‘Don’t scream when you’re being robbed’, Brazil police tell World Cup fans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 3:12am

Brazilian police will distribute pamphlets to World Cup visitors advising them not to argue or scream when being robbed.

The campaign was designed by the head of the committee created by police in Brazil’s biggest city to prepare for soccer’s marquee event and aimed at avoiding the increasing rate of robberies that end with homicide.


Police officer Mario Leite told the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper that the tips were included in pamphlets that embassies and consulates from the United States to Europe would distribute to visitors boarding planes to the South American nation. Continue reading “‘Don’t scream when you’re being robbed’, Brazil police tell World Cup fans”

Jordan destroys armored vehicles at Syrian border

Jordanian air forces destroyed a number of armored vehicles on Wednesday as they crossed the border from war-torn Syria, the army said in a statement. Continue reading “Jordan destroys armored vehicles at Syrian border”

Philippine police accuse Italian ambassador of human trafficking and child abuse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 11:44pm
Agencies in Manila
Philippine Police Superintendent Noel Calderon Alino (left) answers questions from reporters about Daniele Bosio (inset) beside Senior Superintendent Romulo Sapitula at a police station in Binan, south of Manila. Photo: AP

Philippine police have detained a vacationing Italian ambassador and filed complaints of human trafficking and child abuse after he was allegedly found in the company of three underage boys at a resort.

Police arrested Daniele Bosio, a diplomat based in Turkmenistan, at a water fun park near Manila at the weekend following a tip-off from a local child rights group.
Continue reading “Philippine police accuse Italian ambassador of human trafficking and child abuse”

After giraffe scandal, Danish zoo ‘euthanizes’ 4 lions, cubs to make way for new male

Published time: March 25, 2014 20:21

A lioness licks one of her newborn cubs (AFP Photo / Henning Bagger)

A lioness licks one of her newborn cubs (AFP Photo / Henning Bagger)

Continue reading “After giraffe scandal, Danish zoo ‘euthanizes’ 4 lions, cubs to make way for new male”

China boosts defence budget by 12.2 pc after warning military will respond if provoked

UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 10:42am

Agence France-Presse in Beijing


Delegates from the People’s Liberation Army arrive for parliamentary talks in Beijing. Photo: AP

China will raise its official defence budget by 12.2 per cent this year, the finance ministry announced Wednesday, a day after warning that its military would respond if ‘provoked’ by neighbours.

The Asian giant has for years boosted spending on its People’s Liberation Army, reflecting its military ambitions as it asserts its global standing and claims in a series of territorial disputes with Japan and other countries in the region. Continue reading “China boosts defence budget by 12.2 pc after warning military will respond if provoked”

US tested weapons to harm rice crop in Japan, report claims ( rice blast fungus )

– The same experiments were conducted on the US mainland and in Taiwan
–  rice blast fungus – known to occur in 85 countries – was released over rice fields and data was collected on how it affected rice production
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 12:47am

Agence France-Presse in Tokyo

  • okinawa292_40046643.jpg
An aerial photo of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan. Photo: The Washington Post

The US army tested biological weapons that could harm rice cropping on the Japanese island of Okinawa in the early 1960s, a report claimed yesterday.

The same experiments were conducted on the US mainland and in Taiwan, Kyodo news agency said, citing US military documents.

The US is “believed to have had China and Southeast Asia in mind in developing such crop-harming agents”, the report said.

In tests conducted at least a dozen times between 1961 and 1962, rice blast fungus – known to occur in 85 countries – was released over rice fields and data was collected on how it affected rice production, Kyodo said.

Rice blast disease causes lesions to form on the plant, threatening the crop.

The US government decided in 1969 to discard all biological weapons in its possession, Kyodo said. In 1975 an international convention against production and possession of biological weapons came into force.

Okinawa was under post-second world war US rule until 1972. The US government has previously disclosed information about chemical and biological warfare tests at sea and on land in such places as Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Utah.

The obtained documents mention test sites including Nago and Shuri, both in Okinawa, but it is not known whether the experiments were conducted within the premises of US bases there, Kyodo said.

In the tests, the army “used a midget duster to release inoculum alongside fields in Okinawa and Taiwan”, measuring dosages at different distances and the effect on crop production.

One document said: “Field tests for stem rust of wheat and rice blast disease were begun at several sites in the [US] midwest and south and in Okinawa with partial success in the accumulation of useful data.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as US ‘tested weapons to harm rice crop in Japan’
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Bubonic plague ‘worse than Black Death’ kills 39 in Madagascar ( pneumonic plague that can kill within three days )

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 10:29pm

Agence France-Presse in Antananarivo


Bubonic plague bacteria. Photo: AFP

An outbreak of plague even more vicious than the bubonic strain dubbed the black death has killed 39 people in Madagascar, the government said on Thursday.

A government doctor said 90 per cent of the cases were pneumonic plague, a strain much more vicious than the common bubonic plague that can kill within three days, leaving little time for antibiotics to work. Continue reading “Bubonic plague ‘worse than Black Death’ kills 39 in Madagascar ( pneumonic plague that can kill within three days )”

Japan agency offers travel for your teddy bear

Travel Dec. 07, 2013 – 06:12AM JST

Japan agency offers travel for your teddy bear
Tour operator Sonoe Azuma holds a stuffed toy during a visit to a station in Tokyo, on October 4, 2013

Tokyo (AFP) —

Unable to get to that must-see tourist site but can’t bear for your teddy to miss out? Then Japan has just the thing for you—a travel agency that takes stuffed toys on package tours and even provides the holiday snaps to prove it.

Tokyo-based Unagi (Eel) Travel has a range of offers to suit every cuddly companion’s purse.

For instance, a day trip around sightseeing spots in the Japanese capital is $45, plus travel—by parcel post—from and to the toy’s home address.

The more adventurous bear might like to see some of the grand temples and shrines of the ancient capital of Kyoto for $95, or unwind in the hot spring baths that dot volcanic Japan—a snip at $55.

“Some clients join tours simply because it seems fun but there are also people who want to send stuffed animals as their proxies since they can’t travel by themselves, because they are in hospital, handicapped or too busy,” tour operator Sonoe Azuma told AFP.

“A client asked me to take her companion up some stairs and walk through narrow streets she can’t go into with her wheelchair.

“Another client wanted her animal to get a lot of sunshine as she can’t go outside because of a skin disease.”

Continue reading “Japan agency offers travel for your teddy bear”

Indonesia halts Australia drills as protesters call for ‘war’

Joint exercises halted as Indonesian hackers claim responsibility for cyber attacks on Australian Federal Police and Reserve Bank of Australia websites

Agence France-Presse in Jakarta


Anti-Australia protesters shout slogans while holding a placard, reading ‘expel Australian diplomatic members’, during a rally in front of the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Indonesia’s military halted training with Australia as a decision to suspend co-operation over spying claims took effect, while angry demonstrators in Jakarta declared on Thursday they were “ready for war” with Canberra.

In the Australian capital, the scandal took an embarrassing twist for Prime Minister Tony Abbott when one of his party’s strategists described someone reported to be the Indonesian foreign minister as resembling “a 1970s Filipino porn star”.

Continue reading “Indonesia halts Australia drills as protesters call for ‘war’”

Three IKEA France execs charged in spying scandal by using police files

Paris (AFP)

Three executives at IKEA France, including the CEO, were charged on Tuesday in connection with allegations the company illegally used police files to spy on staff and customers, a judicial source told AFP.

IKEA France’s CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke, CFO Dariusz Rychert and the company’s former CEO, Jean-Louis Baillot, were charged with “complicity to collect personal data” and “complicity to violate professional secrecy”, the source said.

All three were formally held for questioning by police in Versailles, near Paris, on Monday.

The charges follow police seizures at IKEA France’s headquarters in the Paris suburbs earlier this month.

Continue reading “Three IKEA France execs charged in spying scandal by using police files”

China says 99.9 per cent of graft defendants found guilty



Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013

BEIJING – A total of 99.9 per cent of the verdicts reached against Chinese corruption defendants find them guilty, judicial authorities said Tuesday.

Nearly 200,000 people were investigated for embezzlement or bribery between January 2008 and August this year, China’s top prosecutor, Cao Jianming, told the National People’s Congress parliament.

Of those, 148,931 had been convicted, or 99.9 per cent of those who had been charged and had their trials completed, he said, according to a statement posted on the Supreme People’s Procuratorate website.

The figures imply that the courts only acquitted 0.1 per cent of those who came before them, or 1 in 1,000.

A total of 37.7 billion yuan ($6.2 billion) in economic losses were retrieved, it added. Of those investigated, 32 were at or above ministerial level, it said.

Authorities apprehended nearly 7,000 fugitives who escaped abroad, said a separate statement on the website.

It is the first time since 1989 that the national prosecutor has reported its anti-graft work to the parliament, according to a report by the government-run Legal Daily on Tuesday.

China’s president Xi Jinping has vowed to crack down on corruption at all levels of the government, calling graft a threat to the future of the ruling party.

But critics say the anti-corruption campaign by China’s new leaders has so far netted a series of low-ranking officials and only a handful of senior figures, with no reforms introduced to increase transparency to help fight graft.



US army developing ‘Iron Man’ body armour for soldiers of the future

Superhuman suits worn by comic book heroes may not be science fiction if US army scientists succeed in developing advanced body armour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 6:15am

Agence France-Presse      in Washington


US Army Sergeant Matthew Oliver showcases an example of futuristic soldier armour at the Chicago Auto Show last year. Photo: SMP

US army researchers are working on building hi-tech body armour that would give soldiers “superhuman strength” in a real-life version of the suit featured in Iron Man films.

The blueprint for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) would include an exoskeleton to allow a soldier to carry heavy equipment, built-in computing power, beefed up protection to stop bullets and a system to monitor vital signs, defence officials said.

“Some of the potential technologies planned for TALOS research and development include advanced armour, situational awareness, command and control computers, power management systems, and enhanced mobility exoskeletons,” according to a US Army statement.

US Special Operations Command put out the call last month for research papers on potential technologies that a “smart” combat suit could incorporate.

The request for “white papers” will extend through September 2014, and then defence officials will weigh how to proceed while taking into account growing pressures on the Pentagon budget, said army spokesman Roger Teel.

The new combat armour might also employ “liquid armour,” reminiscent of the Terminator films, though the technology is still in an early stage of development, Teel said.

The liquid would transform into a solid if a magnetic or electrical charge was applied.

“There is a liquid armour that they are looking at developing,” said Teel, adding that scientists at MIT were studying the idea. “It could possibly be turned on with a battery switch” to deflect gunfire, he said.

TALOS “is an advanced infantry uniform that promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection,” according to an army statement.

In a crude animated demonstration video released by the army on how the combat suit might operate, a soldier in science fiction-inspired gear stands in a doorway as bullets bounce off at close range from an unidentified enemy.

The project’s acronym, TALOS, refers to the automaton of Greek mythology made of bronze that Zeus deploys to safeguard his lover Europa.

Despite previous weapons programmes that came to little, officials say the technologies for the ambitious project are not out of reach, even if they sound more like the stuff of myth or movie.

The concept of providing virtual displays of battlefield forces in a soldier’s helmet screen resembles similar efforts already underway for a sophisticated helmet for pilots flying the new F-35 fighter jet.

As the proposed suit would draw on a range of technical disciplines, the military expects the project to be developed jointly by academia, government scientists and technology firms.

Although the project evokes comparisons with Tony Stark’s superhero suit from the Iron Man movies, no one is claiming the smart armour will enable soldiers to fly. “It’s not going to be all that,” Teel said. “But it’s going to be special.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Iron Man’ soldiers taking shape in lab.

China’s rich get richer despite slowing economy: Forbes



Wednesday, Oct 16, 2013

SHANGHAI – China’s 400 richest people became US$150 billion (S$186.64 billion) wealthier this year, Forbes magazine said Wednesday, despite a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy.


The vast increase – an average of almost US$400 million each – highlights the growing inequality between the Communist country’s superrich and the millions who still live in poverty.

“The rich are getting richer,” Forbes Shanghai bureau chief Russell Flannery told a press conference as the magazine unveiled its annual China rich list.

“The rapid growth of wealth in China seems to be out of line with the Chinese economic slowdown,” he said.

The net assets of the top 100 richest people in China soared 44 per cent from a year earlier to US$316 billion, the magazine said, while the number of dollar billionaires rose to a record high of 168.

That came even as China’s economy has slowed. The Chinese economy expanded 7.7 per cent last year, the worst performance since 1999.

Forbes attributed the increase in wealth to growth in select industries, such as the Internet, auto, entertainment and property sectors.

Wang Jianlin, head of property giant Wanda Group and buyer of US cinema chain AMC Entertainment, topped the list with a net worth of $14.1 billion.

His fortune leaped from US$8 billion last year, helped by a rebound in property prices and his investment in AMC.

Forbes had already announced last month that Wang had taken the top spot.

Another ranking by the independent Hurun Report also put him at number one.

Last year’s leader, beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou, slipped to second place in the Forbes list, even though his wealth increased 12 per cent to US$11.2 billion.

Robin Li, founder of China’s homegrown search engine Baidu, dropped to third but his wealth jumped 37 per cent from last year to US$11.1 billion.

In a surprise new entry to the ranking Li Hejun, chairman of clean energy firm Hanergy Holding Group, appeared for the first time in fourth place with a net worth of $10.9 billion.

Yang Huiyan, who inherited a majority stake in property developer Country Garden, was China’s richest woman with a fortune of US$7.2 billion giving her seventh place.

As well as Robin Li, two other Internet billionaires made the top ten.

Ma Huateng, owner of social gaming and networking company Tencent, took fifth place with net worth of $10.2 billion, jumping nearly 60 per cent year-on-year due to a surge in his Hong Kong-listed firm’s share price.

And Jack Ma, founder of China’s leading e-commerce firm Alibaba, ranked eighth as his fortune more than doubled to US$7.1 billion from US$3.4 billion last year.

Copyright © 2012 – 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd . Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.

Chinese state media: Xinhua says ‘new world order should be put in place’ where all nations can have interests respected on equal footing

Chinese state media calls for ‘de-Americanised’ world after US shutdown


Xinhua says ‘new world order should be put in place’ where all nations can have interests respected on equal footing

Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 1:59pm

Agence France-Presse in Beijing



US House Democrats line up to march onto the House floor to address the government shutdown, at the US Capitol in Washington. Photo: Reuters

While US politicians grapple with how to reopen their shuttered government and avoid a potentially disastrous default on their debt, the world should consider ‘de-Americanising’, a commentary on China’s official news agency said on Sunday.

“As US politicians of both political parties (fail to find a) viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world,” the commentary on state news agency Xinhua said.

In a lengthy polemic against American hegemony since the second world war, it added: “Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated.

“A new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing.”

A self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas
Xinhua state news agency

Negotiations over how to end the budgetary impasse have shifted to the US Senate after House Representatives failed to strike a deal with President Obama on extending borrowing authority ahead of an October 17 deadline.

Beijing has in recent days issued warnings as well as appeals for a deal, all the while emphasising the inseparable economic ties that bind the world’s two biggest economies.

“The cyclical stagnation in Washington for a viable bipartisan solution over a federal budget and an approval for raising debt ceiling has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonised,” said the commentary.

China is the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury bonds, worth a total of $1.28 trillion according to US government data.

“Instead of honouring its duties as a responsible leading power, a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas,” but equally stoked “regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies” the commentary said, referring to Iraq.

It added that emerging economies should have a greater say in major international financial institutions the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and proposed a “new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar”.

China has only slightly more weight than Italy at the IMF, which has been headed by a European since its creation in 1944.

A governance reform has been in the works for three years but its implementation has been blocked by the effective veto of the United States.


Taiwan military says China able to invade by 2020

Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 3:44pm

Agence France-Presse in Taipei



The Taiwanese military has said that China will be able to take Taiwan by force before the end of 2020. Photo: Reuters

China’s arms buildup over the last two decades would give it the power to invade Taiwan by 2020 even if allies came to the island’s aid, a military report said on Tuesday.

The mainland’s annual military spending has grown on average by double-digit rates over the past 20 years or so, according to Taiwan’s National Defence Report this year.

Aside from military might, it said, China’s capacity for weapons research and manufacturing had greatly increased, “which has boosted its military deterrent and posed a grave threat to Taiwan”.

Among the new weapons China had acquired, both locally produced and purchased from Russia, were nuclear-powered and conventional submarines, strategic bombers, stealth fighters, early warning aircraft and ballistic and air defence missiles, it said.

“With the continued arms buildup, the Chinese communists will be able to take Taiwan by force before the end of 2020,” it said.

The report also cited China’s growing military capability to deter foreign intervention, in contrast to the US Pacific pivot policy which it said had been “stifled” due to budget constraints.

The United States is Taiwan’s main ally. In 1996 it sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near the island after China lobbed missiles into the sea to try to deter Taiwanese from voting for President Lee Teng-hui.

The report said China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, has a total strength of 2.27 million of which the army accounts for 1.25 million. About one-third of its army is deployed directly opposite Taiwan.

Military analysts say China has targeted the island with at least 1,600 ballistic missiles.

Despite the potential military threat, Taiwan is cutting its own defence spending, with the number of troops due to be reduced to 215,000 next year from the present 240,000.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have eased markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang was elected in March 2008 on a platform of ramping up trade and tourism links. He was re-elected in January last year for a second and last four-year term.

But Beijing still refuses to renounce its use of force should the island declare independence, even though Taiwan has ruled itself for more than 60 years.



Factories ablaze as Bangladesh garment workers protest

23    Sep  2013

Angry Bangladeshi garment workers blocked roads, set factories alight and clashed with police for a third day on Monday as protests demanding a minimum monthly wage of $100 spread outside the capital Dhaka.

Abdul Baten, police chief of the Gazipur industrial district near Dhaka which is home to hundreds of factories, told AFP that “up to 200,000 workers” had joined the latest demonstrations.

His deputy Mustafizur Rahman said about 300 factories, which make clothing for top Western retailers such as Walmart, were shut on Monday to contain the violence as protesting workers attacked plants that stayed open.

“The situation is extremely volatile. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the unruly workers,” he told AFP, adding dozens of workers and several policemen were injured.

Manufacturers said Monday’s protests were some of the worst in the sector since 2010 when months of demonstrations forced the government and factory owners to agree to a minimum monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38).

Bangladeshi textile workers are among the worst paid in the sector worldwide, and often toil for 80 hours a week in factories which are vulnerable to fires and other accidents.

Bangladeshi garment workers shout slogans during a protest on wage increases in Dhaka on September 21, 2013.

Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent but have gained in intensity since April when a factory complex collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

In Savar, where April’s accident occurred, more than a dozen factories were shut down as protesters clashed with police, leaving around 20 people injured, said the deputy chief of Dhaka police Shyamal Mukherjee.

“Workers attacked our factories and set ablaze at least two plants. Hundreds of factories were forced to shut down,” said Reaz-Bin-Mahmood, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association which represents 4,500 factories.

The impoverished South Asian country is the world’s second-largest garment exporter with apparel shipments accounting for 80 percent of its $27 billion annual exports.

In June this year the government set up a panel to review salaries and unions have demanded an 8,114 taka ($100) minimum monthly wage.

Factory owners have rejected the demand, saying they can raise wages by only 20 percent to 3,600 taka due to gloomy global economic conditions.

Widespread protests seeking wage rises in 2006 and 2010 led to deadly clashes, leaving dozens of workers dead and hundreds of factories vandalised.



Twin suicide bombing kills 78 at church service in Pakistan

More than 100 wounded, many critical, in the deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistan

    Monday, 23 September, 2013 [Updated: 2:47AM]

Agence France-Presse in Peshawar, Pakistan

  • 9a707ffb5ee9ef1b4f404ca3cbee5b7.jpg
Relatives try to comfort each other after the bombing attack at a church in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Photo: EPA

A twin suicide bombing killed more than 78 people, including 34 women and seven children, at a church service in northwest Pakistan yesterday in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Christians in the country.

Bodies lie outside the church targeted in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan. Photo: XinhuaThe two attackers struck at the end of a service at All Saints Church in Peshawar, the main town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which has borne the brunt of a bloody Islamist insurgency in recent years.

Dr Arshad Javed of Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital said more than 100 were wounded.

Provincial health minister Shaukat Ali Yousufzai confirmed the death toll.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the “cruel” attack, saying it violated the tenets of Islam.

Sahibzada Anees, one of Peshawar’s most senior officials, said the bombers struck when the service had just ended. “Most of the wounded are in critical condition,” Anees said.

“We are in an area which is a target of terrorism and within that area there was a special security arrangement for the church. We are in a rescue phase and once it is over we will investigate what went wrong.”

Former minister for inter-faith harmony Paul Bhatti and provincial lawmaker Fredrich Azeem Ghauri both said the attack was the deadliest ever targeting Christians in Pakistan.

Schoolteacher Nazir Khan, 50, said the service had just ended and at least 400 worshippers were greeting each other when there was a huge explosion.

“A huge blast threw me on the floor and as soon as I regained my senses, a second blast took place and I saw wounded people everywhere,” Khan said.

Shreds of flesh and bloodstains covered the walls and floor of the church, whose windows were ripped apart by the blast.

Christians protest in Lahore over the suicide bombings. Photo: AFPPages of a Bible were scattered near the altar and rice meals mingled with dust on the floor amid shattered benches. Walls were gouged with ball bearings used in the explosives.

Grieving relatives blocked the main highway with bodies of the victims to protest against the killings. Christians in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and other cities also staged rallies to condemn the killings and demand state protection for their lives and properties.

In Karachi, protesters clashed with police when they tried to clear a road in Isa Nagri, a low-income Christian neighbourhood.

Pakistan’s Ulema Council, an association of leading Muslim scholars, condemned the attack and said killing innocent people breaches the tenets of Islam.

Islamist militants have carried out hundreds of bombings targeting security forces and minority Muslim groups they regard as heretical, but attacks on Christians have previously largely been confined to grenade attacks and occasional riots.

Ghauri said there are 200,000 Christians in the province, of whom 70,000 live in Peshawar.

“Now after this attack, Christians across Pakistan will fear for their lives,” he warned.



Say fromage! Agency denies censorship after withdrawing ‘gormless’ picture of Francois Hollande

Agence France Presse transmitted the unflattering picture to clients on Tuesday, then quickly issued a ‘Mandatory Kill’ order

Rob Williams

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Agence France Presse (AFP), the French press agency, has been forced to deny charges of self-censorship after attempting to withdraw a picture of the French President, Francois Hollande, with a ‘gormless’ grin on his face.

The image, which shows the President gurning while sat beneath a blackboard on which is written “Today, it’s back to school”, was taken on Tuesday as Hollande visited a school in Denain, northern France, to coincide with the start of term.

AFP initially transmitted the unflattering picture, which was taken by a pool photographer, to clients on Tuesday, then quickly issued a “Mandatory Kill” order, sparking allegations of self-censorship when the image emerged on Twitter.

The picture prompted derision from users of the micro-blogging site with one writing that no amount of Photoshop editing software “can make the president look more intelligent”.

AFP also faced a raft of questions from French media hinting that they may have come under pressure from Elysée Palace to withdraw the photo. The picture was also made available via Reuters on a pooled basis.

AFP’s global news director, Philippe Massonnet, was forced to deny suggestions that the agency withdrew the picture because of pressure from the French government.

In a lengthy piece on the AFP ‘Correspondent’ blog Mr Massonnet explains that “AFP has a rule not to transmit images that gratuitously ridicule people,” explaining that their photographers often catch public figures “at international conferences or waiting to give a speech, for instance – in unflattering but entirely human poses, such as with a finger in a nostril.”

Mr Massonnet says that the image was shot by a “pool” photographer because of the lack of space in the classroom. He explains that the photographer has a particular responsibility to avoid “unusual angles” in order to avoid the photograph being miscontrued.

Massonnet explains that this was the reason for the withdrawal of the image and that the decision was based on editorial guidelines.

He goes on, however, to conclude that the attempt to withdraw the picture “breathed new life” into the photograph writing: “In trying to “kill” the photo after it had already been transmitted, we actually drew more attention to it and fueled the suspicion that AFP had bowed to political pressure, thus causing some people to call into question the agency’s credibility.”

The incident, as Massonnet explains,  is an example of the so-called ‘Streisand effect’.

The Streisand effect is when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising it more widely.

The term is based on the American entertainer’s attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu. After losing her lawsuit the almost-unseen photographs subsequently attracted worldwide attention.

Japan Scrambles Jets After Russian Bomber Breaches Airspace

Aug. 22, 2013 – 10:54AM   |

TOKYO — Japan scrambled fighter jets Thursday after a pair of Russian bombers briefly intruded into the country’s airspace, officials said.

The two Tu-95 planes breached airspace near the isle of Okinoshima off Fukuoka in southern Japan for nearly two minutes shortly after midday, a defense ministry spokesman said.

“A total of four F-2 planes from the Air Self-Defence Force scrambled against them,” the official said.

The Japanese foreign ministry said it filed a formal protest with the Russian embassy in Tokyo over the violation and urged it to investigate.

In February, two Russian Su-27 fighters breached Japan’s airspace for just more than a minute off the northern island of Hokkaido, Japanese officials said at that time, in what was reported to be the first such incident in five years.

Tokyo and Moscow never signed a peace treaty after World War II. Despite an important commercial relationship, they remain at loggerheads over the sovereignty of islands north of the Japanese main island of Hokkaido.

Japan is also at odds with China over the sovereignty of an island chain near Taiwan, in a particularly bitter dispute that has seen both sides scramble aircraft.


Snowden tricked NSA – and they don’t know how he did it

 Published time: August 24, 2013 17:48                                                                            

View of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (AFP Photo)View of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (AFP Photo)

While collecting data Edward Snowden was able to evade all safeguards at the NSA, leaving the agency puzzled at how he did it, according to new report. Officials worry that the ease with which he covered his tracks means another breach could happen.

Information logs exist to tell the government who tried to view  or copy classified information without the proper clearance, but  Snowden appears to have bypassed or deleted them, while working  as a system administrator with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in  Hawaii. The revelations come from government officials speaking  to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as they were  prevented from publicly disclosing new information about the  Snowden case.

This is a worrying development for the Obama administration,  which has been at pains to prove to the American public that the  NSA’s computer system cannot be taken advantage of so easily.  Therefore, if Snowden could single-handedly circumvent its cyber  defenses, the question stands as to whom else can gain instant  access to the vast stream of data the clandestine organization  intercepts every day.

NSA Director Keith Alexander could not tell the press in July  what exactly Snowden might have had access to, downloaded or  taken with him, citing an ongoing investigation. This was nearly  two months after the leaks took place.

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander (Reuters / Doug Kapustin)National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander (Reuters / Doug Kapustin)


When Snowden had the job of system administrator, he possessed  enough security privileges to access data remotely, browse it  freely, as well as take it off its home servers and copy it onto  portable drives. According to Alexander, this is how the  information was leaked.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines then told the AP that Alexander   “had a sense of what documents and information had been  taken,” but “he did not say the comprehensive  investigation had been completed.” She did not say if Snowden  was capable of viewing or downloading the documents without the  organization’s knowledge.

A key reason behind Snowden’s success may have been that the data  was not very clearly compartmentalized, meaning that specialists  in one area could easily browse information they would never  plausibly need, provided they had the right security clearance.

It is not even clear whether Snowden had to use any ‘hacking’  skills to collect that data, or if he simply misapplied the  powers legally allocated to him.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole defended the government’s  spying activities in Congress in July, saying that employees who  have access to NSA’s programs are effectively monitored by the  government.

“Everything that is done under [the program] is documented and  reviewed before the decision is made and reviewed again after  these decisions are made to make sure that nobody has done the  things that you’re concerned about happening.”


Reuters / Pawel KopczynskiReuters / Pawel Kopczynski


One of his most crucial leaks was the truth about the US  government’s use of a program that hoarded metadata of  communications between American citizens and intercepted all  incoming and outgoing internet traffic in the country, before  redirecting it straight to the NSA servers.
Officials say that despite leaking information for months without  getting caught, it may be possible that Snowden did not know how  exactly the surveillance programs themselves functioned.

Snowden has since traversed the globe in pursuit of political  asylum, and succeeded with Russia. Washington has been highly  critical of Moscow’s actions and as a gesture of disapproval,  even gone as far as cancel an unrelated meeting between President  Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The NSA is now reportedly “overwhelmed” with trying to  figure out what data and how much of it Snowden managed to steal,  said NBC News on Thursday.

This news, together with the case of Bradley Manning, who between  2009 and 2010 leaked hundreds of thousands of highly classified  documents, has forced the US government to consider the issue of  internal threats to its national security. The 2013 Intelligence  Authorization Act now includes a proposal by Congress to create  an automated computer program for the detection of such insider  threats.



US spent $630,000 to ‘buy’ Facebook fans

Wednesday Jul 03, 2013   |   Agence France Presse

he US State Department has embraced the wide outreach made possible through social media, but requires guidelines

Credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/File
The US State Department was Wednesday under fire for spending $630,000 over two years to win millions of “likes” on its Facebook pages at a time of severe government austerity measures.

A scathing report by the department’s independent watchdog took the coordinators of its social media outreach policy to task saying it needed to “direct its digital advertising to specific public diplomacy goals.”

The report by the Office of the Inspector General found that two advertising campaigns launched in 2011 and 2012 cost some $630,000 with the “goal of building global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans… on four thematic Facebook properties.”

“Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on a post or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” read the report released late last month.

Although each of the four thematic pages run by the Bureau of International Information Programs managed to attract some 2.5 million fans by mid-March, only about 2 percent of those actually actively engaged with the sites by ‘liking’ topics or sharing information posted on it.

“Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred,” the report said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the report had been taken seriously and vowed most its recommendations would be implemented before the start of the 2014 fiscal year in October.

“Online advertising has significantly decreased. It’s now at $2,500 a month,” she said, adding that “still allows us to reach out and communicate with a wide range of individuals living overseas.”

The State Department has embraced the wide outreach made possible through social media, but is still developing guidelines for how such sites as Facebook and Twitter should be used in the world of diplomacy.

Egypt security slaps travel ban on Morsi, top Islamists

03   Jul 2013

Egyptian security forces on Wednesday imposed a travel ban on President Mohamed Morsi and several top Islamist allies over their involvement in a prison escape in 2011, security officials said.

Airport officials confirmed to AFP that they had received orders to prevent the leaders — including Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater — from travelling abroad



Poor English saved Japanese bankers during 2008 crisis: Aso

Politics Jun. 29, 2013 – 03:00PM JST


Japan’s banks emerged from the 2008 global credit crisis largely unscathed because senior employees did not speak English well enough to have got them into trouble, Finance Minister Taro Aso says.

Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, said bankers in Japan had not been able to understand the complex financial instruments that were the undoing of major global players, so had not bought them.

“Many people fell prey to the dubious products, or so-called subprime loans. Japanese banks were not so much attracted to these products, compared with European banks,” Aso told a seminar in Tokyo on Friday.

“There was an American who said Japanese banks are healthy, but that’s not true at all. Managers of Japanese banks hardly understood English, that’s why they didn’t buy,” he said.

Aso’s comments are the latest in a line of pronouncements that have raised eyebrows.

The one-time prime minister said in January the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” instead of costing the government money with expensive end-of-life medical care.

In 2007, he had to apologize for a quip about patients with Alzheimer’s disease and for making light of flood damage in central Japan.

But the deputy prime minister, who is known as a dapper dresser and often seen sporting a jauntily-angled hat, on Friday boasted he had managed to keep his foot out of his mouth since Shinzo Abe came to power as premier in December.

However, the boast was somewhat undermined when he initially got the name of the prime minister wrong.

“I have made no gaffes in the past half year even as newspapers said the Aso administration’s… No, the Abe administration’s biggest problem is Taro Aso’s gaffes,” he said.

© 2013 AFP



N. Korea Says Nukes Are Not A Bargaining Chip For Aid

Mar. 17, 2013 – 12:58PM   |

SEOUL — North Korea said Sunday it would never trade its nuclear weapons program for aid and stressed its “unshakeable” stance to retain the deterrent, following a third atomic test last month.

The North’s foreign ministry, in a statement carried by state TV, rejected suggestions that the impoverished state was using its weapons program as a way of bullying neighbors into offering much-needed aid.

“The U.S. is seriously mistaken if it thinks that the (North) had access to nukes as a bargaining chip to barter them for what it called economic reward,” it said.

The comments came days after the U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said Washington was willing to hold “authentic negotiations” with the North if it changed its behavior.

“To get the assistance it desperately needs and the respect it claims it wants, North Korea will have to change course,” he said last week.

But the North on Sunday called its atomic weaponry a “treasured sword” to protect itself from what it called a hostile U.S. policy.

The U.S. “temptation” may work on other countries “but it sounds nonsensical” to the North, the foreign ministry statement said.

“The (North) would like to re-clarify its unshakeable principled stand on its nuclear deterrence for self-defense.”

Last month’s test, its most powerful to date, prompted the United Nations to further tighten sanctions imposed following previous nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches in 2006 and 2009.

The tougher sanctions, and an ongoing South Korean-U.S. military exercise, sparked an angry response from Pyongyang, which said it was tearing up the armistice that ended the Korean War and ending non-aggression pacts with Seoul.

The country has suffered chronic food and fuel shortages for decades, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts, mismanagement and global sanctions.

International food aid, especially from South Korea and the U.S., has been drastically cut over the past several years amid tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

A six-nation aid-for-denuclearization forum on the North, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia, have been at a standstill since the last meeting in December 2008.

Almost 28 percent of the North’s children under age 5 are stunted from malnutrition, a 2012 U.N. national nutrition survey showed.


N. Korean defense ministry confirms end of armistice

North Korea’s armed forces ministry confirmed Wednesday that it has canceled a 60-year-old armistice ending the Korean War. “The armistice agreement is no longer valid and [North Korea] is not restrained by the North-South declaration on non-aggression,” AFP quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying. A statement quoted by KCNA news agency argued that the US and its “puppets” in Seoul were responsible for the real “warmongering,” and that “what is left to be done now is an action of justice and merciless retaliation of the army and people” of North Korea.

N. Korea threatens ‘pre-emptive’ nuclear strike against US

 Published time: March 07, 2013 09:32
Edited time: March 07, 2013 10:19                                                                            
AFP Photo / Pedro Ugarte

AFP Photo / Pedro Ugarte

A spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry says his country may deliver a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its enemies in case an attack on Pyongyang is launched.

“Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to a preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest,” said the statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The reclusive state has ramped up its military rhetoric after conducting its third nuclear test last month, threatening to use every means, including the nuclear arsenal, against any aggression.

Lately Pyongyang accused Washington and Seoul of preparing an attack on North Korea under the guise of a joint military exercise.

As the annual two-month drill goes on, North Korea has imposed no-fly and no-sail zones off both its coasts, a move indicating that it plans to hold its own war games, South Korea’s governmental sources said.

Military experts say North Korea is years away from developing a long-range missile and a nuclear warhead to attack mainland US.

The war of words continues as the UN Security Council mulls over a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang, which are meant to be a response to the February nuclear test.

All permanent members of the UNSC condemned the test, including North Korea’s reluctant ally China, which indicates the sanction-imposing resolution is likely to be adopted.

The new measures are expected to include mandatory inspections of cargoes going in or out of North Korea, additional restraints on luxury trade and freeze of assets of two organizations related to the nuclear test.




Chinese village on lockdown following clashes, reform demands (PHOTOS/VIDEO)

EEV: Leaked video added via AFP – Will Have to Follow AFP link

Published time: March 03, 2013 17:49

EEV: Leaked video added via AFP – Will Have to Follow AFP link

In this photo taken on March 2, 2013 residents stand next to smashed and overturned cars after civil unrest in the village of Shangpu in China's southern Guangdong province. (AFP Photo/Peter Parks)

In this photo taken on March 2, 2013 residents stand next to smashed and overturned cars after civil unrest in the village of Shangpu in China’s southern Guangdong province. (AFP Photo/Peter Parks)

Residents in southern China are locked in a standoff with authorities following violent clashes with unidentified attackers allegedly hired by corrupt officials to enforce a questionable land deal.

Police have blockaded the settlement of Shangpu in Guangdong province following the unrest, which was started just over a week ago, the South China Morning Post reported. Residents of the village refused to allow officials in, just days before the annual meeting of the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

Around 30 battered cars, many of them overturned, littered the main streets of the village. Close to the entrance of the settlement, where around 40 police and officials stood watch, a cloth banner read: “Strongly request legal, democratic elections.”

Residents have claimed that the clashes were sparked when assailants, many reportedly wearing orange hard hats and red armbands, drove into the village the previous Friday and assaulted the residents with shovels and other weapons.

Some of the attackers reportedly carried knives and guns, while a video showed one man who was later identified as a plainclothes police officer firing a handgun into the air in an attempt to quell the violence.

Residents fought back with bamboo poles and bricks taken from a nearby construction site, witnesses and footage provided to AFP revealed. The villagers eventually drove the attackers off and continued to riot, voicing anger over the incident. At least eight residents were injured in the melee.

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

Locals claim the thugs were hired by a Communist Party chief and a business tycoon to stifle dissent over a contentious deal to transform rice fields into an industrial zone. They have demanded the right to vote for their local representative, and a say in whether or not to appropriate the land for development.
“This should be decided by a vote by villagers,” one of the protest leaders told the daily, adding, “The village chief should represent our interests, but he doesn’t.”
Residents fear that security forces will swiftly reassert control following the end of the NPC, which kicks off on Tuesday.
“For the purpose of maintaining stability, [the authorities] don’t want to use forceful measures before the meetings,” another villager told the paper. “We are afraid of them coming back.”

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

The tense standoff was reminiscent of similarly violent clashes in the fishing village of Wukan – around 60 miles from Shangup – about 15 months ago. In late 2011, demonstrations in Wukan quickly escalated to violence after a protest leader organizing locals against an alleged land grab died in police custody.

After residents barricaded roads in a tense 10-day standoff with security forces, authorities eventually backed down, allowing elections for the first time in the village’s history.

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

China sends three Warships to disputed Islands

Wednesday, 30 January 2013
 Three Chinese government ships were sailing in  waters around islands disputed with Japan today, a day after the  Japanese premier suggested a summit could help mend frayed ties.

Japan’s coastguard said the maritime surveillance  boats were sailing in waters around a chain of Tokyo-controlled islands  known as the Senkakus in Japan for about an hour and a half, AFP  reported.

They all left the waters by 1:32 pm, coastguard officials said.

China, which calls the islands the Diaoyus, has  repeatedly sent ships to the area since Japan nationalised some of the  chain in September. The move triggered a diplomatic dispute and huge  anti-Japan demonstrations across China.

Beijing has also sent air patrols to the archipelago  in the East China Sea and recently both Beijing and Tokyo have scrambled fighter jets, though there have been no clashes.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested a  summit with China would improve a relationship that has been badly  troubled for months.

“A high-level meeting should be held because there is a problem. If necessary, there might be a need to build the…  relationship again, starting with a summit meeting,” he told a  television show.




Iran sends monkey into space: report

AFP Monday, Jan 28, 2013

TEHRAN – Iran on Monday sent a capsule containing a live monkey into space and later retrieved the “shipment” intact, the Tehran-based Arab-language Al-Alam channel said, quoting an official statement.

Previous attempts by the Islamic republic to put a monkey into space have failed.

“Iran sucessufully launched a capsule, codenamed Pishgam (Pioneer), containing a monkey and recovered the shipment on the ground intact,” said the statement by the defence ministry’s aerospace department. It did not mention the condition of the monkey.



Indian Kashmir advises people to prepare for nuclear war


By Parvaiz Buhkari | AFP – 12 hours ago

Police in Indian Kashmir have warned residents to build underground bunkers to prepare for a possible nuclear war in the disputed region, which is on edge after a string of deadly border clashes.

The warning comes despite a ceasefire which took hold last week in the scenic Himalayan region, after the Indian and Pakistani armies agreed to halt cross-border firing that had threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.

“If the blast wave does not arrive within five seconds of the flash you were far enough from the ground zero,” says the notice, headed “Protection against Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Weapons”.

It warns of “initial disorientation” from a nuclear attack, saying the blast may “carry away many prominent and familiar features”.

The instructions were issued Monday in a local English-language Greater Kashmir newspaper by the State Disaster Response Force, which is part of the police.

They vividly describe a nuclear war scenario to prepare residents to deal with “the initial shock wave”.

The notice tells them to “wait for the winds to die down and debris to stop falling”.

“Blast wind will generally end in one or two minutes after burst and burns, cuts and bruises are no different than conventional injuries. (The) dazzle is temporary and vision should return in few seconds,” it says.

It tells residents to build toilet-equipped basement shelters “where the whole family can stay for a fortnight”, and says that they should be stocked with non-perishable food.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought three wars since partition in 1947, two of them over the Kashmir region that both nations claim.

Police confirmed they issued the notice but said it “should not be connected with anything else”, in an apparent reference to border tension.

The notice is part of regular year-round civil defence preparedness, Mubarak Ganai, deputy inspector general of civil defence in Kashmir police, told AFP.

An Indian counter-terrorism expert criticised the warning as valueless for Kashmiris, who could be forgiven for imagining war was an imminent prospect.

“There can be no conceivable motive for issuing a notice like this,” Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, told AFP.

“Such information collected from here and there is not worth the paper it is printed on,” he said, adding that “there can be no preparedness for such an eventuality”.

There has been calm along the de facto border in Kashmir since commanders of the two sides agreed last Thursday to halt the cross-border firing.

Pakistan says three of its soldiers died in the firing while India says it lost two of its soldiers — marking the worst violence along the frontier dividing the region since the two nations nearly went to war in 2003

Russia Developing New Long-Range Ballistic Missile: “able to overcome any existing missile defense system”

Dec. 14, 2012 – 08:21AM   |
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE   |   1  Comments

MOSCOW — Russia is developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the military announced Dec. 14, in an apparent attempt to remind the United States of Moscow’s rocket capacities.

Revealing the existence of the project for the first time, rocket forces commander Gen. Sergei Karakayev said several test launches of prototypes had already taken place and the work was on the “right path,” Russian state media said.

Karakayev said the latest test was on Oct. 24 at the Kapustin Yar firing range in the Astrakhan region of southern Russia.

He said a prototype accurately hit a mock target at the Sary-Shagan firing rage in neighboring Kazakhstan.

“The goals set in the test-launch were achieved,” he said.

He appeared to link the solid-fuel missile’s development to controversial U.S. plans to install missile defense systems in central Europe, which have long angered Moscow.

“The solid fuel missile will allow us to realize possibilities like the creation of a high-precision strategic missile with a non-nuclear warhead with practically global range,” Karakayev was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency.

He said that the new 100-ton missile would be able to overcome any existing missile defense system.

NATO has already activated the first stage of the defense shield whose deployment Russia has bitterly opposed out of fears that it may target its own vast nuclear arsenal.

They tell us that this is done against the missile threat emanating from Iran. However, only Russia has such missiles, Karakayev said, quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency.

In this connection we believe that the missile defense in Europe is aimed against Russia (as) there are simply no other states in Europe that have (missiles) against which the deployed missile defense systems could be potentially used, he said.

Russia has already warned it will have to deploy new rockets on the borders of NATO’s European partners such as Poland should its concerns not be addressed.

Karakayev added that the new missile would also be effective in combating any future missile defense system that the United States could install in space.

He said the missile would ultimately replace Russia’s new generation of intercontinental missiles, the Yars and Topol-M.

Analysts believe that Russia fears that since much of its know-how is built on technology developed in the Soviet era, it may become obsolete by the time NATO’s shield becomes fully operational in 2018.

Russia periodically test-fires long-range missiles, usually from the far northwest of the country toward the Kamchatka region on the Pacific, some 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) to the east.

Report: Syrian Rebels Have New Anti-Aircraft Missiles

Nov. 29, 2012 – 10:35AM   |

WASHINGTON — Syrian rebels have recently obtained up to 40 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, the Washington Post reported Nov. 29, citing Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials.

Some of the missiles were supplied in the past weeks by Qatar, the newspaper reported, citing two unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials with knowledge of the matter.

“It should be worrying to everyone,” one of the officials said. “When (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad is finished, terrorists could end up with these, and commercial flights would be at risk.”

The U.S. government has opposed arming Syrian rebels with such weapons, fearing that they could eventually land in the hands of terrorists. U.S. intelligence officials declined to comment on the report.

The report comes after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Nov. 27 that the Syrian rebels downed an army helicopter with a ground-to-air missile.

“It is the first time that the rebels have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The Britain-based Observatory said the missile was part of a consignment newly received by the rebels that had the potential to change the balance of forces in the 20-month conflict.

More than 40,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011, according to the Observatory.

Kuwait detains Twitter users for insulting emir

By Agence France-Presse Sunday, November 18, 2012 20:44 EST

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, image via AFP

Kuwait’s public prosecution on Sunday ordered the detention of four Twitter users for 10 days for allegedly insulting the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state, a rights group said.

The four were arrested on Wednesday and remanded in police custody pending further investigation before the prosecution issued its detention order, Kuwait Human Rights News Centre said on its Twitter account.

Three other Twitter users, including a woman, who were arrested with them were each freed on bail of $3,550.

The seven, described as opposition sympathisers, were interrogated on allegations of tweets deemed offensive and critical of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

The clampdown on users of the social network was strongly criticised by opposition figures, with Hamad al-Matar, a member of the scrapped 2012 parliament, saying Kuwait was becoming a “police state”.

Last week, the emirate’s secret service police detained for two days two members of the Al-Sabah ruling family on accusations of writing tweets deemed offensive to the emir.

Several former opposition MPs and activists are facing trial over similar charges. Public criticism of the ruler is illegal under the Kuwaiti constitution.

Kuwait has plunged into a deep political crisis after the government amended the electoral law ahead of the December 1 general election which the opposition has decided to boycott.

The Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition has been staging street protests in which about 150 protesters and 24 police were slightly wounded. It plans more protests and is urging voters to shun the ballot.



Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel strikes gold in the coal business

By Agence France-Presse Saturday, November 17, 2012 23:03 EST

A Mexican soldier guards the entrance to the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006 in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila state, Mexico

They may be known for flashy cars and state of the art weaponry, but Mexican druglords have found an earthy new source of wealth: dirty old coal.

They are mining it themselves in a coal-rich area along the US border or buying it from small mine operators, then reselling it to a state-owned company at fabulous margins that can see them make a profit 30 times greater than their initial investment.

Along the way, besides the earth’s black bounty, the druglords are seeking to reap credibility as legitimate business people.

First word of the Zetas drug cartel’s presence in mining-heavy Coahuila state came in October from a former governor, Humberto Moreira, who blamed the notoriously violent group for his son’s death.

The Mexican Mining Association says Mexico produces 15 million tonnes of coal a year, worth $3.8 billion. About 95 percent of it comes from Coahuila.

Reforma newspaper says the Zetas produce or buy 10,000 tonnes of coal a week. Selling it at their inflated prices, that means yearly revenue of $22 million to $25 million.

The Zetas were created for former Mexican military special forces operatives who worked for the Gulf cartel. But they broke away from that group to control lucrative drug trafficking routes to the United States and engage in other crimes such as extortion, people trafficking and fuel theft.

“The Zetas are the first Mexican cartel to diversify from drugs into other areas,” said Tomas Borges, author of a book on the cartels.

Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano was shot and killed by authorities October 7 in the coal mining town of Progreso. Hi body was later stolen by armed men.

Moreira says the drug lord had his own coal pit in the region.

But the Zetas presence is not new. Raul Vera, bishop of Coahuila’s capital Saltillo, said drug traffickers have been digging coal for years and doing it in areas where it is illegal.

“It is an open secret that drug traffickers are infiltrating the coal mines. But since Moreira spoke out, we have seen police and military around and we know they arrested several people,” a coal industry businessman in Agujita said on condition of anonymity.

Highway 57 heading north to the United States runs through a dusty black area where piles of coal from small, precariously operated mines dot the landscape. Fatal accidents are common.

Trucks loaded with coal are stopped at checkpoints manned by soldiers looking for drug traffickers and drug shipments.

Since the Zetas discovered coal, violence has been on the rise, especially in a town of 150,000 called Piedras Negras, or black stones.

For drug cartels, diversification is almost a natural evolution, said Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In Colombia, for instance, traffickers infiltrated gold and coal mines and also dealt in oil.

“Corruption is their main tool for doing business, and also violence, if necessary,” Mazzitelli said.

Legitimate businesses help cartels launder money and bring in extra revenue, added Eduardo Salcedo, a Colombian who co-authored of a book on how drug cartels have reshaped Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Such business activities allow them not just to bring in more money “but above all gain social and political legitimacy,” Salcedo said.

Traffickers want to be able to “legalize their leaders and activities and join the formal economy, and be able to operate in society in a more relaxed way,” he explained.

But that quiet end does not always involve peaceful means.

Traffickers sometimes kidnap, mug or even kill miners and their bosses, or force them into business-sharing agreements, said Salcedo.

In Coahuila, some companies without mines or employees have contracts with local coal industry promoter Prodemi, according to a researcher from a local organization founded by relatives of miners who died in a 2006 accident that claimed 65 lives.

“There are mines that have a capacity for 30,000 tonnes but have contracts for 150,000. What they are selling is not what they are producing,” added the researcher, who requested anonymity.

“They are buying it from a third party and that is where all these people come in, be they Zetas or not, legal or not, clandestine or not.”



Thousands of police march in Spain austerity protest

MADRID (AFP)About 5,000 police officers marched through the centre of Madrid on Saturday to protest salary cuts and the thinning of their ranks as Spain grapples with its sovereign debt crisis.The officers, who had travelled from across Spain. rallied three days after the nation was gripped by a general strike over the austerity cuts. Health and education workers have already taken part in similar marches.

“Citizens! Forgive us for not arresting those truly responsible for this crisis: bankers and politicians,” read one banner held aloft by a line of officers as they marched to the interior ministry.

The rally had been called by the main policing union SUP.

“Each year, between 1,500 and 2,000 police officers retire and 125 are recruited, which means in three or four years, there will be more insecurity and crime in Spain,” warned  SUP general secretary Jose Maria Sanchez Fornet in a speech outside the ministry.

Anxos Lores Tome, a 36-year-old police officer from Galicia in northern Spain, said her days off had been whittled and with cuts of about 300 euros a month, she is today earning 1,450 euros ($1,845) a month — less than the 1,500 euros she got when she joined up a decade ago.

Juan Manuel Aguado Torres, an officer from Grenada in the south, blamed Spain’s leaders for the ongoing woes.

“If the country is functioning badly, it’s only because of the politicians,” the 60-year-old said.

For 33-year-old Antonio Perez, “the problem is they take from us to give to others, like the autonomous regions and the banks.”

Spain’s eurozone partners in June agreed to extend to Madrid an emergency rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros to help its stricken banks.

The Spanish government has imposed austerity cuts aimed at saving 150 billion euros between 2012 and 2014, prompting an angry backlash that saw hundreds of thousands of people protest in Wednesday’s general strike.

“We are worried about the situation in the country in general,” Anxos Lores added.

“The politicians aren’t creating work and with the cuts they can’t create consumer demand, just the opposite.”


Google’s China service disrupted without explanation

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 9, 2012 16:14 EST

Google on Friday reported unexplained disruptions to its service in China. Image via AFP

Google on Friday reported unexplained disruptions to its service in China.

“We’ve checked and there is nothing wrong on our end,” a Google spokeswoman told AFP.

An online tool that tracks outages or disruptions to the California-based Internet giant’s services showed online traffic in China plummet mid-day.


The disruption followed reports that Chinese Internet users have evaded censors to take potshots at President Hu Jintao’s assessment of his performance in a farewell speech.

Hu launched a week-long Communist Party congress in Beijing on Thursday with a speech that touted his political leadership, but also warned in stark terms of worsening problems such as corruption that threaten the party’s legitimacy.

Users of the country’s hugely popular microblogging sites — the only major forum for relatively open expression in the tightly controlled country — reacted with cynicism.



Canada lawmakers ban masks at protests

By Agence France-Presse Wednesday, October 31, 2012 21:23 EDT

Guy Fawkes mask via AFP

OTTAWA — Parliament passed a ban on wearing masks at riots that punishes violations with up to 10 years behind bars in a bid to crack down on radical groups.

The measure, adopted 153 to 126 on the Halloween holiday that sees revelers walk the streets in masks and costumed, aims to target the “growing threat” of vandalism and violence, said Parliamentarian Blake Richards, who sponsored the bill.

Lawmakers are especially targeting the Black Bloc anarchist group, whose members dress in black, their faces hidden by glasses, scarves and hoods.

They have sometimes showed violence during massive student protests against plans to raise university tuition costs in Quebec.

The bill sets 10 years in prison for people who wear a mask during a riot without legitimate excuses, and five years if it is an illegal protest.

Opposition members said the law was not necessary because the criminal code already sets punitive measures.

“The police already have all the tools that they need: we saw that in Quebec,” said New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae stressed the bill had broad implications.

“Are we going to ban people from appearing in a protest because they are wearing a burka?” he asked. “Are we going to say that on a cold day that people can’t wear a mask?”

France makes billion euro tax claim against Google: report

PARIS (AFP)French tax authorities have made a billion-euro ($1.3 billion) claim against Google to pressure it in a dispute over compensation to media websites, a French newspaper reported, a claim denied by the US Internet giant’s local arm.

The weekly Canard Enchaine said in its edition to hit news-stands on Wednesday that the tax claim concerns the transfer prices set between Google’s Irish holding company and the French unit for four tax years, without disclosing its sources.

French tax authorities told AFP they do not comment on specific cases due to taxpayer privacy. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Google France spokesman told AFP that the company had received no such notification.

“We continue to cooperate with the French authorities as we have done till now,” the spokesman said in an email, stressing that “Google conforms with the fiscal laws of all the countries in which we operate, and with European rules.”

The weekly said the tax claim was brought up during Monday’s meeting between President Francois Hollande and Google chief Eric Schmidt, and that it was a bargaining chip in the dispute with French media.

Hollande said the French government would adopt a law if necessary to settle a dispute with French media websites, which want the search engine to hand over a percentage of the advertising revenue it earns from directing users to their content.

“If the negotiations between Google and the media publishers don’t result in a deal by the end of the year, Google already knows what awaits it from a tax point of view: one billion,” said the weekly.

“Otherwise, there will no doubt be room to negotiate.”

In March, a source told AFP that French authorities had made a tax claim against Google.

The weekly L’Express reported the tax authorities were looking into whether Google had correctly paid company and sales tax between 2008 and 2010.

Google uses a number of measures to reduce the amount of tax it pays in France by funnelling most revenue through a Bermuda-registered holding and then reporting it in Ireland.

According to estimates Google generated between 1.25 billion and 1.4 billion euros in revenue in France last year, primarily due to Internet advertising. It paid only a little more than 5 million euros in tax, primarily due to the corporate tax.


Anti-austerity protesters urge Spain government to resign in Madrid rally

By Agence France-Presse Saturday, October 27, 2012 18:08 EDT

Spain protest 072112 via afp

Thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators marched in the Spanish capital Saturday calling for the conservative government to resign because of its severe budget cuts.

“They don’t represent us”, “More education fewer police”, demonstrators shouted as dozens of police vehicles followed the march to near the parliament building which was cordoned off.

A large banner read “No to the debt budget”.

Demonstrators held a minute’s silence, sitting down and holding their arms up in the air before they shouted “resign” with their fists clenched.

“I came to demonstrate because they’re taking everything away, our health, our education, our houses,” said 50-year-old demonstrator Sabine Alberdi, referring to the budget cuts that hit large swathes of the population and the expulsion of endebted homeowners in a country where one in four people are without a job.

Spain’s so-called Indignant movement has protested for a month near the parliament building against the 2013 budget cuts of 39 billion euros which are currently being debated by lawmakers.

Overall, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government plans spending cuts of 150 billion euros between 2012 and 2014 to balance the country’s public finances.

“This budget means more cuts for employees, to pay the sovereign debt they work against people’s interests,” fumed 50-year-old Jose Ruiz Fernandez from the southern city of Almeria.

“We will continue to demonstrate to defend our rights, against the budget cuts,” said Rosa Romero, 21, who had travelled hundreds of kilometres (miles) from southern Granada to join the protest.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of police officers in plain clothes from across Spain demonstrated against the cuts of pay and benefits outside the interior ministry. A banner read: “The police can’t take it any more”.

“We came to express our anger at the way the government treats us, not only because they have removed Christmas bonuses, but also because they are eliminating our rights,” said Fran Estacio, a 33-year-old officer from Valencia, in eastern Spain.

Starting January 1, he said, they will lose three of the six days of supplementary holidays that police officers are allowed every year, in addition to their regular vacation.

They will also see cuts to their salary during sick leave.

EU’s top health official investigated in a tobacco-linked fraud probe

By Agence France-Presse Monday, October 22, 2012 15:07 EDT

outgoing health and consumer commissioner, John Dalli, pictured in January 2012 (AFP)

A shady Maltese lobbyist, Sweden’s substitute for snuff, robberies against anti-smoking groups: the resignation of the EU’s top health official in a tobacco-linked “whodunnit” is shaking up Brussels.

The EU’s executive pledged Monday that a fraud probe involving the outgoing health and consumer commissioner, John Dalli — who handed in his resignation last week — would not slow, or kill, key tobacco legislation drafted by his services in the interests of public health.

“The review of the Tobacco Products Directive is on the commission’s agenda for this year,” said European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly. “As soon as we have a new commissioner he will be able to proceed.”

Anti-tobacco groups see Dalli’s almost unprecedented resignation from the commission as the latest hitch in months of efforts to review the European Union’s decade-old legislation on tobacco.

“The long wait for Commission proposals on tobacco products is becoming a never-ending story,” said Matthias Groote of the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP).

“This important legislation has been delayed time and time again.”

The SFP is one of two anti-smoking groups whose Brussels offices were broken into by intruders last week. It said police were investigating the incident.

“There was relevant and sensitive information stolen concerning the tobacco directive and industry,” said Javier Delgado Riviera of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the other target.

February proposals by ex-commissioner Dalli aimed to make cigarette packaging less attractive while tightening regulations on flavourings in cigarettes — said to appeal to teenage girls — as well as on smoke-free products, such as snuff and electronic cigarettes.

Dalli, who is from Malta, quit Tuesday after the EU fraud office OLAF said a Maltese entrepreneur used his contacts with the commissioner to seek a bribe from a Swedish firm in return for changes to the tobacco legislation, “in particular on the EU export ban on snus”.

Snus, or Swedish snuff, is a moist powder tobacco originating from dry snuff. Though its sale is illegal across the EU, it is manufactured and used in Sweden, which has an exemption, and Norway, which is not an EU member.

The European Union executive has temporarily replaced Dalli, and on Monday the president of the 27-person commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, cleared Malta’s proposal to replace him with Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, the first step in a possible nomination.

Meanwhile, Dalli claimed to have been framed by the tobacco industry and sacrificed by Barroso without being offered the benefit of the doubt.

“I did not offer my resignation but you demanded for it,” he wrote in a letter released by the New Europe website.

“I did not get 24 hours to contact a lawyer or family but only 30 minutes,” he said. “My right to presumption of innocence was breached.”

The commission spokesman insisted however that Dalli was “presumed innocent until proved guilty” and said: “If there is a legal follow-up, that is up to the Maltese.”

Swedish Match, the company that tipped off Brussels over allegations of corruption, said Friday it was offered the opportunity to pay 60 million euros ($78 million) to thwart the new EU tobacco legislation.

“I can say that those are the amounts we are talking about, and I’d also like to stress that for us the amount of money does not matter,” company spokesman Patrik Hildingsson told AFP last week.

He said the payment to a Maltese businessman with links to Dalli would have been made in two installments, with 10 million euros due before new legislation was enacted and the remaining 50 million euros to be paid when the new rules were in place.

Corruption watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory said the case should serve as a wake-up call to the commission to tighten up rules on lobbying.

“The European Commission is the focus of intense lobbying, and many business lobbyists benefit from easy access and close contact,” it said. “This opens the door to the potential for corruption.”

Italy scientists sentenced to six years jail in quake trial

L’AQUILA, Italy (AFP) 

Six Italian scientists and a government official were found guilty on Monday in a watershed trial of multiple manslaughter for underestimating the risks of a killer earthquake in the town of L’Aquila in 2009.

Judge Marco Billi sentenced all seven members of Italy’s Major Risks Committee to six years in prison for failing to warn the population of the risks just days before L’Aquila and surrounding towns were hit by a quake which killed 309 people — and ordered them all to pay court costs and damages.



Geologists: Groundwater extraction caused earthquake in Spain

By Agence France-Presse Sunday, October 21, 2012 21:05 EDT

A damaged building is pictured in Lorca, southeastern Spain, after a 5.2 magnitude earthquake in 2011. (AFP)

Massive extraction of groundwater helped unleash an earthquake in southeastern Spain last year that killed nine people, injured at least 100 and left thousands homeless, geologists said on Sunday.

The finding adds a powerful piece of evidence to theories that some earthquakes are human-induced, they said.

Seismologists were surprised by the May 11, 2011 earthquake which happened two kilometres (1.2 miles) northeast of the city of Lorca.

The quake struck in the Eastern Betics Shear Zone, one of Spain’s most seismically active regions, where there has been a large number of moderate-to-large temblors over the last 500 years.

But the May event was unusual because it was so devastating and yet so mild — only 5.1 magnitude — in terms of energy release.

Researchers led by Pablo Gonzalez of the University of Western Ontario in Canada probed the mystery.

Reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience, they found that the quake occurred at a very shallow depth, of just three kilometres (1.8 miles), so the shockwave swiftly reached the surface with little to dampen it on the way.

The quake also happened on a complex but dormant fault that ripped open after water had been extensively pumped out of a neighbouring aquifer, causing a domino effect of subterranean stresses, they said.

Gonzalez’ team first used ground-radar imaging by the European satellite Envisat to build a map of how terrain around Lorca changed before and after the quake.

The picture confirmed that the event had occurred on the so-called Alhama de Murcia fault, which slipped between five and 15 centimetres (two and six inches).

They then investigated the Alto Guadalentin Basin, an aquifer lying just five kms (three miles) south of the fault, where they found widespread evidence of subterranean subsidence from water extraction.

Between 1960 and 2010, the level of groundwater from this aquifer fell by at least 250 metres (812 feet), according to records from local wells.

A computer model put together by the team suggests what happens: lowering of the water table caused part of the crust, located next to the Alhama de Murcia fault, to break.

This led to an “elastic rebound” of the crust that in turn cranked up horizontal pressure on the fault, bringing it that much closer to rupture.

The investigation adds to anecdotal evidence that human activities, ranging from exploration for shale gas, quarrying and even water reservoirs, can cause quakes.

“Our results imply that anthopogenic [man-made] activites could influence how and when earthquakes occur,” said the study.

In a commentary, Jean-Philippe Avouac, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said water extraction at Lorca probably accelerated a natural process of stress accumulation rather than unleashed the earthquake by itself.

Even so, “the consequences are far-reaching,” said Avouac.

He pointed to carbon storage, a still-experimental technique in which carbon dioxide from a fossil-fuel power station is pumped into underground caverns rather than released to the atmosphere, where it would add to global warming.

“For now, we should remain cautious of human-induced stress perturbations, in particular those related to carbon dioxide sequestration projects that might affect very large volumes of crust,” said Avouac.

“We know how to start earthquakes, but we are still far from being able to keep them under control.”



Dead Kadhafi son linked to French Riviera prostitution ring

21 Oct 2012

A hearing opens in a French court Monday in a case involving a high-end prostitution ring that was active during the Cannes Film Festival and possibly had ties to a son of slain Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Seven men and a woman will go on trial in the southern French port city of Marseille, though the chief figures in the case — a group of Lebanese businessmen — are on the run.

An investigation launched in 2007 by an anti-trafficking agency found ties between one of the businessmen and one of Kadhafi’s sons, Mutassim, who was killed with his father on October 20 last year. Investigators never questioned the son.

“Those really responsible are absent or have fled,” said Franck De Vita, the lawyer for an alleged escort girl charged in the case.

“You might wonder, at the very least, why Mr Kadhafi was not interrogated when you know about his links with Elie Nahas”, the lawyer added, referring to a Lebanese who claimed to run a modelling agency employing young women recruited in South America, France and eastern Europe.

According to Patrick Rizzo, lawyer for an anti-procuring charity that is a civil party to the trial, it was “the political context” in 2007 and 2008 that hampered the legal investigation.

“Colonel Kadhafi was received at the Elysee (French presidential palace) at the time, he was France’s good friend,” Rizzo said.

“All this context did not favour international investigations.”

The inquiry established that young women of various nationalities including models, beauty queens and escort girls, were recruited, especially during the Cannes film festival for clients from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ready to pay thousands of dollars for their services.



Facebook blocks Swiss newspaper for publishing nude photo

By Agence France-Presse Friday, October 19, 2012 15:16 EDT


The Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve said Friday it had its Facebook account blocked by the social networking giant after publishing an explicit image of a woman’s genitals.

In a bid to illustrate an article on cosmetic surgery, the newspaper ran an image taken from Gustave Courbet’s 1886 oil painting “The Origin Of The World”, which shows a reclining nude.

The newspaper, which described the article as “very serious”, said that the image was deleted by Facebook only hours after it was published, and that the Californian firm had carried out online checks of the daily’s IT administrators.


China to conduct naval exercises in East China Sea

National Oct. 19, 2012 – 07:00AM JST( 10 )


China will conduct naval exercises on Friday to practise defending territorial sovereignty in the East China Sea, state media said, amid strained ties between Tokyo and Beijing over a disputed island chain.

Both sides have adamantly pressed their claims to the Tokyo-controlled islands—known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan—and the row has caused diplomatic and economic fallout between the historic rivals.

“The exercise is aimed at… sharpening their response to emergencies in missions to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” the official Xinhua news agency on Thursday quoted a navy statement as saying.

China has sent maritime surveillance ships and fisheries patrol vessels near the islands in recent weeks as the row has escalated, and on Wednesday a Chinese naval flotilla passed near separate islands that are internationally recognized as Japanese.

As well as naval vessels, Friday’s exercise will include vessels from the marine surveillance agency and fishery administration, both of which the statement said “have been stalked, harassed and even intentionally interfered with by foreign vessels”.

The three bodies have staged joint exercises before, it said.

The dispute flared in August after nationalists from both countries landed on the islands and Tokyo later nationalized some of them.

Chinese citizens staged massive demonstrations in many cities, forcing Japanese firms to suspend or reduce operations, and official events, passenger flights and other events involving the two sides have been cancelled.

Trade between the two countries topped $300 billion last year.

Reports this week said Japan and the United States were considering holding a joint military drill to simulate retaking a remote island from foreign forces.

The exercise, part of broader joint maneuvers to start in early November, would use an uninhabited island in Okinawa, Jiji Press and Kyodo News agencies quoted unidentified sources as saying.

© 2012 AFP

Google threatens to drop links to French media

By Agence France-Presse Thursday, October 18, 2012 17:12 EDT

Google via AFP

PARIS — Internet giant Google has warned it would exclude French media sites from its search results if France adopts a law forcing search engines to pay for content, in the latest confrontation with European governments.

A letter sent by Google to several French ministerial offices this month said it “cannot accept” such a move and the company “as a consequence would be required to no longer reference French sites,” according to a copy obtained by AFP.

France’s new Socialist government, which is open to helping struggling media companies, warned Google that it should not threaten democratic governments.

Google said a law which would require it to make payments to media sites for displaying links to their content, would “threaten (Google’s) very existence”.

It also noted that Google “redirects four billion ‘clicks’ per month towards the Internet pages” of French media.

Media have had difficulty benefiting from the Google traffic, however, as online readers resist paying for access when so much content is free on the Internet.

Newspapers around the world have seen their bottom lines come under pressure as their print advertising revenues slide as more people read news online.

Google takes in tens of billions of dollars annually as companies seek to advertise their wares as Internet users search for content.

Leading French newspaper publishers last month called on the government to adopt a law imposing a settlement in the long-running dispute with Google, forcing it and other search engines to share some of the advertising revenue from user searches for news contained on media websites.

Their demand follows the German government approving in August draft legislation that would force search engines to pay commissions to German media websites.

Google France has said that it believes such laws “would be harmful to the Internet, Internet users and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic” sent to them by Google’s search engine.

The French government has been receptive to the plea of newspaper publishers.

French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti told a parliamentary commission this week that she was in favour of the idea, calling it “a tool that it seems important to me to develop”.

She said she was surprised by the tone of Google’s letter.

“You don’t deal with a democratically-elected government with threats,” Filippetti told AFP on Thursday.

A media association also criticised Google’s attitude, calling it a “complete refusal by the dominant actor on the market … of all dialogue.”

The IPG association of newspapers and magazines said the objective of discussions should be finding an acceptable compromise that would recognise the value they bring to search engines and would help the further development of both of them.

French lawmakers last year ultimately rejected plans for a tax on online advertising revenues, fearing the project would hurt small local companies more than global Internet giants like Google, Facebook or Twitter.

Google France representatives are to meet Friday with officials from the finance ministry to discuss the project and this week’s statement from European data protection agencies saying Google’s new privacy policy does not comply with EU laws.

Google rolled out the new privacy policy in March, allowing it to track users across various services to develop targeted advertising, despite sharp criticism from US and European consumer advocacy groups.

The EU agencies told Google it had a few months to fix the policy or face legal action.

EU competition authorities also have an ongoing anti-trust probe into whether the Internet search giant had abused its dominant market position.

Google made several proposals in July to address concerns about preferential treatment in its search results, doubts over Google’s full respect of copyrights; and restrictive measures in advertising.

The EU competition authorities have yet to say if they are satisfied with the remedies Google has proposed.

If not, it could choose to issue a formal statement of objections.

Fines eventually imposed under this type of probe could reach up to 10 percent of a company’s sales — meaning record EU penalties.



Study: Moon water may come indirectly from the sun

By Agence France-Presse Sunday, October 14, 2012 16:39 EDT

Scientists on Sunday said they had found water molecules in samples of lunar soil, and their unusual signature points to the Sun as the indirect source. (AFP)

Scientists on Sunday said they had found water molecules in samples of lunar soil, and their unusual signature points to the Sun as the indirect source.

Samples returned to Earth by the Apollo missions carry molecules of water and a precursor of water called hydroxyl, according to their study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers led by Yang Liu at the University of Tennessee theorise that the molecules developed from a reaction between hydrogen ions in the solar wind — the blast of particles from the Sun — and a loose surface soil called regolith.

The Sun was formed around 4.5 billion years ago from a cloud of gas, a reaction in which all the deuterium in the nebula reacted with hydrogen to form helium.

As a result, unlike all other objects in the Solar System, the Sun is deuterium-less. Sure enough, the samples were tellingly poor in deuterium, the investigators found.

The tests used infrared spectroscopy to get a chemical signature of regolith grains from the Apollo 11, 16 and 17 missions. Two samples came from plains locations, and one from the lunar highlands.

Although the molecules are dissolved within the grains and do not exist as liquid water, the findings powerfully boost the notion that the Moon is not the utterly arid place it was once thought to be, say the authors.

Since 2009, when NASA found water crystals in a deep crater near the Moon’s southern pole, evidence has suggested that the Moon was once a pretty moist place and may still have frozen water at depth.

Until now, the source of water in the inner Solar System, the region extending to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is believed to be comets and other water-rich rocks which whack into planets and other bodies.

So if the study is right, hydrogen from the solar wind could be a second, hitherto unimagined source.

The solar wind whacks into the lunar surface at 1.6 million kms (a million miles) per hour, penetrating the lunar soil to a depth of up to 100 nanometres (100 billionths of a metre), according to some calculations.

The impact is so brutal that the Moon’s mass diminishes by around million tonnes per hour, a figure that however is tiny when compared to the size of our satellite.

Hydroxyl is a bond between one hydrogen and one oxygen atom, while water (H20) comprises two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

How the solar hydrogen combines with oxygen in the regolith grains to make the molecules is unclear.

But the phenomenon could occur in other places in the inner Solar System, the authors suggest.

“A similar mechanism may contribute to hydroxyl on the surfaces of other airless terrestrial bodies where the solar wind directly interacts with the surface,” says the study.

Examples of this could be Mercury, the rocky planet that is nearest the Sun, and Vesta, the second biggest (and the brightest) object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

On Earth, we are shielded from the solar wind thanks to the atmosphere and the planet’s magnetic field.

Philippines appeals to hackers to cease attacks

By Agence France-Presse Saturday, October 6, 2012 19:00 EDT

Hackers incensed by the Philippines' controversial cybercrime law have attacked government sites that deliver emergency information during natural disasters file photo via AFP

Hackers incensed by the Philippines’ controversial cybercrime law have attacked government sites that deliver emergency information during natural disasters, an official said Saturday.

President Benigno Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte appealed for a stop to the attacks, on the websites and social media accounts of the weather service, the earthquake and tsunami monitoring service and the social welfare agency.

Valte did not disclose the extent of the damage, if any. All the sites she mentioned appeared to be up and working on Saturday afternoon.

“Many people are being affected by this,” she said.

“We are aware of the opposition to the National Cybercrime Prevention Act. There are other ways to express opposition to it,” she said in an appeal broadcast on government radio.

The Philippines sits on the “ring of fire” of tectonic activity that generates earthquakes around the Pacific, and is also regularly hit by typhoons, with the agencies’ online arms providing citizens with disaster data and advice.

Valte reported the attacks a day after Aquino set out a broad defence of the cybercrime law, which seeks to stamp out offences such as fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography.

But it has sparked a storm of protests from critics who say it will severely curb Internet freedoms and intimidate netizens into self-censorship.

One of its most controversial elements mandates much longer jail sentences for people who post defamatory comments online than those who commit libel in traditional media.

It also allows the government to monitor online activities, such as e-mail, video chats and instant messaging, without a warrant, and to close down websites it deems to be involved in criminal activities.

The Supreme Court is hearing petitions to have the law declared illegal.

Aquino, whose mother led the “people power” revolution that toppled the military-backed Ferdinand Marcos regime in 1986, said he remained committed to freedom of speech.

But he said those freedoms were not unlimited.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Bhutan aims to be first 100% organic nation

        Sapa-AFP | 07 October, 2012 08:27

        Lyonchoen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan Image by: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS

        The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, famed for seeking “happiness” for its citizens, is aiming to become the first nation in the world to turn its home-grown food and farmers 100-percent organic.

The tiny Buddhist-majority nation wedged between China and India has an unusual and some say enviable approach to economic development, centred on protecting the environment and focusing on mental well-being.

Its development model measuring “Gross National Happiness” instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been discussed at the United Nations and has been publicly backed by leaders from Britain and France, among others.

It banned television until 1999, keeps out mass tourism to shield its culture from foreign influence, and most recently set up a weekly “pedestrians’ day” on Tuesdays that sees cars banned from town centres.

Its determination to chart a different path can be seen in its new policy to phase out artificial chemicals in farming in the next 10 years, making its staple foods of wheat and potatoes, as well as its fruits, 100 percent organic.

“Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet,” Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho told AFP in an interview by telephone from the capital Thimphu.

“If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature.”

Bhutan has a population of just over 700,000, two-thirds of whom depend on farming in villages dotted around fertile southern plains and the soaring Himalayan peaks and deep valleys to the north.

Overwhelmingly forested, no more than three percent of the country’s land area is used for growing crops, says Gyamtsho, with the majority of farmers already organic and reliant on rotting leaves or compost as natural fertilisers.

“Only farmers in areas that are accessible by roads or have easy transport have access to chemicals,” he explained, saying chemical use was already “very low” by international standards.

In the large valleys, such as the one cradling the sleepy capital, chemicals are used to kill a local weed that is difficult to take out by hand — a challenge compounded by a lack of farm labour.

Elsewhere, the fertiliser urea is sometimes added to soil, while a fungicide to control leaf rust on wheat is also available.

“We have developed a strategy that is step-by-step. We cannot go organic overnight,” Gyamtsho said, describing a policy and roadmap which were formally adopted by the government last year.

“We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example.”

Bhutan’s only competitor for the first “100-percent organic” title is the tiny self-governing island of Niue in the South Pacific, which has a population of only 1,300. It aims to reach its objective by 2015-2020.

Nadia Scialabba, a global specialist on organic farming at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, says the organic food market and its premium prices are attractive for small countries and territories.

“This is happening in very small countries who are not competitive on quantity, but they would like to be competitive in quality,” she told AFP.

The global organics market was estimated to be worth 44.5 billion euros ($57 billion) in 2010, according to figures from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

Bhutan sends rare mushrooms to Japan, vegetables to upmarket hotels in Thailand, its highly prized apples to India and elsewhere, as well as red rice to the United States.

By shunning fertilisers and other chemicals, the country also stands to gain by reducing its import bill — a particular concern for a country short on foreign currency.

Peter Melchett, policy director at Britain’s organic Soil Association, says the main benefit of becoming 100-percent organic is an assurance of quality to consumers.

“Because there won’t be pesticides or other chemicals on sale in the kingdom, they would be able to offer a high level of guarantees that products are organic,” Melchett explained.

In countries like Spain, for example, there is a problem of contamination when organic farms are next to highly industrialised producers using large quantities of artificial chemicals, Melchett said.

“It’s difficult for organic farmers in those circumstances to keep their crops and supply-chain free of contamination.”

Bhutan’s organic policy would “start to give the country a reputation of high-quality organic food, which in the long-run would give them a market advantage and the possibility of price premiums,” he added.

Jurmi Dorji, a member of the 103-strong Daga Shingdrey Pshogpa farmers’ association in southern Bhutan, says his fellow members are in favour of the policy.

“More than a decade ago, people realised that the chemicals were not good for farming,” he told AFP. “I cannot say everyone has stopped using chemicals but almost 90 percent have.”