Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paedophile Priests Face 'Burning in Hell'

(News Today) - Paedophile priests face the prospect of burning in Hell for ever, according to the Vatican’s top prosecutor dealing with sex abuse cases. Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the promoter of justice within the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was speaking at a prayer service for the victims of abuse.

He told priests gathered at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City: ‘It would be better for them if their crimes were their cause of death in this life because for them eternal damnation in the fires of Hell will be greater.’

The service was organised by seminary students in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s March letter to Irish bishops chastising them for errors over abuse.

The Vatican has been rocked by a series of abuse cases in Ireland, America, Germany and Austria. And earlier this year Monsignor Scicluna said that since 2001 he has dealt with 3,000 abuse cases dating back 50 years.

Last week, at a meeting of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco accepted it was ‘possible’ sex abuse by the clergy might have been covered up in Italy.

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Warning : Facebook Malware Attack on The Loose

(News Today) - This post was originally published on

A Facebook phishing attack was on the loose on the weekend — the third widespread attack on the site in the past three weeks. The attack attempts to steal your Facebook login credentials, install malware on your computer, and even get your home address.

The attack is spread via a "hilarious video" posted to Facebook walls, reports WebSense — when clicked, a form appears requesting your Facebook login.

The attack then returns you to Facebook, installs an app called "Media Player HD", and asks you to download the "FLV player" — doing so installs malware on your machine. It gets worse: Depending on your location, you may also be presented with a contest to win an iPad ... if you just enter your home address.

To avoid getting caught, simply remove the "hilarious video" if you find it on your Facebook wall. If you see it elsewhere on Facebook, don't click it ... and of course remember the obvious rule: Don't enter your Facebook login anywhere other than on

If you already fell for the attack, change your Facebook password, uninstall the Facebook app (often called "Media Player HD"), and run a virus/malware scan on your computer.

This video, courtesy of Websense, explains the attack.

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Internet Access as A Fundamental Right

(News Today) - Internet use has become so woven into everyday life that some technology experts say online access should be legally protected, even to the point of considering it a human right.

''It's a social inclusion question,'' said Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre executive director David Vaile, who is alarmed film and music companies have sought to require internet service providers to disconnect individual accounts over unproven piracy allegations.

Mr Vaile said removing online access would potentially disenfranchise people from society. Australian copyright provisions allowing ''fair use'' were substantially less forgiving than US laws and threatened consumers here with losing their online access.

''The number of people who could be chucked off like this is quite huge,'' Mr Vaile said.

Almost two-thirds of Australian homes - more than 5 million households - now have broadband access, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The federal government wants to expand this access via the planned $43 billion national broadband network, which aims to connect 90 per cent of Australian homes to a high-speed network of 100 megabits per second. The rest would be connected using wireless and satellite technologies.

The call to safeguard online access is not without precedent. In France and Greece, consumers have a legal right to internet access. In Finland and Estonia, it has been enshrined as a human right. Earlier this year, the BBC commissioned a GlobeScan survey of more than 27,000 people in 26 countries that found 79 per cent of adults regarded online access as a fundamental right.

Internet community activist Brett Solomon, the former head of GetUp! and now executive director of in the US, backed Mr Vaile's call to safeguard online access.

''Access to the internet is both a gateway to other rights and a right unto itself,'' Mr Solomon said, describing it as ''essential to the enjoyment of one's basic human rights''. He said online access was central to freedom of expression. ''Without access … citizens cannot fully participate in modern democracy,'' he said.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson, QC, said the commission had not yet looked at internet access as a human right. But it did recognise internet access may raise issues ''relevant to the right to freedom of expression'' as defined in a United Nations covenant on civil and political rights.

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Celine Dion Pregnant Again at Last

Los Angeles (News Today) - Celine Dion's struggle to have one more baby has more than paid off. She's pregnant with two.

Publicist Kim Jakwerth told The Associated Press in an e-mail Sunday that the 42-year-old Canadian songstress is 14 weeks pregnant with twins, and she plans to find out the sex of the babies next month.

Dion and her husband and manager Rene Angelil have one son, 9-year-old Rene Charles. She had undergone several rounds of in-vitro fertilization in an attempt to get pregnant again.

The pregnancy was first reported by People Magazine. Dion is working on new albums in English and French, and returns next year to Las Vegas for a three-year residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

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"Loving Culture for Our Future" to Attract Tourists

Jayapura - Indonesia (News Today) - Themed "Loving Culture for Our Future," Lake Sentani Festival (LSF) from June 19 to 23, 2010, will try to attract as many domestic and foreign tourists as possible. Jayapura district head Habel Melkias Suwae said here on Sunday that preparations had been made for this annual cultural festivity.

He said this year’s event would be the third since its first one held in 2008, and will serve as a year-long gateway for the tourism industry in the Indonesian easternmost province, Papua. In 2008, the Papua Tourism Office organized the first Lake Sentani Festival from July 16 to 19 that year to support the annual Lembah Baliem Festival in Jayawijaya district.

Since then, the LSF was held as an effort to protect the culture of Jayapura district, especially at the areas around Lake Sentani. Located some 75 meters above sea level and surrounded by beautiful hills, the 3.63-hectare Lake Sentani is a perfect place for fishing, swimming, canoing, skiing, and other kinds of water sports.

"No wonder, Lake Sentani Festival will serve as a year-long gateway for the tourism industry in Jayapura district specifically and in Papua province in general," Habel Melkias Suwae said.

It means, he said, that in this case tourism will strengthen the identity of the people of Papua, preserve their traditional and cultural values, step up their economy. Therefore, Habel added that the Jayapura district administration would make every effort to develop the attractive villages around Lake Sentani to constantly attract as many tourists as possible.

"This year’s Lake Sentani Festival is themed ’Loving Culture for Our Future’ because whoever loves and preserves traditional and cultural values, will also prepare the future of the future generation," Habel said.

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Lampung's Export to China Reaches 721,949 Tons

Bandar Lampung (News Today) - Lampung’s nonoil/gas commodity exports to China reached 721.949 tons in the Jan-April 2010 period. Head of the Lampung small and medium industrial and trade cooperatives agency Suparmo said here Sunday that Lampung’s nonoil/gas exports to China in the first quarter of this year reached 721,949 tons worth 50.16 million dollars.

Suparmo said that during that period 15 of Lampung’s commodities had been exported to China, including frozen shrimp, swallow nests, robusta coffee, resin, crude palm oil, cacao, pineapple, in addition to copra iron ore, manganese ore, rubber, palm shell charcoal, coconut net charcoal, and coconut fiber.

The exporters of these commodities were PT Centrl Proteinaprima TBK, PT Keong Nusantara Abadi, PT Indo Cafco, PT Harapan Sawit Lestari, PT Tunas Baru Lampung TBK, PT Cocoa Perkasa Sulawesi, PT Karunai Alam Prima Sejati. Also exporting the commodities were PT Kolingkas, PT Boyu Asia Resources, PT Daya Makmur Perkasa, PT Andalas Tetra Jaya, PT Tambang Batu Bara Bukit Asam, PT Berdikari (Persero), PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) VII, PT Komering Jaya Perdana, PT Stimec International, PT Abdi Andalan Abadi Jaya, and CV Zakwan Trading.

Suparmo also said that last year Lampung’s nonoil/gas exports to China reached 3,291,972 tons estimated at 287.8 million US dollars. Compared to the 2008 exports of 516,883 tons worth 185.12 million dollars, the volume increased by 536.89 percent, and its value by 55.46 percent.

The other countries in East Asia which had also imported a great deal of Lampung’s nonoil/gas commodities included Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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Facebook for Muslims Launched

(News Today) - Resourceful IT experts in Pakistan have launched their own version of the social networking site Facebook after the real thing was blocked for showing 'blasphemous' images of the Prophet Mohammed.

MillatFacebook, meaning Nation Facebook in Urdu, was launched on Wednesday and has already attracted some 8,000 users.

Omar Zaheer Meer, one of the six web developers, said their aim was to offer an alternative to Facebook which condemned the contest encouraging users to submit images of the Prophet Mohammed.

Millat Facebook also promises stronger privacy settings than its US counterpart.

'We are saying that we are technologically independent and that you can't make money from us and then not respect our views' said Mr Meer.

'Millatfacebook is Pakistan's very own, first social networking site. A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome,' the website tells people interested in signing up.

The Facebook page 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!' encouraged users to submit images of the prophet on May 20.

Muslims argue that any representations of the Prophet are blasphemous. A series of cartoons of the prophet published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 sparked violent protests and death threats against the cartoonists.

Over the past ten days, access to Facebook, Youtube, encyclopaedia site Wikipedia and photo-sharing site Flickr has been temporarily blocked in Pakistan.

'The (Pakistani) government action against both Facebook and YouTube after it failed to persuade the websites to remove the 'derogatory material,' the regulatory body said in a statement.

It welcomed representatives from the two websites to contact the Pakistani government to resolve the dispute in a way that 'ensures religious harmony and respect'.

While thousands took to the streets to protest against the 'blasphemous' contest, other internet users simply switched to micro-blogging site Twitter to broadcast their protests against the crackdown to the world, which consequently surged with Pakistani traffic.

'Sad and embarrassing day in the history of Pakistan. Tough times to be a Pakistani. Questionable decisions in a so-called "democracy,"' one user tweeted.

'What's common to Facebook and Lashkar-e-Taiba?' one user on Twitter wrote, referring to a Pakistani militant group that is believed to have carried out the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai.

'They are both banned in Pakistan, but Pakistanis can still find them if they want to.'

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have all been at the forefront of anti-government protests in the last few years, most notably during last year's Iranian elections.'.

It remains to be seen how successful the government will be at keeping Pakistan's nearly 20 million Internet users from accessing the blocked sites.

Other countries, such as China, permanently ban Facebook and YouTube. But citizens often have little trouble working their way around the ban using proxy servers and other means.

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If Looks Could Kill...

(News Today) - You would think that the Los Angeles Police Department had seen it all before. But murder suspect Eduardo Ibarra Perez stands out from the rest on their 'Most Wanted List' - quite literally.

The 29-year-old's bare-chested mugshot was considered so offensive that the authorities decided to cover his saggy man boobs with a flesh-coloured bar.

The police department's website states Perez had a history of domestic violence and that, during an argument, he threatened to kill his wife. The suspect then shot his victim in the head.

Why they photographed him naked, however, remains a mystery. An LAPD spokesman told Mail Online they would provide an explanation at a later date.

His profile lists him as having 'no tatoos or oddities', which only adds to his mystique. The entry ends with a warning that he should not be approached as he is 'considered armed and dangerous'.

Perhaps they should have added a line about those killer moobs.

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Dennis Hopper Dies at 74

(News Today) - Dennis Hopper, the high-flying Hollywood actor-director whose memorable career included the 1969 smash Easy Rider, has died aged 74.

Family friend Alex Hitz says Hopper died on Saturday at his Venice home, surrounded by family and friends. The actor had been battling prostate cancer.

Hopper's roller-coaster career also included Rebel Without a Cause, Blue Velvet, Apocalypse Now and Hoosiers, as well as flops such as The Last Movie.

But the improbable success of the 1969 hippie-biker epic Easy Rider remained his biggest triumph. He not only co-starred but directed and co-wrote the film, which also starred Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

Hopper, Fonda and Terry Southern were nominated for Oscars for best screenplay.

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The World Cup: It's about More than Football

(News Today) - Last Monday afternoon, as the temperature touched 35C, Virgin flight VS679 touched down at Accra airport. On board was Sir Richard Branson and senior figures from Virgin Atlantic, there to celebrate the inaugural service from London to Ghana. To make room for the new route, Virgin had decided to ditch its flights to Mauritius. In a battle between tourism and economic growth, economic growth won.

"Africa has been kind to Virgin," Sir Richard said on the flight, Virgin's fifth route to Africa, operating alongside Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi. "This is a growing continent with growing prosperity."

That night, at a party at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Sir Richard rubbed shoulders with Ghana's commercial elite as well as Western companies looking for commercial opportunities in a country that has recently discovered large reserves of oil and gas in the Jubilee Field off its coast. After his election, President Barack Obama made Ghana one of his first overseas visits. In the streets around the hotel adverts for Vodafone, Standard Chartered and Barclays flutter on every corner.

In 11 days' time the World Cup will start - putting another African nation, South Africa, under the spotlight of the world. Its president, Jacob Zuma, has seen the opportunity and has developed a plan around the "festival of football" that is about much more than sport. His government has aggressively used the platform as a shop window to sell South Africa as a business and investment opportunity.

At the World Economic Forum at Davos last January, among the mounds of snow in the Swiss Alps, Zuma and a delegation of tourism officials, business leaders and economic experts painted the town green, gold, red, blue and black with a series of events and presentations. The South Africa flag was everywhere.

This week Standard Chartered, the top-five British bank with a large presence in the Asian and African retail and corporate markets, is publishing a new analysis of the economies of sub-Saharan Africa. Although the numbers will reveal some downside risks, the overall picture is positive - growth is coming back into the system and the outlook is good.

Anyone involved in the economies of Africa knows that this is about much more than a nation-by-nation analysis. Sub-Saharan Africa is an emerging market, a new global player whether measured by the consumption of goods by a growing middle class, the rapid uptick in commodity prices (oil, gold, copper and platinum) or the increase in agricultural production both for domestic consumption and export.

And far from being a growth story that has Europe as its leading partner, the evidence shows this is a growth story where the trade flow, and the value, is not south-north but west-east. At its heart, this story is about China.

"Whereas in the past the West was the place where investments came from and exports went to, the big story now is Asia," says Peter Sands, the chief executive of Standard Chartered.

"You see particularly Chinese investment [in Africa] and exports to China. But not just China, you see Singapore, India, many markets.

"It very much started as commodity driven growth - energy, iron ore, gold, platinum and copper. Increasingly there is now more interest in Africa as a source of agricultural produce and a place in which goods can be sold. In Nigeria, for example, China sees it as a market as well as a source of goods."

This month China announced the largest investment in South Africa for two years, confirming its position as the continent's most important trading partner. The China Africa Development Fund (CADF) and Jidong Development Group will back a £136m cement plant in the country. In October 2007, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China make a £3.7bn investment in South Africa's Standard Bank. In April of this year FAW, the Chinese car maker, announced a £100m investment in South Africa. Many more deals by the CADF totalling many billions of pounds are said to be in the pipeline.

"You go anywhere in Africa and the scale of Chinese involvement and the number of things it touches is everywhere e_SEnD the airport terminal you arrive in is built by a Chinese construction company, there are trucks with Chinese characters on them on the road into town, and that is a road that has probably been built by the Chinese," says Sands.

"It is easy to underestimate because it isn't on the radar screens. The number of business articles written about what's going on in, let's say, Ghana, are few and far between."

The new Standard Chartered report on Chinese investment in Africa reveals that "China-Africa trade is booming again". The financial crisis of 2008 hit trade flows as Asia suffered from exposure to the tightening of capital flows but the bounce back is on.

The report reveals that China's exports to Africa rose by 22pc year-on-year in the four months to April, after declining by 6pc in 2009. In 2009 China's imports from Africa fell by 22pc. They are now roaring ahead again, surging by 160pc in the first four months of the year. Remarkably, Africa now accounts for some 4pc of all China's exports and 5pc of imports. A trading deficit with China has now turned into a surplus in Africa's favour, build particularly on commodity exports.

Chinese investment in Africa is expected to hit $14bn by the end of 2010 and the continent will account for 15pc of all Chinese investment abroad. Mining, oil and infrastucture projects are the leading sectors for investment from Chinese state-backed corporates.

The concern is that Europe sees Africa through an outdated prism of a north-south trade route, as it always traditionally was, and fails to see the opportunities in the new global market. With some notable exceptions - Tullow Oil in West Africa is one Sands points to - the UK and Europe could be playing second fiddle to Chinese competitors.

"There is a danger that places like the UK end up with a dated view," Sands said. "That was very much President Zuma's message when he came to London [earlier this year].

"He said at one of the dinners that although there is indeed a long history we shouldn't let that blind us to what is going on there now and the new resources and partners that are evident. Some in the West have entrenched views and underestimate those changes.

"In a sense you don't want to run against the tide of Africa's increasing connection with Asia. That is a good thing, so the question is what can you do to facilitate it, turn it into a business opportunity? We are very involved in supporting Asian companies as they trade and invest in Africa. What we are trying to do is make it easier, for example, for small and medium-sized businesses in both Africa and Asia in a market that is often dominated by the bigger companies that find it easier to get over the obstacles and cultural differences."

There was a fear in 2008 that Africa would suffer greatly from the economic downturn, a weaker player trampled underfoot by the global recession. The opposite appears to be the case.

"I actually think that sub-Saharan Africa has fared rather better through the crisis that you might have thought," Sands says. "Its direct exposure was relatively limited and its indirect exposure was relatively short-lived. It didn't benefit that much from the huge capital flows that were happening within the international financial markets so didn't have that much to lose when those flows stopped happening.

"The most significant impact was the drop in commodity prices which led to a loss of employment, but if you look at commodity prices, they went down sharply but then they bounced back sharply."

Sands argues that sub-Saharan Africa could now be in a similar position to Brazil 20 years ago. Much has been said about the potential, the question is whether it will ever be realised. Could any of the African nations e_SEnD South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria - become a member of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) group of emerging economies?

"There is certainly the potential for Africa to play a much bigger role in the world economy," says Sands. "There have been issues in the past around stability for example but, remember, that is what they always said about Brazil - it's got all this wonderful potential, why is it not quite happening?

"You look at Brazil now and it is becoming an important player in the world economy."

Of course, as Sands points out, it is difficult to look at a whole continent and try to draw out broad themes (Angola, Nigeria and South Africa operate under very different models) but, nevertheless, there are many positive trends that run alongside the still-shocking poverty and corruption across much of the continent.

An IMF report last month pointed towards Africa's "virtuous circle" of factors that feed off each other: exports and imports up, banks unfreezing lending, inflation low, private finance growing again, governance improving and conflicts decreasing.

"Nothing, of course, is wholly straight forward and true for all parts of Africa," Sands says.

Virgin Atlantic will certainly agree after the return flight from Accra was delayed by six hours, leading to unhappy passengers forced to wait on the tarmac in sweltering heat. The reason? Confusion over paperwork. And then a tyre went flat. And then there wasn't enough air to blow the new tyre up. Then seven people demanded to get off. Then the hold had to be emptied and their luggage found.

In the end, Virgin offered everyone free return tickets to anywhere in the world. They had to keep the peace.

Looking to the future, Sands is optimistic. "The World Cup will be important because it will force the world to look at Africa afresh. South Africa continues on this extraordinary journey and it is not a journey without its twists and turns. But it has continually surprised on the upside." The hope among businesses and investors is that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa will do the same.

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Shocking Toll of Suicides at iPad Factory in China

(News Today) - As the iPad is launched in Britain, a special investigation now reveals the full shocking toll of suicides at its Chinese factory. A once pretty 17-year-old lies crippled in a hospital bed two miles from the factory where she worked long, tedious hours checking the screens of Apple iPads for tiny flaws. Her parents brood silently at her bedside.

At 8am one morning in March - just 40 days after she began her first job at Apple's main supplier, Foxconn, in southern China - Tian Yu took the decision to leap from her fourth-floor dormitory rather than take her place on the production line.

Tian survived but must wonder if she would not have been better off dead. After two weeks in a coma, she woke to find herself paralysed from the waist down, unable to sit up by herself and suffering from fractures and liver and spleen damage.

She has been tortured by the slow realisation that she will soon be pathetically dependent on the very parents - poor farmers from rural China - she came to the city hoping to support.

For now, Foxconn, which employs 400,000 young people at the huge factory sprawl where Apple's worldbeating electronics are made, pays Tian's medical bills but her long-term future is uncertain.

'We've been told to say nothing,' her parents mutter apologetically. 'If we speak to you, Foxconn will stop paying her medical expenses.'

Nor are Tian and her family alone in their agony. It is an anguish shared by 11 other families of workers who since January have all tried to kill themselves by jumping from factory buildings.

Ten have succeeded. A 23-year-old man jumped to his death last Wednesday night. Clearly, it must raise the question of whether something is rotten at Apple's manufacturing core.

These tragedies are in stark contrast to the more familiar Apple success story. When the iPad went on sale in America last month, sales exceeded all expectations, reaching one million units in 28 days - twice as fast as the iPhone and forcing Apple to delay the UK launch.

In the first three months of 2010, Apple sold nearly three million computers, 11 million iPods and nine million iPhones. It made £2billion ($2.89 billion) profit in the first quarter this year and is expected to take £41billion ($60billion) in sales.

Apple's Taiwanese subcontractor Foxconn is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to try to keep up with orders. But can that pressure alone account for the suicides?

Some blame the harsh working conditions imposed by Foxconn for the deaths - conditions first exposed four years ago by a Mail on Sunday article which prompted an investigation by Apple.

The company found there were 'a number of areas for improvement'. Some blame a kind of mass hysteria spreading among the mostly young workers.

Others accuse modern China's spiritual void. And it has been pointed out that in communist China, suicide is considered a crime against the state, so it is the ultimate form of protest.

The deaths have become so regular that bloggers have nicknamed the factories in the city of Shenzhen the Foxconn Suicide Express, while managers have set up a suicide hotline and even hired monks to exorcise evil spirits.

The family of 18-year-old Ma Diangqian, who joined Foxconn last November and fell to his death from his dormitory on January 23, have no patience for the talk of evil spirits, hysteria or spiritual voids.

They say they saw a bright young man humiliated by Foxconn's notoriously tough regime within just two months of following his sister, Ma Liqun, to work in one of the two citysize Shenzhen factory complexes.

In the weeks leading up to his death, he confided in Ma Liqun that he had faced repeated criticism after breaking two drill parts. He was taken off the production line and put on lavatory-cleaning duty.

'He was very upset,' says Ma Liqun. 'He told me that cleaning lavatories gave him no dignity and made him lose face. Sometimes he was given no gloves but he had to clean the lavatories all the same.'

His father Ma Zishan, 58, says tearfully: 'He called me in January. I could tell he was lonely and unhappy. I told him to stick it out until Chinese New Year when he would have come home.'

Instead, weeks before the holiday, he was found dead at the foot of his dormitory block. His sister was told he had fainted and was in hospital. In fact, his body was already lying in the police station morgue. The family were initially told he was a victim of 'sudden death'. Only when they demanded a post-mortem examination were they told the cause of death was 'falling from a great height'.

'He was my only son,' says Ma Zishan. 'I have lost everything.'

The Orwellian control that Foxconn's army of security guards, backed by local police, exercise over the lives of the young people living in the factory plants in Shenzhen's Longhua and Guanlan districts adds to the sense of intrigue surrounding the deaths.

Both of the heavily guarded plants comprise several bunker-like, six-storey factory blocks that are protected by several layers of electronic security, through which workers flow continually night and day.

In the towns outside the factory complexes that contain the dormitory blocks, teams of Foxconn security guards patrol on motorbikes and on foot, armed with 3ft-long batons. A restaurant owner in Guanlan, who asks not to be named, describes the operation that swung into operation within minutes of an 18-year-old female worker jumping from a dormitory block beside his restaurant on April 7.

'There was no scream, but I heard her body hit the ground,' he says.

'There was a lot of blood. Security officers arrived at the scene in a matter of minutes and covered her with a yellow plastic sheet. Before long, more than 100 security guards and police officers were swarming through the area. All the shopkeepers were told to go inside and the factory girls were told to go back inside their dormitories.'

Within ten minutes the body was loaded into a van and the blood scrubbed from the pavement.

'The police told us not to say a word about what we saw.' The girl, whose name has not been made public, is understood to have been a migrant worker from China's Yunnan province who was working on an iPhone production line. She was the sixth 'jumper'.

With security guards constantly watching them, workers - most of whom earn a basic salary equivalent to £2.90 a day - would talk to us only when they were able to meet us at discreet locations away from the Guanlan and Longhua plants.

Those who did spoke of a harsh factory regime, characterised by monotony, intimidation and stress, and beginning with a period of military-style training known in Mandarin as 'jun-xun' for new recruits.

One 20-year-old male worker recalls: 'I was made to stand to attention like a soldier without moving for ten minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minutes at a time. We lived in dormitories inside the factory blocks when we were undergoing training.

'There were 45 people in my dorm and we slept in three rows of triple-layer bunk beds. The dormitories stink and they're full of ants and cockroaches.'

A 19-year-old, whose job is to polish Apple iBooks, says: 'We're told that the drilling builds discipline. We need discipline because Apple products are expensive and there is no margin for mistakes.'

Ma Liqun, who left Foxconn the day she learned of her brother's death, worked at the Guanlun campus. She recalls how she had to be at her work station at 7.35am every day to start work at 8am.

'If you were late for the head count, you'd be made to stand still in front of the other workers as a punishment for however long you were late by. If you were caught talking during work hours, you would lose points, which would affect your salary.'

She said points would also be deducted for chewing, an untidy work station and for yawning.

A female worker at the Longhua plant says their ten-minute afternoon breaks were cancelled at peak production times and they were made to do 'voluntary overtime' if they failed to meet quotas. Even the line managers feel the strain. One with responsibility for 15 production lines at the Guanlan plant admits there was 'constant pressure' on all workers.

'We must meet our quota every day at the maximum quality,' he says. 'I'm going to leave when my contract expires and look for work somewhere less pressured.'

For Foxconn, a Fortune 500 giant that had a turnover of £42.2 billion ($62 billion) in 2008 and claims to be the largest exporter in Greater China, the pressure pays off. It boasts of its 'unique Foxconnian culture' and its ability to offer the ' lowest total cost solution' to its clients.

It is one of the biggest success stories in global electronics manufacturing, making most of Apple's computers, iPods, iPhones and iPads as well as items for other leading brands including Sony and IBM.

A banner on the wall of one of its Shenzhen factories sums up the tireless ethic that has made Foxconn a global success: 'Value efficiency - every minute, every second.'

The need for secrecy is also drummed into Foxconn and its employees, especially regarding its dealings with Apple. Last July a Shenzhen Foxconn worker, Sun Danyong, 25, jumped to his death after an iPhone prototype went missing. He was reportedly beaten by security guards who suspected he had passed it on to rivals. Sun's parents' silence was bought with £29,000.

Last Tuesday a 19-year-old worker from central China, who had joined Foxconn a month earlier, leapt to his death in Shenzhen. Four days earlier Nan Gang, 21, fell from the roof of a workshop, exactly a week after fellow worker Liang on May 14.

The previous week there were two more suicides, a male and female, both aged 24. There may have been other non-jumping suicides that have gone unreported.

Foxconn is shaken by the events. Uncharacteristically, chairman Terry Gou issued a statement last week insisting: 'We're not running blood and sweat factories... It's not easy to manage such a large team.'

As well as setting up a suicide hotline and asking monks to bless the factories, it has been reported that the company plans to hire 2,000 psychiatrists and counsellors. Foxconn has also put up fencing to try to stop workers jumping from dormitory blocks. But few people believe the harsh working environment alone can explain the suicides. After all, people are free to leave their jobs.

Some experts point out that ten suicides and two attempted suicides in a population of 400,000 is within national averages. But suicides are usually more common among the sick, jobless and elderly, not young, healthy wage earners.

Psychologists suggest that a form of mass hysteria may have spread, inspiring copycat suicides in impressionable young people. Others have argued that China's new generation of young people are too 'pampered' to cope once they leave the home.

An estimated 80 per cent of workers were born in the Eighties or Nineties, and one commentator says: 'This generation's resilience and ability to endure hardship is weaker. Their self-esteem is more fragile. They have more dreams and they feel pressure more. They are not like the previous generation of migrant workers who were known for their toughness and patience.'

Dr Daniel Wong from the department of Social Work and Social Administration at Hong Kong University found that more than 30 per cent of young migrant workers suffered from poor mental health. 'High on the list of grievances, leading to high stress levels, was bullying by management and inadequate rest due to overtime,' he says.

But Debby Chan of pressure group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour describes the suicides as 'alarming'.

'Big brand names such as Apple make massive profits and they should be responsible for ensuring that their code of conduct is adhered to and the dignity and health of workers is taken into account,' she says. 'Their code should be higher than the minimum legal standard in China.'

Geoffrey Crothall, of China Labour Bulletin, says: 'The Foxconn style of work is quite severe. It has a reputation for being strict and putting pressure on employees... if Apple are serious about the health and safety of workers they need to address this issue.'

An irony of the artificial community of 400,000 that the demand for iPhones, iPads and Apple computers has helped to create at Foxconn is that, despite its scale, it can still be an overwhelmingly lonely place.

Migrant workers from all over China are thrown together and, although they share dormitories and factory floors, they are banned from speaking throughout the working day and are often too exhausted at the end of it to socialise.

An undercover Chinese reporter who spent a month working at Foxconn said most workers complained that despite its size, the factory sprawl had no parks, no cinemas and nowhere for young people to relax or go on dates.

One 23-year-old worker told us as she trudged back to her dormitory at 9pm: 'When you come here after living at home, it makes you realise how tough life is.'

That isolation and joylessness may have been factors in Tian Yu's decision to try to take her life.

In her 40 days at the factory, removing dust from the surface of iPads, Tian Yu found no time to make friends. And in the week since she emerged from her coma, not a single one of her former factory colleagues has visited her in hospital.

For now, all she has to occupy her days are her parents and visits from factory officials to ensure her continuing silence.

When asked for its reaction to the suicides, Apple said: 'We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn. Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity. We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously.'

Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard - who also use the Foxconn factories - said last week that they would investigate working conditions

Despite repeated requests for a response from Foxconn, the company did not return our calls.

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High Alert on New KPK Chief Nominated by Corruptors

Jakarta (News Today) - A member of the national committee to select a new Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chief said many people seemed to be afraid to apply for the post as the number of applicants so far was still minimal.

"Many people are probably afraid , if they are elected KPK chief, they will run the risk of being criminalized, or because the term is too short," Renald Khasali, a member of the selection committee, said at a discussion here on Saturday.

He said after the committee opened registration last May 25 only five people had submitted their applications although 63 had already taken the application forms. They are among others former police official W Warrouw, lawyer Farhat Abbas and a judge from Bengkulu province.

Khasali said the registration was open until June 14. He hoped before the deadline more candidates would return their completed application forms so that the committee would have more people to choose from. He said the committee would seek a figure with competence and integrity.

"We will contact community figures who care about corruption eradication for a reference," he said adding the public had already sent in some names for selection.

He said he had accepted the names for inputs but the committee would still continue to find the best pearl. According to him, the committee would choose two of them to be proposed to the House of Representatives for selection.

Denny Indrayana, the secretary of the government’s anti-corruption taskforce, meanwhile on the occasion hoped that the House of Representatives would reject candidates sent by corruptors. Denny meanwhile had also asked the committee to carefully scrutinize candidates’ lifestyle, wealth and tax returns.

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Indonesia Builds Hospital in Gaza

Jakarta (News Today) - Indonesia plans to build a hospital in Gaza worth Rp20 billion (more than US$2 million) to increase health facilities in the region, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said here on Saturday. Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting with visiting Pelestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Merdeka Palace here on Saturday, he said Indonesia was ready to give any kind of humanitarian aid needed by Palestine.

"We will build a hospital in Gaza worth Rp20 billion in the hope it will increase public health facilities in Gaza," he said.

Indonesia, he said, was also ready to continue to contribute to the development of capacity for the establishment of a free Palestinian state as it had been doing so far through a forum of Asian-African countries.

"I have also conveyed Indonesia’s readiness to become part of the peace process by playing the right role the Palestinian leadership wishes to," he said.

President Yudhoyono in a meeting lasting for around 30 minutes reaffirmed Indonesia’s commitment and support to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"Indonesia has taken a stance and remained consistent with it namely fully supporting Palestinian indepedence believing that it would deliver true justice to the Palestinian people and also the world," he said.

President Abbas in the meeting briefed President Yudhoyono on the latest situation in Paliestine and the prospects of peace efforts now entering a new stage to settle the long conflict between Palestine and Israel. In his statement after the press conference he expressed appreciation to and thanked Indonesia for having always supported the Palestinian people.

President Abbas on his second visit to Indonesia also expressed hope for the establishment of a free Palestinian state through a peace process supported by Arab countries and the international community. He also expressed hope for reconciliation between Hamas and his group for the sake of the Palestinians.

At the end of the press conference President Abbas also expressed hope he could invite President Yudhoyono someday when the Palestinian state was realized so they could pray together at the Al Aqsa Mosque. President Abbas’s delegation includes religious affairs minister Mahmoud SA Alhabash, the spokesman of the Palestinian National Authority, Nabil Go Aburudainah, presidential advisor for international affairs Abdallah HJ Alfrangi and three President Abbas’s advisors namely Adnan Nayef Abedlrahim, Mustafa Fayez Mustafa Abu Alrub and Majdi AM Khaldi.

President Yudhoyono at the meeting was flanked by coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs Djoko Suyanto, foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, minister/state secretary Sudi Silalahi, religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali, health minister Endang Sedyaningsih and cabinet secretary Dipo Alam.

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'Well control' problems reported in March, BP e-mails show

(News Today) - BP reported problems controlling the undersea well at the heart of the largest oil spill in U.S. history and won a delay in testing a critical piece of equipment in March, according to documents released Sunday.

"We are in the midst of a well control situation on MC 252 #001 and have stuck pipe. We are bringing out equipment to begin operations to sever the drillpipe, plugback the well and bypass," Scherie Douglas, a BP regulatory advisor, told the district engineer for the U.S. Interior Department's Minerals Management Service in a March 10 e-mail.

In a follow-up e-mail to the district engineer, Frank Patton, Douglas reported the company wanted to get a plug set in the well before testing the blowout preventer, the massive device used to shut down the well in case of an emergency.

"With the give and take of the well and hole behavior we would feel much more comfortable getting at least one of the two plugs set in order to fully secure the well prior to testing BOPs," she wrote.

When Patton told BP he could not delay a test any longer than it took to bring the well under control, the company won a postponement from David Trocquet, the MMS district manager in New Orleans, Louisiana, the documents show. Trocquet ordered BP to make sure its cement plug was set up and to verify its placement, according to his reply. The messages do not indicate how long the test was postponed.

The exchange was among the documents released Sunday by leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is looking into the disaster that killed 11 workers aboard the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon and uncapped a gusher that is now fouling the northern Gulf of Mexico. BP has been unable to activate the well's blowout preventer since the explosion, resulting in up to 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) spewing into the Gulf every day.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said those questions are being addressed by an investigation led by the Coast Guard and the MMS, which oversees offshore oil drilling. BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and oilfield services company Halliburton have blamed each other for the disaster

"There were issues of well control, signs out there, and there are strict procedures that are written," Dudley said. Those procedures allow the rig owner "to walk through well control," he said.

"That's what the investigation will take minute by minute," he said. But he said the failure of the well's blowout preventer is a "very troubling" issue that will have repercussions throughout the oil industry.

"It is the piece of equipment that is not expected to fail, and that's going to have implications for everyone around the world," Dudley said.

BP's design of the well has also come under scrutiny in the New Orleans hearings held by MMS and the Coast Guard. BP drilling engineer Mark Hafle testified Friday that he made "several changes to the casing designs" to address problems with the well's cement walls and leaking drilling fluid. But he said the problems had been addressed.

"No one believed there was going to be a safety issue with pumping that cement job," he said.

Halliburton performed the cementing work on the well, and Halliburton worker Christopher Haire told the New Orleans hearings Friday that BP kept changing the dimensions of the well's casing. Meanwhile, BP's investigation "raised concerns about the maintenance history, modification, inspection, and testing" of the blowout preventer, committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, reported earlier this month.

The New York Times reported Sunday that BP documents indicated the company had "serious problems and safety concerns" with the rig's well casing and blowout preventer for months. Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who leads an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, said he has seen documents that confirm the Times report.

Other witnesses at congressional hearings into the spill have raised concerns as well. Stephen Stone, a laborer on the doomed rig, told the House Judiciary Committee last week that the Transocean crew had to stop drilling four times in the space of 20 days because of the loss of drilling "mud" -- "either because the underground formation was unstable, or because drilling too quickly caused the formation to crack," he said.

And Doug Brown, the rig's chief mechanic, told the Judiciary Committee that cuts to Deepwater Horizon's engineering staff left the crew with a backlog of preventive maintenance to perform. When they complained, he said, "We were always told, 'We will see what we can do.' "

Source : CNN

Top Colombian presidential candidates head for runoff election

(News Today) - The two leading candidates in Colombia's presidential race will compete in a runoff June 20, since neither garnered more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's election.

With 99 percent of polling stations reporting, Colombia's National Civil Registry said Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos had 46.6 percent of votes while former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus received 21.5 percent of votes.

Polls had placed the two in a statistical dead heat going into Sunday's election, but more than twice as many voters cast their ballots for Santos -- who has led high-profile operations against leftist guerrillas during his tenure.

In a speech Sunday Santos praised outgoing President Alvaro Uribe's leadership and asked for supporters across the political spectrum to join his campaign.

"My government will be a government of inclusion. It will be a government by all Colombians and for all Colombians, for work and against poverty. It will be a great agreement so that we can have work, work and more work," he said.

At a rally Sunday evening, Mockus also called for unity and said he was determined to win the next round of elections, chanting with supporters as he jumped up and down on stage.

"Together we can radically transform society. We know that violence, inequality and corruption are not a destiny. They are problems that we can overcome," he said.

Voting proceeded smoothly for the most part Sunday, though a government official reported isolated clashes between the military and armed groups in the country's interior. One soldier was killed in one of the skirmishes, Justice and Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said.

The winner of the runoff will replace Uribe, a two-term president who has high approval ratings for his tough stand against Marxist guerrillas that have been waging war against the government since the 1960s. Uribe also has been sparring with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who Colombia accuses of supporting the rebels.

Chavez told CNN en EspaƱol he will be glad to see Uribe go.

"I think it will refresh all of Colombia. And it will refresh I hope and I think the relationships Colombia, our sister, has with Latin America, with the Caribbean," Chavez said in an interview that will air on the network Tuesday.

Santos and Mockus, both 58, were the frontrunners in a field of six presidential candidates.

Outside their differences in style, Mockus' and Santos' platforms are not worlds apart. Neither candidate is expected to take Colombia on a vastly different trajectory. But their views on neighboring Venezuela, whose relations with Colombia have been icy as of late, are notably different.

Santos is a vocal critic of Chavez, who has countered that Colombia is threatening to destabilize Venezuela.

Mockus is seen as more conciliatory toward Venezuela and went so far as to say that he admires Chavez -- a comment that he later amended to say he meant "respected."

Uribe's clashes with Chavez have made headlines, particularly a shouting match between the two leaders at a private luncheon for heads of state during a summit of Latin American leaders in February.

But his tough tactics against guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly called FARC, garnered him high job approval ratings at home and two four-year terms in office. Uribe almost pulled off a third run for president, before a court stepped in and put an end to his campaign.

With Uribe out of the race but riding high, attention shifted to his defense minister, Santos, who carried out many of the operations against the FARC and would continue them as president.

But Mockus has a strong following among Colombian youth, who were made aware of his campaign through social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook.

Santos has extensive experience in the federal government. He has served as minister of foreign trade, minister of finance and, most recently, minister of defense. He was educated in the United States, including stints at Harvard and the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

As defense minister, some of the strongest strikes against the FARC came under his leadership, including the high-profile hostage rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2008.

Mockus, for his part, was the mayor of Colombia's capital, Bogota, from 1995 to 1997 and from 2001 to 2003. According to his official website, the homicide rate in Bogota fell by 45 percent during his tenure, and he improved the city's public transportation system.

His leadership style has generated as much attention as his accomplishments. As mayor, he sometimes donned a "super citizen" costume on the streets, and hired mimes to make fun of motorists who broke traffic laws in an attempt to embarrass drivers into compliance.

Source : CNN

Celine Dion pregnant with twins

(News Today) - Singer Celine Dion is 14 weeks pregnant with twins after years of trying to expand her family, her representative said Sunday.

Dion, 42, and her husband-manager Rene Angelil, 68, will find out next month the gender of their twins, representative Kim Jakwerth said.

The pregnancy was the result of her sixth in-vitro fertilization attempt, Jakwerth said. Dion turned to acupuncture therapy to improve her chances of getting pregnant, she said.

Angelil is the father, she said.

The couple already has a 9-year-old son, Rene-Charles.

The five-time Grammy winner has sold 200 million albums around the world, according to her website. A new Harris Poll released in May named Dion, a Canadian, as America's favorite singer.

Dion, who completed a world tour last year, will return to Las Vegas, Nevada, next March to begin a three-year residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

Source : CNN

'Sex,' 'Prince of Persia' can't stop 'Shrek'

(News Today) - With a significant drop for "Sex and the City" on Saturday and just mid-level earnings for "Prince of Persia," "Shrek Forever After" is on track to win what looks like the slowest Memorial Day holiday weekend at the box office in a decade. It's also the first time in five years a holdover release will capture the Memorial Day crown.

Perhaps those weak reviews on "Sex" really did do some damage to its box office performance. Despite the film's B+ from Cinemascore, the sequel took in an estimated $10 million on Saturday, down from its estimated $13 million take on Friday. Its three-day gross stands at $32 million; its four-day total (it opened on Thursday) has reached only $46.3 million, far less than the $57 million grossed by the original two years ago.

Meanwhile, "Prince of Persia" took third place, but seemed to suffer from an overall lack of interest. The Jerry Bruckheimer epic adventure starring Jake Gyllenhaal and based on the popular video game just crossed the $30 million mark for its first three days of release. It received a B from Cinemascore and seems to be resonating best with boys under 18.

"Shrek Forever After" hit the top earning close to $17 million on Saturday, for a three-day total of $43.3 million. (Seven percent of its total came from IMAX screens.) The fourth chapter in the billion-dollar franchise seems to be making up ground after not breaking any records last weekend, climbing to $133 million in 10 days. The final chapter is still tracking more than $50 million behind "Shrek the Third" and it's unlikely it will be able to catch up.

The three releases at the top are a far cry from last year's Memorial Day frame, which boasted a three-day $54 million gross from the "Night at the Museum" sequel and $42 million from the opening frame of "Terminator Salvation." The weekend is likely to be down more than 14 percent compared with the holiday weekend in 2009.

The rest of the top ten was dominated by well-playing holdovers that, with the exception of "MacGruber," fell less than 50 percent for the weekend. Marvel Studios' "Iron Man 2" claimed fourth place with an estimated $16 million, a decline of only 39 percent for the frame. In its four weekends of release, the superhero actioner has earned $274 million, outpacing the original by over $15 million.

Universal's "Robin Hood" fell 45 percent, earning another $10.3 million in its third weekend in theaters, for a cume of $86.2 million. It's not certain the expensive film from director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe will even cross the $100 million mark.

Summit Entertainment's "Letters to Juliet" is holding its own despite the box office challenge from the "Sex and the City" women. The Amanda Seyfried-starring romance dropped a scant 34 percent from last weekend, grossing $5.9 million for the three days, for a cume of $38.1 million.

Seventh place went to Fox Searchlight's "Just Wright." The Queen Latifah-starrer earned another $2.2 million to put its three-week gross at $18.2 million.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Date Night" just keeps on trucking. The film is hanging in the top ten after two months of theatrical release, adding another $1.75 million to get a little closer to the $100 million mark ($93.4 million).

Poor "MacGruber." The Relativity Media-financed comedy from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels lost more than 63 percent of its value from its weak opening weekend, collecting just $1.5 million for three days to land in ninth place. The film, starring Will Forte, has brought in just $7.5 million after two weekends of release. "How to Train Your Dragon" clings to the tenth spot in its tenth weekend with another $1 million. Overall, the Dreamworks Animated flick has generated over $212 million.

Source : CNN

Agatha leaves 82 dead in Guatemala, El Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador (News Today) - The remnants of Tropical Storm Agatha were headed into the Caribbean Sea late Sunday after leaving behind more than 80 dead in Guatemala and El Salvador, authorities in those countries reported.

Most of the dead were in Guatemala, where heavy rains triggered mudslides that collapsed homes and forced thousands to evacuate. The country's preliminary death toll was 73 on Sunday, with 49 of those reported in the province of Chimaltenango, said David de Leon, Spokesperson for the National Commission for the Reduction of National Disasters. That toll was expected to rise, he said.

And El Salvador reported nine deaths from the storm. The government issued a red alert, the highest warning level, which shut down schools and opened up shelters for families in the affected areas, President Mauricio Funes said.

Agatha, an Eastern Pacific storm, struck land Saturday and was downgraded from a tropical depression to a remnant storm on Sunday. It was last reported moving toward the western Caribbean on Sunday afternoon, but was expected to keep producing heavy rains through Monday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

In Guatemala, the storm damaged more than 3,500 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 61,000 people, the nation's emergency office said Sunday. And in Mexico, the government's National Meteorological Service predicted torrential rain for Chiapas state, intense downpours in Tabasco and strong showers in Quintana Roo.

Four other Mexican states were predicted to receive moderate rain. Strong winds also were forecast.

Swollen rivers and mudslides were a concern. In Guatemala, four children were buried in a landslide outside Guatemala City, the nation's capital. Four adults were killed in the capital, disaster officials said. Another two children and two adults were killed when a boulder, dislodged by heavy rains, crushed a house in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles (200 km) west of Guatemala City, officials said.

Guatemala is already under a 15-day state of calamity because of Thursday's eruption of the Pacaya volcano, which killed at least three people. At least 1,800 people had already been evacuated to shelters. The volcano also shut down the capital's international airport.

Ash from the volcano that covered city streets and other areas mixed with the heavy rain, forming a goo that caused many drainage systems to clog.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said damage from Agatha was probably worse than the destruction caused by Hurricanes Mitch in 1998 and Stan in 2005, both of which devastated the Central American country.

"The country is suffering a great tragedy, this attack by nature," Colom said from the Guatemalan emergency agency center.

Emergencies were reported in all of Guatemala's 22 states, called departments. The worst, Colom said, was the Pacific Ocean port of Champerico, which is isolated.

"We have no way of getting there to help the public, which is in danger because of flooding," Colom said.

The president said he has asked the international community for help.

Agatha is the first named storm of the Pacific hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.

Source : CNN

Participants say Gaza flotilla approached by Israeli ships

(News Today) - A convoy of boats carrying food and aid to the Palestinian territory of Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade is being shadowed by three Israeli warships, according to one organization participating in the flotilla.

At least one of the six boats in the flotilla have also been contacted by Israel Defense Forces radio, the Free Gaza organization reported on its Twitter page.

"We didn't expect them now," said one tweet about 11 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), adding the participants thought Israeli forces would arrive Monday morning.

Three Israeli navy missile boats left a Haifa naval base just after 9 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) to intercept the flotilla.

"This is a help message," said one post from the flotilla on the Free Gaza website. "We have been contacted by the Israelis but are still fine, don't worry."

"The signals are going up and down," the website said. "Israel is doing its best to block the satellite."

Free Gaza said later that flotilla participants could see three Israeli navy vessels on radar shadowing them as they proceeded toward the coast. The Israeli navy had contacted the flotilla and asked, "Who are you and where are you going?" the organization said.

"Our reply was that we were part of a flotilla and we were going to Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies," the organization said.

Contacted by CNN, the IDF reiterated the Israeli government's offer for the flotilla to dock at Israel's Ashdod port, where supplies would be unloaded and transferred to Gaza.

The IDF said the Gaza shoreline is not specifically deemed a "closed military area," but it is closed to maritime traffic. The Israeli government has decided to prevent all ships from reaching the Gaza shore to prevent any attempts to bring in ammunition or missiles that could potentially harm Israeli citizens, the IDF said.

Osama Qashoo of the Free Gaza organization said earlier Sunday that morale onboard the ships was high. "It's the best cruise you could ever take. People are singing and laughing."

The flotilla was delayed for a while after two boats developed mechanical problems, but set out on the last leg of the journey Sunday. One boat was repaired, while the other will head to Gaza next week, organizers said.

The flotilla is expected to arrive near Gaza at about 9 a.m. Monday (2 a.m. ET), according to the Free Gaza Movement website.

The boats left European ports in a consolidated protest organized by two pro-Palestinian groups to deliver tons of food and other aid to Gaza to break a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007.

The Israeli government said Thursday it would stop the convoy, and that the IDF has been given instructions to reroute the flotilla to Ashdod. The activists remain adamant that they are headed to Gaza.

Both sides insisted on Sunday they do not want a confrontation.

"We are determined. We are going to bust through the Israeli navy," Qashoo said. But "we are not seeking any confrontation ... we are simply a humanitarian mission."

He said the participants will defend themselves if they must.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, meanwhile, said Israeli civilians were plagued a year ago by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza that originated in places like Iran and Syria.

The government wants to check vessels heading into Gaza to make sure rockets and missiles aren't being smuggled in, he said. "For us, it's a life and death issue."

Qashoo said participants are prepared -- some have written their wills, while others are in contact with family and friends.

Flotilla participants said in a statement they planned to hold a memorial service on Sunday for U.S. soldiers killed in a 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in the eastern Mediterranean. Thirty-four American soldiers died and 173 were injured.

The service will be led by Joe Meadors, who was a signalman on the Liberty and is a member of the Free Palestine Movement delegation to the flotilla, the statement said.

"I am sailing again in the eastern Mediterranean," Meadors said in the statement, "to remember the brave heroes from the Liberty and the forgotten 1.5 million people trapped in Gaza."

The maritime convoys are being organized by both the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish-based IHH, a humanitarian relief foundation affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood religious group.

Regev said Sunday that Western and Turkish authorities have accused IHH of having "working relations" with different terrorist organizations.

He reiterated that the flotilla is invited to stop at Ashdod, and noted the Egyptian government has made a similar offer.

While flotilla participants speak of human rights, Regev said, they don't mention the human rights of Israelis on the receiving end of Hamas rockets, or even the "brutal suppression" of human rights within Gaza by Hamas.

"If you're gay, if you're Christian, if you're a woman dressed, in their terms, immodestly, you'll face violent retribution," Regev said.

"Free Gaza seems to ignore all that. What sort of human rights activists are they?"

About 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid flows into Gaza per week, Regev said. He questioned whether the flotilla is really interested in helping people in Gaza, or just wants to "make a political point, which is difficult to understand."

In the meantime, Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy group, has organized a six-boat flotilla as a counter-demonstration against the Turkish flotilla.

Michael Dixon, a member of the pro-Israeli group, says the real aim of the Turkish group is not humanitarian, but to draw attention to itself.

"We are here today to protest the hypocrisy of the boats coming in towards Gaza right now. They profess to be human rights activists, but they don't say anything about the suffering of the Palestinians under the brutal Hamas regime," Dixon said late last week.

"The people on the boat refused a letter to Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been kept captive in isolation for three years. That shows you the type of people we are dealing with," he said.

A protest outside the Israeli embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, began Sunday and continued into the early morning hours of Monday, with some 20 to 30 people gathered near the embassy shouting slogans, according to CNN Turk.

Source : CNN

BP chief to Gulf residents: 'I'm sorry'

(News Today) - BP's CEO said Sunday he's sorry for the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the "massive disruption" it has caused the Gulf Coast, telling reporters the company hopes to corral most of the crude offshore.

"The first thing to say is I'm sorry," Tony Hayward said when asked what he would tell people in Louisiana, where heavy oil has already reached parts of the state's southeastern marshes.

"We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused their lives. There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."

Hayward said the company is doing "everything we can to contain the oil offshore," but, "as far as I'm concerned, a cup of oil on the beach is a failure."

Full coverage of oil spill

He said the company now has about 30 aircraft searching for signs of oil and has moved more than 300 people of offshore "floatels" to speed up its response time.

"What we're not faced with is a complete line of oil coming at us. It's more like guerilla insurgency, if I can use military jargon," he said. "And what we need to do is have a rapid response capability to get it as we identify it, rather than have it come onto the shore or onto the marsh."

In other developments late Sunday, a fisherman who was hospitalized after becoming ill while cleaning up oil in the Gulf has filed a temporary restraining order in federal court, asking BP to give the workers masks and not harass workers who publicly voice their health concerns.

Watch: Are oil booms working? Video

BP said it will strengthen its efforts to stop the flow of oil and protect the coastline after the most recent attempt to stop the Gulf oil spill failed.

"We're disappointed the oil is going to flow for a while and we're going to redouble our efforts to keep it off the beaches," BP Managing Director Robert Dudley said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The most recent setback was the failure of the so-called "top kill" method of pumping mud to plug the leak.

"There was just too much flow," Dudley said.

Dudley gave some details about the new option: A custom-built cap will be fitted over a piece of equipment called the "lower marine riser package."

The process will involve a clean cut of the lower marine riser package, where a cap will then be lowered.

The company will circulate warm water around the area to prevent the freezing that hindered a previous dome-cap effort, Dudley said.

BP does not expect to see a large increase, if any, in the volume of oil from cutting the equipment to create a clean surface to cap, he said, though the result will not be a pressure-tight seal.

The long-term solution is the drilling of a relief well that will be in place by August.

BP reported well control problems in March, e-mails show

"If we can contain the flow of the well between now and August and keep it out of the ocean, that's also a good outcome," Dudley said. "And then, if we can shut it off completely with a relief well, that's not a bad outcome compared to where we are today."

On Sunday, the Obama administration questioned BP's oil spill numbers.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Carol Browner, Obama's assistant on energy and climate change, said BP may have had an ulterior motive for underestimating the amount of oil leaking.

Read more about numbers dispute

"BP has a financial interest in these numbers. They will pay a penalty based on the number of barrels per day," she said.

BP had originally said about 5,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking. The latest estimate, Browner said, is between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day.

"This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we've ever faced in this country," she said.

More oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico than any other time in U.S. history, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

A lot of systems are in place to manage and decrease the amount of oil coming on shore, Browner said.

Controlled burns of oil effective so far, though they have been limited because of weather conditions, she said.

As a consequence of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, all deepwater operations in the Gulf have been shut down for now, including operating wells, Browner said.

"At the end of the day we will make the right decisions ensuring that our environment is protected," she said.

Rescuers plan to release a group of birds Sunday that workers washed and rehabilitated after finding them covered with crude, officials said. A northern gannet and brown pelicans rescued in Louisiana will be transported to a refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, Florida, and released Sunday, a statement from the oil spill cleanup command said.

Watch: Marine animals in danger Video

But officials say more wildlife are at risk as up to 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) of oil daily continue gushing from an underwater well that engineers have been unable to cap for more than a month.

Top BP executives said Saturday that engineers and scientists had decided to try a new technique of stopping the flow after three attempts to pump mud and 16 tries to stuff solid material into the well failed.

That option: placing a custom-built cap to fit over the "lower marine riser package," BP chief operation officer Doug Suttles said. BP crews were already at work Saturday to ready the materials for that method, he said.

"We have not been able to stop the flow," a somber Suttles told reporters. "Repeated pumping, we don't believe, will achieve success, so we will move on to the next option."

iReport: Track the oil spill

Suttles and other officials said that the "top kill" attempt to stop the flow did so -- but only as long as they were pumping. When the pumping stopped, the oil resumed its escape.

Suttles said the lower marine riser package cap, which will be ready in four to seven days, "should be able to capture most of the oil" that has fed what is now the largest oil spill in U.S. history. But, he cautioned, the new cap will not provide a "tight mechanical seal."

"We're confident the job will work, but obviously we cannot guarantee success at this time," he said.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said that BP would resume using undersea dispersants for the new attempt to trap the oil.

Landry said officials were disappointed by Saturday's announcement, but noted that the immediate efforts to stop the flow were never intended to be permanent.

"The real solution, the end state, is a relief well," she said.

BP currently is working on two relief wells, but they are not expected to be ready until August, Suttles said.

Earlier, Suttles said that BP engineers would try to place a second blowout preventer -- the piece of equipment that failed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20 -- should the lower marine riser package fail. The failed blowout preventer is a 48-foot-tall, 450-ton apparatus that sits atop the well 5,000 feet underwater.

Suttles and Landry praised the clean-up efforts, however, in light of the failure of the "top kill" attempt to stop the flow.

"It's a tribute to everybody that we only have 107 miles of shoreline oiled and only 32 acres of marsh," Landry said.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told CNN Saturday night that BP needed to "step up to the plate tonight to save our wetlands" by using its might to create sand barriers to prevent the oil from moving into the marshes.

The silent environmental crisis

"BP needs to say it will pay to move those dredges and pump that sand berm," he said. "We are gonna die a slow death if we don't get that berm. We've got to have that barrier island."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, echoed the call to bolster barrier islands in a statement Saturday night.

She said BP should immediately invest $1 billion to protect marshes, wetlands and estuaries -- giving half the money to short-term projects protecting the Louisiana coast and half to other Gulf Coast states "based on the immediate threat posed by oil spewing from the well."

President Obama, who toured the area Friday, said federal officials were prepared to authorize moving forward with "a portion of" an idea proposed by local officials, who want the Army Corps of Engineers to build a "sand boom" offshore to keep the water from getting into the fragile marshlands.

But Nungesser said the marshes couldn't wait and that the effort needed to start immediately to save the Louisiana wetlands.

A team of oil spill experts were on standby in the United Arab Emirates, ready to help in the Gulf of Mexico cleanup efforts if called to do so, officials in the Middle Eastern country told CNN Sunday.

Read more about possible help from Mideast

The United Arab Emirates originally made the offer two weeks ago. "Basically, it's an offer made on behalf of the government in recognition of this environmental issue. It is an offer of support," said Craig Buckingham of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Source : CNN

Church plans to picket rocker Dio's memorial service

Los Angeles, California (News Today) - A public memorial service for heavy metal rocker Ronnie James Dio is planned for Sunday, with members of the Westboro Baptist Church saying they will picket the ceremony.

The church in Topeka, Kansas, is known for its intolerance of gays and its picketing of soldiers' funerals.

A picketing schedule on the church's website said protesters will be at the Dio memorial at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, accusing the 67-year-old rocker of worshipping Satan.

Dio died on May 16 after a battle with stomach cancer.

Charges of devil-worshipping have often been leveled against heavy metal music. Dio, in particular, was a favorite target.

He popularized the "devil's horn" gesture, where the index and the little fingers are upright and the thumb is clasped against the two middle fingers.

He has said he was taught by the sign by his superstitious Italian grandmother as a way to ward off the "evil eye."

But many fundamentalist Christians have taken issue with the gesture, alleging that it is a tribute to the devil.

"Ronnie hates prejudice and violence. We need to turn the other cheek on these people that only know how to hate someone they didn't know," said Dio's wife, Wendy, about the planned protest.

Wendy Dio said the memorial will host a donation center for her husband's "Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund," named after one his songs.

Dio most recently was touring with Heaven and Hell, a version of Black Sabbath renamed for legal reasons. All shows were canceled last March because of his illness.

His last public appearance was in April at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, when he accepted a vocalist of the year award for his work on last year's Heaven and Hell album. Dio appeared frail, but he spoke while accepting his award.

Born Ronald James Padavona in 1942, Dio's professional music career began as a high school student in the late 1950s.

His 1960s rock group The Electric Elves evolved into Elf by the early 1970s, when the group played heavy blues rock.

Dio's rock became darker with his band Rainbow, which he left in 1979 to join Black Sabbath.

Black Sabbath released three albums with Dio, including "Heaven and Hell" in 1980, "Mob Rules" in 1981 and "Live Evil" in 1982.

Dio left that band in 1982, but he had a brief reunion with the group a decade later.

He formed the group Dio in 1982 and later Heaven and Hell.

Source : CNN

Deadly storm hits Central America

(News Today) - Tropical Depression Agatha unleashed torrential rains over Guatemala, southeast Mexico and much of El Salvador, triggering flash floods and mudslides.

Downgraded from a tropical storm -- the first of the Pacific season -- Saturday night, Agatha left at least 12 people dead and another 11 missing in Guatemala, the UK Press Association reported, citing National Disaster Relief Coordinator spokesman David de Leon.

Four children were buried in a landslide outside Guatemala City, and four adults were killed in the capital itself, de Leon said. Another two children and two adults were killed when a boulder, dislodged by heavy rains, crushed a house in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles (200 km) west of Guatemala City, de Leon said earlier.

The system was expected to bring 10-20 inches (25-51 cm) of rain over the three countries, with possible 30 inches (76.2 cm) in some parts through Sunday.

Guatemala is already under a 15-day state of calamity because of the eruption on Thursday of the Pacaya volcano, which killed at least three people. At least 1,800 people were already evacuated to shelters, de Leon said earlier. The volcano had shut down the capital's international airport.

Is the eruption affecting you?

As of 9 p.m. (11 p.m. ET) Saturday local time, the storm was 25 miles (45 kilometers) east of Tapachula, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

All tropical storm warnings have been discontinued, the center said.

The storm was moving northeast about 5 mph (7 kph) and was forecast to weaken as it moved farther inland over high terrain in Central America, the center said.

Tropical storm winds extended outward up to 80 miles (130 km) primarily over water to the southeast of the center, the center added.

Source : CNN


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