Selasa, 31 Juli 2012

Report: Home Prices Drop 2.6% In A Year

UK house prices have declined for the fourth time in five months, according to an annual price index.

Home prices are now 2.6% lower than were a year ago, according to the Nationwide house price index.

It said that the price of a typical residence in the UK fell by 0.7% in July alone.

The average home in July was worth £164,389, down from £165,738 in June.

June house prices were also 1.5% down on the same period last year - now some 13% below their 2007 peak.

Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner said: "The weaker price trend observed in recent quarters is unsurprising, given the disappointing performance of the wider economy."

More follows...

Swaziland Teachers Vow to Continue Strike Over Wages

Teachers in Swaziland have indicated they will not return to their classrooms until the government meets their demand for a 4.5 percent salary increase as a cost of living adjustment.  

But, Education and Training Minister Wilson Ntshangase has reportedly threatened the teachers with dismissal if they do not return to the classroom.  

Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, said if the government claims to be losing $18 million per month to corruption and the cabinet increased its own salary by 30 percent, then the government can afford to pay its teachers.  

She said the teachers will not be intimidated by government threats.

“The teachers’ strike is still going on.  After government threatened to send 14,000 teachers home, teachers decided to change their strategy.  Now, they are engaged in sit-ins.  We intend to change this strategy.  We shall review it on Wednesday and see what other means we can engage in,” she said.

According to local reports, there appeared to be confusion among the teachers whether the strike had been called off following the government’s threat to dismiss them.

Mazibuko said the government has already suspended about 40 teachers. But she insisted such scared tactics will not work.

Butty Mazibuko

“You can send a horse to the river to drink, but it will not drink if it does not want to.  There are police officers everywhere pushing teachers to go teach in the classroom, but it is not working out for government.  Government has lost the grip,” Mazibuko said.

She said the government has the means and political will to meet the teachers’ demands.

“We are on strike for a 4.5 percent cost of living adjustment, which are arrears from 2010-2011 and government is saying that there is no money. But we are saying, ‘No, it is not so.’ The government has the money,” she said.

Mazibuko said the government should use some of the$18 million it said it loses each month to corruption to meet the teachers’ demands.

“The Minister for Finance said they lose $18 million per month for corruption and they increased their own salaries by 30 percent.  We are merely asking for 4.5 percent increase, which we believe is attainable. So, we are going to go on with the strike until we get our money,” Mazibuko said.

She said the Swaziland National Association of Teachers is willing to sit down with the government, but she said the government has not made any serious offer.

Mazibuko said a few students have been attending classes but, on the whole, many parents have decided to keep their children at home.

Clinton Africa Trip Seen as Countering China Influence

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet Senegal President Macky Sall Wednesday at the state of her six-nation Africa visit.

American University professor Emilio Viano said one of the objectives of Clinton’s visit is to compete with the growing influence of China in Africa.

“One of the major objectives of the visit is to compete with China and try to limit China’s influence, business making and political power in Africa,” said Viano.

Viano said it appears the Obama administration wants to change what he called the country’s neglect of Africa.  He said Washington seems to have concerns about of China’s growing influence in the continent.

“China is looking for guaranteed sources of resources…and, therefore, it has a major presence in many African countries.  This is of concern to the US, first of all, because of competitive reasons,” Viano said.

“The US wants to use this [visit] as a maneuver to limit the influence of China.  This will not be done openly; it will be done, of course, diplomatically without naming names, but certainly cautioning African leaders not to strike deals too easily with China.       
He said China’s policy of not asking questions surrounding human rights and governance and labor laws give it an advantage in its relations with African countries.

Viano said Clinton will likely congratulate Sall on Senegal’s democracy. Senegal inaugurated a new parliament Monday with a coalition led by Sall’s party, which holds a large majority.  Many observers described both the presidential and parliamentary elections as free and fair.

“The secretary wants to applaud Senegal’s democracy because there were some problems with these elections that were eventually solved democratically, and this is very important as an example in Africa,” said Viano.

“There is also a preoccupation concerning the part of the US to show support for Senegal that has a border with Mali [where Islamists control the country’s north] in any eventuality that this conflict might spill over.”

Some observers say the Islamists controlling northern Mali are linked to the al-Qaida terror network.

Viano said Sall is likely to ask for America’s help to resolve the security crisis in Mali’s north.

“I’m sure that is going to be part of the conversation where Senegal wants to make sure that there are assurances from Washington that, should al- Qaida and its allies try to move into Senegal, particularly to acquire access to the sea, that the US would stand by and provide assistance just as it did [in Uganda] by sending 100 special forces to help with the Lord’s Resistance Army,” said Viano.

He said Washington now appears to want to reaffirm its interests across Africa.

“It [the Clinton trip] is trying to recoup quite a bit of neglect of Africa, along with Latin America, in the past administration of George W Bush and also, in part, during this [Obama] administration,” said Viano. “They are now trying to catch up with time with Secretary Clinton’s work in Africa…but now they want to reaffirm the presence and the interests and the support of the US and, most of all, the business aspect, and this will be most visible particularly in South Africa.

Clottey interview with Emilio Viano American University professor

ECOWAS to Visit Mali as Government Formation Deadline Passes

An official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said a team of the sub-regional bloc and its partners is scheduled to visit Mali to assess the progress of the formation of a coalition government demanded by regional leaders.

ECOWAS political director Abdel-Fatau Musah said regional leaders want to expedite action on resolving Mali’s security and political crisis.

“There has always been a plan for a joint mission of the leadership of ECOWAS, of the UN office in West Africa, and that of the African Union to visit the country, as a way of demonstrating solidarity and instilling confidence in the population, and also facilitating together with the mediator this setting up of a transitional government representing all the major layers of society,” said Musah.

Over the weekend, Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, announced plans to overhaul his transitional government and request foreign help in retaking northern regions.

This came ahead of the deadline given by regional leaders for Mali to form an all-inclusive government expired Tuesday (July 31st).

Musah said the government in Mali is coming under pressure from the military as well as the population.

“Things are changing dramatically with people putting pressure on the interim government and also the influence of the ex-junta not having diminished in any way, because all indications are that they are still trying to pull strings from behind the scene,” said Musah.

“The situation offers a cocktail of confusion and uncertainty and there is a need for such a mission to ensure that the transition is put on an even keel.”

Islamist groups and Tuareg separatists seized control of northern Mali in April, after renegade soldiers overthrew the government in Mali's capital, Bamako.
The al-Qaida linked Islamists have since taken full control of the north and imposed a strict version of Islamic law, despite protests from much of the population.

The government Tuesday repeated its vow to do all it can to retake the north.

West African defense chiefs recently reviewed a report by a technical team of ECOWAS, the United Nations and the African Union that assessed the security situation in Mali.

Musah said the review will determine how quickly ECOWAS deploys its standby force to help Mali’s national army to end the rebellion in the country’s north.

Clottey interview with Abdel-Fatau Musah ECOWAS political director

NASA Mars Rover Will Face Harrowing Descent, Landing

The U.S. space agency is preparing for its newest Mars rover, Curiosity, to touch down on the Red Planet on August 6.  The rover's entry and descent will be nerve-wracking for NASA engineers, compounded by a 14-minute delay as the rover's signals travel to Earth from Mars.  If successful, Curiosity will be the sixth NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.  

Curiosity is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched in November aboard an Atlas V rocket.

It's traveled some 560 million kilometers toward its destination, the Red Planet.

Curiosity is a "Mars scientist's dream machine," said Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada ahead of its launch. "This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another planet, but it's actually the most capable scientific explorer we've ever sent out," he said. 

As seen in this NASA animation, Curiosity will be traveling at about 20,000 kilometers per hour when it hits the Martian atmosphere.  It will have only seven minutes to reduce its speed for a soft landing.  NASA engineers will not be able to  control or even witness the events in real time. They call this period "seven minutes of terror."  

Ideally, after a parachute deploys, engines will fire for a powered descent.

Curiosity will be lowered to the Martian surface on cables and cut loose.  Then the rocket pack will blast off.  

Curiosity is the size of a small car and has 17 cameras.  It's much larger than previous rovers and can travel as far as 200 meters per day.  

It's a nuclear-powered mobile laboratory.  

The remote-controlled vehicle can gather samples of soil and rocks and analyze them using instruments onboard. 

The goal is to see if the area ever had environmental conditions that could have supported microbial life, explains Vasavada.  "This mission is really about looking for those habitable environments, and not detecting life itself," he said. 

A team of space agency scientists selected the landing site, the foot of a mountain within a deep, 150-kilometer-wide depression called Gale Crater.  Each layer of rock contains clues about the planet's evolution. 

Curiosity will investigate Martian geology, weather and radiation levels during the mission, which is expected to last about two Earth years. . .the equivalent of one Martian year.

Anger As Badminton Stars Play To Lose

Spectators at Wembley Arena booed as the Olympic women's doubles badminton competition descended into farce with four pairs deliberately playing to lose.

Players served into the net, hit shots long or wide, and employed time-wasting tactics as they appeared to try to engineer themselves a favourable draw in the next round of the competition.

All four pairs - one from China, two from South Korea, and another from Indonesia - had already qualified for the last eight but top spots were still to be settled.

Spectators reacted angrily to players' refusal to play.

@lorihalford tweeted: "Didn't expect to be booing teams tonight. China and Korea women's doubles teams are a disgrace."

While Frederik Nielsen said: "Saw the most embarrassing sports match I've ever seen today. Women's badminton doubles. They were rightly booed off court."

Several hours after the events on court, the Badminton World Federation charged the four pairs with "not using one's best efforts to win a match".

The fiasco began when Chinese top seeds Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang started to show little interest in beating Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na to finish top of Group A.

Wang Xiaoli (R) and Yu Yang (L) play a shot during their women's double badminton match Yu Yang said she was simply trying to conserve her energy

That would mean avoiding compatriots and second seeds Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei at least until the final.

The Koreans responded by copying China and referee Thorsten Berg emerged to warn all the players. The match restarted and the Koreans went on to win 21-14 21-11.

But that was not the end of the matter as a second Korean pair, the third seeds Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung, then attempted to throw their match against Indonesia's Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii.

Their motive was apparently an attempt to avoid Wang and Yu in the quarter-finals, an outcome they failed to achieve as they eventually won 18-21 21-14 21-12. The Indonesians in turn had also tried to lose the game.

Berg intervened and disqualified the players in the second game, prompting a roar of approval from the angry crowd, but quickly reversed his decision.

Britains's Gail Emms, who was an Olympic silver medallist in 2004, said the scenes were a "disgrace".

"We had four pairs on court trying to lose - very un-Olympic spirit," she said. "I'm furious. It is very embarrassing for our sport."

However, China's Yu claimed the tactics had simply been to preserve energy ahead of the knockout phase on Wednesday.

"Actually these opponents really were strong. This is the first time we've played them and tomorrow it's the knockout rounds, so we've already qualified and we wanted to have more energy for the knockout rounds," she said.

Syrian Rebels 'Kill Pro-Regime Militia'

Graphic new footage has emerged of what it is claimed is rebel soldiers in Syria executing pro-government milita members.

The two-minute video seems to show Shabiha fighters, who are an armed militia group aligned to President Bashar al Assad's regime, being killed.

The men appear to be unarmed.

Sky News is unable to verify the images independently.

The person who posted the video online says it shows rebel soldiers leading members of the militia down a street in Aleppo.

It is Syria's largest city and the scene of intense fighting between government forces and the opposition.

Some of the captives appear to have been beaten or are wounded.

The men are forced to sit down by a wall as a crowd gathers. Many of the men are armed.

Another member of the crowd appears to try to prevent it being filmed.

After a minute of continuous shooting, the dead bodies of the men who had been lined up against the wall can clearly be seen.

Doctor Scheme To Cut 'Black Wednesday' Deaths

Today an estimated 7,000 junior doctors arrive at hospitals to start their new jobs, fresh out of medical school.

Research suggests that death rates rise by an average of six per cent in English hospitals on this day.

It is regarded as being the most dangerous day of the year to fall ill.

Now a new scheme, which will be mandatory from next year, is set to improve patient safety.

All young medics will spend a minimum of four days in a shadowing role before taking up their posts.

It was the idea of Dr Rebecca Aspinall, of University Hospitals, Bristol, who said: "I have reduced quite significantly - I would say by 50 per cent - the near misses, the close shaves and the mistakes that new doctors might make.

"It is never going to be massively significant because there are so many senior doctors keeping an eye on them, but we have certainly improved safety."

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said: "There is some evidence of increased risk to patients as new doctors take their first steps.

"So, learning from pilots across the country, we've agreed that all new first-year doctors should undertake a period of paid shadowing at the end of July, starting this year."

Trials in Bristol showed that mistakes made by new doctors in their first four months were reduced by more than 50% after a week of shadowing and targeted teaching.

A recent survey of 51,000 junior doctors by the General Medical Council found that one in seven felt they had to deal with medical problems beyond their competence and experience.

One in five did not think they were being properly supervised by senior colleagues and one in three reported that they rarely, or never, had informal feedback from a senior clinician.

The Department of Health said: "Our aim is to ensure that all junior doctors spend a minimum of four working days shadowing the job that they will be taking up and completing trust-based induction.

"This will help them become familiar with their new working environment and include a handover of their clinical responsibilities.

"Evidence from the pilots suggests that the shadowing can reduce the number of serious adverse effects."

France Introduces Financial Transaction Tax

France becomes the first country in the European Union to bring in a tax on financial transactions today.

It was first proposed by the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who suggested a 0.1% levy on all share purchases involving France's biggest companies.

The country's new leader, Francois Hollande, has been sharply critical of the financial services industry and decided to double the tax to 0.2%, while applying it to all publicly traded businesses with a market value over 1bn euros. 

That means anyone buying shares, including credit default swaps, in 109 companies will have to shell out the extra euros to the French Treasury.

In a speech in June, President Hollande said the money raised will be partly used to fund AIDS research and is expected to generate 170m euros in 2012 and 500m euros next year.

But this tax is more than just income generation. It has also been designed to curb market speculation and was initially suggested as a pan-European measure - a concept which drew criticism from the UK.

London is home to the Europe's largest financial sector, contributing an estimated 10% to Britain's economic output.

Prime Minister David Cameron told other European leaders in May: "(Such a tax) will put up the cost of people's insurance, put up the cost of peoples’ pensions - it will cost many, many jobs.

"It will make Europe less competitive and I will fight it all the way."

Francois Hollande France's Socialist leader Francois Hollande was elected in May

Sweden also opposes the idea, after a disastrous experience with a similar tax on financial transactions was introduced and then abandoned in the 1980s by the government in Stockholm.

The country set a 0.5% levy on all purchases and sales of equity securities in 1984, and then doubled the amount two years later after disappointing revenues.

The policy was abandoned after analysts revealed it had led to an exodus of traders.

Anders Borg, the Swedish finance minister, estimates that "between 90-99%" abandoned Stockholm and took their business to London.

Mr Cameron argues that if any EU countries wanted to set up the tax unilaterally, or in partnership with other countries, they should feel free to do so - as it could drive more business to the UK.

Germany, Italy and Spain have all indicated they would like to set up a similar levy, but have yet to do so.

Clinton Begins Africa Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Senegal on Tuesday, the first leg of a 10-day trip to Africa to promote economic growth and democracy.

The State Department says Clinton will meet Wednesday with Senegal's new president, Macky Sall, and highlight the country as an example of the resilience of democratic institutions.

Sall defeated former President Abdoulaye Wade in a March election after controversy over whether Wade was entitled to run for a third term.

Clinton will also visit South Sudan, Africa's newest nation following its break with Sudan last year.  Her visit coincides with a U.N. Security Council debate over possible measures to end ongoing oil, border and citizenship disputes between the two countries.

Clinton is expected to highlight U.S. programs on HIV/AIDS, education and development during her tour, which includes stops in several other countries, including Uganda, Kenya and South Africa.

The secretary has made several previous trips to sub-Saharan Africa.  Last year, she visited Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Mali Government Condemns Islamist Executions in North

Mali's interim government has condemned the stoning death of two people by Islamist militants who control the country's north.

In a statement Tuesday, the government said it learned of the killings with "indignation and astonishment" and denounced what it called the dark-age practice of stoning.  It promised that the killings "will not go unpunished."

The militant group Ansar Dine said it executed a man and a woman in the small town of Aguelhok on Sunday.

A group spokesman says the unmarried couple committed adultery, and received "the punishment called for under Islam: death."

Reports from the area said Islamist fighters placed the man and woman into holes and threw rocks at their heads until they died.  At least 200 people watched the killings in the center of town.

The government Tuesday repeated its vow to do all it can to retake the north.

Islamist groups and Tuareg separatists seized control of northern Mali in April, after renegade soldiers overthrew the government in Mali's capital, Bamako.

The al-Qaida-linked Islamists have since taken full control of the north and imposed a strict version of Islamic law, despite protests from much of the population.

On Sunday, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore announced plans to overhaul his transitional government and request foreign help in retaking northern regions.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Romney Praises Poland's Political, Economic Freedom

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised Poland for embracing free market principles after years under communist rule, calling it a nation "with an extraordinary future."

In a speech delivered Tuesday in Warsaw at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, Romney celebrated the historical bond between the United States and Poland, saying they belong to  "the great fellowship of democracies" along with Britain and Israel, the other nations on Romney's recent foreign policy tour. He thanked Poland for its role in helping the U.S. achieve independence from Britain, and said it stands as an "example of freedom" in helping to end Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

Romney said the U.S. and Poland speak the same language of "freedom and justice" that upholds "the right of every person to live in peace," linking Pope John Paul's call for resistance against Poland's communist rulers in the 1970s to the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and the current Arab Spring movement in North Africa and the Middle East.

Romney said Poland has enjoyed economic growth over the last two decades by rejecting "the false promise of a government dominated economy" and embracing "a culture of entrepreneurship."  "Perhaps, because here in Poland, centralized control is no distant memory," said the former businessman. "You brought a special determination to securing a free and prosperous economy." He said the struggling economies across Europe and around the world should "look to Poland" as an example.

The presumptive Republican U.S. presidential nominee said a Polish politician shared with him "an economic truth that has been lost in much of the world do not borrow what you can not pay back."  The comment was an apparent reference to criticism by Romney's fellow Republicans of U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of the large U.S. government deficit.

Old Racehorses Give Prisoners Second Chance

GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Virginia — At the James River Work Center, a prison in the central part of the state of Virginia, inmates are taught to care for retired racehorses.

It’s a second chance for all involved. The non-profit Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation saves former race horses from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. At the same time, the horses prepare prison inmates for life after incarceration.   

“When they asked me if I was interested in this program, I jumped on the opportunity," says one inmate, "because how could you not love these creatures?”  

In the course of the six-month program, the men learn about horse behavior, grooming, anatomy, health and horse care. They also become very fond of their charges.

“This is my horse Covert Action," says an inmate named Elliot. "This is the grandson of Secretariat. He's a good horse. If you remember Secretariat, that's the horse that won the race in the Belmont.”

Inmate Ryan says there are signs the animal he cares for was a racehorse. “I think he had a typical race track life. He showed signs of steroid injections, side effects of that is biting, nipping, you can feel scar tissue from the injections.”  

The horses are fed twice a day, groomed and checked for injuries or health concerns. Some are ridden to prepare them for adoption as riding and companion horses.  
While the inmates’ training program also includes classroom work, instructor Reid McLellan says the hands-on experience is the important thing.

“It's that spending every day in the stall with those horses… and horses don't put up with the kind of false bravado," McLellan says. "They recognize false bravado right away. And they'll teach them a lesson that that's not the way to be in harmony with this big 1,000-pound animal in that stall.”

Will, an inmate and graduate of the program, is now a teaching assistant. He'll finish serving his prison term in September and already has a job lined up.

His horse, Happy, is also starting a new life, and has already been adopted.

"Happy was the first horse I'd been around. She suffered an injury in the field. She was a needless to say, a cantankerous thing," Will says. "I guess something changed in her. She's very likable now. Loves attention.”

It was not just Happy who changed. Ann Ticker, of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, says Will also had some behavior issues at first.

“Will came into the program a very insecure young man from a troubled background," she says. "He had no idea what he wanted to do...Will is now a confident young man. We have a wonderful job for him and a place to live.”

With an opportunity awaiting him when he's released, Will is confident that he can turn his life around.

“I don't ever want to go back to the person that I was, or come back to here," he says.

The odds are in Will's favor. According to program organizers, few of the inmates who complete the program return to prison. Both animals and inmates alike seem to be taking advantage of this second chance.

Reactor Shutdown in South Korea Raises Blackout Fears

SEOUL — As northern India suffers another problem with widespread power outages affecting hundreds of millions of people, there are concerns South Korea that it could also face blackouts in the coming weeks. 

South Korea is warning of the possibility of power shortages in mid-August. That is when the vacation period ends and demand is expected to peak. At that time, four of the country's 23 nuclear reactors are likely still to be out of commission.

The country depends on atomic plants to generate more than one-third of its electricity.

The latest setback occurred Monday, when the No. 6 reactor at the Yeonggwang nuclear power plant in South Jeolla province, 330 kilometers south of Seoul failed. Officials say an alert signal for protection of the reactor triggered an automatic shutdown.

The reactor has had previous problems with its fuel rods, but there has been no announcement on the source or severity of this latest trouble.

Real-time data from monitoring stations at and surrounding the plant, posted on the Internet show no unusual levels of radiation. 

It is not known how long the reactor - capable of producing one million kilowatts of electricity - will be offline.

Also out of commission is South Korea's longest-running power reactor, Gori-1, which has also been plagued with problems in its 34 year history.

Roh Dong-seok, a senior nuclear power policy researcher at the Korea Energy Economics Institute, says it is important to make a distinction between malfunctions and accidents at reactors.

Roh says, just like an automobile with problems, malfunctioning equipment can be fixed and things can easily get moving again. But in South Korea, malfunctions at nuclear plants are erroneously described as accidents, giving people the impression that there has been serious damage.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power corporation, which runs both of the reactors now offline, declined comment, Tuesday.

Government ministries and agencies overseeing nuclear power in the country have turned down repeated recent requests by VOA  to visit the Gori plant.

Scrutiny of South Korea's nuclear power system has increased since last year's calamity in neighboring Japan which, like South Korea, is poor in natural resources.

Japan, with a population of more than 120 million people, is the world's third largest economy. South Korea, with 50 million people, is the 15th largest.

A meltdown of three reactors at Japan's Fukushima-1 plant was triggered by a magnitude nine earthquake and huge tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Radiation forced the evacuation of numerous communities in the prefecture, contaminating rice fields and forcing a halt in sales of seafood caught off the Fukushima coast.

The disaster compelled Japan to temporarily shut down all its nuclear plants for safety checks, which ended last month.

Lee Boung-hee, the secretary-general of a group, Anti-Nuclear Plant Development Committee, in Samcheok, opposing a proposed nuclear power plant there, says, if a Fukushima-type accident occurs in his community, it will destroy half of the country. He contends South Korea is too small to safely host nuclear plants and its resource needs should instead be met by alternative and what he calls cheaper energy sources.

Researcher Roh Dong-seok at the Korea Energy Economics Institute says the solution is not that simple.

Roh says renewables, such as solar or wind power, are clean and easy to secure, but to call them cheaper is misleading. The development costs are very expensive.  Roh explains that, at present, nuclear power's wholesale cost is about three cents per kilowatt hour while, for alternative sources, it is 18 cents - six times as expensive.

In a joint report released last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are predicting that, despite the Fukushima disaster, the East Asia region will more than double its nuclear capacity in the next two decades. Huge growth for the atomic power industry is expected in China, which is facing a lack of its own energy resources to fuel its booming economy.

Dewani 'Needs A Year' Before Extradition

A businessman accused of arranging the honeymoon murder of his new bride needs up to a year to recover from stress and depression before he will be fit to be extradited, a court has heard.

Shrien Dewani's lawyer said he was still mentally unfit to be sent to South Africa where he is to stand trial for the contract killing of his wife, Anni.

Clare Montgomery QC said the case hung over Dewani "like the Sword of Damocles", but he was a suicide risk and not well enough to plead to charges of murder, robbery and obstructing justice.

She said he needed "a period of calm".

South African police said Dewani hired three local men to kill Anni, 28, during their honeymoon in Cape Town in November, 2010.

Dewani told detectives that their taxi was hijacked and he was thrown out unharmed before his wife was driven off. She was later found shot dead.

Shrien Dewani, 31, with his wife Anni, who he is accused of hiring a hitman to kill. Shrien Dewani with Anni, who was killed in 2010

Last year, chief magistrate Howard Riddle approved Dewani's extradition and it was confirmed by the Home Secretary.

But in March the Appeal Court ruled that Mr Riddle should reconsider his decision with more examination of Dewani's mental health issues.

The Appeal Court said the extradition should go ahead "in the interests of justice", but only when Dewani was mentally fit.

The businessman, who runs a care home near Bristol, is currently detained compulsorily under the Mental Health Act. He denies all charges.

The latest hearing was adjourned until September 18, when the court expects to hear evidence from another psychiatrist who plans to assess Dewani next month.

Prosecutor Hugo Keith QC, on behalf of the South African government, said a psychiatrist who had already examined Dewani had said he no longer wanted to be involved in the case.

The chief magistrate said he wanted more evidence of Mr Dewani's likely speed of recovery before setting a new date for the extradition hearing.

Blackout Cuts Power to 600 Million in India

A massive grid failure has left more than 600 million people in India without power, the second large-scale outage to hit the country in as many days.

Tuesday's blackout hit the northern and eastern parts of the country, including major cities like New Delhi and Kolkata.  It brought rail service to a halt and knocked out traffic signals in the capital.

​​Power companies had restored service to northern India late Monday after an outage that affected more than 300 million people, but the grid collapsed again early Tuesday afternoon.

Limited power failures are common in India, but analysts say such large-scale outages highlight the deficiencies in the country's infrastructure as it strives to become an economic superpower.

India relies heavily on coal to produce electricity for its more than 1.2 billion people.


UN to Visit Flood-Ravaged N. Korea

A United Nations team will visit parts of flood-hit North Korea Tuesday to assess the damage and consider possible aid.

Christopher de Bono, an official with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said U.N. workers already in North Korea would go to the two areas most affected by the flooding that began July 18.

North Korea says torrential rains spawned by a typhoon killed at least 88 people and left thousands homeless.

A recent U.N. report said that two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people face chronic food shortages.  Analysts say the latest flooding could make matters worse, since it came on the tail-end of a drought.


Urgent Appeal For Girl In Leeds 999 Call

Police in West Yorkshire have launched an urgent appeal to trace a little girl who dialled 999 to say her mother was not moving.

The girl, who gave her name as Ellie, called the ambulance service to say her mum had fallen at their home in Leeds.

She said she was three years old and that her mother is called Stacey Hall.

She also told the 999 operators that her house number was 23 and had "Mount" in the street name.

She said her grandparents lived in Bridlington.

The call was made at 10.53am yesterday but despite extensive enquiries since then the police have been unable to identify where it came from.

Detective chief inspector Lisa Griffin, from West Yorkshire's homicide and major enquiry team, said: "We urgently need the public's help to identify exactly where Ellie and her mum are.

"We are hoping that someone out there who knows the family will recognise the pieces of information that the ambulance call taker managed to get from her and will get in touch.

"We are treating this situation extremely seriously as it appears we have a woman in need of urgent medical attention and a vulnerable little girl who will also need our help."

During the call, that lasted 33 minutes, Ellie told the call-taker she was nearly four years old and that her mum had fallen over and would not get up.

She said she had shouted at her mum and wiggled her but she remained on the kitchen floor with a piece of toast in her hand not moving.

She said the front and back door were locked and she could not get out of the house.

A team of detectives has been making wide-ranging enquiries to trace the family, including checks on police systems, hospitals, and the public register of births.

Anyone who thinks they know who Ellie and her mum Stacey Hall are and where they live is asked to urgently call the homicide and major enquiry team via 0800 056 944.

China Says Olympic Doping Accusations Unfair

China's anti-doping chief says it is unfair to single out Chinese athletes, after a top U.S. coach and others expressed concerns about the world record-shattering performance of a Chinese swimmer at the London Olympic games.

"I think it is not proper to single Chinese swimmers out once they produce good results," said Jiang Zhixue, who heads the anti-doping agency of China's General Administration of Sport. "Some people are just biased."

His comments in China's official Xinhua news agency come after U.S. coach John Leonard said the performance of 16-year-old Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen was "unbelievable" and "disturbing."

Ye won gold in the women's 400-meter individual medley Saturday with an unprecedented performance, shattering the previous world record by over a second. She swam the final 50-meter lap faster than American Ryan Lochte did in the men's race.

"History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, "unbelievable," history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved," Leonard told The Guardian on Monday.

He compared Ye's performance to that of Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs following her victory in the same race during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Jiang insists that the doping allegations are not justified, saying "Chinese athletes, including the swimmers, have taken nearly 100 drug tests since they arrived (in London)." He said the success was the result of an "advanced training method and hard work."

Chinese swimmers have in the past been tainted with high-profile doping scandals, most notably in the 1994 and 1998 world championships.

The International Olympic Committee's medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist has said that no accusations should be brought against Ye unless it has been determined that she has tested positive for a banned substance.

Ye, who has denied taking performance enhancing drugs, races Tuesday in the final of the 200-meter individual medley.

Photo Gallery: Olympics Day 3


China Dismisses US Religious Freedom Report

China's state media are lashing out at the United States for releasing a report saying that religious freedom deteriorated in China in the past year.

In its annual report on international religious freedom, the State Department on Monday designated China as one of eight countries in which religious freedom is of "particular concern." Beijing's "official interference in the practice of Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions" had contributed to the self-immolations of at least 12 Tibetans in 2011, the report said.

A commentary in the official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday shot back, saying there is "no justification" for the report, which it said was "full of prejudice, arrogance and ignorance."

Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest China's policies in Tibet. Many have accused Beijing of suppressing and eroding their culture by flooding Tibetan regions with Han Chinese, the country's main ethnic group.

China says the self-immolators, many of whom call for the freedom of Tibet, are "splittists" who are inspired by their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"These incidents were in fact politically motivated, as they were part of the Dalai Lama clique's scheme to internationalize the Tibet issue," the commentary said.

The State Department's report also accused China of "severely repressing" Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, as well as cracking down on groups not affiliated with one of China's official recognized religious groups.

The annual report, which is routinely rejected by Chinese authorities as interference in their internal affairs, has since 1999 designated China as a "Country of Particular Concern" on religious freedom.

Phelps Poised to Make History on Day 3 of Olympics

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps is hoping to win his first gold medal of the 2012 London Olympics Tuesday when he competes in the 200-meter butterfly final.  

A first-place finish will make Phelps, 27, the first man in the history of the Olympics to win a gold medal in the same swimming event in three successive games, having won the medal in 2004 and 2008.  It would also be Phelps's 18th career Olympic medal, putting him even with Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina on the all-time list.  He would own the record outright if he and his teammates win a medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay, later in the day.

On the women's side, two teenage sensations will aim for their second gold medal of the 2012 Olympics -- Ye Shiwen of China, 16, will race in the 200-meter individual medley, while Missy Franklin of the United States, 17, will swim in the 200-meter freestyle event.  Ye broke the world record in the 400-meter medley on Sunday, later fending off accusations that she used performance-enhancing drugs.  Franklin took gold in the 100-meter freestyle on Monday, just minutes after qualifying for the 200-meter event.


In women's gymnastics, the United States is the favorite to take home the team gold medal, holding a solid lead over Russia and China.  

In the equestrian event, second-place Great Britain is hoping to outclass the first-place German team in Tuesday's team competition, which combines the riding disciplines of dressage and obstacle jumping.  The British team includes Zara Phillips, the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth.  

Empty seats

Outside the Olympic venues, Londoners are angry about the huge amounts of empty seats at many of the events.  The seats were reserved by national and international Olympic federations and Olympic sponsors.  In response to the outcry, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that military personnel and other members of the general public will be offered tickets to events.  

After three days of competition, China and the United States are tied with 17 medals, followed by Japan with 11, Italy with 8 and France with 7.


Fighting Continues in Syria

Syrian opposition activists have reported widespread clashes Tuesday, including continued fighting in the country's largest city, Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces were shelling several neighborhoods in Aleppo, and that soldiers were clashing with rebels in the city.

The Observatory, whose reports from witnesses inside the country cannot be confirmed because of restrictions on foreign media, said President Bashar al-Assad's forces were also shelling parts of Deraa province and carrying out raids there.

Activists said fighting also took place in several areas of the capital, Damascus, and in Homs province.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that he is extremely concerned about the impact the shelling and heavy weapons is having on Syrian civilians.  

He also called on Assad to promise not to use chemical weapons under any circumstances.

Also Monday, Britain's Foreign Office said Syria's chief diplomat in London defected, making him the latest top official to quit in protest of Syria's bloody crackdown against the opposition.

The foreign office said Charge D'affaires Khaled al-Ayoubi informed it that he would no longer represent President Assad's government.

Italian Police Raid Barclays Over Rate-Fixing

Italian police have taken documents from a Barclays office in Milan as part of a probe into possible Euribor rate manipulation, according to Reuters.

It said the raid occurred as regulators investigated fixing fears of the eurozone equivalent of the scandal-hit, London-based Libor inter-bank lending rate.

The search was ordered by prosecutors in the southern city of Trani, who have opened a criminal probe into the possible manipulation of the Euribor rate.

The move comes after complaints were filed by two consumer groups, Adusbef and Federconsumatori.

Two judicial sources also confirmed the raid occurred last week, according to Reuters.

The consumer groups released a joint statement and said documents, computer material and emails were seized.

They said the Milan raid occurred "with the aim of looking for evidence that Barclays also manipulated Euribor, as it did with Libor, with a negative impact on mortgage rates paid by Italians".

More follows...

Office of Fair Trading Investigates Expedia

Britain's competition regulator has claimed that Expedia, Intercontinental Hotels and have breached competition law.

The Office for Fair Trading (OFT) said that online travel agents Expedia and, and Intercontinental Hotels (IHG) signed potentially unlawful deals to limit discounts on rooms.

It said that its provisional view was that all three companies had infringed competition law.

The arrangement between and IHG is still in place, while Expedia allegedly violated rules between October 2007 and September 2010, the OFT added.

The regulator described the deals as "anti-competitive" because they could limit price competition between online travel agents and hinder agents attempting to gain market share by offering discounts to consumers.

IHG owns over 4,500 hotels, including the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands.

The chief executive of the OFT, Clive Maxwell, said: 'We want people to benefit fully from being able to shop around online and get a better deal from discounters that are prepared to share their commission with customers."

IHG said in a statement that its arrangements with online booking agents were "compliant with competition laws and consistent with the long-standing approach of the global hotel industry".

It said it was is cooperating fully with the OFT's investigation, which began in 2010.

The regulator said all parties will now have a full opportunity to respond to its findings before the watchdog decides whether competition law has in fact been infringed.

More to follow...

Police Hunt After Teen Dies In Hit And Run

Police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who left a teenage boy dying in the road after knocking him from his bike.

The 14-year-old, who has not yet been named, was riding along the A2 London Road near Sittingbourne in Kent shortly after 9pm on Monday when he was hit.

The driver of the car, a dark Fiat Punto, did not stop and sped off towards Teynham following the incident close to the Bapchild Cricket Club.

The boy was treated by paramedics but died at the scene.

Kent Police said the Punto would have been damaged at the front following the collision.

Anyone with information should contact the serious collision investigation unit on 01622 798 538.

He Serves 100 Million Customers @Holloman Meets Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane

He Serves 100 Million Customers @Holloman Meets Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane

Christer Holloman July 31, 2012 9:04 AM

Various cloud services are transforming all departments in most companies right now. One area I haven’t talked much about is customer service, but of course also this is in need of modernisation. I met with Mikkel that took it upon him to change the way companies service their customers by creating Zendesk. Today he and his 200 employees are helping 15,000 companies give support to 100 million customers around the world. We also talked about why he felt a need to relocate the company from Europe to Silicon Valley to grow quicker.

Police Arrest Teenager Over Daley Hate Tweet

A 17-year-old has been arrested after malicious tweets were sent to Olympic diver Tom Daley.

Dorest Police said the teenager was held at a guesthouse in Weymouth hours after 18-year-old Daley received the messages on social networking site Twitter.

A police spokeswoman said: "A 17-year-old man was arrested by Dorest Police officers in the early hours this morning at a guesthouse in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications.

"He is currently helping police with their enquiries."

Daley and his Team GB diving partner Pete Waterfield missed out on a London 2012 Olympic medal after finishing in fourth place in the men's synchronised 10m platform final on Monday.

After the event, Daley tweeted: "#gutted so sorry everyone but we tried our best and we can't afford to miss a dive at this standard... bring on individual!"

Shortly afterwards, he hit out a Twitter user who accused him of letting down his father, who died in 2011 from brain cancer.

Daley retweeted a message from @Rileyy_69 which said: "You let your dad down i hope you know that."

The diver responded by tweeting: "After giving it my all... you get idiots sending me this..."

Speaking before the Olympics, Daley, from Plymouth in Devon, said his father "gave me all the inspiration that I've needed".

He told the BBC: "Winning a medal would make all the struggles that I've had worthwhile.

"It's been a dream since a very young age to compete at an Olympics.

"I'm doing it for myself and my dad. It was both our dreams from a very young age.

"I always wanted to do it and dad was so supportive of everything.

"It would make it extra special to do it for him."

More to follow...

BP Profit Drop 35% For Second Quarter Of 2012

Oil giant BP sees a drop in profit of 35% in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year.

It blamed the slide partially on a reduction in oil production and also a lowering of the crude oil market price in the quarter.

The oil giant also revealed that it paid out £5.6bn to individuals and firms affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP said it still sees "significant uncertainty" over the oil spill.

More follows...

Senin, 30 Juli 2012

Ghana’s New President to Nominate Vice President

The majority leader in Ghana’s parliament has said President John Dramani Mahama is scheduled to present the name of his nominee for the position of vice president to the legislative body Tuesday.

The former vice president was installed president following the sudden death of President John Atta-Mills last week in accordance with the Ghanaian constitution.
Cletus Avoka said the legislature will have to confirm the nominee before the candidate can officially assume duties to help the president discharge his duties.

 “We expect that as soon as we begin proceedings this morning, we will expect to have the name of the president’s nominee,” said Avoka.

“The nominee would be referred to the Appointments Committee by the Speaker who will do the necessary investigations to check about the fellow’s background, qualification, competence, integrity, morality etc., and present a report to the house for consideration and approval.”

If confirmed, the candidate will serve the five remaining months of the late president’s term ahead of the December general election.

Avoka said parliament has a short period to vet and confirm the president’s nominee.

“We don’t have time on our side; otherwise, we would have to advertise in the [news] papers and ask for people to submit petitions or memoranda as to what they know about the nominee,” continued Avoka.  
“But, given the fact that he [or she] is the second highest official in the land, and then time is not on our side, it may not be possible to subject him or her to this process.  So, we are having discussions…to find out how we can smooth the rough edges and make sure that the fellow nominated is actually approved by parliament.”

Meanwhile, the government has directed a minute’s silence Tuesday in honor of the late Atta-Mills. The day and time marks one week and the exact time that he passed away.

“Wherever people find themselves throughout Ghana, at 2:15pm on Tuesday, 31st July, 2012, they are to observe a minute’s silence as directed and also say a prayer afterwards for the soul of President Atta-Mills, who worked selflessly towards bettering the lives of Ghanaians,” read the government’s statement.

The funeral planning committee of the late leader has also inspected a number of places to be considered as a final resting place for presidents of the Republic of Ghana.  Places the committee visited included the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum, the Military Cemetery, the Castle Marine Drive and the Flagstaff House.

When a consensus is arrived at, the selected place is to be developed into a national memorial park for all Ghanaian presidents.

Avoka, who is a member of the funeral planning committee, said both the majority and minority members of parliament are involved in the planning of the funeral arrangements of the late president.

“The majority and minority are going to be involved in this funeral process. In addition to that, we have formed various committees to be able to handle various aspects of the funeral preparations.  And then, two or three members, who are going to be members of the funeral committee, will serve on various committees to ensure that we give our departed president a befitting burial,” said Avoka.

Clottey interview with Cletus Avo, majority leader of Ghana's parliament

Opening for Investment, Burma Faces Human Rights Challenges

STATE DEPARTMENT — More foreign firms are moving into Burma with the easing of U.S. and European sanctions, following recent political reforms.  But the Obama administration says it expects U.S. investors to lead by example in improving labor conditions, amid concerns that a more open Burma could worsen human trafficking.

U.S. and European sanctions hurt Burma's banking sector, making it harder for foreign firms to invest.

But with those sanctions eased, Google, Coca-Cola and General Motors are leading the charge into Burma.  Meeting with corporate leaders before the largest-ever U.S. trade mission to the country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expects them to be agents of positive change by doing business responsibly.

Clinton has told Burmese President Thein Sein that Washington will respond to reforms on an action-for-action basis, as his government legalizes trade unions, eases media censorship, and frees political prisoners.

But with a 30 percent poverty rate, UNICEF's Burma representative Ramesh Shrestha says one of the biggest risks in Burma is child exploitation. "If government opens up as it said, democratically, then obviously it opens up for everything.  That would mean the existing bad control of the situation might be loosened up.  That would mean people would do what they want to do.  This could be legal or illegal, all these things could happen," he said. 

Jesse Eaves, the senior policy advisor for child protection at the aid group World Vision, says the important thing is that positive steps are being made. "We have seen countries like Burma starting to really take a look at what is happening in its own borders, what is happening to their citizens and trying to take the proper response to it," he said. 

Eaves says World Vision is raising awareness about human trafficking and child exploitation in Burma by working with survivors to speak out.  "It is amazing the change that you can see just by addressing the issue, by bringing it out in the open and shining a light on it," he said. "I think the biggest problem we see is that most people do not know what it is that they are looking at.  They may just think, 'This is normal.  This is what we have always done.'"

Lex Rieffel, an economic expert at the Brookings Institution, says the speed of Burma's economic reform could challenge welfare and development programs. "We have seen a pattern where countries that invest heavily in natural resources tend to under invest in human resources.  Experience tells us that it is the investment in human resources that pays off in the long term," he said. 

But Britain's investment chief Nick Baird says foreign firms can make a big impact in Burma. "It is not just economic, but working together in an open and transparent and responsible business way, will actually help the stability of this country," he said. 

The message is echoed by the new U.S. ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell, who says outside investment can move the country toward greater transparency and accountability. 

Americans Seek Repeat Golds in Olympic Beach Volleyball

LONDON — The London Olympics beach volleyball tournament is being played at the Horse Guards Parade grounds, one of the iconic venues of the Olympics and one that brings together the past and the present.

The Horse Guards Parade dates back to 1745.  It takes its name from the soldiers who have provided protection for the monarch since 1660.  It is seen as the heart of London’s ceremonial life and still hosts an impressive display of pageantry every year on the Queen’s official birthday.

But during the Olympics, sand, volleyball nets and women in brief bikini swimsuits are on display for the beach volleyball event.

American Misty May-Treanor, who with partner Kerri Walsh, has won the last two women’s beach volleyball gold medals, thinks it is fitting.

“As far as bringing new and old together, that is our sport.  If you look at us like new players coming in, old players, you want to mesh the two.  And I think that is what the site symbolizes is generations intermixing and meshing,” she said.

American April Ross, half of the other U.S. women’s beach volleyball duo, thinks having the clash of cultures was a great idea.

“I think the clash is going to bring people in.  They are going to want to see it, and that is why the event is so popular.  And hopefully we gain lifetime fans because they truly appreciate it once they see it.  But we feel so blessed to be playing there.  It is such a historic site, and I think we got the best location of the entire Olympics,” Ross said.

The women’s field at these Olympics, according to May-Treanor, is strong throughout.

“It is great to see the world of beach volleyball growing the way it has, and it has grown tremendously worldwide.  If you look at the tournaments leading up to these Games there’s been such parity amongst the different winners.  So you can see how the game is growing and that is what us as athletes want,” May-Treanor said.

Of course that will make it more difficult for May-Treanor and Walsh to win an unprecedented third gold medal.  The two have been a team since 2001.  They both stepped away from the sport for a couple of years after winning at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but May-Treanor said they have enjoyed playing together again.

“For me it is coming to an end after this event.  This is my last event.  You know, for us it is about the journey.  It is about the hard work.  It is putting in the extra hours.  But we are really excited to be here together again,” May-Treanor said.

May-Treanor says since Beijing the style of play in beach volleyball has even changed, but they have adapted.  What she finds hard now is hearing ages announced at tournaments before she plays.  She celebrated her 35th birthday Monday in London and Walsh is 34.  Many of their opponents are 21 and 22 - like the American pair was when they started out in the sport.

And there has even been a major rule change.  Only two months before the London Games, the International Olympic Committee changed the rules so that women do not have to wear bikinis.  A number of culturally conservative countries had lobbied for that.

Jen Kessy, one of the other U.S. women’s beach volleyball players in London, backs the change.

“We actually think it is a great thing for the sport.  We want women of all different religions and everywhere from across the world to be able to play our sport, and to not be able to play because of the attire is not okay for us.  So the fact that they can wear more modest gear is something great,” Kessy said.

The men beach volleyball players, of course, do not have to worry about such things.  And they do not get nearly the attention either.  But Beijing gold medalist Phil Dalhausser of the United States, at a joint news conference with the women, told reporters he does not care.

“I am perfectly okay with it.  They are way prettier than us, so I do not blame you guys for wanting to talk to them,” Dalhausser said.

Dalhausser, along with partner Todd Rogers, are trying to duplicate their gold medal achievement from Beijing, just like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.  But all four said since they have already gotten their gold, they do not feel as much pressure and are able to enjoy the experience of London Olympics.

Clinton: World Seeking Inclusive Government in Egypt

STATE DEPARTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Egyptian people and the international community are looking to the new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to appoint an inclusive government the includes women and Christians. Clinton spoke following the release of the annual U.S. report on worldwide religious freedom.

Secretary Clinton says President Morsi has repeatedly promised to be the president of all Egyptians, regardless of their religion. But during talks in Cairo earlier this month, she says she heard from Christians who wonder whether they will have the same rights as other Egyptians in a new government led by the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.

"They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally?  Since this is the first time that Egypt has ever been in this situation, it’s a fair question," Clinton said.

Questions of religious freedom dominated Secretary Clinton's visit to Egypt, with protestors in Cairo and Alexandria accusing the Obama administration of backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Speaking in Washington on Monday following the release of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, Clinton said the United States does not take the side of one political party over another.  She said Washington supports the rights of all people to live, work, and worship how they choose with no group imposing its ideology on others.

"The Egyptian people will look to their elected leaders to protect the rights of all citizens and govern in a fair and inclusive manner - and so will we.  And if voters make different choices in future elections, then they and we will expect their leaders to respond to the will of the people and give up power.  We are prepared to work with the leaders that the Egyptian people choose, but our engagement with those leaders will be based on their commitment to universal democratic principles," Clinton said.

In its annual report on religious freedom, the United States said Egypt's transitional government made gestures toward greater inclusiveness, but failed to hold accountable security forces that cracked down on an October protest outside the national radio and television station in which 25 people were killed, mostly Coptic Christians.

The report said there had been a "marked deterioration during 2011 in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom in China" including in Tibetan areas and against Muslims living in the Xiangjing Uighur Autonomous Region as well as against Christian "house churches" such as the Shouwang church in Beijing.

The report says the Nigerian government "did not effectively quell rising hostility or investigate and prosecute those responsible for violence" in attacks by elements of the fundamentalist Boko Haram group that have claimed the lives of both Christians and Muslims.  It said there were also reports of abuses of religious freedom "by certain state governments and local political actors who stoked communal and sectarian violence with impunity."

Secretary Clinton said religious freedom gives lives meaning and dignity, whatever religion people belong to or if they belong to no religion at all.

"Religious freedom is not just about religion.  It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a Mass or Muslims to hold a religious funeral or Baha'is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together - as important as those rituals are.  Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship, without the state looking over their shoulder," Clinton said.

Listed as "countries of particular concern" in this year's report are China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, and Uzbekistan.

Hindu-Americans Rank Top in Education, Income

Hindu-Americans have the highest socioeconomic levels among all religions in the United States, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Experts say U.S. immigration policy is the main reason Hindus do so well.

Both the 1965 Immigration Act and the more recent H1-B visa program set the table for Hindus to succeed. The former encouraged the immigration of professionals, particularly doctors and engineers, while the latter was designed to encourage the immigration of highly skilled “guest workers.” 

The number of H1-B visas issued to Indians grew steadily in the late 1990s and early 2000s and then spiked again in 2007. In 2011, according to the study, India accounted for more than half of all the H1-B visas granted.

“The education capital of this group is phenomenal,” said Khyati Joshi, an associate professor at the Fairleigh Dickinson School of Education in Teaneck, New Jersey.

The Pew study, titled “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths,” bears that out, and the numbers are staggering.

Eighty-five percent of Hindu-Americans are college graduates, and 57 percent have some postgraduate education, which is nearly five times the national average.

Education levels largely correlate to income, and there as well, Hindus rank at the top of the list.

According to the study, 48 percent of Hindu-American households have an income of $100,000 or more, and 70 percent make at least $75,000.

Another, secondary driver for the success of Hindus can be traced back to India’s caste system, according to Prema Kurien, a professor of sociology and the director of  the Asian/Asian American Studies Program at Syracuse University in New York.

“Hindu migrants to the U.S. are largely from upper caste backgrounds,” she said. “Upper castes have had a long history of socioeconomic and educational advantage in India.”

According to Alan Cooperman, the associate director for research for the study, the success of Hindus stems from the type of person that chooses to leave India and who the U.S. admits. This, he said, is quite different from other immigrant groups, where there are often high numbers of refugees or undocumented immigrants.

“This is the first time anybody has had good data on [Hindus],” said Cooperman. “Hindus are a fascinating group.”

Row Erupts Over Chinese Swimming Sensation

A diplomatic row breaks out after an American coach describes the performance of a Chinese swimmer as suspicious and disturbing.

Ye Shiwen, 16, has denied doping and says her results come from hard work and training.

She smashed a world record in Saturday's women's 400 metre medley - swimming the final 50 metres of the race faster than the men's champion, Ryan Lochte.

John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, told the Guardian: "We want to be very careful about calling it doping.

"The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable', history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved.

"That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta."

That was a reference to Irish swimmer Michelle Smith who was banned for four years in 1998, two years after Atlanta, after testing positive for androstenedione.

Leonard said: "She looks like superwoman. Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping".

Ye Shiwen took five seconds off her personal best and more than a second off the world record in the 400m individual medley.

Her swim was described as "insanely fast" by previous world record holder Steph Rice.

Ye herself insists the team have nothing to hide, saying: "The Chinese team keep very firmly to the anti-doping policies, so there is absolutely no problem."

IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist, a veteran anti-doping competitor, did not express any concerns when asked if he had any suspicions regarding the swimmers in London.

Ljungqvist said: "I am pretty experienced in this matter, as you know, and have been at the Games since a long time and within anti doping for 40 years.

"You ask me specifically about this particular swimming. I say no, I have not personally any reason other than to applaud what has happened, until I have further facts, if so."

Users of China's popular microblogging site Weibo - the country's equivalent to Twitter - quickly leapt to the swimmer's defence, accusing the US and UK of "jealousy".

"It's not classy at all to say that record-breakers have taken drugs. It's just jealousy," wrote one user.

Another post said: "She's just a child. Don't be so beastly to her."

But others expressed their doubts.

"Maybe the Chinese have discovered some sort of new drug, for how could she suddenly have become this strong?" said one blogger.

Over a million Weibo users have so far posted comments on the subject.

Free Syrian Army Hangs On In Aleppo

Rebel fighters have vowed to make Aleppo the "grave" of President Bashar al Assad's regime as they hung on in Syria's second city in the face of overwhelming firepower.

Areas held by the Free Syrian Army were shelled and strafed by helicopter gunships as Government troops sought to crush the opposition in the country's commercial hub.

The military claimed it had retaken control of the Salaheddine district, which straddles a route which could be used by troop reinforcements from the south, after heavy fighting.

But rebel fighters, patrolling the city in flat-bed lorries flying the green, white and black flag of the uprising, said they were holding on to the area despite the pounding it was taking.

Mohammed, a young fighter, told Reuters: "We always knew the regime's grave would be Aleppo.

"Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country's population and the entire force of its economy. Bashar's forces will be buried here."

Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army military council for Aleppo, insisted that the rebels still controlled "between 35 and 40% of Aleppo."

About 200,000 residents have fled the violencei in the last two days, according to the UN, but many remain trapped in the city.

An activist working with a network of Aleppo volunteers organising food and shelter told AFP that as many as 70,000 people were currently being sheltered in schools, university dorms and charity centres.

In the makeshift shelters, "there is no problem between the supporters of the government and the opposition. They are all in the same position," he said.

Others had been displaced had left the under-fire neighbourhoods and were staying with friends and family elsewhere in the city.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Aleppo.

"I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of other heavy weapons on civilians in Aleppo and other locations in Syria.

"I remind the parties in the conflict of their obligations under the international humanitarian law and human rights laws and urge them to exercise restraint and avoid any further bloodshed."

Kidnapper Jailed After Raising Child As Own

A woman who snatched a newborn baby from a New York hospital in 1987 and raised the child as her own is jailed for 12 years.

Ann Pettway, who pleaded guilty to the abduction in February, took three-week-old Carlina White from the Harlem hospital emergency department where she had been taken with a high fever.

Her real parents did not see her for 23 years until Carlina herself - who was brought up in Connecticut under the name Nejdra Nance -  became suspicious and discovered her identity while browsing the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In sentencing Pettway, Judge Kevin Castel said the defendant had been mentally ill and deeply depressed after three miscarriages when she decided to dress up as a nurse and carry out the abduction.

But he added that she had "inflicted a parents' worst nightmare".

Pettway, who had agreed to plead guilty in return for a more lenient sentence, apologised for her actions and said she still loved the woman she raised.

"All I can do now is ask forgiveness from her and her parents. It may not sound correct on paper but I am hopelessly sorry," she wrote.

"My action led to such a huge loss for her parents, but there is nothing I can do to right this wrong that I committed."

Carlina's birth parents, who were reunited with their daughter in January 2011, said the sentence was too little for the years of anguish inflicted by Pettway.

"I'm broken into a million pieces," Carlina's mother, Joy White, told the court. "My daughter's here, but she's not home yet.

Father, Carl Tyson said: "For 23 years, Ann, you had me suffering. You put a stone in my heart.

"I know you have your family and friends here," he told Pettway. "But they don't know what you've done to me."

Outsiode the court, he added: "I wasn't able to take my daughter to school, take my daughter to day care, watch my daughter get on the bus and you know, have birthday parties with my daughter."

Radical Cleric Launches New Bid For Freedom

Radical preacher Abu Qatada is launching a fresh bid for freedom at the High Court later.

He will ask two judges for permission to challenge his ongoing detention by Home Secretary Theresa May.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) ruled two months ago his detention was lawful.

Leaving him free during heightened security for the 2012 Olympics would be "exceptionally problematic", a judge said.

Lawyers for Qatada, referred to in legal documents as Omar Mahmoud Othman, are expected to argue that the Home Secretary and Siac are acting unlawfully.

The lawyers are applying for permission to seek judicial review and a writ of habeas corpus freeing him from custody while he fights deportation to Jordan.

His last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over his removal failed on May 9.

Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among Islamic extremists, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and faces a retrial in his home country.

Mrs May restarted deportation proceedings in April after she received assurances from the Jordanian authorities that evidence obtained by torture would not be used against him.

His legal team say they will take the battle back to the European courts if Siac rules against him at a tribunal hearing fixed for October.

Qatada, who is accused of involvement in several bomb attacks, is being held at high-security Long Lartin Prison in Worcestershire.

A judge described him as the late Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe.

He featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.

Repeated failed attempts by UK governments over the last 10 years to deport the radical cleric have cost nearly £1m in legal fees, Government figures show.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Abu Qatada's legal team are clearly clutching at straws in their attempts to get this dangerous man released, when jail is where he belongs."

Minggu, 29 Juli 2012

Floods Kill 88, Cause Major Damage in North Korea

North Korea says torrential rains spawned by a typhoon have caused at least 88 deaths and 134 injuries, and have left thousands homeless.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday that more than 5,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and nearly 63,000 people were left homeless by flooding that began on July 18. About 4,800 hectares of cropland were washed away when typhoon Khanun swept through North Korea on July 23 and 24.

The KCNA warned of more heavy rains on Sunday and Monday.

A recent U.N. report said that two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people face chronic food shortages. Analysts say the latest flooding could make matters worse, since it came on the tail-end of a drought.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Russian Supply Ship Docks with International Space Station

An unmanned Russian cargo ship has re-docked with the International Space Station after a failed attempt five days earlier.
The docking Sunday was successful, after an earlier attempt failed because of problems with a new docking system.
The new docking system will be sent back to Earth for modification. 
The supply ship will load garbage from the space station, then be sent to burn up in the atmosphere.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

Nigeria, Tunisia Tip Off London Olympic Men's Basketball

LONDON — In the opening game of Olympic men's basketball competition, Nigeria edged African rival Tunisia Sunday, 60-56.

Both African teams were making their debuts in Olympic men's basketball. It looked like Nigeria, faster, stronger and quicker to the ball, was headed for an easy victory over Tunisia. "D'Tigers" of Nigeria led by as many as 19 points in the first half and took a 31-15 lead into the break.

But the Tunisians, the reigning African champions, rallied in the second half.  

Led by captain Amine Rzig, who had a game-high 18 points, the Tunisians closed the gap to two points late in the game.

Nigeria's Al-Farouq Aminu, who plays for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets club, made some key free throws at the end of the game to clinch the victory.  

He tallied 10 points and nine rebounds, while his older brother, 24-year-old Alade, had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.

Alade Aminu told VOA it was thrilling to be a part of Nigeria's first ever Olympic victory in men's basketball.
“History in the making right here," said Alade Aminu. "I feel like a living legend. I mean it is history of the Olympics, not having been here before. Everything we do is history from here on out. It is just a beautiful feeling. All my heritage and all my roots are in Nigeria, back home in Africa.  I know 120-million people back home are really happy.  We put Nigeria and basketball also on the map."

Alade Aminu also said the Tunisians showed a lot of fighting spirit with their second-half comeback.
“You gotta give Tunisia a lot of credit," he said. "They showed a lot of resilience. They could have folded. They could have said, 'OK, this is a better team.'  But they showed a lot of fight. So give a lot of credit to Tunisia. It is our job to try to make it look easy, but it was not easy. I mean they showed a lot of heart right there at the end. But luckily, we had a little grit and a little grind at the end to be able to pull it out."
The Aminu brothers were born in the United States to Nigerian parents.  They are part of a Nigerian Olympic team dominated by players with both Nigeria and U.S. citizenship.

In preliminary round action Tuesday, Nigeria will play Lithuania and Tunisia will take on the gold-medal favorite United States.

A crowd of almost 7,000 attended the Nigeria-Tunisia game at the Olympic Park Basketball Arena, one of the largest temporary venues ever built for an Olympics. The 12-team Olympic men's basketball tournament will culminate August 12th with the gold medal game.

Yemen: Facing Hunger in a Permanent State of Crisis

Tucked away in the corner of the Arabian Peninsula and somewhat obscured by surrounding Persian Gulf countries, Yemen is struggling with multiple crises: If an ongoing uprising and endless clashes between Yemen’s security forces and al-Qaida militants weren’t enough of a challenge for the impoverished nation, nearly half of Yemen’s people are going hungry, with many facing the danger of starvation.

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that nearly ten million Yemenis are “food insecure.” They fall into two categories - five million are classified as “severely food insecure,” that is, those who are unable to buy or grow food themselves, and another five million who are “moderately food insecure,” that is, they are at risk of going without food due to rising food prices and the ongoing civil conflict. Combined, they account for 44.5 percent of Yemen’s population of close to 25 million.

Children are particularly vulnerable. The WFP reports that half of Yemen's children are chronically malnourished and that one out of ten does not live to reach the age of five.

The picture is one of a country on the brink of a disastrous and rapid decline into humanitarian crisis.

Such emergency levels of chronic malnutrition, according to the WFP, are second globally only to Afghanistan. In its assessment of the situation, the organization characterizes “the picture [as] one of a country on the brink of a disastrous and rapid decline into humanitarian crisis.”

Compounding the problem is a lack of sufficient water and sanitation. Geert Cappelaere, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) country representative for Yemen, says that half the Yemeni population doesn’t have access to clean water supplies or adequate sanitation.

“The situation is worsening,” Cappelaere told VOA, “a third of Yemen’s water supplies are not working, as a result of long-term depletion of water resources, drought, poor electricity supplies and disruption of water points, stemming from the continued conflict and lack of maintenance.”

Cappeleare pointed out that UNICEF has set up feeding centers and is working to improve water sources.  It has also trained community volunteers to work with Yemen’s hungry. The United Nations World Food Program has committed $207 million for food projects in the country, but Cappelaere said this was not enough and that more international aid is severely needed.

A man carries food aid provided by the Red Crescent Society in Sanaa July 2, 2012.


A man carries food aid provided by the Red Crescent Society in Sanaa July 2, 2012.
​​Getting aid to the hungry

Care International, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Merlin, Oxfam and Save the Children have joined together to form a coalition to combat Yemen’s massive hunger problem through a coordinated aid effort for the country.
Jerry Farrell, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, told VOA that there is a difference between a food crisis and hunger.

“This is not a food crisis. There is plenty of food in the markets, with the exception of Abyan, the scene of recent fighting,” Farrell said. The problem is that people either lack the money to buy food or are unable to travel to markets.

In order to avoid undermining local markets, Save the Children and other organizations in the coalition are distributing food vouchers or cash to needy families.

Farrell said aid organizations face tremendous challenges in Yemen. First, donor funding doesn’t come close to matching Yemen’s needs and the monies that are available don’t reach the country fast enough. “Donor funding is too slow,” he said. “What should take weeks takes months in terms of the approval and funding process.” In some areas, he added, access is limited or cut off altogether. 

Farrell believes that the key to these challenges lies in communication: “There is very limited, accurate information about the needs in Yemen,” he said. “The NGOs wind up conducting their own assessments. This costs time and money, funds that would be better used in developing and implementing humanitarian programs.”

International donors

Aid groups have persuaded individual countries to join in the effort.  The United Arab Emirates has donated $5 million. Saudi Arabia has promised $3.25 billion to help Yemen improve infrastructure and security, which will help the hungry reach marketplaces.  The European Union has contributed $32 million to Yemeni aid efforts, while India has recently offered to donate food assistance consisting of packages of rice.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently increased its humanitarian assistance to Yemen. In early June, it allocated an additional $6.5 million, bringing the humanitarian assistance total by the U.S. to $80 million in 2012.