Showing posts with label Accused "underwear bomber" pleads guilty in U.S.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Accused "underwear bomber" pleads guilty in U.S.. Show all posts

Sunday, March 11, 2012

U.S. fears reprisals after Afghan shooting rampage

an Afghan man sits next to the dead bodies killed by US Army
An Afghan man sits next to the dead bodies killed by US Army
(Reuters) - U.S. officials warned on Monday of possible reprisal attacks after 16 Afghan villagers, mostly children and women, were killed in a likely "rogue" shooting by a U.S. soldier that weakens the West's tenuous grip on a decade-old war.

Washington has rushed to distance the shootings, blamed on a lone U.S. soldier, from the efforts of the 90,000-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan, but the rampage in southern Kandahar province is certain to inflame anti-Western anger once again.

It comes less than three weeks after U.S. troops inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at the main NATO base in Afghanistan, sparking widespread protests in which 30 people were killed.

"The U.S. Embassy in Kabul alerts U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a U.S. service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces," the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, toppled by U.S.-backed forces in late 2001. Southern and eastern provinces have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war, increasingly unpopular among Americans and their European allies.

Early on Monday, the embassy said on its Twitter feed restrictions had been placed on the movements of all embassy personnel in the south.

A sharp increase in attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan forces followed the Koran burning. Sunday's incident in Kandahar was one of the worst of its kind, witnesses describing it as a "night-time massacre" that killed nine children and three women.

Villagers in three houses were attacked and many civilians were wounded, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Deeply saddened, U.S. President Barack Obama called Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, promising to establish the facts quickly and "to hold fully accountable anyone responsible.

"This incident is tragic and shocking and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement.

However, such incidents fuel anti-Western sentiment among Afghans and are quickly exploited by the insurgents. The Afghan Taliban said it would take revenge.


The burning of copies of Koran at Bagram air base touched off widespread anger among Afghan officials, security forces and civilians alike. It also shows the challenges that remain as foreign forces prepare to withdraw combat troops and hand security responsibility to Afghans by the end of 2014.

Sunday's attack may also harden a growing consensus in Washington about what can be accomplished in Afghanistan even after a troop surge meant to turn the war around.

The bill for the war has already exceeded $500 billion and more than 1,900 U.S. troops have been killed, with the total number of foreign troops killed approaching 3,000.

"These killings only serve to reinforce the mindset that the whole war is broken and that there's little we can do about it beyond trying to cut our losses and leave," said Joshua Foust, a security expert with the American Security Project.

Karzai, whose relationship with his Western backers is fraught at the best of times, seethed. Civilian casualties caused by U.S. and other Western forces have long been a major cause of friction between Washington and Kabul.

He condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation. Karzai's office released a statement quoting a villager as saying "American soldiers woke my family up and shot them in the face".

There were conflicting accounts of how many U.S. soldiers were involved, with witness accounts saying there were several.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy, ISAF and from Washington said it appeared there was only one. An ISAF spokesman said the lone U.S. soldier "walked back to the base and turned himself in to U.S. forces this morning", adding there had been no military operations in the area.

The soldier in custody was described by one U.S. official in Washington as a staff sergeant who was married with three children. The sergeant had served three tours in Iraq but was on his first deployment in Afghanistan, the official said.

Neighbors and relatives of the dead said they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Panjwai district, about 35 km from the provincial capital Kandahar City, at about 2 a.m. They said the soldiers entered homes and opened fire.

However, Afghan Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid said a U.S. soldier burst into three homes near his base in the middle of the night, killing a total of 16 people, including 11 people in the first house.

Villager Haji Samad said his children and grandchildren were among 11 relatives killed.

"They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them," a weeping Samad told Reuters at the scene, with blood splattered on the walls of his home.

Neighbours said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk.

"Their bodies were riddled with bullets," said Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the killings took place.

A senior U.S. defence official in Washington rejected such accounts. "Based on the preliminary information we have this account is flatly wrong," the official said. "We believe one U.S. service member acted alone, not a group of U.S. soldiers."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also called Karzai to offer his condolences. "I condemn such violence and am shocked and saddened that a U.S. service member is alleged to be involved, clearly acting outside his chain of command," Panetta said.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Fears of mutant virus escape halt bird flu study

Bird flu in US 2012
Bird Flu
(Reuters) - Researchers studying a potentially more lethal, airborne version of the bird flu virus have suspended their studies because of concerns the mutant virus they have created could be used as a devastating form of bioterrorism or accidentally escape the lab.

In a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday, 39 scientists defended the research as crucial to public health efforts, including surveillance programs to detect when the H5N1 influenza virus might mutate and spark a pandemic.

But they are bowing to fear that has become widespread since media reports discussed the studies in December that the engineered viruses "may escape from the laboratories" -- not unlike the frightful scenario in the 1971 science fiction movie "The Andromeda Strain" -- or possibly be used to create a bioterror weapon.

Among the scientists who signed the letter were leaders of the two teams that have spearheaded the research, at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as influenza experts at institutions ranging from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the University of Hong Kong.

The decision to suspend the research for 60 days "was totally voluntarily," virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus told Reuters. The pause is meant to allow global health agencies and governments to weigh the benefits of the research and agree on ways to minimize its risk.

"It is the right thing to do, given the controversies in the U.S.," Fouchier said.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December had asked Science and Nature to censor details of the research from the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams that was submitted for publication.

Biosecurity experts fear that a form of the virus that is transmissible through airborne droplets--which the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams independently created--could spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu that killed up to 40 million people.

"There is obviously a controversy here over the right balance between risk and benefit," says virologist Daniel Perez of the University of Maryland, who signed the letter supporting the moratorium. "I strongly believe that this research needs to continue, but that doesn't mean you can't call a time out."

The researchers' decision shifts the focus of debate from whether the studies should be made public to whether they should have been done at all, given the theoretical possibility that a highly infectious virus could be stolen or escape from a lab. Some of the studies were funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, told Reuters that the decision to fund the research was justified.

"The proposal the investigators put forth to do this research was appropriate," said Fauci, who was "actively involved" in the decision to call a moratorium on the research. "The value of the research is clear, as even the biosecurity board unanimously agreed."


In its current form, people can contract H5N1 only through close contact with ducks, chickens, or other birds that carry it, and not from infected individuals.

But when H5N1 acquires mutations that allow it to live in the upper respiratory tract rather than the lower, it can travel via airborne droplets between infected ferrets, which are considered good models of how flu viruses behave in people.

The teams at Wisconsin, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and Erasmus induced as few as three mutations that allow the virus to be transmitted through the air between ferrets. It is not known whether the mutant H5N1 can be spread between people in a similar way, by coughing or sneezing, since such experiments would be unethical.

But the fear is that the mutations that allow H5N1 to spread via the air between ferrets would allow it to do in people, making it exponentially more contagious.

To give the scientific community and governments time to determine whether the research can be conducted safely, the scientists write, "We have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses" that produce easily contagious forms of the virus.

In particular, they wrote, no experiments with live, mutant viruses "already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time."

Fouchier noted in an essay published Thursday in Nature that other laboratories around the world may also be close to an airborne bird flu virus, and may not even be aware of it.


Critics have more recently raised concerns over the safety of the physical environment in which the experiments were being conducted, in addition to the question over whether details of the research should be made public. For now, Science and Nature are withholding publication of the studies.

Nature reported last month that both experiments on mutant viruses were carried out in labs rated "biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) enhanced," which "require scientists to shower and change clothes when leaving the lab, and include other safety features such as negative air pressure and passing exhaust air through high-efficiency particulate air filters."

That is widely believed to protect against an accidental release of the virus. But some virologists argue that the more stringent BSL-4 precautions are needed. BSL-4, which is required for research on, among other microbes, the Ebola virus, includes full-body positive air-pressure suits like astronauts use. In the past, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus has escaped from BSL-3, and possibly BSL-4, labs.

"It's a responsible decision to suspend work on these viruses while agreement is being reached," said Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London. "I hope that these issues can be resolved and that this vital work will continue under appropriate conditions and not be driven underground."

Scientists and government officials are expected to meet in Geneva in February at the World Health Organization, to decide how research on mutant H5N1 should proceed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia to shut for 24 hours to stop anti-piracy act

wikipedia-jimmy wales
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia
(Reuters) - Wikipedia, the popular community-edited online encyclopedia, will black out its English-language site for 24 hours to seek support against proposed U.S. anti-piracy legislation that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said threatens the future of the Internet.

The service will be the highest profile name to join a growing campaign starting at midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday that will see it black out its page so that visitors will only see information about the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The information will urge Wikipedia readers to contact their local congressman to vote against the bills. Other smaller sites leading the campaign include and Cheezeburger.

"This is a quite clumsily drafted legislation which is dangerous for an open Internet," said Wales in an interview.

The decision to black out the site was decided by voting within the Wikipedia community of writers and editors who manage the free service, Wales said. The English language Wikipedia receives more than 25 million average daily visitors from around the world, according to comScore data.

The bills pit technology companies like Google Inc and Facebook against the bill's supporters, including Hollywood studios and music labels, which say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.

The SOPA legislation under consideration in the House of Representatives aims to crack down on online sales of pirated American movies, music or other goods by forcing Internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material that violates U.S. copyright laws. Supporters argue the bill is unlikely to have an impact on U.S.-based websites.

U.S. advertising networks could also be required to stop online ads, and search engines would be barred from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.

Google has repeatedly said the bill goes too far and could hurt investment. Along with other Internet companies such as Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, it has run advertisements in major newspapers urging Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.

White House officials raised concerns on Saturday about SOPA saying they believe it could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.

"We're happy to see opposition is building and that the White House has started to pay attention," said Wales.

News of the White House's comments prompted a prominent supporter of the bill News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch to slam the Obama administration.

"So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," he posted on his personal Twitter account Saturday. News Corp owns a vast array of media properties from Fox TV, the Wall Street Journal to Twentieth Century Fox studios.

Wales said the bill in its current form was too broad and could make it difficult for a site like Wikipedia, which he said relies on open exchange of information. He said the bill also places the burden of proof on the distributor of content in the case of any dispute over copyright ownership.

"I do think copyright holders have legitimate issues, but there are ways of approaching the issue that don't involve censorship," Wales said.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Iran blast kills nuclear scientist

Iran blast kills nuclear scientist
Bomb kills Iran nuclear scientist
(Reuters) - An Iranian nuclear scientist was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman, prompting Tehran to blame Israeli and U.S. agents but insist the killing would not derail a nuclear program that has raised fears of war and threatened world oil supplies.

The fifth daylight attack on technical experts in two years, the magnetic bomb delivered a targeted blast to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during Wednesday's morning rush-hour. The chemical engineer's driver also died, Iranian media said, and a passer-by was slightly hurt.

Israel, whose military chief said on Tuesday that Iran could expect to suffer more mysterious mishaps, declined comment. The White House, struggling for Chinese and Russian help on economic sanctions, denied any U.S. role and condemned the attack.

While Israeli or Western involvement seemed eminently plausible to independent analysts, a role for local Iranian factions or other regional interests engaged in a deadly shadow war of bluff and sabotage could not be ruled out.

The killing, which left debris hanging in trees and body parts on the road, came in a week of heightened tension:

Iran has started an underground uranium enrichment plant and sentenced an American to death for spying; Washington and Europe have stepped up efforts to cripple Iran's oil exports for its refusal to halt work that the West says betrays an ambition to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its aims are entirely peaceful.

Tehran has threatened to choke the West's supply of Gulf oil if its exports are hit by sanctions, drawing a U.S. warning that its navy was ready to open fire to prevent any blockade of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 percent of the world's seaborne traded oil passes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's threats to close the strait were "provocative and dangerous" and repeated the White House denial of any U.S. involvement in the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan.

In Tokyo on Thursday, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi pledged after talks with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to steadily reduce oil imports from Iran in support of U.S. sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

Geithner welcomed Tokyo's cooperation, which could be an encouraging sign for U.S. policy after China, a big buyer of Iranian crude, and Russia rebuffed U.S. appeals to starve Iran of much-needed revenue from oil sales.

On a visit to Cuba on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said nothing about the bomb attack but flashed the victory sign and said Iran had done nothing to warrant enmity from its enemies.

"Have we assaulted someone? Have we wanted more than we should have? Never, never. We have only asked to speak about and establish justice," said Ahmadinejad.

Analysts saw the latest assassination, which would have taken no little expertise, as less a reaction to recent events than part of a longer-running, covert effort to thwart Iran's nuclear development program that has also included suspected computer viruses and mystery explosions.

While fears of war have forced up oil prices, the region has seen periods of saber-rattling and limited bloodshed before without reaching all-out conflict. But a willingness in Israel, which sees an imminent Iranian atom bomb as a threat to its existence, to attack Iranian nuclear sites, with or without U.S. backing, has heightened the sense that a crisis is coming.


The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which has failed to persuade the West that its quest for nuclear power has no hidden military goal, said the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan would not deter it: "We will continue our path without any doubt ... Our path is irreversible," it said in a statement carried on television.

"The heinous acts of America and the criminal Zionist regime will not disrupt our glorious path ... The more you kill us, the more our nation will awake."

First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, quoted by IRNA news agency, said: "Iran's enemies should know they cannot prevent Iran's progress by carrying out such terrorist acts."

Iran's leaders, preparing for the first national election since a disputed presidential vote in 2009 brought street protests against 32 years of clerical rule, are struggling to contain internal tensions. Defiance of Israel and Western powers plays well with many who will vote in March.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this ... We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like what is being reported today."

Israel, which has a history of covert killings abroad, declined comment, though army spokesman Yoav Mordechai wrote on Facebook: "I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding any tears."


The attack bore some of the hallmarks of sophisticated intelligence agencies capable of circumventing Iran's own extensive security apparatus and apparently taking care to limit the harm to passers-by.

While witnesses spoke of a frighteningly loud explosion and parts of the Peugeot 405 ended up in the branches of the trees lining Gol Nabi Street, much of the car was left intact. This suggested a charge designed to be sure of both killing the occupants and preventing serious injury to others.

Witnesses said the motorcycle, from which the rear pillion passenger reached out to stick the device to the side of the car, made off into the heavy commuter traffic.

Though the scientist killed -- the fourth in five such attacks since January 2010 -- was only 32, Iranian media described him as having a role overseeing uranium enrichment at Natanz underground site. The semi-official news agency Mehr said Ahmadi-Roshan had recently met officials of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

At the IAEA in Vienna, where a spokeswoman condemned the killing, officials could not confirm knowing of him.

Analysts say that killing scientists -- especially those whose lack of personal protection suggests a relatively junior role -- is unlikely to have much direct impact on Iran's nuclear program, which Western governments allege is seeking to enrich enough uranium highly enough to let it build weapons.


Sabotage -- like mysterious reported explosions at military facilities or the Stuxnet computer virus widely suspected to have been deployed by Israel and the United States to disrupt nuclear facilities in 2010 -- may have had more direct effects.

However, assassinations may be intended to discourage Iranians with nuclear expertise from working on the program.

Bruno Tertrais from France's Strategic Research Foundation said: "It certainly has a psychological effect on scientists working on the nuclear program."

He cautioned, however, against assuming that Israel, the United States or both were behind the latest attack.

Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based expert on Iran, said the killing might, along with the heightened rhetoric of recent weeks, be part of a pattern ahead of a possible resumption of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program; some parties may want to improve their bargaining position, others may see violence as a way of thwarting renewed negotiations altogether, Parsi said.

Last month, Iran signaled a willingness to return to a negotiating process which stalled a year ago, though Western officials say a new round of talks is far from certain yet.


Iran's decision to carry out enrichment work deep underground in the once undeclared plant at Fordow, near the holy Shi'ite city of Qom, could make it harder for U.S. or Israeli forces to carry out veiled threats to use force against Iranian nuclear facilities. The move to Fordow could reduce the time available for diplomacy to avert any attack.

The announcement on Monday that enrichment -- a necessary step to make uranium into nuclear weapons -- had begun at Fordow has given added impetus to Western efforts to impose an oil export embargo intended to pressure Tehran to halt enrichment.

Iran, a signatory to the treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons, says it is entitled to conduct peaceful research and denies any military nuclear aims. Its adversaries say its failure to take up their offers of help with civilian technology undermine the credibility of its position.

Oil prices have firmed 5 percent since U.S. President Barack Obama moved on New Year's Eve to block bank payments for oil to Iran. The European Union is expected this month to impose a ban on its states buying oil from Tehran, and other major customers have been looking for alternative supplies.

In Iran, the new U.S. sanctions have started to bite.

The rial currency has lost 20 percent of its value against the dollar in the past week and Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Deadly 6.5 earthquake strikes north of Acapulco

earthquake in mexico
Earthquake in Mexico
ACAPULCO, Mexico -- A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the region north of Acapulco on Saturday night, and people in Mexico City fled into the streets.

The epicenter was about 82 miles north of Acapulco in the southwestern state of Guerrero and about 40 miles deep, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quake was intially reported as a 6.8 but downgraded to 6.5.

Telemundo reported that at least two people were killed..

In Acapulco, hundreds of anxious tourists congregated in the streets after fleeing rocking buildings. Authorities said they had found no structural damage and had no reports of injuries in the Pacific resort.

Buildings in Mexico City, about 100 miles northeast of the epicenter, swayed during the quake, but there were no immediate reports of major damage there.

People in one part of the capital's upscale Condesa neighborhood ran out of their houses and gathered in the streets, hugging each other while some shook and began to cry. On one street, a group of women joined hands in a circle, closed their eyes and began to pray.

"Please God, help us and let everything be OK," said one. "It's OK. It's OK. Everything is OK."

Reuters reporters in Mexico City said the earthquake seemed to go on for an unusually long period.

"I was dreadfully afraid, I thought it was never going to end," said Laura Gonzalez, who was drinking in a bar in the capital when the quake struck.

Power was knocked out in parts of the capital, but Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said water services, the subway and the airport were working normally.

Parts of Mexico City rest on the shaky soil of a former lake bed, which tends to magnify the effect of earthquakes. An 8.1-magnitude quake in 1985 killed as many as 10,000 people in the city.

News by msnbc

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Egypt: American Tear Gas, Policy Loom Over Tahrir Square

Cairo, Egypt
CAIRO -- At the foot of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, just a few feet from the resounding crowds in Tahrir Square, a group of people gathered around a man holding four canisters above his head.

"Tear gas! Rubber bullets! Nerve gas!" he cried out, displaying the spent metal canisters.

"Where are they from, America?" people asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yes, America," the man replied furiously. The crowd murmured with unsurprised disdain. Like many gas canisters in Tahrir, one of his was marked with blue letters that read "Made in USA" and bore the name of the company that produced it: Combined Tactical Systems, in Jamestown, PA.

For days, similar scenes have played out across Tahrir. Tear gas has become a persistent companion in the square, a troublesome cousin who crashes on the couch and fails to leave. Wafting in from the clashes up the street -- except in a few rare instances where it has been fired directly onto the square -- the gas lingers in the air, causing, from afar, noses to run and a sour taste in the mouth.

But the added indignation of an American connection -- on the street, protesters insist it is more like collusion -- is a potent blow.

"You know where this is from," another man, standing next to a field clinic across the street, said with a glare Wednesday, as he held up a thick metal canister shaped like a short bottle of spray paint.

"This is from America. America sent it to bomb Egypt."

Nearby, an 18-year-old in a red soccer jersey sat slumped on the sidewalk in the clinic, pawing at his eyes and moaning. He had been pulled from the fray a few minutes earlier, where the gas was much more intense. The burning sensation had briefly rendered him unable to speak. Now and then, a nurse came by and poured a homemade solution -- a mixture of antacid, topical anesthetic, and saline -- from a reused bottle of Dasani water over his face.

"It feels like my eyes are burning," the boy, who said he was from Giza, cried out after he had finally composed himself. "I can't open my eyes, I can't breathe. The gas they're using, it's different from before. I don't know where they got it from, but it's really different -- and it takes a lot longer to heal."

All day Wednesday, as the fighting around the square reached its 100th hour, people with severe cases of gas exposure -- not to mention rubber-bullet wounds -- came streaming into field clinics and dozens of first aid stations scattered near the combat zone.

At the corner of Tahrir Street and Yousef el Guindi Street, not far from the front lines, a young man wearing a white lab coat spattered with blood struggled to find a moment of peace to explain what he'd seen these past few days.

"I'm so tired," he said, with a weary smile. Suddenly, a motorbike careened up to the curb, ferrying a boy in a black sweatsuit. The fighters around Tahrir have established a makeshift ambulance system for the combat zone, with pairs of men on motorbikes who race in and out of the fight, and deliver the injured -- upright, and sandwiched between them -- to the nearest doctor.

The boy tumbled onto the rug that demarcated the first aid station.

"Hold on," the doctor said as he raced over to his new patient, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Stay awake! Stay with me," he yelled. The patient only had a rubber bullet wound on his leg, but he was young, perhaps just 15 years old, and he wailed in pain. The doctor and his two nurses sprayed him with an antibiotic foam, and sent him down toward the larger field clinics in the square.

"That was one of the easiest cases I've had yet," the doctor said when he came back. He introduced himself as Ali Sharif, and said that he was actually just a third-year medical student. He is 19 years old.

Another motorbike pulled up, this one ferrying a balding, middle-aged man in a tracksuit who had clearly succumbed to tear gas inhalation. The man was red in the face and his body sat rigidly between two people riding the motorcycle-ambulance; when it stopped, he nearly keeled over. Sharif huddled over him, urging him to cough, while the man spit up phlegm onto the sidewalk. Sharif signaled for another motorcycle, waiting nearby, to shepherd the man to a better-equipped clinic.

"That man has a heart condition, so I told him I couldn't treat him here," Sharif said when he stood back up. "Ninety percent of the cases we see of people injured are from tear gas, just normal cases. But since last night, a lot of what they've used is some other kind of gas, it's much stronger. When we start first aid the patients seem normal, but then after a while they start screaming and they lose control over their bodies, and start shaking."

Sharif is one of many around Tahrir who insist that the security forces have recently begun using a more potent form of the gas -- CR, rather than the typical CS -- or perhaps even nerve agents. (He says he has a canister of "nerve gas" that was made in China at his home.)

Unlike CS, which is commonly used by police and military forces around the world, CR has been connected with fatalities in the past, and evidence exists it may be a carcinogen. The United States military has ceased using CR out of health concerns.

So far, however, conclusive evidence about the use of other gases has proven nearly impossible to find.

"So far we have only seen [canisters] with CS on them," said Karim Medhat Ennarah, a political and security reform researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which has spent the past two days seeking evidence of other forms of gas being used.

The Guardian recently reported that many sources have complained that protesters are suffering from effects more commonly associated with powerful gases like CR, but the paper was unable to confirm the existence of canisters with those letters on them. In several hours looking around Tahrir, The Huffington Post only came across canisters marked CS, as well as a few that were unmarked. Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has also been investigating the reports, said that the unmarked canisters are likely Egyptian-made.

Instead, it seemed more likely to observers and human rights investigators that most of the severe cases of tear gas exposure come from the tendency of riot police to fire four or five rounds of gas at a time, and from the fact that most of the skirmishes are taking place in narrow, confined alleyways.

"What we can say beyond doubt is that it's definitely excessive use of tear gas and that's probably behind a lot of the problems it's causing," Ennarah said. "It can be used for crowd dispersal, but they seem to be using it as a kind of punishment."

The U.S. State Department denied on Tuesday that the gas was purchased with American "security assistance funds," but did acknowledge that direct sales between the government and American companies have been authorized in the past.

The use of American-made tear gas has only compounded the sense among many of Tahrir's most ardent protesters that the U.S. plays a malicious role in Egyptian politics, seeking to reinforce the status quo -- in this case, the military, which they have good relations with -- rather that supporting the aspirations of demonstrators.

Over the past several days, Tahrir and its surrounding areas have become an increasingly unwelcome place to foreigners, with many foreign reporters describing xenophobic exchanges, and being subjected to random credential checks. Direct attacks on foreign journalists by the crowd have remained at a minimum.

From the start, the U.S. State Department has delivered tempered remarks on the contest between demonstrators and riot police, initially calling for restraint from "all involved," and urging "everybody" to focus on the nation's first democratic parliamentary elections, which are still scheduled to begin on Monday.

The U.S. government faces a particularly difficult challenge in Egypt because it has long backed the forces of stability -- first Hosni Mubarak, now the military regime -- as a bulwark against the rise of militant Islam. Now, the parliamentary elections which begin on Monday are expected to deliver a majority to the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, something the U.S. does not appear to mind so long as a friendly military government is there as a steward.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland directed her message more sharply to the Egyptian government, saying, "We condemn the excessive force used by the police."

But she also backed the speech of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the current leader of the military regime ruling the nation, who addressed the nation Tuesday night and pledged to complete the transfer of power to civilian hands by mid 2012. (When the speech concluded, security forces once again barraged Tahrir with tear gas.)

For those like Ali Sharif, standing at his corner medical station, the struggle is far from over.

"I've been here nonstop since Saturday, except for only four hours of sleep," he said. "Sometimes I wish they would all just go home, so that I could too."

Sharif laughed. In fact, he doesn't want the struggle to end -- "I'm doing this for Egypt," he said -- but he does sometimes find himself yelling at the young fighters who keep making their way back to his station to find another use for their time.

"I tell them I'm getting tired of seeing them," Sharif said. "But they never listen to me. They all go back."

News by Huffingtonpost

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Top Gold Owning Countries of the World - 2011

Gold Bar
Central banks are contributing to world gold demand. The latest data from the World Gold Council indicate even more changes among the nations holding the most in gold reserves. Those are also some of nations whose creditworthiness is now under question during the debt crisis in Europe. 24/7 Wall St. looked at the 13 nations with the highest gold reserves, as well as two institutions, to see how each might affect future gold demand.

While investment demand was the key driver to increased gold demand during the past quarter, it is central bank gold buying and selling that is going to be a key factor for demand ahead. The council projected that central bank demand is expected to continue as creditworthiness woes of western governments has come front and center. In fact, the council also cited many new central bank entrants have emerged as they move to diversify reserves. Further, the council sees this increased central bank activity trend continuing into 2012.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the top 13 nations that hold the lion’s share of the world’s gold reserves, according to the World Gold Council’s International Financial Statistics. Of course, many nations will have new gold reserve data in 2012. And some of the data remained unchanged from prior months. Our aim here is to show which nations probably are increasing or lowering their gold reserves into 2012 and why.

The European credit crisis and emerging market weakness are what is likely behind central banks’ demand. Total gold demand rose 6% in the third quarter from a year earlier to 1,053.9 tonnes. This equates to roughly $57.7 billion — an all-time high in value terms. Investment was the large driver for increased gold demand, while jewelry demand was soft.

These are The 13 Countries That own The World’s Gold.

13) Venezuela holds 365.8 tonnes.
Venezuela increased its gold reserves by nearly 5%. Hugo Chavez may be no friend to the United States, but oil sales and business nationalization (or seizure) has continued to add more wealth to the nation’s government. Venezuela’s population is only 27 million and it is the sole Latin American country among the top nations holding gold. In 2010, Venezuela bought 3.1 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council. That’s after buying 4.1 tonnes locally in 2009. Venezuela has continued adding gold, and if history is an indicator it is likely to keep adding gold.

12) Portugal holds 382.5 tonnes.
Surprisingly, one of the PIIGS nations (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain), Portugal, is also a top holder of gold. The European nation has a population of almost 11 million people. Does this go back to the days of its empire building ambitions, or is it because the nation was able to remain neutral in World War II? If Portugal is really in such dire straights, perhaps the Europeans could start demanding that Portugal pledge some of its gold reserves to bolster its finances. Portugal has already been a part of the prior Central Bank Gold Agreement as a seller in recent years, so it seems logical that the nation would be selling to hold up on its debt and entitlement obligations.

11) Taiwan holds 423.6 tonnes.
Taiwan is another surprise as one of the world’s largest gold holders. It has a vast electronics sector, and maybe its high gold holdings help it stay financially relevant in its long ongoing confrontation with China. The nation is already considered wealthier than many neighboring countries on a per capita basis. The accumulation of gold by China makes it unlikely Taiwan would sell much gold now.

10) India holds 557.7 tonnes.
India’s gold holdings are still officially the same as they were at the beginning of the year, but it seems likely that it will increase its central bank holdings. The nation has about 1.2 billion people and its economy is growing — even though the government has fought inflation in 2011. Gold is entrenched in Indian culture that India is likely to continue accumulating more gold. Almost one-third of the world’s jewelry demand comes from India, and the country acquired 200 tonnes of the IMF gold sales in late-2010. India would seem to be a buyer of gold not just in 2012, but in the years ahead.

9) The Netherlands holds 612.5 tonnes.
Another fairly small nation with only 16.6 million people is ranked as a top holder of gold. The nation used to hold even more gold but it was a seller of gold from at least 2003 to 2008 under the Central Bank Gold Agreement in Europe. Maybe Holland could help to create a Dutch-led bailout for the PIIGS in Europe. The country’s gold holdings seem unlikely to change very much in 2012.

8 ) Japan holds 765.2 tonnes.
Japan has had to deal with two decades of a sluggish economy and its currency is currently considered a safe-haven for international investors. The Japanese people are known for keeping cash under their mattresses. The yen feels inflated with its huge debt-to-GDP and no growth. Prices for Japanese goods are getting too expensive for foreigners due to the strength of the Yen. The country is also still recovering from its tsunami and nuclear incident from earlier in 2011. Perhaps Japan will have proven to be a seller in 2011 rather than trying to bolster its foreign currency reserves. If not, it should be.

7) Russia holds 851.5 tonnes.
Russia has been gobbling up gold to bolster the ruble in the past and this appears to be the case this year as well. The new figure of 851.5 tonnes of gold compares to a previous figure earlier this year of 784.1 tonnes. The council had also noted earlier that Russia accumulated some 120 tonnes during the first 10 months of 2010, and that was after adding over 100 tonnes in 2009 and almost 70 tonnes in 2007. The new figure was due to increased purchases after the prior cut-off date. With Russia having vast oil and commodity reserves and with Russia aiming to increase its clout in the world as a financial powerhouse, it seems a shoe-in that it will have proven itself as a buyer of gold into 2012.

6) Switzerland holds 1,040.1 tonnes.
Switzerland already had to take measures earlier this year to halt the appreciation of the Swiss franc. It is hard to imagine that the nation would be buying gold to prop up its currency even after considering reports in recent years that it ran out of places to securely store gold. Switzerland sold gold under the Central Bank Gold Agreement from 2003 to 2008 before the great gold rush. With a mere 7.6 million people, how much gold does the nation really need? This country could easily lighten up on its gold reserves without its benchmark currency status being challenged.

5) China holds 1,054.1 tonnes.
China has added and added to its gold reserves. There is no reason to expect that to abate, particularly after Barron’s pointed that China is seeking a reserve currency status in the generation ahead. China has a population of 1.3 billion people and a fast-growing economy. The country also bought more than 450 tonnes of gold from 2003 to 2009 and 200 tonnes or more during 2010. With the pressure to get away from the dollar peg, assuring the value of the yuan only leaves the purchase of gold or other hard assets.

4) France holds 2,435.4 tonnes.
The French are not in the same boat as Italy and the rest of the PIIGS, but predicting what will happen with France’s gold reserves is very difficult. With a debt rating downgrade possibly coming down the pipe, France is the second largest foundation of the euro and of the European Union. The nation was part of the Central Bank Gold Agreement as a seller, but this was all before the major run-up in gold and before its own finances have come under question during the European debt crisis. It seems that more light selling is expected, although maybe the nation needs more hard assets as a reserve.

3) Italy holds 2,451.8 tonnes.
Italy was in the Central Bank Gold Agreements as a seller, but now it is the largest concern of Europe and of the PIIGS. It would seem that the Italians are unlikely to sell off their gold reserves. However, it is also likely that to fend off weakness some would argue for asset pledges. The nation has a new government and its economic growth is expected to be limited at best. Releasing gold might address some of Italy’s budget gaps and economic problems. Because Italy’s debt problems are quite large, it is likely that it would be a gold seller into 2012. If not, perhaps pledging those holdings is a runner-up scenario.

2) Germany holds 3,401.8 tonnes.
Germany remains the foundation of the European Union and of the euro. The nation was a seller of gold for coins under the Central Bank Gold Agreements from at least 2003 to 2008, but the sales were not really enough to put a serious dent in its gold reserves. It is hard to see Germany being a buyer of gold, but it likely cannot be a large seller either because it is the largest foundation of the euro. Selling too much gold could further pressure the troubled euro. Still, euro bailout funds have to come from somewhere and Germany could sell some additional gold without challenging its No.2 position among the nations holding gold reserves.

1) United States holds 8,133.5 tonnes.
The U.S. has already lost its prized AAA credit rating and it has magically created a vast amount of dollars to support the bailouts and stimulus packages. The U.S. could always try unloading some gold to fight future commodity price pressures, but the U.S. has now reached the point of leverage and deficits that it has to hold hard assets to fend off another challenge to the dollar as the world’s top reserve currency. Any gold sales today would likely have to be countered by large gold purchases in the future.

Looking from 2011 to 2012, Central Banks, Investment and More
The International Financial Statistics on the World Gold Council’s November report shows that the IMF holds 2,814 tonnes of gold. This technically puts the IMF somewhere between Germany and Italy. If the IMF is going to support bailouts and stabilization efforts, it is easy to consider where that money will come from. After all, the IMF cannot exactly print currency. The IMF’s Executive Board approved the sale of 403.3 tonnes in September 2009, which came to about one-eighth of its total gold holdings at the time.

The European Central Bank had some 502.1 tonnes of gold, according to the same November report. This is more than Taiwan, but less than India.

There are some key statistics to consider as 2011 comes to an end. Investment demand rose 33% from a year ago to 468.1 tonnes in the third quarter, worth about $25.6 billion. Central bank demand in the third quarter added 148.4 tonnes, an obvious effort to support currencies and credit ratings.

The world gold supply was up only 2% to 1,034.4 tonnes in the third quarter over a year earlier. Mine production was up 5% to 746.2 tonnes, while recycling activity was up 13% to 379.1 tonnes.

The investment segment showed that ETFs and investments accounted for 77.6 tonnes, but this was dwarfed by actual gold bars at 294.2 tonnes. Official coins came in a close third place at 76.2 tonnes and another 20 tonnes were for medals and imitation coins. European investment demand reached a record quarterly value of 4.6 billion Euros for 118.1 tonnes, a gain of 13%.

Also, watch Chindia. Chinese jewellery demand was 13% higher year-on-year at 131.0 tonnes; China’s investment demand for gold bars and coins rose 24% to 60.2 tonnes. Indian jewellery demand was down 26% in its seasonally slow quarter and it was compounded by high inflation and gold price volatility, although yearly demand at the end of September was called “very close to the record levels seen in 2010.”

If you tally up the top 15 entities here, the total is close to 26,000 tonnes of gold before counting any of the ETF products. The total tonnes of gold reserves from the International Financial Statistics cited by the World Gold Council is 30,708.3 tonnes. The SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD) lists some 1,277.36 tonnes worth over $71.5 billion today, but that is live data rather than just third quarter data released by the World Gold Council.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Accused "underwear bomber" pleads guilty in U.S.

(Reuters) - The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb in his underwear to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009 pleaded guilty on Wednesday to all charges against him and warned the United States could face "a great calamity."

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, entered the guilty pleas a day after testimony began in his trial. Not-guilty pleas had previously been entered on behalf of Abdulmutallab, who was representing himself in the trial with help from an attorney.

Abdulmutallab, who is linked to al Qaeda, pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including conspiracy to commit terrorism, attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison when sentenced January 12.

Abdulmutallab told the judge he was fulfilling a "religious duty" and participating in an act of jihad against the United States. He said his planned attack was meant to avenge the deaths of "innocent Muslims" in Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"The U.S. should be warned that if they continue to kill and support those who kill innocent Muslims, then the U.S. should await a great calamity ... or God will strike them directly," he said.

"If you laugh at us now, we will laugh at you later."

Al Qaeda's Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for Abdulmutallab's plot, which also was praised by Osama bin Laden months before the al Qaeda leader was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan.

In order to accept his plea, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds required Abdulmutallab to make a statement to the court acknowledging the factual basis of all eight charges against him.

Abdulmutallab, dressed in a tan African tunic with a Western-style sport coat, began by invoking "Allah, the most merciful."

In the statement, which lasted about five minutes, Abdulmutallab said he had violated U.S. law but not Islamic law.

"In late 2009, in fulfillment of a religious duty, I decided to participate in a jihad against the United States," he said.

He told the court that attacks against the United States like the one he attempted were "the most virtuous of deeds ... but my actions make me guilty of crimes in the United States."

Outside the court, Anthony Chambers, the standby attorney assigned to help Abdulmutallab, said the Nigerian had made the decision to plead guilty against his advice.

"I would never advise a client who was facing life to plead guilty in this manner," he said. "We wanted to continue on. It's disappointing."

Abdulmutallab previously told U.S. investigators he had received the bomb, which failed to detonate fully, and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen, U.S. officials have said.

After the attempted attack, the Obama administration moved to strengthen U.S. airline security by deploying full-body scanners to try to detect explosives that could be hidden in a passenger's clothing.

In his opening statement on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said Abdulmutallab had admitted to "each and every person he came into contact with" that he was trying to bring down Northwest Flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam with 290 people aboard.

Tukel showed the jury a picture of the remains of the underwear he said contained the explosive device Abdulmutallab tried to detonate.

Michael Zantow, the only witness called Tuesday, said he was sitting a row behind Abdulmutallab when he allegedly tried to ignite the bomb. Zantow helped subdue Abdulmutallab and said that after his pants were stripped off, he saw that the man was wearing what looked like adult diapers.

"All I know is they were bulky, and they were burning," Zantow testified.

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