WATCH: Google’s cool documentary on $20 million race to the Moon
27 Jan 2015 at 21:29 ET
Google released an adaptation of a short documentary chronicling not only the history of space exploration, but its efforts to stimulate what it calls a “new space race,” Mashable reported.
The 24-minute film, Back To The Moon For Good – The New Space Race, was originally shown in planetariums around the U.S. It begins with narrator Tim Allen recounting early missions to the Moon, before covering the company’s Lunar XPRIZE, a competition for privately funded teams that can develop their own vessels capable of reaching the Moon’s surface.
The winning entries are required to not only land on the Moon, but transmit video and pictures from its surface after traveling at least 500 meters.
The first team to accomplish this feat by Dec. 31 will claim a $20 million grand prize.
“Children who once played at being astronauts have grown up, had children and even grandchildren of their own,” Allen says. “Now, the next generation of explorers will make the journey.”
Watch the film, as posted by Google on Monday, below.
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Ancient planetary system with its own sun-like star found in the Milky Way galaxy
Ian Sample, The Guardian
27 Jan 2015 at 12:22 ET
The discovery of five archaic planets around one of the oldest stars in the galaxy has raised the possibility that the Milky Way might be home to extremely ancient forms of life.
Astronomers spotted the planets as they circled a star called Kepler 444, which lies 117 light years from Earth in the direction of Lyra, a constellation in the northern sky.
Researchers used variations in the brightness of the star to calculate its age and found that it was among the first generation of stars to illuminate the Milky Way 11.2bn years ago.
The sun, Earth and other planets of the solar system formed much more recently, about 4.5bn years ago, making the Kepler 444 planetary system more than twice as old as our own. By the time the Earth had formed, the planets around Kepler 444 were already older than the Earth is today.
The planets that orbit Kepler 444 are not hospitable to life as we know it. But the discovery of such profoundly old and almost certainly rocky planets suggests that other ancient worlds might lurk around other stars in more habitable reaches of the Milky Way.
“This tells us that these kinds of planets formed very early in the history of the galaxy. If some fraction formed in the habitable zones around their host stars, then you have environments where life may develop, and it could have been there for a very long time,” said Bill Chaplin , professor of astrophysics at the University of Birmingham.
Writing in The Astrophysical Journal , the scientists add: “Earth-size planets have formed throughout most of the Universe’s 13.bn year history, leaving open the possibility for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”
The worlds that orbit Kepler 444 are small, at least by planetary standards, and range in size from Mercury to Venus. They are extremely close to their parent star, with all five planets closer in than Mercury is to the sun. A year on each planet lasts fewer than 10 Earth days.
Kepler 444 is about three quarters the size and mass of the sun, and though 700C cooler, the planets circle so close to the star that their surfaces are permanently fried. The habitable zone around the star, where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow, lies six times further out than the outermost of the five planets, said Chaplin.
Researchers measured the age of the star by using Nasa’s Kepler space telescope to observe minute changes in its brightness. The intensity of stars varies because sound waves trapped inside them make them contract and expand, as though they were breathing. When a star compresses it gets hotter and brighter. When it expands, it gets cooler and dimmer.
How a star’s brightness varies depends on the speed of sound waves within, and that is governed by the composition of its core. This material at the heart of the star changes as it grows old, for example, as the star converts its hydrogen fuel into helium.
“As you change the composition of the core, you change the speed at which sound waves moves through the star, and that affects the periods at which it resonates,” said Chaplin. “Because we can do this astroseismology, we can get very precise measurement of the age. It’s a very old star, over a 11bn years old.”
Astronomers are now keen to discover other ancient planetary systems, in the hope of pinpointing the beginning of the era of planetary formation in the universe.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015
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Mexico rules out 'El Chapo' extradition
Attorney general suggests drug lord Joaquin Guzman will never be handed over to the US as he is liable in his own country for hundreds of years in jail
Associated Press in Mexico City
Wednesday 28 January 2015 05.58 GMT
The captured Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will not be extradited to the United States anytime soon, Mexico’s top prosecutor has said.
Attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam said he was expecting to receive a formal request later in the day from Washington, which also wants to prosecute Guzman on drug trafficking charges. But he indicated US authorities would have a long wait.
“I could accept extradition but at the time that I choose. El Chapo must stay here to complete his sentence and then I will extradite him,” Murillo Karam told the Associated Press. “So about 300 or 400 years later — it will be a while.”
Murillo Karam later clarified that he was referring to the time that it would take for Guzman to complete his sentences “given all the crimes he’s being prosecuted for”.
Guzman was arrested by Mexican marines in February 2014 in the Pacific coast tourist resort of Mazatlan, ending years on the run as Mexico’s most wanted man after a daring prison break in 2001. He is being held at a maximum-security prison near the capital.
Murillo Karam said sending Guzman to the United States would save Mexico a lot of money but keeping him was a question of national sovereignty.
He also dismissed concerns that Guzman could escape a second time. That risk “does not exist”, Murillo Karam said.
US congressional leaders have called for Guzman’s extradition but a formal request had not been made.
At least seven US federal courts have pending complaints against Guzman accusing him of masterminding operations that smuggled drugs into the country.
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Houthis Blame Separatists in Yemen for Stalemate
By MONA EL-NAGGAR
JAN. 27, 2015
SANA, Yemen — The Houthi rebel group that has seized control of Yemen’s capital said on Tuesday that separatist forces in the south were responsible for the impasse preventing an end to the political crisis convulsing the country.
Some forces in the south are taking provocative steps, the group’s leader, Abdel Malik al-Houthi, said in a televised speech that seemed to echo with frustration. “This country is for all of us and can fit all of us,” he said.
Mr. Houthi proposed new talks, and his group released a presidential aide seized 10 days ago as a good-will gesture. But there was no indication that his speech signaled an easing of the crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country and an incubator for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
If anything, Mr. Houthi’s half-hour criticism of the southern separatists’ ambitions could drive them further away.
The Houthi movement, a Shiite group with Iranian backing, opposes Al Qaeda but also objects to the strong United States influence here. Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s pro-American president, resigned along with his cabinet, leaving the country leaderless and divided.
The United States has relied on Mr. Hadi as a counterterrorism partner in its drone-strike campaign against Al Qaeda, and there were reports last week that his resignation had led to a suspension of that effort, which American officials denied. But the crisis did prompt the State Department to curtail work at its embassy in Sana, which closed to the public except for consular emergencies.
Alarmed by the Houthi advance and the ensuing power struggle, the southern separatist movement, Heraq, asserted its demand for independence by seizing control of territories and raising its own flag over some government buildings.
On Monday, in a sign that the United States intended to pursue its drone strikes in Yemen regardless of the political crisis, three suspected Qaeda fighters were killed in a C.I.A. drone attack, American officials said.
“The crisis in Sana is between forces that we consider to be occupiers,” said Ali al-Quthairi, a spokesman for a council composed of groups in the south fighting for independence. “We lost all hope for building a true civil state in Sana.”
Southern Yemen was a separate country until 1990. Rebels closed the country’s main port in Aden and shut the border between the north and south last week, raising concerns about secession.
Still, Mr. Quthairi said, the southern drive for independence has been partly hampered by internal power struggles. Northern and southern Yemen were separate countries until 1990.
Mr. Houthi’s speech followed days of closed negotiations. The Houthis, who have established themselves as the dominant force on the ground but have no presence in Parliament, pushed to form a power-sharing presidential council that would lead the country through a period of transition. The majority party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still wields influence, angled for a constitutional framework that would make the head of Parliament a transitional president. And the separatists in the south, where Al Qaeda is strongest, insisted on seceding.
Unlike in his last speech, Mr. Houthi stopped short of making heavy-handed threats. Instead, he called for a meeting in Sana on Friday to hold talks among the forces.
The Houthis also released Mr. Hadi’s chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who had been abducted on Jan. 17.
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Netanyahu Talk Stirs Backlash in Israeli Race
By JODI RUDOREN
JAN. 27, 2015
Michael B. Oren, who spent four years as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington, has called on Mr. Netanyahu to cancel his speech to Congress about Iran. Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief who frequently briefed the Israeli prime minister on security matters, denounced the event as “irresponsible.”
Both men criticized their former boss for politicizing issues vital to Israel’s future. Both also have their own political motives: Mr. Oren is running for Parliament with a new center-right party, and Mr. Yadlin is the defense-minister designee of the center-left party Zionist Camp.
If Mr. Netanyahu imagined that the speech, scheduled for two weeks before the March 17 elections in Israel, would bolster his status as statesman, the undiplomatic way it was arranged has instead given his challengers an opening to undermine his main campaign platform. The backlash, not only from the White House but also from congressional Democrats, has reverberated in Israel, where maintaining bipartisan support in Congress is considered as crucial as preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. On Tuesday Senate Democrats who had been pushing a new sanctions bill against Iran — which Mr. Netanyahu supports — said they would hold off a vote until late March, handing the Obama adminstration a victory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended his coming speech before Congress about Iran after critics accused him of trying to win an election scheduled two weeks after the trip.
Video by Reuters on Publish Date January 27, 2015. Photo by Pool photo/Baz Ratner.
As in America, conservatives like Mr. Netanyahu tend to have the advantage when election campaigns are about security, and so far his opponents have emphasized pocketbook issues and corruption. But political analysts say that international isolation is a prime public concern of Israelis, and that attacking Mr. Netanyahu for deteriorating relations with Washington, Israel’s main defender on the world stage, could be a winning message in a tightening race.
“It’s a huge miscalculation,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor at Bar Ilan University who specializes in political communication and Israeli-American relations. “People are now questioning his judgment. If the opposition would not just focus on economic and social issues, but also argue against his claims on security and foreign policy, I think this exercise might backfire.”
The invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress to make the case for new sanctions on Iran came from the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a Republican. Mr. Boehner did not consult either the Obama administration or his Democratic counterparts, something several veteran diplomats described as unprecedented. The White House responded with its own snub, announcing that President Obama, who has promised to veto any new sanctions, would not meet with Mr. Netanyahu while he was in town.
Senate Democrats who had been pushing the new sanctions bill said Tuesday that they would hold off a vote until late March. And while officials on both sides say the underlying security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel will continue, some political analysts close to the Obama administration say it may not work as hard to rally its allies to Israel’s side in critical forums like the United Nations.
Mr. Netanyahu, who has made the Iranian nuclear program a mainstay of his career, insists his motivations are not political and declared on Sunday: “I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the state of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence.” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington who orchestrated the invitation with Mr. Boehner, said at an event in Florida that speaking out on Iran was the prime minister’s “deepest moral obligation” and “most sacred duty.”
Yaakov Amidror, Mr. Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said that “about the issue of Iran he is willing to go very far.”
“He is ready to do everything to prevent it from being signed, what he thinks is a bad agreement, to risk many things,” Mr. Amidror said of Mr. Netanyahu. “It is only because from his point of view he should prevent something that is so critical to be materialized that he allows himself to make moves that otherwise he would not.”
Experts on Iran said they did not see any new developments in the continuing nuclear negotiations, or in the differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, that might explain the timing of the speech, or what appeared to be the willingness to risk the repercussions of its unorthodox arrangement. Some critics of the prime minister fear that the whole episode is strengthening Iran’s hand.
Israeli and American commentators have described a toxic mix of political considerations in both countries — a touch of pre-election panic by Mr. Netanyahu meeting up with Mr. Boehner’s opportunism. Many have called it self-promotion with a high cost, clumsy at best, if not cynical.
“It’s proven again that what we export best as Israelis is chutzpah,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem political consultant and pollster. Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli columnist, said Mr. Netanyahu “lost the major benefit” of the speech because “the whole idea is now contaminated.”
David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that “unless Netanyahu changes the date it’s hard to escape the view that this was deliberate.”
“If it’s really all about Iran, then make it all about Iran,” said Mr. Makovsky, who worked for Secretary of State John Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed last spring. “I understand why he wants to make his case, but let him do it after the Israeli elections. Iran and bipartisan U.S.-Israel ties are too vital to be politicized.”
Mr. Netanyahu, whose relationship with Mr. Obama has been rocky from the start, was also accused of meddling in the 2012 presidential campaign by embracing the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in Jerusalem. The appointment of Mr. Dermer, who grew up in Florida and once worked for a Republican pollster, has hardly helped.
With Israeli polls showing Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Zionist Camp running about even, candidates were quick to make hay of the congressional controversy, which dominated headlines in Israel for four days.
Isaac Herzog, the leading challenger for the premiership, said on Army Radio, “What Netanyahu is doing with this violent behavior is to harm the security interests of Israel.” Mr. Herzog’s partner in the Zionist Camp, Tzipi Livni — a former foreign minister who has made her relationships with foreign leaders a prime campaign point — called the speech “gravely irresponsible.”
Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, a centrist faction focused mainly on economic issues, warned, “This damage will take a long time to mend.”
Yehuda Ben Meir, an expert on public opinion at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said surveys had consistently shown that Israelis see a decrease in American support and a nuclear-armed Iran “as the two most serious threats, almost equal in severity.” Israelis are highly critical of Mr. Obama, and may appreciate Mr. Netanyahu’s standing up to him, but losing congressional Democrats, Mr. Ben Meir said, would play differently.
“Most people in Israel feel or think or believe that mainly this was done for internal political reasons,” Mr. Ben Meir said. “His base may say he went because of the Iranian issue, but those swing voters — and what’s important is always the swing vote — it could among certain parts of the electorate harm him. It might be that he didn’t properly estimate the fallout.”
Israeli Group Says Military Attacks on Palestinian Homes Appeared to Violate Law
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JAN. 27, 2015
JERUSALEM — An Israeli human rights group said Israel’s attacks on residential buildings in Gaza during the 50-day war against Hamas last summer appeared in at least some instances to violate the provisions of international law and raised grave legal concerns in others, according to a report to be published on Wednesday.
The group, B’Tselem, which is identified with the Israeli left and focuses on human rights issues in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said it had investigated 70 cases in which more than 600 Palestinians were killed inside homes, a majority of them — children, women and men over the age of 60 — considered unlikely to have been involved in the fighting.
The study was at least the third by a human rights organization on the Gaza conflict, coming after reports by Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, but as the first major one written by an Israeli group, it could have more resonance here than the others. It was published as prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, at the urging of Palestinian leaders, have been conducting a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories.
Israeli military officials have insisted that the army acted in accordance with international law during the conflict, but for the most part, they have given only general explanations for the bombing of specific residential buildings, describing them as “command and control centers” used by militants living there with their families, or as part of the “terrorist infrastructure.”
Israeli critics immediately denounced the B’Tselem report as they did the previous two, underlining longstanding and deep divides over the activities of such groups in Israel. NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog group widely considered to be right-leaning, said the reports presented a “distorted political narrative of Israeli guilt and Palestinian victimhood.” NGO Monitor added that B’Tselem was “contributing to the campaign” surrounding a commission of inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as the International Criminal Court investigation.
Yet B’Tselem said its report was chiefly aimed at the Israeli public, which broadly supported the Israeli offensive. Officials said the campaign was meant to halt intense rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and to neutralize the threat of militant infiltrations into Israeli territory through underground tunnels. As Hamas and other militant groups fired thousands of rockets into Israel, few Israelis spent time pondering the military’s tactics, despite international censure over the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza.
Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, said he found it disturbing that just a few weeks before Israeli elections, scheduled for March 17, and five months after the end of combat, the Gaza war was not a major subject of debate in Israel. Briefing reporters on Tuesday, he said his group intended to try to engage Israelis and raise public awareness of the issues through social media.
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations and the Gaza Health Ministry. On the Israeli side, more than 70 people were killed.
Israel has held Hamas accountable for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, saying the group embedded its fighters among citizens in residential areas. According to B’Tselem, Hamas acted “in complete contravention” of international rules, firing from civilian areas at civilian communities in Israel. But B’Tselem said that violations by one side do not give a carte blanche to the other side regarding international obligations.
The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure from the current conflict is already more severe than the destruction caused by either of the last two Gaza wars.
B’Tselem concluded, however, that Israel was not deliberately trying to harm civilians.
Instead, the group faulted the government and high echelons of the army for sticking to a policy of hitting residential buildings even after numerous cases of multiple deaths indicated that, on many occasions, the warning systems — telephone calls to residents or the firing of small missiles warning of impending attacks — were not understood or effective.
The B’Tselem report contains wrenching testimonies from the survivors of 13 houses that were hit. It opens with a description of the bombing of the Kaware family home in Khan Younis on the first day of the operation, in which nine people, including five children ages 7 to 14, were killed. The family was warned to evacuate the three-story building, and did so, according to B’Tselem, but residents had re-entered the building and were on their way up the stairs or up on the roof when a missile struck. The military said residents had returned when it was too late to redirect the course of the missile. A member of the Kaware family told The New York Times that day that neighbors had come in and made their way to the roof “to form a human shield” to try to prevent an attack.
In some cases, B’Tselem established the presence of militants in houses that became targets. Yet in the absence of detailed explanations from the military, B’Tselem was unable to establish whether the buildings could be considered legitimate military targets by virtue of the military advantage gained by the attacks, or whether the collateral damage was proportional.
Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a former head of the military’s international law department who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that targets were usually based on intelligence and that the military would be unlikely to give detailed explanations that might expose intelligence sources.
Separately, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Tuesday that it had been forced to suspend its cash assistance program meant to help tens of thousands of people in Gaza repair homes that were damaged or destroyed during the conflict, or to provide rental subsidies.
The agency, which helps Palestinians registered as refugees, said it had received only $135 million in pledged funds out of the $720 million required to pay for the program.
“We are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter,” Robert Turner, the agency’s director in Gaza, said in a statement.
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Fears in Nigeria over Repeat of Election Violence
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 January 2015, 13:20
All that's left of the Muslim neighborhood in Madakiya, in Nigeria's northwestern Kaduna state, are decomposing bricks and graffiti-covered walls standing in fields of charred grass.
Muslims and Christians once lived together in the village but Madakiya's entire Muslim population fled to a nearby town in rioting after the 2011 presidential election.
With Nigerians set to vote again next month, people in the religiously mixed state are wary of a repeat after houses were looted, markets burned, and people killed in the streets.
"I don't think something of that nature will happen but you cannot trust the politicians," said Luka Awage, a representative of the district head in Madakiya, which lies in the southeast of the state.
"What happened in 2011 was very, very unfortunate. And we don't pray for that."
This year's election on February 14 is on paper a rematch between President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's former military ruler.
But this year, Buhari is running under the banner of the All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition, which is believed to pose the biggest challenge to Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in years.
The PDP has won every election in Nigeria since the country returned to democracy in 1999.
Political clout in Nigeria often breaks down along religious or ethnic lines.
Jonathan is expected to do well in the mainly Christian south while Buhari is likely to win most of the states in the Muslim-majority north and the commercial capital Lagos, an opposition stronghold.
- A 'misunderstanding'? -
The southern half of Kaduna State is dominated by churches and the north with mosques, with the religious mix a potential powder keg for violence.
In 2011, it exploded. Claims of rigging sparked rioting across the north, leaving some 800 people dead, according to Human Rights Watch.
In the state capital Kaduna city, mobs bludgeoned to death Muslims and Christians found on the wrong side of the tracks; mosques and churches were torched; motorists were dragged out of cars and killed.
In Zonkwa, a town near Madakiya, HRW reported that 311 Muslims were buried in a mass grave.
Fighting in Kafanchan, across a bridge from Madakiya, erupted shortly after Jonathan's win was announced. People from both communities lay dead and the main market was razed.
Christians who still live in Madakiya and Muslims from the village who now live in Kafanchan dispute the events of 2011.
Isa Musa still carries a bullet in his chest from the night he was forced to flee to Kafanchan. Before the attack, Muslims and Christians lived peacefully, he said.
Philip Jagaba, a Christian whose house abuts the ruined Muslim quarter, said people started attacking Muslim homes at night after Jonathan was declared the winner.
But he said the violence started in Kafanchan.
The fighting only stopped the following morning when the military arrived, he said.
Ayuba Bartholomew, from Madakiya, described the dispute as "a misunderstanding with our neighbours".
"They interfered by trying to take the revenge on us. So we just decide to send them packing without touching any of their properties," he said.
Awage said the murder of a traditional leader started the fighting, and was exacerbated by reports of churches being burned.
"They were not forced to leave, they fled by themselves. And up till now, we still want them to come back," he added.
- Rumors, tensions -
James Wuye, a pastor with the Interfaith Mediation Center based in Kaduna city, said the 2011 violence was caused by rumors, political incitement and a build-up of long-held tensions between different religions and ethnic groups in the state.
The center has been working since then to put mechanisms in place to monitor hotspots like the state's southeast for threats of violence to allow government and community leaders to prevent fighting.
One side effect of the Muslim flight from Madakiya, Wuye said, is that the village is likely to remain calm in the coming weeks.
"Most of the non-Christians that are there have moved to other places, they have relocated. So, who are you going to fight with?" he asked.
The Muslim homes and mosques in Madakiya, left intact after the rioting, have slowly deteriorated over time, leaving nothing but foundations.
Jagaba burns the grass that has grown up around the ruins to prevent marauding herdsmen from attacking his home.
He doesn't expect the Muslims to come back. "People are still with tension in their minds," he said.
"When these things happen that involves lives, it take long time before agreement comes in between, so that they are fearing us (and) we are fearing them."
Source: Agence France Presse
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Australia's Detention of Asylum-Seekers at Sea Ruled Legal
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 January 2015, 08:39
Australia's detention of 157 asylum-seekers at sea for weeks in June was legal, the nation's High Court found Wednesday in a win for the government's hardline immigration stance.
In a tight 4-3 decision, the court ruled the government was entitled to hold the group of Tamils from Sri Lanka on a customs ship with a view to return them to India -- where they had set out from.
The ruling means they are unable to seek compensation for their month-long detention.
"I am pleased with the result," Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters in Canberra. "It has vindicated the government's position and we welcome the result."
The case was mounted by an asylum-seeker, only named as CPCF. Lawyers for the man, who is being kept with his family and the other Tamils in a detention camp on the Pacific island of Nauru, said the outcome was disappointing.
But they said the case helped to shed light on the government's treatment of the asylum-seekers at sea.
"What's been important through the case is that it brought this vital scrutiny, breaking the secrecy around our client's detention," the executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, told reporters.
"It was important that these serious and untested questions under Australian law were brought to the High Court."
The High Court decision cannot be appealed.
De Kretser said his client was "sad and disappointed by the decision" but his focus was on his claim for refugee status in Nauru.
"At least one of the 157 on board has had his refugee claim determined and has been found to be a refugee and has been released into the community," he said.
"My understanding is the others are waiting on their decisions to be processed."
Lawyers had claimed their clients were falsely imprisoned on the ship. Their case centred around whether Canberra had the power to remove asylum-seekers from its contiguous zone, just outside territorial waters, and send them to other countries.
The decision came as the Australian government hailed its "Operation Sovereign Borders" policy of turning back boats carrying asylum-seekers trying to enter the country, as a success.
"Only one vessel has arrived in Australia in 2014, and all of those aboard that vessel were transferred to Nauru," operation commander Lieutenant General Angus Campbell said Wednesday.
There had been "15 returns of various forms during the course of Operation Sovereign Borders", including boats turned back to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, instances where asylum-seekers were taken back by foreign countries, and rescues at sea.
Since July 2013 the Australian government has sent asylum-seekers arriving on boats to Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru.
They are denied resettlement in Australia even if they are genuine refugees.
The government has said the policy is necessary to stop the flow of so-called "boat people" arriving in Australia.
They had previously been arriving almost daily in often unsafe wooden fishing vessels, with hundreds drowning en route.
Source: Agence France Presse
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Beijing smog makes city unliveable, says mayor
Polluting factories and skyrocketing vehicle ownership blamed as report finds tourism to Chinese city falls 10% on year before
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
Wednesday 28 January 2015 07.23 GMT
Beijing’s mayor, Wang Anshun, has called the city “unliveable” because of its noxious smog, according to state media.
“To establish a first-tier, international, liveable and harmonious city, it is very important to establish a system of standards, and Beijing is currently doing this,” he said last Friday, according to the China Youth Daily newspaper.
“At the present time, however, Beijing is not a liveable city.”
Anshun’s speech came days before the market research company Euromonitor International announced, in its findings on the global tourism market in 2013, that tourism to Beijing had declined by 10% from the year before due to pollution and a countrywide economic slowdown.
The company’s top 100 city destination rankings, released on Tuesday, ranked Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok in its top three spots, followed by London and Paris. Beijing ranked 34th, in between Johannesburg and Sofia, Bulgaria.
Wang, a former official in the state-controlled petroleum sector and in north-west China’s Gansu province, said the pollution was caused by its distribution of polluting factories and skyrocketing ownership of motor vehicles. In his speech, he demanded that Beijing’s polluting factories shut down entirely rather than “irresponsibly relocate” to neighbouring areas of Hebei and Tianjin.
In 2014, Beijing authorities closed 392 companies for causing pollution and took 476,000 old vehicles off the roads, Wang said.
He added that despite the choking pollution, Beijing’s biggest problem was population control, claiming the influx of migrant labour put strains on the city’s infrastructure. The city has 21.5 million residents and is growing at a rate of more than 350,000 a year.
In September 2013, China’s cabinet introduced a sweeping anti-pollution plan, which included prohibiting the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the country’s three most important cities.
“This represents the government is strict with science, truth-seeking, responsible for the people and determined to pursue human-centred administration, improve the environment and safeguard people’s health rights,” said the announcement.
Yet 18 months on, the plan appears to be taking slow effect. Beijing is still shrouded by smog on most days. Authorities announced that in 2014, particulate matter 2.5 – pollutants most dangerous to human health – dropped by 4%, falling just short of the government’s 5% reduction target.
China’s Pearl River Delta overtakes Tokyo as world’s largest megacity
Several hundred million more people are expected to move to cities in East Asia over the next 20 years as economies shift from agriculture to manufacturing and services, according to a World Bank report
Buildings are seen through thick haze in the central business district of Guangzhou, part of the Pearl River Delta urban area.
Wednesday 28 January 2015 06.00 GMT
China’s Pearl River Delta has overtaken Tokyo to become the world’s largest urban area in both size and population, according to a report from the World Bank. The megacity – which covers a significant part of China’s manufacturing heartland and includes the cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan – is now home to more people than the countries of Canada, Argentina or Australia.
Urbanisation which took place over a period of several decades in Europe and North America is happening in just a few years in East Asia, which already contains eight megacities (with populations above 10 million) and 123 cities with between one and 10 million people.
With almost two-thirds of the region’s population (64%) still non-urban at present, several hundred million are expected to move to cities over the next 20 years as economies shift from agriculture to manufacturing and services, according to East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth.
The report analysed built-up areas in the region in 2000 and 2010 using satellite imagery and geospatial mapping, an attempt to address the lack of internationally comparable data given that each country defines urban areas and populations differently. The Pearl River Delta grew from 4,500 square kilometres in 2000 to nearly 7,000 sq km in 2010, the analysis found. Treating the Pearl River Delta as a single urban area, it is now bigger than Tokyo in terms of geographical size and population.
In the region as a whole, the report highlighted 50 urban areas with growth rates that would double their populations in the two decades to 2020; despite the visibility of megacities, there was more urban land, population and growth in small and medium-sized cities.
Much of the growth of the region’s urban population was driven by China, which had 477 million urban inhabitants in 2010 – partly due to the size of the country and its rapidly developing economy – but also due to Beijing’s focus on urbanisation as a key policy, with the government building cities and moving people into them.
East Asia’s rapid growth often leads to the merging of multiple cities into single urban areas, with spillovers from original boundaries into neighbouring administrations. The urban area of Jakarta in Indonesia, for example, is home to more than 23 million people over an area of 1,600 sq km – and encompassing 12 different administrative areas – fragmenting government management and revenue sources. About 350 urban areas in East Asia spill over local administrative boundaries, the report found, and in 135 of these urban areas, no single jurisdiction covers even half the total urban area.
The report warned that although the growth of urban areas provides opportunities for the poorest citizens, unplanned urban expansion can also exacerbate inequality: large cities without affordable housing and efficient public transport can push the poor to live far from work, schools and markets, forcing them to choose between long and expensive commutes, and slum areas which are closer to the centre but lack land rights and services.
“While this transformation is going on, there is still an opportunity to set the course of urbanisation on a more sustainable and equitable path,” warned the report’s authors. “Within a few decades, this window of opportunity will close, and future generations will be left to deal with the consequences of how we urbanise today.”
on: Today at 07:44 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Sri Lanka Reinstates Impeached Chief Justice
by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 January 2015, 13:33
Sri Lanka's new president on Wednesday restored the country's former chief justice after she was controversially impeached by the previous administration led by Mahinda Rajapakse.
Lawyers welcomed Shirani Bandaranayake with bouquets of flowers at the Supreme Court in Colombo, although the decision to reinstate her will likely be largely ceremonial as she is expected to step down on Thursday.
A government official who asked not to be named said President Maithripala Sirisena had written to Bandaranayake to say her 2013 impeachment was unconstitutional and she should return to work.
"The chief justice was restored and the imposter was asked to go," said the official, referring to Mohan Peiris, who was appointed to the role by former president Rajapakse.
Sirisena had vowed in his manifesto for the January 8 elections to restore Bandaranayake, who was sacked after her judgements went against Rajapakse's regime.
But the influential Bar Association of Sri Lanka said that, while Bandaranayake was pleased her name has been cleared, she intends to retire from the post on Thursday.
"The new government accepted our position all along that the impeachment process was never completed," BASL chief Upul Jayasuriya also told reporters.
Bandaranayake herself was not available for comment, but a source close to her said the decision to quit was made in the interests of keeping the judiciary independent.
"A large number of lawyers defended her (when she was impeached)," the source said.
"If she gets on the bench, someone could accuse her of favouring those lawyers who backed her. She is keen to avoid such a situation."
Bandaranayake's sacking was widely criticised, with the U.N. Human Rights Council calling it an assault on judicial independence.
She was impeached on charges of misconduct, including an allegation that she failed to declare the existence of bank accounts, which were in fact empty.
But despite a chorus of criticism at home and abroad, Rajapakse appointed Peiris, the government's senior legal adviser, as her replacement.
Since Rajapakse's dramatic defeat at the elections, Peiris had been under pressure to stand down after he was implicated in an alleged coup attempt to keep the former leader in power.
There was no comment from Peiris.
Source: Agence France Presse
on: Today at 07:38 AM
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Modi and Obama, Hugging for India’s Security
By ELLEN BARRY
JAN. 27, 2015
NEW DELHI — President Obama had not been off the plane for more than a few minutes on Sunday when the first major event of his visit to India occurred: He and Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraced, like old friends, in front of a bank of cameras.
The crawl on NDTV, an Indian news channel, changed to “MODI/OBAMA HUG,” because this was not expected.
President Xi Jinping of China had gotten a “firm handshake” last September when Mr. Modi invited him to a banquet in his native Gujarat for his birthday. Mr. Obama had also merited the same treatment when he and Mr. Modi first met in September in Washington.
That Mr. Obama had been upgraded on Sunday was confirmed several hours later, when the two men embraced a second time at the end of a news conference.
Mr. Modi has been known to hug other leaders whom he considers trusted partners: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and, more recently, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia. There has been a lot of talk about personal chemistry over the last few days, but Mr. Modi is extremely careful about the signals he sends. So let me suggest the following way of understanding this development: as a “quadrilateral security hug.”
Eight years ago, India signed up for the “quadrilateral security dialogue,” an experiment that included Australia, Japan and the United States — but not China. Introduced by Mr. Abe and endorsed by Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States at the time, the effort eventually drew in Singapore and culminated in joint military exercises in the Bay of Bengal on a scale never previously seen in the region, anchored by an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Nimitz.
It didn’t last long. Even before the four countries convened for their first joint meeting, China had sent formal diplomatic protests to Washington, New Delhi, Canberra and Tokyo, complaining of what some called a “mini-NATO.” Less than two years later, at a summit meeting with China, Australia announced that it was withdrawing from the quadrilateral dialogue. Mr. Abe left office after that. So did Mr. Cheney. Indian policy makers had been ambivalent to begin with. After that, the idea died on the vine.
But Mr. Modi appears interested in reviving some version of the project. When he met with Mr. Obama for one-on-one talks on Sunday, the first 45 minutes of their conversation were dominated by an animated discussion of China. The two countries then issued a joint statement on a “strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region,” something India had refused to do in the past, fearing it would be read as hostile to China.
This may be the biggest surprise to come out of this meeting, and it tells us several things about Mr. Modi’s intentions. One is that he has set aside, at least for the moment, his early vision of striking an economic grand bargain with China, the only country capable of injecting tens of billions of dollars for a much-needed modernization of India’s infrastructure. Returning to the bargaining table with Beijing after Sunday’s statement will be tricky. And he is willing to imagine an expansive security role that stretches “from Africa to East Asia,” as the statement put it, a notion that dates back to the days of the British Raj, said Ashok Malik, a columnist who advised Mr. Modi’s campaign last year.
“America is looking at developing India into a net security provider” in the Indo-Pacific area, he said. “I think Modi recognizes that if India doesn’t step up to that role, China will fill the vacuum.”
In the coming months, this idea will submerge into the bureaucracies of both countries, which will take up such matters as India’s membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic and Cooperation group and interoperability between the two country’s armed forces. It is not likely to go away, though. Over the last three days, absent a single ground-breaking announcement, Indian news outlets have fixated on any number of details: the sight of Mr. Obama chewing gum, possibly Nicorette, at the Republic Day parade; amusement at the news that Mr. Modi wore a suit whose pin-stripes were actually tiny lines of script spelling out his name.
But let us not discount the possibility that the hug between the two leaders, for the seconds that it lasted, could be the distant opening bell of a great game.
U.S.-India Ties Deepen; China Takes It in Stride
By JANE PERLEZ
JAN. 27, 2015
BEIJING — When Chinese troops provoked a standoff with Indian forces on a disputed border high in the Himalayas just before President Xi Jinping of China arrived in India last year, a pall fell over what was supposed to be a landmark visit.
That episode, emblematic of China’s recent aggressiveness in the region, recurred in the minds of some Chinese analysts over the past few days as China observed the warmth between President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India during Mr. Obama’s visit to New Delhi.
At the time of Mr. Xi’s trip in September, the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing sheepishly conceded that a Chinese incursion into Indian territory had probably occurred, and people here know that the troop movement, though small in the scheme of things, emboldened Mr. Modi to warn Mr. Xi about China’s expansionist tendencies.
There were no such lectures between Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama.
“China’s primary task is to deal with India with sophistication,” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said this week. “But it’s not China’s talent to deal with India in this way.”
The reaction in China to the breadth of strategic and economic issues discussed by the United States and India during Mr. Obama’s visit and to their obvious, though not publicly expressed, mutual anxiety about China has been cool but controlled.
China can see that India’s steadfast policy of navigating an independent position, aloof from power plays in East Asia, is crumbling under the forceful Mr. Modi. Beijing is also aware that India’s problems with the United States, based in large part on Washington’s relationship with India’s archenemy, Pakistan, have diminished, analysts said.
But China appears to be banking on India’s long-held position that it will not sign up as a permanent ally of anyone, including the United States.
Moreover, China has seemed eager not to be too negative about the Obama visit so as not to damage the progress made during Mr. Xi’s three days in India. Beijing sees big opportunities in Indian infrastructure and technology projects as Mr. Modi tries to kick-start the economy.
“We know India does not want to be part of a containment policy against China,” said Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here. “We believe that the zero-sum game belongs to the last century.”
Still, China has paid close attention to the active foreign policy of Mr. Modi, who since assuming office has cultivated not only the United States but also Japan, China’s main rival in East Asia.
China has taken comfort in its economic relationship with India, to which it sells far more than India sells to China. But during a visit to New Delhi last year, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, outstripped China on the economic front in advance.
Mr. Xi promised $20 billion in investments in India over the next five years, something of a letdown in New Delhi. Word before his visit had put the investment at $100 billion. In contrast, Mr. Abe had already pledged $32 billion to help improve India’s weak infrastructure.
Mr. Modi enjoys a close personal bond with Mr. Abe, and it was at Mr. Modi’s suggestion that Japan was invited last year to join naval exercises with the United States and India. Beijing was displeased.
Mr. Modi did not stop there: During his talks with Mr. Obama, he suggested revitalizing a loose security network involving the United States, India, Japan and Australia, a grouping that China views with suspicion.
Mr. Obama persuaded Mr. Modi to sign a statement that implicitly criticized China for its provocative moves in the South China Sea. India had already expressed concerns about China’s behavior in that arm of the western Pacific and is cooperating with Vietnam, another critic of China, on an oil-drilling venture in the area’s waters.
“China feels unhappy but not surprised” about India’s siding with the United States on the South China Sea, said Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Will that have any impact on China’s maritime policies? No. What India can do is not substantive in the regional situation.”
China also expressed concerns this week about Mr. Obama’s offer to support India’s membership in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, an organization devised to ensure that civilian nuclear trade is not diverted for military uses.
India’s possible membership was part of a deal between Washington and New Delhi that broke a five-year logjam preventing American companies from building nuclear power plants in India.
India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and if it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it would be the only member not to have signed the treaty, which is supposed to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“We support the group carrying out discussions on admitting new members, and at the same time we encourage India to take the next steps to satisfy the relevant standards of the group,” Ms. Hua, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said of India’s proposed membership.
For China, the biggest long-term worry about the developing relationship between New Delhi and Washington may be the advanced military technology that the United States will probably sell to India, said Mr. Wu of the Center for American Studies.
“That will touch China’s security nerve,” he said. “The more advanced Indian capability will increase the pressure on China.”