Friday, 30 September 2011

Concern grows over militant activity in Libya

As the dust settles after six months of fighting in Libya, U.S. officials are stepping up efforts to identify Islamic militants who might pose a threat in a post-Gaddafi power vacuum.
U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence agencies have recently produced classified papers examining the strength, role and activities of militant activists and factions in post-Gaddafi Libya, four U.S. officials said. Some assessments examine the backgrounds of anti-Gaddafi leaders with militant pedigrees, and explore whether these individuals, some of whom have publicly renounced Islamic militancy, will stand by their pledges against extremism.
During the half-year campaign by rebels to drive Muammar Gaddafi from power, U.S. and NATO officials downplayed fears that al Qaeda or other militants would infiltrate anti-Gaddafi forces or take advantage of disorder to establish footholds in Libya.
Since then, however, the assessment of top experts inside the U.S. government has sharpened.
"It's of concern that terrorists are going to take advantage of instability" in post-Gaddafi Libya, said a U.S. official who monitors the issue closely.
"There is a potential problem," said another U.S. official, who said both the U.S. government and Libya's National Transitional Council were watching closely. Experts around the U.S. intelligence community "are paying attention to this," a third U.S. official said.
Officials said that while the rebellion against Gaddafi continued, it was difficult to collect intelligence on the rebels. But now that Gaddafi's regime has dissolved, U.S. and allied agencies are taking a closer look.
Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst who has advised President Barack Obama on policy in the region, said there was particular worry that Islamic militants could use Libya as a base to spread their influence into neighboring countries such as Algeria or areas such as the Sinai peninsula, where Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip share borders.
"There is a great deal of concern that the jihadi cadre now are going to be exporting their ideas and weapons toward the east and west," Riedel said.
Riedel and current U.S. officials said one high-priority issue is whether militants can acquire, or have obtained, weapons from Gaddafi's huge arsenals, especially surface-to-air missiles that could be used against commercial airliners.
Another key issue is trying to figure out what militant individuals or factions are presently in Libya. At the moment, two officials said, U.S. and NATO experts assess that a "power vacuum" exists while the shaky transitional council tries to organize itself and set up a new government.
In late August, the Open Source Center, a U.S. intelligence unit that monitors public media including militant websites, reported that "in recent days, jihadists have been strategizing on extremist web forums how to establish an Islamic state" in the post-Gaddafi era.
"Many forum members, describing the fall of Tripoli as the initial phase of the battle for Libya, have urged Libyan mujahideen to prepare for the next stage of battle against the (National Transitional Council) and secularist rebels to establish an Islamic state," the center said.
U.S. officials said militant groups have a history of taking advantage of power vacuums to consolidate and expand. The United States and its allies want to avoid a replay of what happened when Afghanistan was governed, patchily, by the Taliban and al Qaeda was able to establish elaborate, semi-permanent training camps.
Another worry is figures with a militant background getting into the higher echelons of the new Libyan government. One new Libyan leader under close scrutiny is Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a former Islamic fighter in Libya and Afghanistan who now commands post-Gaddafi forces in Tripoli.
After allegedly forging ties in Afghanistan with the Taliban and al Qaeda in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Belhadj reportedly was arrested with his wife by the CIA in Bangkok and later extradited to Libya, where he was imprisoned until 2010. He was released under a reconciliation plan promoted by Gaddafi son Saif al Islam.
In an interview this month with the Al Jazeera website, Belhadj said he was subjected to "barbaric treatment" while in CIA custody and later to "many types of physical and mental torture" in Gaddafi's notorious Abu Salim prison.
Asked about his dealings with al Qaeda, Belhadj said, "We have never been in a relationship with them or joined them in any kind of activity because we could never come to an understanding of (philosophies)."
"Libyans are generally moderate Muslims, with moderate ways of practice and understanding of religion. You can find some extreme elements that are different from the mainstream, but this does not in any way represent the majority of the Libyan people."
Secret British intelligence files recovered by anti-Gaddafi forces from the offices of Gaddafi's advisers show that the British kept a close watch on suspected militants in Britain who they believed were linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the main anti-Gaddafi Islamic militant network.
The documents, obtained by Reuters, show that during a February 2005 visit to Libya, British intelligence expressed concern the LIFG might be becoming more militant because some al Qaeda links were emerging. But in a 2008 visit, British officials reported that some UK-based Libyan militants had qualms about closer ties to al Qaeda.
A person familiar with British government investigations of militants said U.K. authorities believe that LIFG, as a group, abandoned violence in 2009, although individual Libyan militants remained active in al Qaeda's central core.
Some U.S. and British experts said today's militants may have no connection with vintage LIFG fighters. They fear that young militants who fought against Gaddafi will be angered if Libya's new government is seen as too close to the West.

Al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is dead, says Yemen

An al-Qaida leader regarded as the terror group's most potent threat to western interests has been killed in Yemen, defence officials in the capital, Sana'a, say.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen, is believed to have been killed at 9.55am on Friday morning at a site 90 miles (140 kilometres) east of Sana'a between the provinces of Marib and al-Jawf in what is believed to have been an air strike.
Witnesses say that Awlaki was boarding a 2005 Toyota Hilux along with five other supporters when a US drone attack hit the vehicle. Acccording to a Associated Press report, the same CIA and US Joint Special Operations Command team that directed the Osama bin Laden assassination was behind the strike.
A second American militant, Samir Khan, who produced the English-language al-Qaida web magazine Inspire, was killed in the attack, said Yemen's defence ministry.
The CIA and the US military have used drones to target al-Qaida officials in Yemen and had placed Awlaki near the top of a hit list. The US president, Barack Obama, authorised a request to target Awlaki in April last year, making him the first US citizen to be a legal target for assassination in the post-9/11 years.
The US embassy in Sana'a had declined to comment on the reports of Awlaki's death, fuelling speculation that the CIA had indeed got its man. Yemeni officials said they were not yet sure who had killed him. However, they released details of the killing within several hours of it happening, suggesting that Sana'a was either directly involved or well-briefed by the US.
Awlaki is credited with inspiring or directing at least four plots on US soil in recent years – a shooting inside the Fort Hood military base, the failed Times Square bombing, the failed underwear bomber and a parcel bomb hidden inside a printer that also failed to explode while inside a passenger jet.
He is thought to have been the leader of the foreign operations unit inside the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula group, which has in recent years taken centre stage in the global jihad campaign inspired by Bin Laden.
Awlaki was born in the US state of New Mexico in 1971 to Yemeni parents who took him back to Yemen after early childhood. He returned to the US in 1991 to attend college. US authorities believe he came into contact with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers while giving sermons at a San Diego mosque.
His fingerprints are also all over failed plots to target British and European interests. The attempted murder of the MP Stephen Timms was inspired by Awlaki's sermons and a British Airways employee, Rajib Karim, was convicted in February of plotting attacks against the airline.
The death of Awlaki is the most significant blow to the al-Qaida organisation since Bin Laden was assassinated in May. He was one of the few senior operatives orientated to western ways and in recent years had become increasingly strident in his calls for Muslims to wage jihad against the US.
His firebrand rhetoric had become renowned on jihadi websites and is thought to have inspired many more followers. With a blog, a Facebook page and numerous YouTube videos of his sermons, he had increasingly been regarded by the US National Security Council as one of the most dangerous men alive.

by Martin Chulov taken from

Debt Inspectors Back in Greece, Protests Swell

As international debt inspectors returned to Greece on Thursday, the government promised to fast-track deeper public-sector pay cuts and protesting civil servants occupied the Finance Ministry and other government buildings.
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Officials from the International Monetary Fund [cnbc explains] , European Central Bank and European Commission—known as the troika—will determine whether to recommend debt-struck [cnbc explains] Greece receives the vital next installment of bailout loans.
They had halted their review earlier this month, frustrated at missed fiscal targets and delays in implementing austerity reforms.
An initial meeting with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was "positive and constructive," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry rules.
Venizelos welcomed a key vote by German lawmakers Thursday to bolster a European rescue fund, arguing that its passage was helped by the fact that "Greece has sent a very clear and decisive message at an international level that it meets its obligations."
The minister promised to submit legislation to the Greek parliament next week, reducing public sector pay scales and scrapping numerous bonuses—the latest cost-cutting measure to prompt anger from unions.
Hundreds of civil servants took over several government ministries early Thursday morning, including the finance, interior, justice, health, environment and regional development ones. Most of the occupations ended later in the day.
"The occupations are being carried out today when the troika returns to our country and in the face of the barbaric new measures which have been decided and are being decided," the civil servants' union ADEDY said in a statement.
Civil servants and taxi drivers, angry at new licensing rules, staged peaceful protest rallies in central Athens, and in the northern city of Thessaloniki scuffles broke out between riot police and students protesting education reform.
Greece has been reliant since May 2010 on regular payouts of loans from a €110 billion ($150 billion) bailout from other eurozone countries and the IMF. It was granted a second €109 billion package in July, but details of that deal remain to be worked out.
The troika had originally been expected to approve Greece's next batch of loans, worth €8 billion, in early September. Greece has said that without the loans, it has enough funds to see it through mid-October, after which it will be unable to pay salaries and pensions.
The government recently announced a series of additional austerity measures, including pension cuts, extra taxes and the suspension of 30,000 civil servants on partial pay by the end of the year.
Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed during a Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation that the new measures were essential, and that Greece would honor the commitments it had made.
"The reform of Greece will not come from abroad, it will come from us ourselves," Papandreou told his ministers, according to statements released by his office. "From all of us, from the government and the people, from a broad—if silent—majority, from an alliance that these great changes require."
Papandreou, who will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris Friday, said that during his recent visit to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel he discussed the possibility of cooperating with Germany on issues such as administration and tax systems.

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US scientist trapped in China

In the year-plus since he was released from jail, scientist Hu Zhicheng has been free, free to drive from his Shanghai apartment to his office two hours away, free to get acupuncture treatment for chronic back pain, free except to leave China and rejoin his family in America.
Twice Hu went to airports to board flights out of China only to be turned back by border control officers. A China-born U.S. citizen and award-winning inventor of emission control systems for autos, Hu has written to the police who investigated him for infringing commercial secrets and met with the prosecutors who dropped the charges for lack of evidence. Yet he has not been allowed to leave - nor told why.
"My priority is to go home and be with my family," said Hu, slight, soft-spoken and reserved. "I know how much they have suffered."
Writ large, Hu's case shows the pitfalls that Chinese who study and work in the West face when they return to apply their entrepreneurial zeal to the booming China market. Trade disputes that would be civil suits in the West become criminal cases in China. Chinese companies often cultivate influence with local officials and thus may rally law enforcement and a malleable legal system to their side when deals go awry.
In Hu's case, he and his wife believe that the company which accused him of secrets theft persuaded authorities to keep the travel ban in place. In China, sometimes punishment goes on even when the law says stop.
Police in the eastern port of Tianjin where the dispute occurred said its case against Hu was closed long ago. The city's prosecutors office did not answer questions about the case, nor did the company, Hysci (Tianjin) Specialty Materials Co. Both said the senior officials knowledgeable about the affair were away. With no apparent charges or investigation pending, lawyers said Hu should be free to go abroad under Chinese law.
For Hu, it has been a nearly three-year ordeal, from the 17 months spent in a 20-to-30-inmate group cell in a Tianjin jail to an equally lengthy time since his release. "Even though technically he's not a prisoner any more, he still is. The prison is a little bigger," said a U.S. diplomat familiar with the case.
The separation and uncertainty have taken a toll on him and his family. His wife has battled insomnia and left needed repairs to their Los Angeles area home go undone while she frets. Their daughter wrote her college admissions test essay on her father's troubles. Now a student at University of California, Berkeley, she visited him in Shanghai last July - the only family member to see him - and launched an Internet petition to bring him home.
His son, 13 when they last met, is growing up without him. "I haven't seen him in three years. Then he was up to my chest," the 49-year-old Hu said holding his hand mid-sternum. "Now he's about six feet tall," he said, removing his wire-rimmed glasses and turning his head to cry during a recent interview with The Associated Press in a Beijing coffee shop.
A few reports about Hu's situation have surfaced in Chinese-language media. Since his release, he and wife Hong Li refused repeated requests for interviews, hoping that quiet lobbying of Chinese and U.S. officials would bring him home. Their frustration growing, Hu agreed to be interviewed, providing the fullest account of his predicament.
"My life is miserable. What do they want from me?" said Hu.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it has asked China's foreign ministry and a phalanx of Tianjin politicians and agencies for help and the reasons for Hu's travel ban to no result. There are other cases like Hu's, the embassy said, without specifying how many.
An acclaimed inventor of catalysts - chemical agents that speed up or slow reactions - for automobile catalytic converters, Hu has nine U.S. patents to his name and dozens more in Europe and elsewhere. He spent 20 years abroad doing research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and working for multinationals such as Engelhard Corp. in New Jersey. Among his breakthroughs: a catalyst that gives sports utility vehicles pollution controls comparable to sedans.
He left that in 2004 to return to his native China along with his family and grab opportunities in a rocketing Chinese auto market that was short of experienced innovators.
"It was really quite simple. In the U.S. the air quality is generally good - blue skies. In China you rarely see blue skies. So cleaning up the pollution would be much more effective, much more meaningful," said Hu.
His wife, Hong Li, holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and set up a company to supply materials for catalytic converters to Wuxi Weifu Environmental Catalysts Co., a local company near Shanghai trying to build top-grade equipment to supplant foreign imports. In 2006, when a noncompete agreement with Engelhard lapsed, Hu became chief scientist, and later president, for Wuxi Weifu.
Soon the dispute surfaced with Hysci (Tianjin) Specialty Materials Co., which had ties to Hu and Li. Hysci was a supplier to Engelhard, recommended by a team Hu led to China in 2000, and its chairman Zhou Jun was a university classmate of Li's. Hysci accused Hu of pilfering a process to make a zirconium catalyst and providing that information to Li's company, a competitor, according to an open letter to Tianjin authorities that she posted on Sina Corporation's popular Internet portal in March 2010.
By late 2007, signs of trouble grew. Tianjin police repeatedly showed up at Hu's offices in Wuxi 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) to the south. A legal adviser warned him that the accusations may lead to criminal charges. He moved his family back to Los Angeles. "I saw the risks," Hu said. "The police kept coming. When my colleagues saw the police, they got scared."
Hu and Li say Hysci's business had fizzled and was losing customers while chairman Zhou squabbled with chief executive Dou Shuhua, a farmer-turned-entrepreneur and well-connected politically in Tianjin. A bank account belonging to Li's business remains frozen by Tianjin police, and she has not returned to China.
While Hu waited in detention, Tianjin's No. 2 Intermediate Court batted the case back to investigators for more evidence before approving prosecutors' request to withdraw the case on April 29, 2010. Ten days later, escorted by two U.S. Embassy officials, Hu made his first aborted trip to the airport.
"The border police in Beijing airport said 'Contact the Tianjin police detectives in charge of your case,'" Hu recounted. The scene was repeated three months later, though without the U.S. officials, when he went to board a Hong Kong-bound flight in Wuxi, he said.
Left in limbo, Hu has been consumed with trying to find out why he cannot leave and with seeking treatment for a herniated disc in his spine, a problem that arose soon after he left jail. He feels outmatched by a well-connected local company, having lived outside China for so long and having failed to cultivate the contacts Chinese prize for smoothing business.
"I'm used to the U.S. and following the laws," Hu said. "Clearly China is a different place."

Gaddafi regime spokesman captured 'dressed as a woman'

Moussa Ibrahim, mouthpiece for Muammar Gaddafi, has been captured by rebel forces while driving close to the city of Sirte, according to military commanders.
Mr Ibrahim became the voice of the Gaddafi regime, lecturing and haranguing foreign media at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, as rebel forces challenged the regime's authority and advanced on the capital.
He continued making pronouncements even after he fled the approach of the rebel forces, and earlier this month put out a broadcast in which he proclaimed: "We have decided to either win or to be martyred with courage, like our brothers, sons, women and children. We will continue with this struggle until we are victorious."
Commanders from the National Transitional Council said fighters from Misrata found him in a car close to Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, and seized him. Initial and unconfirmed reports even suggested he was captured while disguised as a woman.
Mustafa bin Dardef of the Transitional National Council's Zintan Brigade said: "Misrata fighters contacted us and gave us the information that Moussa Ibrahim has been captured," said. Mohammed al-Marimi, another commander, confirmed Ibahim had been taken prisoner: "Moussa Ibrahim was captured while driving outside Sirte by fighters from Misrata." The capture came as rebel forces attacking Sirte managed amid fierce fighting to take control of the city's airport.
Only a week ago Ibrahim was quoted by Damascus based Al-Rai television calling on fighters still loyal to Gaddafi to continue resisting the rebel troops. He denounced the rebels as traitors and accused Nato of using its weaponry to commit genocide.
Earlier yesterday, an arrest warrant was issued by Interpol for one of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi. He is wanted on suspicion of "misappropriating properties through force and armed intimidation" when he was head of the Libyan Football Federation.
Brigi Rafini, Prime Minister of Niger, confirmedSaadi was in the country and was in the hands of the government but, citing concerns of a fair trial, he insisted: "There's no question of him being extradited for the moment."

by Lewis Smith taken from

Tainted African ruler may get UN prize in his name

The African heads of state who converged on the capital of Equatorial Guinea this summer are used to life's finer things - yet even they were impressed.
The minuscule nation located on the coast of Central Africa spent several times its yearly education budget to build a new $800 million resort in which to house the presidents attending this summer's African Union summit.
Besides an 18-hole golf course, a five-star hotel and a spa, the country built a villa for each of the continent's 52 presidents. Each one came with a gourmet chef and a private elevator leading to a suite overlooking the mile-long artificial beach that had been sculpted out of the country's coast especially for them.
Western diplomats say that the charm offensive worked, and on Friday the United Nations' cultural arm may be forced to create a prize named after Equatorial Guinea's notoriously corrupt president, due to a resolution passed in June by the presidents staying at the lavish resort.
If that happens President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a man whose regime is accused of gross human rights violations, will be associated with an organization whose stated mission is the promotion of peace and human rights through cultural dialogue.
During the AU summit this summer, Obiang succeeded in getting the body to pass a motion calling on UNESCO to approve a prize named in his honor.
Armed with this resolution, the 13 African delegates on UNESCO's executive board are threatening to force a vote on the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Prize for Research in the Life Sciences as early as Friday when the board meets in Paris, said five officials taking part in the discussion.
The $3 million prize was first proposed in 2008 and UNESCO initially agreed to create it, only to suspend it as outrage erupted over the provenance of the money and accusations of abuses by Obiang against the people of his Maryland-sized nation.
A senior Western diplomat in France who is close to the negotiation, said that Obiang, as the rotating chairman of the African Union, forced through a resolution during the AU summit that unified the African position.
"In the past our ability to keep the prize in the deep freezer depended on divisions within the African group," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. "At UNESCO on the executive board, the African group makes up a large percentage of the board - and when they are completely unified they can always count on complete support from the Arab group."
Together, the Arab and African delegations account for 20 out of 58 votes. Thirty is needed for the measure to pass; fewer if some governments abstain. The diplomat said the Equatoguinean delegation has been hanging out in the halls outside of the board's meeting room in Paris, trying to influence the vote of undecided delegates when they step outside. Among the ambassadors from Africa, there are misgivings about the prize and several have privately said they feel embarrassed voting for it, but believe their hands are tied due to the African Union resolution.
"What Obiang has been able to set up here is a dynamic by which the ambassadors are constrained - their backs are against the wall because their position has been mandated by their heads of state," said the official.
The diplomat's account of the situation was confirmed by a senior European diplomat who is also on the UNESCO executive board, as well as by leading rights groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch and London-based Global Witness which have been at the forefront of trying to stop the creation of the prize.
The Western nations opposing the measure are hoping to avoid a vote on Friday, the diplomats say, on the argument that forcing one is against UNESCO's tradition. They fear that if it goes to a vote, the measure will pass, forcing the body to implement the prize.
Obiang seized power in a coup 32 years ago after toppling the former leader, who was executed. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture toured the country's prisons in 2008 and determined that torture is systematic, including using electroshocks through starter cables attached to the detainees' body with alligator clips.
In February, the government imposed a blackout on news regarding the Arab Spring uprising. A disc jockey who dared refer to Libya during his music program had his microphone cut off minutes into his show and the program was pulled off the air for two months.
Another concern is the provenance of the $3 million that Obiang has said he will donate to endow the prize. The Obiang family has become fabulously wealthy during the president's reign and is accused of pilfering the nation's oil wealth.
The United States Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held hearings to discuss how Obiang's son used lawyers, realtors and bankers to help him transfer $110 million of suspect funds to the U.S. The money was used to purchase a $30 million mansion in Malibu and a $38 million plane, according to a separate Justice Department inquiry.
On Thursday, French officials in Paris seized 16 luxury cars, including a Bugatti Veyron worth more than $1.3 million allegedly belonging to Obiang's son, in a probe into claims that the Equatoguinean leader had misspent public funds in France. And earlier this month, a lawyer close to former French President Jacques Chirac claimed in a memoir that Obiang had tried to give the French government suitcases of cash in order to secure favor.
Equatorial Guinea's Minister of Information Jeronimo Osa Osa Ecoro told The Associated Press by telephone from his nation's capital that the claims of theft, corruption and abuse by Obiang and his entourage are unfounded.
"They want to dirty the image of our country. This is a nation that wants to share $3 million of its money for a UNESCO prize that will save human lives - this is a gift to humanity!" he said, adding: "There is no poverty in Equatorial Guinea, and as for the respect of human rights, which country can say that it respects human rights 100 percent of the time?"
In an Op Ed piece published Thursday online in Think Africa Press, Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu said that the people of Equatorial Guinea need justice, not a $3 million science prize funded by their president.
"In numerous speeches to international audiences, including many in his role as the rotating African Union chair, President Obiang has stated his commitment to democracy, human rights, and good governance. His words, however, ring hollow since they are often not applied inside his own country," Tutu wrote. "It is unfortunate that the time and resources expended by President Obiang to establish the prize are not directed at implementing the reforms that he regularly mentions."
In Equatorial Guinea, the new town of Sipopo was built for nearly $800 million. It's an investment that the country's opposition leader Placido Mico said is an insult to the nation's population. He points to the country's 2011 budget, where only $40 million is allocated in the line for education. He said it appears that the sole purpose of the resort was to impress the heads of state of AU nations, and possibly to lure tourists.
Equatoguineans who have tried to go there after the end of the summit were turned away and told that they needed a special authorization.
West Africa Bureau Chief Rukmini Callimachi is based in Dakar. She was in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in July to cover the African Union summit. Associated Press writer Pierre-Antoine Souchard in Paris contributed to this report.

'reusable rocket' could help colonize Mars

The US company SpaceX is working on the first-ever reusable rocket to launch to space and back, with the goal of one day helping humans colonize Mars, founder Elon Musk said Thursday. The vehicle would be a reusable version of the Falcon 9 rocket which SpaceX used to propel its Dragon space capsule to low Earth-orbit on a test mission last year. Its first cargo trip to the International Space Station is set for January.
Being able to reuse the rocket would save tens of millions of dollars and would bring the notion of making trips to visit or even live on other planets, namely Mars, closer to reality, Musk told reporters at the National Press Club.
"A fully and rapidly reusable system is fully required for life to become multi-planetary, for us to establish life on Mars," Musk said. "If planes were not reusable, very few people would fly."
Currently, a Falcon rocket costs between 50-60 million dollars to build and launch, with fuel and oxygen costs making up just 200,000 dollars. Then, it is lost forever as it burns up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
If engineers could reuse a rocket, that would bring the capital cost of a launch way down and "allow for about a 100 fold reduction in launch costs," he said.
Musk, an Internet entrepreneur who founded PayPal and has used his billions in earnings to start the electric car company Tesla Motors and SpaceX, said others have tried and failed to figure out how to craft a reusable launch system.
"In the last 12 months I have come to the conclusion that it can be solved," he said.
"We are going to try to do it. We have a design that on paper, doing the calculations, doing the simulations, it does work."
The rocket would take off as normal, then separate into its upper and lower stages. The column-like lower portion would make its way back to Earth and hover back down to land upright, in the same position from which it took off.
No wings are needed to steer it back to launch pad, he said.
An animation is at
In the near term, the technology could be used to launch satellites and take cargo and crew to the ISS, which is presently serviced only by Russia since the US space shuttle fleet retired in July.
NASA has said it hopes commercial companies will be able to have a substitute spacecraft ready to fly people to the ISS by 2015, and while several companies are competing to be the first, SpaceX is the only one that has successfully test launched its unmanned Dragon capsule to orbit and back.
The effort to build a reusable rocket "is a parallel effort... it is not impacting our sending of cargo to the space station," Musk said.
In fact, it would be just about ready to go except for the fact that SpaceX and NASA agree it needs to have some sort of way for its occupants to eject in case something goes wrong.
So a project to build escape thrusters into the sidewalls of the spacecraft is expected to take two to three years, Musk said. After that, the Reusable Falcon 9 rocket may be ready for prime time.
"I think this is pretty exciting and I think everyone in America and arguably the rest of the world should be pretty fired up about what we are doing," Musk said.

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S&P downgrade New Zealand's credit rating

New Zealand's credit rating has been downgraded by two of the three major ratings agencies amid increased global concern over high debt burdens in developed nations.
Fitch and Standard & Poor's on Friday downgraded New Zealand from an AA+ rating to AA.
In the past, New Zealand has enjoyed strong sovereign credit ratings due to relatively low levels of government borrowing that offset worries about the country's high private debt. But the ratings agencies have become less sanguine after an earthquake and weak economic growth strained the government's finances.
The agencies are taking a harder line on any form of debt in the wake of the global financial crisis. Countries such as Ireland, which was forced to bail out banks after the global recession, have demonstrated how private debt can easily become a problem for the government.
The downgrade weighed on the New Zealand dollar. It was trading late Friday at $0.7639, down from $0.77 the previous day. It was worth as much as $0.88 two months ago.
In its review, Fitch said New Zealand's high level of external debt is "an outlier" among comparable developed nations, a situation which is likely to continue given that the current account deficit is projected to increase. A current account deficit typically shows that a country is spending more than it earns and relying on borrowing to make up the gap.
Standard & Poor's cited increased spending by the government following February's earthquake that killed 181 people and devastated the center of Christchurch, New Zealand's second biggest city.
According to S&P, negative factors include the country's high levels of household and agricultural debt, its reliance on commodities for income, and an aging population.
"Rising savings will be an important component for keeping the country's current account deficit in check," said S&P analyst Kyran Curry.
New Zealand has a poor track record of personal savings, something that recent governments have attempted to address with a voluntary retirement contribution scheme called KiwiSaver. The latest downgrade will likely increase pressure on the government to make the scheme compulsory.
New Zealand's finance minister Bill English defended the country's economic performance. In a statement, he said the government has been attempting to reduce foreign debt, which remains the country's "biggest economic vulnerability."
"New Zealand's private savings have started to increase and as a result we have started to reduce our total external debt," English said. "But it still remains high."
International liabilities have decreased from 86 percent of GDP two years ago to 70 percent of GDP in the year ending June, according to English.
In its review, Fitch pointed to some positive features of the New Zealand economy, which it listed as moderate public debt, fiscal prudence, and strong public institutions.
New Zealand remains rated AAA by the third major rating agency, Moody's.

Feds to Gibson: Hand over more wood

Federal authorities are pressuring Nashville-based Gibson Guitar  to hand over an additional 25 bundles of Indian wood that the company allegedly planned to use in its famous guitars.
The complaint was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and mirrors a 2010 action that sought official forfeiture of wood obtained in a 2009 raid of Gibson facilities. The latter of those cases has been stayed, pending the outcome of the most recent suit.
As has been the case in previous allegations, at issue is the classification of certain wood imported to the United States from India. Namely, a June shipment of 1,250 sawn logs was classified as "finished parts of musical instruments," which is allowed under Indian law. In reality, according to the sworn affidavit of Fish and Wildlife Service agent Kevin Seiler, the wood was unfinished – a violation of the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act, originally passed by Congress in 1900, was amended in 2008 as part of that year’s Farm Bill to include protection for certain wood and endangered animal species. At its core, the Lacey Act makes it illegal to import plants or wildlife into the U.S. if those goods are harvested in a way that violates the laws of another country.
In other words, because Indian workers didn’t create the final product, it’s not legally eligible to be exported.
The affidavit also outlines allegations that Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz understands the violations, as evidenced by the staunch defense of his company in a press conference and subsequent political fights around the Lacey Act.
“It is clear that Gibson understands the purpose of the Lacey Act, and understands that … fingerboard blanks are not finished fingerboards and thus Gibson is aware that its order for fingerboard blanks was an order for contraband ebony wood or ebony wood which is illegal to possess," Seiler wrote.

by Annie Johnson taken from

US: military chaplains may perform same-sex unions

The Pentagon has decided that military chaplains may perform same-sex unions, whether on or off a military installation.
The ruling announced Friday by the Pentagon's personnel chief follows the Sept. 20 repeal of a law that had prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
Some members of Congress have objected to military chaplains performing same-sex unions, saying it would violate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
The Pentagon says a military chaplain may officiate at any private ceremony, but isn't required if it would conflict with his or her religious or personal beliefs.
The Pentagon also says Defense Department property may be used for private functions, including religious and other ceremonies such as same-sex unions, as long as it's not prohibited by state or local laws.

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Goths banned from 'Dracula' graveyard

Gothic rock fans flock to Whitby's historic St Mary's Church in North Yorkshire during Whitby Goth Weekend to be snapped by photographers in the graveyard.
The cemetary is the place Dracula takes his victim Lucy Westernra during the night in Bram Stoker's classic novel, overlooked by the imposing abbey.
But now photoraphy is being banned around graves at St Mary's Church because they say is disrespectful to the dead who are buried there.
Signs have appeared since the last Goth Weekend prohibiting photography on and near gravestones.
John Hemson, the church's warden said: "The reason the rector did it was I had become unbearable. I sat there one day and in half an hour nine photographers walked past me.
"The Goths stand, sit or even lie on the table graves. there are people in Whitby who had families there even though it closed in 1861 and they object to it very much.
"The rector is very strong on this. It is a mark of respect, it is a holy place like all cemeteries and some of the gravestones we have had to lay on the ground."
Amateur photographer Chris Oakes, from York, says it could spell the end of the festival, which has recently split between two dates each year.
He said: "It needs to be said Whitby is on the verge of losing its weekend soon. What with the split and this, I think that will be the end.
"What's wrong with the church being used for two days? Everyone is enjoying themselves.
"If anything the families of the deceased should be the ones to complain, what do they say?
"It's like Whitby is on self-destruct."
Local resident Lynne Lawrence added: "Restricting photography is a false economy. The more photographs there are to "share" the more publicity is generated therefore more revenue.
"I think "keep off the daffs" and "it is an offence to touch the gravestones" would be more effective in that case."
Thousands of Goths and punks congregate in the fishing town for the weekend, which began in 1994.
The next event will be held over the weekend of bonfire night, running from November 3 -7.

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Violent video games 'reduce crime'

Games such as Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto - where gamers rack up points or cash for killing or savagely attacking victims - are routinely blamed for a rise in violent crime.
A spate of high profile murder cases have heard evidence that various games were 'to blame' for a string of killings.
But a report, called 'Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime' by three respected academics has said it doesn't believe there is a link.
The report, by Benjamin Engelst├Ątter, of the Centre for European Economic Research, Scott Cunningham, of Baylor University in Texas, USA, and Michael Ward, of the University of Texas, argue that gamers are 'too busy' playing to cause much trouble in the real world.
The report , released earlier this year, states: "Psychological studies invariably find a positive relationship between violent video game play and aggression.
"If violent video games can be shown to cause violence, then laws aimed at reducing access (to the games) may benefit society at large.
"Yet to date, though there is evidence that violent video games cause aggression in a laboratory setting, there is no evidence that violent video games cause violence or crime."
It adds: "We argue that since laboratory experiments have not examined the time use effects of video games, which incapacitate violent activity by drawing individual gamers into extended gameplay, laboratory studies may be poor predictors of the net effects of violent video games in society.
"Consequently, they overstate the importance of video game induced aggression as a social cost. "
It states that rather than violent crime rates soaring when new violent video games are released, they actually drop as gamers are 'too busy' at home playing the games, adding: "Time spent gaming cannot be spent on other activities, both legitimate activities and illicit violent activities."
In conclusion, the study states: "Regulation of the video game industry is usually predicated on the notion that the industry has large and negative social costs through games' effect on aggression.
"Many researchers have argued that these games may also have caused extreme violence, such as school shootings, because laboratory evidence has found an abundance of evidence linking gameplay to aggression.
"Yet few studies before this one had examined the impact of these games on crime.
"We find that the social costs of violent video games may be considerably lower, or even non-existent, once one incorporates the time use effect into analysis."
It adds that if new laws are brought in to reduce the violence of video games it could 'potentially cause crime to increase in the short-run if the marginal player is being drawn out of violent activities'.
It ends by stating: "Overall, violent video games lead to decreases in violent crime."
The most recent case in the UK was heard in court last month when sailor Ryan Donovan turned into an 'automaton' and went on a shooting spree - killing one and injuring another - on a nuclear submarine in April this year.
Winchester Crown Court heard how the 23-year-old - who was jailed for life - was planning a 'massacre' like on his favourite video game Grand Theft Auto.
Prosecutor Nigel Lickley told the court: "Witnesses said Donovan had wild eyes and the look on his face was of somebody who was in another place - like they were in a dream and they were doing this like in a video game."
He told the court that just before the attack Donovan had told another sailor he was 'planning an Grand Theft Auto-style massacre', adding: "The defendant just giggled and said he was thinking how to start a massacre.
"He started talking about Grand Theft Auto, where you start a massacre and rack up points by killing."
In 1994 Warren Leblanc, 17, was jailed for life after killing 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah in Leicester after getting addicted to the game Manhunt, in which players earn extra points depending on the viciousness of their killings.
Leblanc repeatedly hit his victim with a claw hammer before stabbing him to death after luring him to a park.
Numerous cases exist 'proving' the link between violent gaming and violent behaviour, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre by teens Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
The pair - who shot dead 12 students and one teacher - were said to be hooked on shoot 'em up game Doom, in which you prowl corridors armed with a gun shooting everything in site.
And in July this year, Norwegian killer Anders Breivik - who shot 69 people dead - was said to have planned the attack by using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a 'training simulator'.
He was also hooked on the game World of Warcraft - the most popular multiplayer online role-playing game in the world, with more than 11m subscribers.

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'mother of hip-hop', dies aged 76

Sylvia Robinson
Hip-hop pioneer … Sylvia Robinson. Photograph: Getty
Sylvia Robinson, 'the mother of hip-hop', has died aged 76. Most famous for assembling the Sugarhill Gang, Robinson was a songwriter, performer, producer and label owner. "RIP Ms Rob," tweeted Public Enemy's Chuck D. "A black woman putting rap records on the map/now a scene where today women are voided out of it."
Born Sylvia Vanderpool in New York in 1936, Robinson began making records aged 14, under the name Little Sylvia, and enjoyed her first hit – 1957's Love Is Strange – as part of the duo Mickey and Sylvia. It would be 16 years until she next reached the top 15, this time with her own song, the soul classic Pillow Talk.
Despite her success as a singer, Robinson's life changed direction in 1979, during a visit to the Harlem World disco. As a DJ played the Chic song Good Times, Robinson discovered rap. "The DJ was playing music and talking over the music, and the kids were going crazy," she told the New Jersey Star-Ledger in 1997. "All of a sudden, something said to me, 'Put something like that on a record, and it will be the biggest thing.' I didn't even know you called it rap."
Although rap was already in its infancy, the genre had yet to be recorded. Robinson assembled a trio of Jersey kids – Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee – and dubbed them the Sugarhill Gang. Hiring a band to recreate the rhythm from Good Times, they recorded the first rap single. "This was in the days before samplers and drum machines, when real humans had to play things," said bassist Chip Shearin. "Sylvia said: 'I've got these kids who are going to talk real fast over it; that's the best way I can describe it.'"
Robinson released Rapper's Delight on Sugar Hill Records, founded with her husband Joe. While it only reached No 4 in the R&B charts, it launched a movement. By the early 80s, the label's roster included the biggest names in the scene: the West Street Mob, Funky Four Plus One, the Treacherous Three, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. When the latter released The Message in 1982, Robinson was listed as co-producer.
"She was really good on the artistic level," said Michael "Wonder Mike" Wright, "coming up with material and shaping lyrics and melodies into a song, not just a piece of music that's five minutes long." Her work was a powerful inspiration, helping to make hip-hop into arguably the most popular genre on the planet.
Robinson's label notched up 26 gold records before closing in 1986, following a troubled distribution deal with MCA. The Sugar Hill recording studio, in Englewood, New Jersey, was destroyed by a fire in 2002.
Robinson died on Thursday morning of congestive heart failure. She is survived by three sons, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "Making a dedication song with my sister [Leanetta] to my grandmother," Darnell Robinson tweeted on Thursday. "Grandson and Granddaughter of Hip-Hop."
The Sugarhill Gang are reportedly working on a new album.

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Man survives for days after car plunges off cliff

A 67-year-old man who survived for five or six days on leaves and creek water after his car plunged 200 feet off a California mountain road was found by his children, who tracked him down like television detectives.
Chardonnay, Sean and Lisa Lavau appeared on NBC's "Today" show Friday, describing how they found their father's car and his makeshift camp in a ravine Thursday off Lake Hughes Road in the Angeles National Forest.
Another vehicle was found nearby, but its driver did not survive the crash and authorities don't know if they are dealing with one crash or two, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mark Savage. The accident investigation was turned over to California Highway Patrol.
After the family reported David Lavau missing, they worked with a detective to narrow the search area using cell phone towers, text messages and debit card purchases, Chardonnay Lavau told NBC and other reporters.
Lisa Lavau told KCAL-TV her family had not heard from her father for several days.
After narrowing the search area, "We stopped at every ravine, and looked over every hill and then my brother got out of the car and we kept screaming and the next thing we heard Dad saying `help, help,' and there he was," Lisa Lavau said.
Chardonnay Lavau told NBC one of the first things her father asked for after he was found was a chocolate malt.
Officials at the scene were told he might have been stranded for up to six days, Savage said.
"It's unconfirmed, the duration, but it's possibly a significant amount of time," Savage said.
Fire officials responded at around 6:10 p.m. Thursday and a paramedic was lowered to David Lavau from a helicopter. He was evaluated and taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for treatment.
David Lavau suffered multiple rib fractures, a dislocated shoulder, a broken arm and multiple fractures in his back, but none of the injuries was life-threatening, said hospital spokeswoman Bhavna Mistery. He was expected to undergo surgery and it was not clear how long he would be hospitalized, she said. He was doing well and in good spirits surrounded by his family, she added.
The three family members who hiked down to him had to be assisted out of the area on foot by firefighters.
The crash occurred in a sparsely populated area about 50 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
Savage said roads in the area have sharp curves and in many areas go down to two lanes, with some steep cliffs and drops over the side.
Savage said firefighters remained on the scene late Thursday to do a thorough search of the area to make sure there were no other victims in the accident.
The identity of the deceased driver has not been released. His body was turned over to the coroner's office.

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Stealth Technology Protects More Than Military Aircraft

What is ADAPTIV stealth technology? Well, it's still pretty much a secret, but not for long.
After the details broke of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, it was revealed that one of the military choppers used in the raid had to be left behind. Commandos set explosives on its useless hulk and tried to blow it away, but enough was left over to prove a startling fact: stealth tech is being used for much more than billion dollar bombers.
In some ways the tidbit got more press than the mission itself. If a helicopter could be cloaked, what else can this ADAPTIV technology be used for?

It turns out that a defense contractor called BAE is developing stealth technology for tanks and APCs as well. And, they were kind enough to post a video on YouTube!
Have a look and be amazed. The only question left is: how long until this stuff falls into the hands of civilians? Taxi cab drivers especially should be interested. No more fines for not picking up "undesirables" on the way back to midtown!

by Tom Rose taken from

Prehistoric cave etchings 'created by three-year-olds'

Prehistoric etchings found in a cave in France are the work of children as young as three, according to research.
The so-called finger flutings were discovered at the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths in Rouffignac, alongside cave art dating back some 13,000 years.
Cambridge University researchers recently developed a method identifying the gender and age of the artists.
It is thought the most prolific was a girl aged five. The artists ran their hands down the cave's soft surfaces.
"Flutings made by children appear in every chamber throughout the caves," said archaeologist Jess Cooney, who has pioneered the research in conjunction with Dr Leslie Van Gelder of Walden University in the US.
"We have found marks by children aged between three and seven years old - and we have been able to identify four individual children by matching up their marks.
"The most prolific of the children who made flutings was aged around five - and we are almost certain the child in question was a girl."
'Special space'
Each year thousands of people visit the caves in the Dordogne region of western France to admire drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros and horses found within the 8km cave system, which were discovered in the 16th Century.
It was not until 1956 that experts realised that some of the most dramatic were prehistoric.
Archaeologists first determined children had produced some of the finger flutings in 2006. Unlike the sketchings that appear elsewhere in the caves, the markings are made without the application of a colour pigment.
"One cavern is so rich in flutings made by children that it suggests it was a special space for them, but whether for play or ritual is impossible to tell."
Finger fluting also appears in caves in Spain, New Guinea and Australia.
"We don't know why people made them," said Ms Cooney, adding that they may have been part of "initiation rituals" or "simply something to do on a rainy day".

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man freed after 2 hours trapped in sinking corn

Rescuers used a special tube and shoveled corn to free a man who was trapped inside a grain bin for nearly two hours on Thursday morning.
The man, 43, of Columbia, Ill., was conscious and talking throughout the rescue as he stood waist-deep in grain.
He became trapped shortly before 9 a.m. in the 75-foot-high silo at the Center Ethanol Co. plant, 231 Monsanto Avenue in Sauget.
Shortly before 11 a.m., he was freed. He was taken by medical helicopter to St. Louis University Hospital. The helicopter crew told dispatchers that the man had some pain in his right leg but was able to move his legs and arms. Authorities did not release the man's name.
The man had gone into the bin for routine maintenance, said Randy Lay, with the St. Clair County emergency services rescue team.
The corn shifted "like an avalanche" around him, said Capt. Dan Sutter of the St. Louis Fire Department. Another worker who was at the opening of the silo saw that happen and called for help.
The silo can hold up to 300,000 bushels of grain, but on Thursday morning it held about 80,000.
Rescuers likened the grain to quick sand in the way it closed in around the man.
"You'd think you could just pick someone up (but) there's so much pressure around the body," said O'Fallon Fire Chief Brent Saunders. "He's surrounded by that."
Saunders said crews lowered a tube around the man to protect him from the crush of the grain. They then shoveled the corn away from his body to give him room to stand up.
Firefighters who are experts at rappelling were among those who rushed to help in the rescue efforts, but no one ended up rappelling because the man was at floor level. More than three fire departments, including the St. Louis Fire Department, were called out. Dispatchers also summoned a special team of St. Clair County responders.
A man who answered the phone at Center Ethanol Plant declined comment.

Two-headed Cat 'Frankenlouie' Turns 12

A two-headed cat in Worcester, Mass., has twice the reasons for celebrating his recent birthday: It got him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The double-domed feline is named "Frankenlouie," and according to its owner, who only wants to be known as Marty, he turned 12 on Sept. 8, according to the Worcester Telegram.
In doing so, he earned a place in the record books for being the longest-lived Janus cat (the term for cats with two heads, which comes from the name of a two-faced Roman god).
"He is the most astounding two-headed animal of all," according to Todd Ray of the Venice Beach Freakshow, who has some by estimates, the largest collection of bizarre animals in the world -- including 22 living two-headed animals and a five-legged dog.
Still, he says Frankenlouie is in a class by his two-headed self.
"We might never see another one in our lifetime," Ray told HuffPost Weird News. "I have seen many two-headed animals die within a week. To see one alive for weeks is incredible, but to have one alive for years is truly amazing."
Ray, who is friends with Marty, says she is, in some ways, just as incredible as her two-headed cat.
"She was able to prove that an animal like this can live a good life," he said. "She is a wonderful woman."
But Frankenlouie almost didn't make it past a day, according to his owner, who first met her long-lived pet when she worked at Tufts Veterinary School as a nurse.
"He was brought in at a day old to be euthanized and I said, 'I'll take him,' and they let me," she told journalist Nancy Sheehan. "He was just so unique, but had he been a normal kitten, I probably would have taken him also. Nobody else did."
The cat has two mouths, two noses and two normal eyes with one larger non-functioning eye in the center. Marty suspects he sees much like a horse does.
As far as eating? Well, that requires a certain amount of delegation.
"Frank does the eating and Louie just hangs out and his nose goes along in unison as Frank eats," Marty said.
That wasn't always the case. In the early years, Marty took him everywhere in a shoebox and fed him every two hours with a special formula, often by sticking a tube into the stomach.
Even then, veterinarians advised her not to get her hopes up.
“But every day he got stronger,” Marty said. “He just kept beating the odds.”
He beats the odds in other ways too. Although his bizarre appearance shocks visitors, the Daily Beast reports that he wins folks over with his sweet and affectionate nature.

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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Microsoft, Red Cross and UN in news fixing row

Microsoft has been sucked into the row surrounding a London-based media company currently under investigation by broadcasters for making editorial programmes without declaring it had a commercial relationship with some of those it featured.
Both the BBC and the US-owned broadcaster CNBC are investigating FBC Media following an investigation by The Independent which showed it had made numerous factual programmes about Malaysia after being allocated millions of pounds by the country's government to promote it.
This newspaper has evidence that Microsoft was "guaranteed" coverage on a flagship programme which FBC was commissioned to make for CNBC – which is screened in Britain – for a major launch that the global technology company was planning in Europe. CNBC recently suspended the show, World Business, pending the outcome of its investigation.
The Independent has seen a nine-page letter written to Microsoft's senior communications managers, in which FBC promised coverage of its opening of the European Microsoft Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, and a second project in St Petersburg, Russia.
The document referred to World Business under the heading "FBC Guaranteed Distribution Placement". It told Microsoft: "Our flagship programme, World Business, is a weekly half-hour business news magazine, which covers the trends shaping business, particularly from a European perspective.
"We can foresee placing coverage of the Aachen opening within the programme the weekend of May 1&2, which means guaranteed placement on CNBC Europe, PBS-TV in the US, Star World Asia and 12 national broadcast markets in Western and Eastern Europe." PBS is America's public service broadcaster and Star World is part of Rupert Murdoch's global News Corp media empire.
In its letter to the Microsoft PR chiefs, FBC pointed out: "Due to our distribution agreements with each of the broadcasters, FBC maintains final editorial control over the reports featured within any of its broadcast programmes."
Last night CNBC said: "We have suspended all broadcasts of the World Business programme indefinitely. We cannot comment further for legal reasons."
FBC, which ran a hybrid business combining public relations work with factual programmes, featured the Microsoft founder Bill Gates in its publicity material. Alongside his picture, FBC said "clients include heads of state, governments and ministries, special economic zones and property projects, companies and international organisations".
The FBC letter to Microsoft, dated 2 March 2004, is jointly authored by John Defterios, until recently FBC's former Group Vice President for Content and host of CNBC's World Business between 2000 and 2007.
He is now a presenter on the global news network CNN. The document is set out as a "proposal outlining the broadcast/production strategy" for Microsoft's European initiatives, which included a good news story of Microsoft working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Red Cross to provide technology for refugees.
Microsoft in Russia
"The project event April 15th in St Petersburg tells a wonderful story of how technology can enhance the everyday lives of those who need it the most, immigrants and refugees trying to establish a foothold in society after economic and social displacement or upheaval," said the FBC document. "The UNHCR-Red Cross initiative is a perfect example of public-private partnership, which often goes unnoticed within the daily news flow of any given day."
FBC promised "to provide a 'daily news hook' to what in essence is a rich feature story linked to one of the most pressing issues today: how to help those in need make a fresh start. We believe this story, enhanced by similar project partnerships by Microsoft in the region, can be of particular interest."
It offered Microsoft "guaranteed" coverage of the St Petersburg event on Tech Watch, a monthly technology programme it produced for airlines to show as part of their in-flight entertainment.
It is unclear whether UNHCR or Red Cross knew of the Microsoft/FBC PR campaign associated with this initiative. In a statement, Microsoft said it had had a commercial relationship with FBC Media from 2003 until March this year. "Where FBC guaranteed that news items would appear in their World Business programme, we understood this was based on the content meeting FBC editorial selection criteria in line with their agreements with CNBC and other broadcasters and subject to final editing before transmission," it said.
FBC promised to make every effort to obtain coverage for the St Petersburg project on the BBC, including on the respected technology format Click, which is shown on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. "FBC would deliver 'same day' coverage of the event...and couple that effort with feature story placement on the major Pan-European and national broadcasters who have specialised programming highlighting technology and economic development," it said.
FBC denies any impropriety in its programme making. Its lawyers have told The Independent that the company ran production and commercial divisions, which "are and always have been quite separate and distinct". The programmes it has made "have always been fair, balanced and impartial".
The BBC, which declined to comment on the Microsoft letter, continues to investigate FBC after screening a series of programmes on BBC World News made by the company and covering controversial Malaysian issues, especially its contentious palm oil industry.
The BBC said FBC had not told it of its commercial relationship with the Malaysia government. The Independent has established that entries in the Malaysian government's Supplementary Budget 2010 show that FBC Media (UK) was allocated 28.35m Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) – nearly £6m – for work on a "Global Strategic Communications Campaign" ordered by the Malaysian government in 2009. In a previous statement, the BBC said: "FBC has now admitted that it has worked for the Malaysian government. That information was not disclosed as we believe it should have been when the BBC contracted programming from FBC."
The BBC has decided to stop showing any FBC programmes while it reviews their relationship.
FBC is also being investigated by US news magazine The Atlantic, for which the FBC founder Alan Friedman produced a blog from the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Friedman wrote a favourable review of the "statesmanlike debut" performance of the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, while the FBC powerpoint presentation lists Indonesian Tourism and Tourism Malaysia as past clients.
The US website Politico noted how other commentators at Davos focused on the Arab Spring and largely ignored Mr Yudhoyono's speech, which Friedman, a former Financial Times journalist, hailed "the most impressive, crisp and even visionary speech given by any world leader here in a long time".
Paper trail
Microsoft began its commercial relationship with media firm FBC in 2003. A nine-page strategy document written in 2004 obtained by The Independent contains excerpts which show that when the technology giant launched its European Microsoft Innovation Centre in Germany in 2004, FBC drew up a plan for Microsoft to target broadcasters with its "corporate messaging" and gave a guarantee to Microsoft that it would "place" coverage of the launch event on World Business, the weekly programme it made for the CNBC network. CNBC has suspended the show and is investigating FBC.

by Ian Burrell taken from

Vaccine could reduce HIV to 'minor infection'

Spanish researchers found that 22 of 24 healthy people (92 per cent) developed an immune response to HIV after being given their MVA-B vaccine.
Professor Mariano Esteban, head researcher on the project at the National Biotech Centre in Madrid, said of the jab: "It is like showing a picture of the HIV so that it is able to recognise it if it sees it again in the future."
The injection contains four HIV genes which stimulate T and B lymphocytes, which are types of white blood cells.
Prof Esteban explained: "Our body is full of lymphocytes, each of them programmed to fight against a different pathogen.
"Training is needed when it involves a pathogen, like the HIV one, which cannot be naturally defeated".
B cells produce antibodies which attack viruses before they infect cells, while T cells detect and destroy infected cells.
The study showed that almost three-quarters of participants had developed HIV-specific antibodies 11 months after vaccination.Over a third developed one type of T cell that fights HIV, called CD4+, while over two-thirds developed another, called CD8+.
Overall, 92 per cent developed some sort of immune response. However, that is not the same thing as being protected from HIV infection: the response could be inadequate to provide protection.
Prof Esteban acknowledged the vaccine was at an early stage, describing it as "promising".
The next step is to test it in people with HIV to see if it works as a "therapeutic" - reducing the viral count.
The researcher was optimistic, saying: "MVA-B vaccine has proven to be as powerful as any other vaccine currently being studied, or even more.
"If this genetic cocktail passes Phase II and Phase III future clinic trials, and makes it into production, in the future HIV could be compared to herpes virus nowadays."
By that he meant HIV could become a "minor chronic infection" that only resulted in disease when the immune system was otherwise compromised.
Other vaccines are in development. One, called the HIV-v vaccine, developed by British researchers, resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in viral count in HIV-infected people. Most trials so far have been small scale.
There have also been many false dawns with prospective HIV vaccines.
Jason Warriner, clinical director for the Terrence Higgins Trust, described the Spanish project as "a step in the right direction".

By taken from

Hugo Chavez in hospital 'for kidney failure'

The leftist, staunchly anti-US stalwart Chavez went into the Military Hospital in Caracas on Tuesday morning, the report on the newspaper's website said, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the case.
"He was in fairly serious overall condition," a source told the Miami-based Spanish-language daily. "When he arrived, he was in quite serious shape and that is why he was brought in for emergency care."
Venezuela's Information Minister Andres Izarra appeared to deny the report in a posting on the micro-blogging website Twitter.
"Those who should be admitted are the journalists of the Nuevo Herald, except into a madhouse (instead of a hospital)," Izarra tweeted, without providing further details.
On Sunday, Chavez sought to assure Venezuelans he was healthy, telling them that cancer-fighting chemotherapy treatment has not left him with any debilitating side effects.
Chavez returned to Venezuela late last Thursday following what he described as a fourth and hopefully final round of chemotherapy in Cuba.
Chavez, 57, had a cancerous tumor removed on June 20 in Havana, but officials have provided little information about the nature of the disease.
Officials have said the tumor was removed from his "pelvic area," but have given no indication of the severity of his condition.
After returning to Caracas and giving a brief statement early Friday, he stayed uncharacteristically out of the media spotlight and sent no messages on his Twitter feed, which has more than two million followers.
Official handout photos from Cuban state media showed a hairless Chavez bidding farewell to Cuban leader Raul Castro after completing the latest round of treatment.
But the silence of a leader who has been omnipresent in Venezuelan public life revived the mystery surrounding his health, which only increased on Friday when a meeting between Chavez and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad set for this weekend in Caracas was postponed indefinitely.
Chavez has been in power since 1999 and has said he would recover in time to win re-election by a "knock-out" in 2012.

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Libyan forces take Sirte airport

Forces loyal to Libya's transitional authorities have taken the airport in the city of Sirte, the birthplace of fugitive leader Muammar Gaddafi.
A BBC correspondent says jubilant fighters moved through the partially destroyed terminal buildings tearing down symbols of the Gaddafi regime.
Gaddafi loyalists have put up stiff resistance in Sirte.
Two weeks ago transitional forces took the airport, a short distance from the city centre, but were then driven back.
The BBC's Jonathan Head says that this time they hope to hold it, despite facing continued rocket and gunfire from the other side of the runway.
Fighters arriving from the west and east say they will then mount a joint attack on Gaddafi loyalists, hoping to push them back towards the sea and to squeeze them into ever smaller areas of the city centre, our correspondent adds.
The airport is about 5km (3 miles) from central Sirte.
Forces loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) also recently seized Sirte's port.
Nato planes have been carrying out air strikes in the area against military targets including ammunition storage facilities.
Sirte and the city of Bani Walid are the last major areas under the control of Gaddafi loyalists, and both have seen heavy fighting in recent days.
Col Gaddafi's whereabouts are still unknown, though NTC officials have said they believe he may be hiding in Libya's southern desert.

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Bag of Severed Heads Left Near Mexican School

Five severed heads were left in a bag near a Mexican primary school, the latest example of the ruthless violence plaguing the country.
Police were not able to determine if the grisly find, in an Acapulco neighborhood, was connected to extortion threats against teachers. Some 140 schools have closed their doors in recent weeks due to frightened teachers going on strike, according to The Associated Press.
The men's heads were in a sack inside a wooden crate placed near the school, officers said. Messages threatening three aleged drug traffickers were also found in the bag.
Police had earlier discovered five headless bodies in another part of the city.  Drug gangs have waged bloody battles for control of the Pacific Coast resort city. With the government cracking down on the drug trade, gangs are turning to extortion, according to the BBC. Last month, dozens of teachers in Acapulco said gangs had threatened them with violence if they did not hand over half their salaries.
It was unclear who was behind the killings or what the motive was.
By Greg Wilson taken from