tuesday, waving placards that said “Don’t Break Britain” and “No more cuts”.


Labour’s finance spokesman, Alan Johnson, has also warned that the cuts were being made “too deeply and too quickly”.


The scale of the cuts has provoked disquiet among some Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partners, who fear they could cause lasting social damage.

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Source: SGGP

Huge ice island could pose threat to oil, shipping

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

An island of ice more than four times the size of Manhattan is drifting across the Arctic Ocean after breaking off from a glacier in Greenland.


Potentially in the path of this unstoppable giant are oil platforms and shipping lanes — and any collision could do untold damage. In a worst case scenario, large chunks could reach the heavily trafficked waters where another Greenland iceberg sank the Titanic in 1912.


It’s been a summer of near biblical climatic havoc across the planet, with wildfires, heat and smog in Russia and killer floods in Asia. But the moment the Petermann glacier cracked last week — creating the biggest Arctic ice island in half a century — may symbolize a warming world like no other.

This combination of two satellite images provided by NASA and taken on July 28, 2010, at left, and Aug. 5, 2010, at right, shows the Petermann Glacier in Northern Greenland

“It’s so big that you can’t prevent it from drifting. You can’t stop it,” said Jon-Ove Methlie Hagen, a glaciologist at the University of Oslo.


Few images can capture the world’s climate fears like a 100-square- mile (260-sqare-kilometer) chunk of ice breaking off Greenland’s vast ice sheet, a reservoir of freshwater that if it collapsed would raise global sea levels by a devastating 20 feet (6 meters).


The world’s newest ice island already is being used as a powerful emblem in the global warming debate, with U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts suggesting it could serve as a home for climate change skeptics.


Researchers are in a scramble to plot the trajectory of the floating ice shelf, which is moving toward the Nares Strait separating Greenland’s northwestern coast and Canada’s Ellsemere Island.


If it makes it into the strait before the winter freeze — due to start next month — it would likely be carried south by ocean currents, hugging Canada’s east coast until it enters waters busy with oil activities and shipping off Newfoundland.


“That’s where it starts to become dangerous,” said Mark Drinkwater, of the European Space Agency.


The Canadian Ice Service estimates the journey will take one to two years. It’s likely to break up as it bumps into other icebergs and jagged islands. The fragments would be further ground down by winds and waves and would start to melt as they move into warmer waters.


“But the fragments may still be quite large,” warned Trudy Wohlleben, a Canadian ice forecaster, who first spotted the massive chunk of ice on satellite images last Thursday.


The chunks of ice could be large enough to threaten Canada’s offshore platforms in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, said Wohlleben.


And, while it’s possible to redirect smaller icebergs, by towing them or spraying them with water cannons, “I don’t think they could do that with an iceberg this large,” she said. “They would have to physically move the rig.”


Moving an offshore platform is time-consuming and expensive — and very complicated in cases where they are fixed to the ocean floor.


While Greenland’s glaciers break off thousands of icebergs into Arctic waters every year, scientists say this ice island is the biggest in the northern hemisphere since 1962.


It contains enough freshwater to keep the Hudson River flowing for more than two years, said Andreas Muenchow of the University of Delaware.


The drifting ice sheet is likely to remain at the heart of the global warming discussion during its journey.


While experts say it’s difficult to directly tie the giant ice island to climate change because there are so many factors that affect glaciers in the area, the unusual event coincides with worrisome signs of warming in the Arctic.

Since 1970, temperatures have risen more than 4.5 degrees (2.5 degrees C) in much of the Arctic — much faster than the global average. In June the Arctic sea ice cover was at the lowest level for that month since records began in 1979, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The retreat of Greenland’s glaciers, which has accelerated in recent years, is one of the least understood pieces of the climate puzzle.

A team of climate scientists who visited the Petermann glacier last year, expecting it to crack then, is now planning another trip within weeks.

“We did leave behind a couple of time-lapse cameras and 11 GPS (devices). Now we are scrambling to get up there and recover the data,” said Jason Box, an expert on Greenland glaciers from the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.

Box and two British researchers traveled to the glacier last year with Greenpeace activists who offered space aboard their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, to scientists studying climate change.

They were hoping to capture the event with cameras rolling, which would have been a powerful image just months before the Copenhagen climate talks that failed to produce a binding treaty to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions.

“It would have been nice if it had broken off last year,” said Melanie Duchin, who led that Greenpeace expedition. “I mean ice melting, it doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

Still, she finds it ironic that the Petermann breakup coincides with another catastrophe linked to fossil fuels. The Arctic Sunrise is now in the Gulf of Mexico, surveying the massive oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Source: SGGP

Outrage over huge leak of Afghan war files

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 7:19 am

The leak of 90,000 secret military files triggered an outcry from nations fighting in Afghanistan as the Pentagon scrambled to uncover the source of the security breach and whether it would endanger lives.


US experts were working to see if the huge cache “could jeopardize force protection or operational security, or even worse still, the national security of this country,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Fox News.


“Our big fear of course is that there is information in here which could potentially put the lives of our troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere at risk.”

Australian founder of whistleblowing website, ‘WikiLeaks’, Julian Assange, holds up a copy of today’s Guardian newspaper during a press conference in London.

Some 92,000 documents dating from 2004 to 2009 were released to The New York Times, Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Germany’s Der Spiegel news weekly by the website WikiLeaks, which posted them on Sunday.


The most controversial allegations center around claims that Pakistan, a key US ally in the turbulent region, allows its spies to meet directly with the Taliban.


According to the Times, Pakistan agents and Taliban representatives meet regularly “in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.”


The files also maintained that the deaths of innocent civilians have been covered up, and that Iran is funding Taliban militants eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the radical Islamic regime from power.


The bombshell revelations triggered outrage, with a top NATO general calling for increased vigilance against such leaks as the White House slammed them as “irresponsible.”


The coalition needed to be aware that some “documents are pushed out into the open via leaks, but that obliges us even more to work with the greatest care,” said General Egon Ramms, who is in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan.


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned the leak, warning the names of service personnel and military operations were now in the public domain, but laid down the likely strategic and political impact.


“In terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents,” Gibbs said, pointing out that most of the period covered by the leaks was during the previous Bush administration.


Britain, which has some 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, said Monday it regretted the leak, as Pakistan said the reports were “skewed” and not based on the reality on the ground.


But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended the decision to publish the leaked files, saying they showed “thousands” of war crimes may have been committed in Afghanistan.


“It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is in the end a crime. That said, prima facie there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material,” he said, citing a missile strike on a house which killed seven children.


In Berlin, a defense ministry spokesman said releasing the documents “could affect the national security of NATO allies and the whole NATO mission.”


The leaks reportedly link the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, to a failed plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai, attacks on NATO warplanes, a bid to poison the beer supply of Western troops and the 2008 Indian embassy bombing.


In April 2007, the Guardian said the ISI allegedly sent 1,000 motorbikes to Jalaluddin Haqqani, head of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network based in Pakistan, to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan.


WikiLeaks has not named its informant. But some observers are pointing suspicion at a US soldier, Bradley Manning, who has been arrested and charged in Iraq for allegedly leaking classified information to the website, including video of a helicopter strike in Baghdad.

Last month, the Pentagon was probing allegations that Manning supplied the classified video and 260,000 secret diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

As well as releasing the video, Manning, 22, has been accused of illegally downloading more than 150,000 diplomatic cables, 50 of which he is alleged to have transmitted unlawfully to the danger of US national security.

A top Republican lawmaker, US Senator Kit Bond, blasted the source of the leak, saying: “It is shocking that any American, much less someone in the Pentagon, would betray his country and possibly put our soldiers at risk.”

Source: SGGP

Women make huge contributions to poverty alleviation

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 8:55 am




Women make huge contributions to poverty alleviation


QĐND – Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 20:58 (GMT+7)

PANO – The Vietnam Women’s Union has organised the second Patriotic Emulation Congress and reviewed the 3-year campaign “Study and Follow President Ho Chi Minh’s Exemplary Morality”.


Speaking at the event, Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan highly appreciated the achievements of Vietnamese women through the Patriotic Emulation Movement and the campaign “Study and Follow President Ho Chi Minh’s exemplary Morality”.


She also introduced several measures to improve the quality of the emulation tasks in the future. Accordingly, cadres of the emulation tasks need to enhance their abilities to help each other to carry out the two campaigns.


Over the past five years, women nationwide have launched various activities to alleviate poverty and to encourage family business. As a result, 735,334 households removed themselves from below the poverty line.


In addition, they also saved more than VND 40 billion and 360,673 tonnes of rice to help poor women and children nationwide.


On this occasion, 6 outstanding teams and individuals from military units took part in the event.


Translated by Duy Minh


Source: QDND

Huge blast in Kabul as US military chief visits: witnesses

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm

KABUL, June 26, 2010 (AFP) – A huge blast was heard in the Afghan capital Saturday as a US military chief arrived for meetings to explain the sacking of the US commander of foreign forces in the country, witnesses told AFP.


The blast took place in the centre of the city at 9.55 am (0525 GMT), witnesses said.


A spokesman for the interior ministry, Zemarai Bashery, said he had heard the blast, the cause of which was being investigated.


It seemed to have taken place near the foreign ministry, he said.


The blast happened after US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Kabul late Friday on a mission to reassure Afghan leaders following the sacking of the top commander in Kabul.


Mullen was set to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the presidential office confirmed, after US General Stanley McChrystal was sacked for insubordination.


During his one-day visit, Mullen was also set to meet US and NATO officials, the US embassy said.


The blast, if confirmed as a bombing by Taliban-linked insurgents, would be the first attack in the capital since a peace conference held on June 2.


Sirens could be heard wailing across the city as emergency services and police rushed to the site, near the presidential palace, where Karzai was set to hold a press conference on drugs.


His meeting with Mullen was set for later in the day, during which Mullen was expected to explain the circumstances leading up to McChrystal’s sacking and reassure Karzai that a change of leadership did not mean a change of tactics.


“My message will be clear. Nothing changes about our strategy. Nothing changes about the mission,” said Mullen at a press conference in Washington before his departure for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday.


General David Petraeus has been appointed as the new commander, a move that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said was the “best possible outcome to an awful situation”.


Speaking at the same press conference as Mullen, Gates said there was progress in the Afghan war — the administration’s latest bid to defend the mission as foreign troop casualties hit record highs.


NATO announced overnight the death of another alliance soldier following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, bringing to three the number killed on Friday.


June has become the deadliest month of the war since it began in late 2001, with 84 foreign troop deaths, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by icasualties.org.


This year 304 foreign soldiers have been killed — already the second highest annual total in the war — under McChrystal’s strategy to pour tens of thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan to take the fight to the Taliban.


McChrystal won early praise for a drop in civilian casualties as he attempted to win popular trust, at the same time working hard to bring Karzai on board.


His dismissal was met with dismay in Kabul, where Afghans and foreign diplomats praised his efforts to change the course of the war.


There are 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number set to peak at 150,000 by August, in hopes to force an end to the insurgency with a surge of efforts in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland.


Obama said in Washington that Petraeus, well regarded for his role in turning around the Iraq war, would be able to hit the ground running due to his work on Afghanistan as head of Central Command, which oversees both war zones.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said meanwhile Friday he wanted troops home from Afghanistan before the next British general elections, due by 2015.


“We can’t be there for another five years, having been there for nine years already,” Cameron, who took office last month, told Sky News television, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit.

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Source: SGGP

Thai government accuses Reds over huge weapons cache

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm

 Thailand’s government on Saturday displayed to foreign diplomats a huge cache of weapons it said had been confiscated from anti-government protesters, to quash criticism of a deadly crackdown.

This picture taken on May 21, 2010 shows Thai Red Shirt supporters waving flags as they welcome Red Shirts protestors arriving from Bangkok at the train station in Chiang Mai, around 700kms from Bangkok. (AFP Photo)

“Red Shirts” leaders, who mounted two months of rallies in Bangkok that saw clashes and blasts that left 86 dead and 1,900 injured movement, have criticised the use of force and said their supporters were unarmed.


The government said that after Wednesday’s final offensive which forced thousands of Reds to disperse and their leaders to surrender, it had found a haul of assault rifles, ammunition, grenades and crude homemade bombs.


“Terrorists have used these weapons to attack officials and innocent people,” said Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, at an army barracks on the northern outskirts of the capital.


“Although the protesters have always denied terrorism or possessing weapons, after the rallies dispersed we found a lot of lethal weapons,” he told media and dozens of Bangkok-based diplomats and military attaches.


Thailand’s top forensic scientist, Porntip Rojanasunan, also said that four car bombs had been found around the protest site which paralysed Bangkok’s top shopping district for six weeks.


AFP journalists reporting at the protest zone for the past two months have seen only a handful of firearms in the hands of protesters, who were mostly armed only with crude weapons like rockets and Molotov cocktails.


Wednesday’s campaign was met with little resistance.


Concern has been growing over rights abuses in Thailand, with the European Union the latest to call on Thai authorities to respect the rights of the protesters and saying the violence had harmed the nation.


Human Rights Watch has also expressed alarm over a “draconian” emergency decree introduced during the crisis to hold prisoners in secret detention.


In a clear reference to the Reds’ hero, ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the army said that masterminds including those from outside the country were responsible for the mayhem of looting and arson that broke out after the offensive.


“It’s not true that protesters carried out arson attacks due to anger after protest ended. It was well planned and ordered by people outside and inside the country,” said army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.


Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.


A curfew is in place until Sunday in Bangkok and most of the Reds’ heartland in the north and northeast. Suthep said there would be an announcement Sunday over the status of the emergency measures.

Source: SGGP

Thailand faces ‘huge challenges’ after deadly conflict: PM

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 at 9:13 am

BANGKOK, May 21, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand’s premier said Friday that order has been restored after a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests triggered mayhem in the capital, but that the divided kingdom faces “huge challenges”.


Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajive declared victory in a campaign to secure Bangkok, clamping down on militants in the “Red Shirt” movement who went on a rampage of arson and looting after their leaders surrendered Wednesday.

A Thai soldier aims his rifle as they arrive and secure Din Daeng, in Bangkok, on May 21, 2010 after the area was held by the anti-government protesters for several days. AFP photo

“This is one of the worst episodes Thailand has ever faced,” Abhisit said in a televised address to the nation.


“We will continue to swiftly restore normalcy and we recognise that as we move ahead there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country.”


Abhisit said he regretted the loss of life in the army offensive to shut down six weeks of anti-government protests, which left 15 dead including an Italian photographer, but defended the way it was carried out.


“The operation was within the law and complied with international practice,” he said, adding however that there would be an independent probe. Concern remains over a shootout at a temple “safe zone” where six bodies were found.


The premier, who has resisted calls for fresh elections from Red Shirts who condemn his government as illegitimate, said the focus should now move to healing the splits that fomented the unrest.


“We are living in the same house,” he said. “I invite all of you to join the reconciliation process.”


“Let me reassure you that the government will meet these challenges through the five point reconciliation plan I have announced,” he said, referring to a roadmap which failed to produce a peaceful resolution to the Reds rallies.


Thailand is largely split between the Reds, mostly urban and rural poor who are demanding the ouster of a government they condemn as undemocratic, and rival pro-establishment “Yellow Shirts” who represent the nation’s elites.


The Reds are mostly supporters of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. The billionaire tycoon was accused of gross rights abuses and corruption, but won grassroots support with his populist policies.


Thaksin’s elected allies were later ejected in a controversial court ruling, paving the way for Abhisit’s administration to be appointed in a 2008 army-backed parliamentary vote.


Across central Bangkok a huge clean-up was under way after the scenes of anarchy that saw 36 major buildings go up in flames including the stock exchange and the nation’s biggest mall which now lies in ruins.


City workers used everything from brooms to bulldozers to clear debris left behind after two months of rolling demonstrations, including the remnants of towering barricades the Reds had used to occupy a top shopping district.


In the hotspots where protesters have battled with security forces over the past week, roads were being cleared of burned tyres, and concrete blocks and stones that had been used as missiles.


“Time to Rebuild,” the Nation newspaper said in a front-page banner, as reports said the damage bill from the torched buildings alone could reach 40 billion baht (1.2 billion dollars).


Thailand has suffered regular bouts of civil unrest in its turbulent history, but commentators warned the emotional wounds from unrest that has left 85 dead and 1,900 injured since mid-March could be hard to heal.


“No one knows how long it will take to close the deep divisions that have been opened within Thai families and society,” the Bangkok Post said in a front page editorial.


Bangkok and 23 other provinces in the rural north and northeast — the Reds’ heartland — have been put under a curfew until Sunday to try to contain the conflict and prevent it from spreading across the nation.


With dire travel warnings issued by foreign governments, the outlook for the tourism sector is bleak. The finance minister said the chaotic scenes flashed on television bulletins would have a “disastrous” impact on the sector.

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Source: SGGP

Huge dome probes ocean depths to cap US oil leak

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2010 at 8:40 am

Workers lowered a huge dome over an oil leak gushing from a sunken rig deep in the Gulf of Mexico as energy giant BP battled the slick lapping ashore on protected islands off the US coast.


The complex, unprecedented operation to drop the 100-ton (90-tonne) chamber some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface to cap the leak from the fallen rig was expected to be completed late Friday.


BP officials said the dome was suspended about 200 feet (60 meters) above the collapsed rig as it was swung laterally into place using remote-controlled submarines.


“It’s currently been installed on the ocean floor,” BP spokesman Doug Suttles told journalists after the dome began its descent late Thursday.

A ship lowers a pollution containment chamber into oily water at the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana

“This is a very large device and needs to be very precisely placed,” Suttles said, adding engineers would “swing it over and they had to precisely lower it over the top of the leak point.”


“Over the weekend, we expect to connect that dome to the drill ship Enterprise and hopefully beginning of next week, we’ll begin to start to evacuate the oil from the sea bed up to the surface.”


The British energy company is racing to contain the leak, hemorrhaging some 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.


And the delicate operation is seen as the best hope to stave off the biggest US environmental disaster since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, but officials remain cautious about whether it will work.


“This has never been done in 5,000 feet of water. It’s a technology first. It works in three (hundred) to 400 feet of water. But the pressures and temperatures are very different here,” BP’s chief executive officer Tony Hayward warned on CNN.


“We cannot be confident that it will work.”


Oil sheen from the massive crude spill has begun washing ashore on the Chandeleur Islands, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) off Louisiana, forcing US officials Friday to close a wildlife refuge there.


“The refuge closure is important to keep the public safe, to minimize disturbance to nesting colonial sea birds, and to allow personnel conducting cleanup operations and recovery efforts to work safely and efficiently,” officials said in a statement.


The Breton National Wildlife Refuge refuge, home to endangered species of brown pelican, least tern and piping plover, is one of the oldest in the country, and spreads across almost 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares).


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) meanwhile also extended the area closed to commercial and recreational fishing to 4.5 percent of Gulf waters, saying the fishing ban would remain in place until May 17.


News the sheen is reaching Louisiana’s outlying shores raises new fears for the fragile ecosystem of its wetlands and shores — home to vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs as well as a major migratory stop for rare birds.


Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than a billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008, while it is also a key fishing grounds for recreational fishermen.


BP is also spraying dispersants over the slick to break it up, and deploying thousands of booms to try to contain the spreading oil.


Amid concerns over the exact make-up of the chemicals being flushed into the waters, US officials said they produced a similar effect to dishwashing liquid.

“It’s really designed to break down the oil,” said Bob Perciasepe, deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It does not make the oil disappear but it makes it into smaller and smaller particles that makes easier over the long haul to be biodegradable instead of big… really, oily globs.”

Political fallout over the spill also grew as a key US senator warned action on legislation to fight climate change was now “impossible” due to fierce new opposition to offshore drilling in the wake of the disaster.

“I believe it would be wise to pause the process and reassess where we stand,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.

Source: SGGP

Huge crowds expected for Poland crash memorial

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2010 at 11:07 am

Hundreds of thousands of mourners were expected Saturday at a memorial for victims of Poland’s air crash tragedy, as a volcanic cloud threatened to keep world leaders from the president’s funeral.


The service, in a historic Warsaw square that has previously hosted papal masses, comes a week after a plane carrying president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others crashed in Russia, killing all on board.


Sirens wailed and church bells rang across Poland Saturday at 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the exact time a week ago when a plane crash in Russia killed the Polish president and 95 others.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus delivers a speech during a memorial mass to honour Poland’s late president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria at the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague

Cars on the streets in the centre of the capital Warsaw drew to a halt and pedestrians stood still solemnly, as a day of commemoration began for what has been called the nation’s worst peacetime tragedy.


Kaczynski and his wife are set to be buried on Sunday in the southern city of Krakow. But the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that has disrupted air travel could prevent dignitaries including US President Barack Obama from attending.


Sirens are set to wail and church bells will ring across the country at exactly 8:56 am (0656 GMT), the time a week ago when the plane came down in what has been dubbed Poland‘s worst peacetime disaster.


In Warsaw, the four-hour memorial service starts at noon in Pilsudski Square, which is also home to Poland’s tomb of the unknown soldier.


It has been the traditional site of national events including a vast mass held by late Polish pope John Paul II when he visited his deeply Catholic homeland in 1979.


During the past week mourners have covered the square with coloured candles, while a huge stage with black and white photos of the dead has been set up.


In a bitter irony, the presidential jet came down while carrying a delegation to a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when 22,000 Polish officers were slaughtered by Soviet forces in World War II.


The crash scythed through the upper echelons of Polish society: victims of the crash included the country’s military chief, the heads of all three armed forces, the governor of the central bank and the head of the country’s Olympic committee.


Iconic opponents of the country’s former communist rulers were also on the plane, as well as relatives of Katyn victims.


After the mass in the square on Saturday, the closed coffins of Kaczynski and his wife Maria, who have been lying in state in the presidential palace since Tuesday, will be taken to nearby St. John’s Cathedral.


Warsaw’s Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz will lead a service followed by an overnight vigil.


The bodies will arrive in Krakow on Sunday morning for the funeral in the cathedral of Krakow’s hilltop Wawel castle, where Poland’s past kings and national heroes already lie.


But the attendance of foreign leaders including Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in doubt after Poland joined other European nations and closed its airspace on Friday due to the spreading volcanic ash cloud.


Almost 80 foreign delegations had been due to land at Krakow airport Sunday.


Kaczynski’s family have insisted the funeral go ahead as planned on Sunday.

The government meanwhile said there had been no cancellations by foreign leaders so far.

“To a large degree it all depends on which way the wind blows,” Krakow city spokesman Filip Szatanik told AFP.

The family’s earlier decision to bury Kaczynski, a divisive political figure in life due to his conservative, nationalist policies, at Wawel castle sparked protests and a Facebook campaign during the week but they have died down.

His identical twin brother Jaroslaw, who served as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, could stand in early presidential elections expected on June 20.

One opponent could be the likely liberal candidate and current interim president Bronislaw Komorowski.

Russian and Polish investigators are continuing to probe the cause of the crash. Russian officials said that they suspected pilot error following the first analysis of the black box recorders of the Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154.

Source: SGGP

China state media blasts Google for ‘huge’ mistake

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm

BEIJING, March 24, 2010 (AFP) – China’s state media on Wednesday belittled Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese search engine, saying the Internet firm had made a huge mistake in the world’s largest online market.

The Google logo is pictured outside the company’s China head office in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP photo

The newspapers said the company would earn little sympathy from loyal users in China, as it had turned its dispute with Beijing over government web censorship and cyberattacks into a political issue.


Google on Monday stopped filtering search results in China and re-routed traffic from google.cn to an uncensored site in Hong Kong, but said it would maintain its sales and research and development teams on the mainland.


“With its action to shift its search service from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong yesterday, the world’s top search engine has made a huge strategic misstep in the promising Chinese market,” the Global Times said.


The paper touted the improvement in China’s business climate and warned foreign firms that they could face “unprecedented” competition from homegrown companies, urging them to adapt to the “transitional Chinese society”.


“A win-win situation is in the interests of both China and foreign businesses. Google’s ‘new approach’ does not work,” it said in a commentary.


Beijing has repeatedly said foreign businesses are welcome as long as they abide by Chinese law. Google says its shift of search traffic to google.com.hk is “entirely legal”, as Hong Kong is not subject to mainland censorship laws.


The China Daily relished the “moment of peace” created by Google’s decision, two months after the eruption of the dispute, which has added to strains in relations between China and the United States.


“Google’s efforts to make this issue into a political spat have naturally met with strong opposition and criticism from the Chinese government and society,” the English-language newspaper wrote in a commentary.


“With the company’s credibility among Chinese netizens now plummeting, Google will be greeted with less sympathy and fewer parting sentiments from Chinese Internet users,” it said.


The paper slammed Google for offering China’s 384 million web users access to “pornography and subversive content”, saying the Chinese web would “continue to grow in a cleaner and more peaceful environment” without google.cn.

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Clinton heads to Mexico for talks on drug war (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,14:57 GMT +7)


China’s sandstorms blast Beijing with dust, sand (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,14:51 GMT +7)


Karzai studying peace offer from militant group (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,14:45 GMT +7)


Asian filmmakers must broaden appeal: Zhang Yimou (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,14:40 GMT +7)


Germany fights EU pressure to aid Greece (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,14:31 GMT +7)


Bill Gates, Toshiba to develop nuclear reactor: report (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,12:34 GMT +7)


More deaths from unsafe water than from war: UN (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,12:32 GMT +7)


Obama to sign health plan as fight shifts to US Senate (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,12:29 GMT +7)


Google stops China censorship, Beijing condemns move (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,12:25 GMT +7)


Netanyahu, Clinton show no sign Israeli-US gap narrowed (Tuesday ,Mar 23,2010,12:14 GMT +7)

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Latest News

Clinton heads to Mexico for talks on drug war

China’s sandstorms blast Beijing with dust, sand

Karzai studying peace offer from militant group

Asian filmmakers must broaden appeal: Zhang Yimou

Germany fights EU pressure to aid Greece

Bill Gates, Toshiba to develop nuclear reactor: report

More deaths from unsafe water than from war: UN

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