Monday, March 21, 2011

52 feared dead in Pakistan coal mine explosion

Rescuers are using shovels and their bare hands in a desperate effort to dig out miners buried after a gas explosion deep in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan.

More than 200 people stood outside the mine waiting to help or hear news from the search, but since Sunday's accident, only bodies – 27 of them – have been recovered. Wooden caskets have been lined up to await the remaining bodies, which is feared to have left 52 dead.

"We have yet to dig out and search the remaining two wings, but there is zero per cent chance we can get anybody alive," said Iftekhar Ahmed, a government mine inspector.

Mr Ahmed said the mine, owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, was declared dangerous two weeks ago due to the presence of methane gas, but the warning was ignored by the contractor working it.

Methane gas is a major cause of coal mine explosions around the world. It can cause also cause asphyxiation.

Ghulam Mohammad, a miner, said he feared for the lives of his friends. "None of my five room-mates have been found dead or alive yet," said the 30-year-old, who finished his shift just hours before the explosion. (read more)

Isn't it strange how many mining accidents have been occurring these past months? Is it just a regular part of the dangers of the coal mining industry? Is it due to changing geological conditions, ones also stirring an increase in quakes and other disasters?

Japan nuclear crisis: Fears mount over radioactive waste in food



Fears are mounting among Japanese health authorities that food and milk from areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant could be contaminated with radioactive waste.

Yukio Edano, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, said shipments of spinach from four provinces surrounding the plant had been halted. Milk shipments from Fukushima province have also been banned.

Mr Edano, the increasingly haggard face of the Japanese government's response to the crisis, sought to quell fears by saying radiation levels in food were not harmful to human health, and that he was prepared to eat contaminated produce himself.

He said: "Even if you eat and drink them several times it will not be a health hazard. So I would like you to act calmly without reacting." Asked if he would be happy to give spinach and milk to his family, he said: "Of course."

His comments were reminiscent of when John Gummer, the then Agriculture Minister, was pictured with his four-year-old daughter and half-eaten hamburgers, in an attempt to calm the British public during the "mad cow disease" outbreak in 1990.

The World Health Organisation appeared to disagree with Mr Edano, announcing that radiation seeping into food and water was "a lot more serious" than previously thought. (read more)

Yemen army in mutiny as president clings to power

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, was clinging to power on Monday as parts of his armed forces rose up in mutiny and senior generals joined street protests demanding his overthrow.

By nightfall, with tanks from rival units squaring off against each other in the capital Sana'a, Mr Saleh's position seemed ever more untenable.

Throughout the day, an ever growing stream of powerful military, political, tribal and diplomatic figures deserted a man whose hold on power over 32 years had so long seemed unshakeable.

The US, which views the mercurial Yemeni leader as a vital ally against the growing al-Qaeda presence in his country, remained uncomfortably behind the president, restricting itself to further condemnation of his brutal suppression of anti-regime protests.

But a transatlantic rift, long rumoured, burst into the open as France became the first western state to urge Mr Saleh to step down.

The French may well have been bowing to the inevitable as Mr Saleh's last bastion of support – the armed forces – started to crumble. (read more)

Libya: coalition naval forces gather in Mediterranean -- for support... or invasion?

Helicopters capable of rescuing downed American and British pilots arrived in the Mediterranean on Monday as The Daily Telegraph witnessed the scale of the coalition naval operation off the coast of Libya.

The HH60 Pave Hawk helicopters flew from RAF Lakenheath in Norfolk to a base in Sicily and from there to the USS Ponce, an amphibious assault ship with 300 Marines on board.

The two American aircraft, manned by two pilots, door gunners and a specialised rescue crew, will be deployed to Libya if aircraft are shot down by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

They recently saw service in Afghanistan but will now be based on the USS Ponce.

"If one of the coalition aircraft were to crash those search and rescue folks would go and find the pilot," said Commander Etta Jones, the captain of the ship, one of five US Navy surface vessels in the area.

The US Navy vessel is equipped with dozens of Hummer trucks, landing craft and armoured bulldozers, but Cdr Jones insisted that the ship was not preparing to land on Libyan soil – in line with the repeated insistence of Western governments. (read more)


BREAKING NEWS: More problems at Japan nuclear reactors, possible mandatory evacuations for US Military at Yokosuka

DEVELOPING STORY. DETAILS FORTHCOMING.

'France is collapsing,' Far-Right Le Pen says

After several polls showed Marine Le Pen more than holding her own against rivals in a hypothetical presidential match-up, FRANCE 24 sat down with the far-right leader for a wide-ranging interview touching on Europe, immigration and nuclear energy.

Riding high on strong showings in a handful of French polls on the 2012 presidential election, National Front leader Marine Le Pen has had an early start on the campaign trail.

The far right politician, who took over from her father as head of the party in January, sat down with FRANCE 24 journalist Roselyne Fèbvre for an interview covering a wide range of domestic and international issues. Here are some of the highlights.

On President Nicolas Sarkozy:

"France is collapsing because of a French president who is no longer running anything, who is governing on impulse or emotion, depending on the circumstances. And France’s interests and image have suffered for it." (read more)

North Koreans Told To Use Pets As Quake Warning

North Korea advised its citizens Sunday to use their pets as an early-warning system for earthquakes, amid heightened fears following Japan's quake and tsunami disaster.

Governments worldwide have focused on ensuring their alert systems go some way to protecting them against the horror wreaked by natural disasters such as the massive tremor and giant waves which killed thousands in Japan on March 11.

While Pyongyang has also told North Koreans about the technology it has in place to anticipate disasters, state media urged the public to take note when animals behave oddly.

The Sunday edition of Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper of the North's ruling party, and a report Saturday from the official Korean Central News Agency warned that people should beware if they see dogs barking incessantly, cattle refusing to eat or horses constantly trying to storm out of stables.

Evidence of the reliability of animal behaviour in predicting quakes remains mixed, although National Geographic reported after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that many species fled to safety before the catastrophe.

Elephants ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors and flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, nationalgeographic.com reported.

"The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense -- and know in advance when the earth is going to shake -- has been around for centuries," the magazine said.

It is thought that low-frequency electromagnetic signals may cause animals to behave unusually before an earthquake. (Source)

New oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: Reported Near Deepwater Drilling Site in Gulf, New Photos (Reader contributed)


A Coast Guard officer with a command center in Morgan City, LA, said today the Coast Guard has confirmed that oil is not coming from the Deepwater Horizon well but that they have found what appear to be smaller oil slicks in the Gulf. Their investigation into reports of large oil slicks is continuing. Additional photos and information from pilots John Wathen and Bonnie Schumaker who flew over the area yesterday are expected to be released today.

The Coast Guard is investigating reports of a potentially large oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico not far from the Deepwater Horizon site. According to a knowledgeable source, the slick was sighted by a helicopter pilot on Friday and is about 100 miles long. A fishing boat captain said he went through the slick yesterday and it was strong enough to make his eyes burn. (read more)

Japan's quake may have loaded pressure on fault line closer to Tokyo, geologists warn

The recent monster quake that hit northeastern Japan altered the earth's surface, geologists say, loading stress onto a different segment of the fault line much closer to Tokyo.

Experts are quick to point out that this doesn't mean a powerful earthquake is necessarily about to strike the Japanese capital. Even if it did, the structure of the tectonic plates and fault lines around the city makes it unlikely that Tokyo would be hit by a quake anywhere near the intensity of the 9.0-magnitude one that struck March 11, said Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey

But, given the vast population — Tokyo and its surroundings are home to 39 million people — any strong temblor could be devastating.

"Even if you've got, let's say, a 7.5, that would be serious," the seismologist said.

Japan is located on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanos and fault lines spanning the Pacific Basin, and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

But before last week's quake — the largest to hit the country since it started keeping records 130 years ago — few geologists considered Japan to be a strong candidate for a 9-plus earthquake, said Andrew Moore, of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

There is mounting evidence, however, that Japan has been struck by several severe quakes in the last 3,500 years — most in the northern reaches of the country. Sand deposits indicate that several quakes have spawned 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) waves that slammed into the northern island of Hokkaido, he said, the most recent in the 17th century. (read more)

US: Liberal Democrats in uproar over Libya action -- may call for Obama impeachment

A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.

Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren’t impeachable offenses.

Kucinich also questioned why Democratic leaders didn’t object when President Barack Obama told them of his plan for American participation in enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone during a White House Situation Room meeting on Friday, sources told POLITICO.

And liberals fumed that Congress hadn’t been formally consulted before the attack and expressed concern that it would lead to a third U.S. war in the Muslim world. (read more)


Jasmine revolution on rocks: China takes hard line on activists, many missing

"None of them will tell me anything about why he was taken away or where he has been taken to," Jiang's wife Jin Bianling said Monday. She said that after her husband's disappearance last month, a Beijing police officer told her verbally that "the case was being handled," meaning he was under investigation. But her repeated efforts to get more details from police have been fruitless.

More than 100 people have been questioned or followed by police or placed under house arrest, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, or CHRD, said in a recent statement. It said Jiang and others who have disappeared for weeks were at risk of being tortured to extract confessions.

The last time the prominent Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong was seen or heard from, he was visiting his brother in a Beijing suburb. Police grabbed him and threw him into a waiting van, pushing aside his elderly mother who had clung on to the vehicle.

Jiang is among dozens of well-known lawyers and activists across China who have vanished, been interrogated or criminally detained for subversion in recent weeks, a crackdown that human rights groups say is on a scale and intensity not seen in many years.

Activists say China's massive security apparatus is using the government's anxiety over possible Middle East-inspired protests as a pretext for the crackdown. (read more)

World Bank: Quake could cost Japan $235 billion -- and take 5 years for them to rebuild



The total cost of the quake and tsunami on the Japanese economy could hit $235 billion and take five years for the nation to rebuild, according to a World Bank report released Monday.

“If history is any guide, real gross domestic product growth will be negatively affected through mid-2011,” the report said. “Growth should though pick up in subsequent quarters as reconstruction efforts, which could last five years, accelerate.

“While it is too early to estimate accurately, the cost of the damage is likely to be greater than the damage caused by the 6.9 magnitude Kobe earthquake in 1995,” the report added.

The report projects that cost estimates could range between $122 billion to $235 billion, or between 2.5% and 4% of GDP, citing government and private estimates. The Kobe earthquake, which killed nearly 6500 people, cost around $100 billion.

The impact on trade in East Asia, however, should be temporary, with a short-term affect on trade – especially automobiles and electronics – and finance. “After the Kobe earthquake, Japan’s trade slowed only for a few quarters before recovering,” the report said. “Within a year, imports had recovered fully and exports had rebounded to 85 percent of pre-quake levels.”

The human cost, however, is still being assessed: As of Sunday night, Japan's National Police Agency said that 8,277 people were confirmed dead and 12,722 had been reported missing. (read more)

Battle brewing: Gazans fire 2 rockets into Israel; 2 militants killed in clash

Palestinian militants fired two rockets into southern Israel on Sunday and Israeli troops killed two Palestinians in a new outburst along the volatile border with Gaza.

The violence came a day after Palestinian militants fired more than 50 mortar shells into Israel - the heaviest Palestinian barrage since a bruising Israeli military offensive in Gaza two years ago.

Both sides have largely honored an informal cease-fire since the 2009 war, in which about 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including militants and civilians. Israel says Hamas has rebuilt its arsenal, and a pattern of rocket attacks and Israeli reprisals has escalated in recent weeks.

The Hamas-allied Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for Sunday morning's rocket attack, which caused no injuries or damage.

Militants in Gaza fired another rocket into southern Israel in the evening, exploding near the city of Ashkelon. No one was hurt. (read more)

Now Saudis take to the streets to demand the release of prisoners held without trial

Dozens of Saudi men and women have gathered outside the Interior Ministry in Riyadh to demand the release of their relatives who have been held without trial for years.

The move came despite King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offering $93 billion (£57.5billion) in handouts to try and ease the political unrest.

Protests in Saudi Arabia are banned however it was the third protest this month by families and activists demanding information on the fate of people held for years on security and terrorism charges.

Two-thousand special forces and 200 police vehicles were drafted in as the Saudi Arabian authorities showed their determination to prevent the spread of unrest inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

Meanwhile Bahrain's main opposition groups have also eased their conditions for talks to end a crisis that has drawn in neighbouring Gulf armies and raised tensions in the oil exporting region.

The groups, led by Bahrain's largest Shi'ite Muslim opposition party Wefaq, called on security forces to free all those detained, end their crackdown and ask Gulf Arab troops to leave so talks could begin. (read more)

Mideast Rages: Wave of Unrest Shakes Syria, Crowds Torch Party HQ

Crowds set fire to a headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in the Syrian city of Deraa on Sunday, residents said, as the wave of unrest in the Arab world shook even one of its most authoritarian states.

The demonstrators also set ablaze the main courts complex and two phone company branches. One of the firms, Syriatel, is owned by President Bashar al-Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf.

"They burned the symbols of oppression and corruption," an activist said. "The banks nearby were not touched."

Assad, who has strengthened Syria's ties with Shi'ite Iran as he sought to improve relations with the United States and strike a peace deal with Israel to return the Golan Heights, is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since he succeeded his late father, Hafez al-Assad, 11 years ago.

He has sent government officials to try to placate Deraa but thousands rallied to demand an end to emergency law in the southern city, on the third consecutive day of protests against Syria's ruling Baath Party.

"No, no to emergency law. We are a people infatuated with freedom," marchers chanted, despite the arrival in Deraa of a government delegation to pay condolences to relatives of victims killed by security forces in demonstrations there this week.

Security forces fired tear gas at the protesters. Around 40 people were taken to be treated for gas inhalation at the main Omari mosque in the old city, residents said.

"The mosque is now a field hospital. The security forces know they cannot enter the old city without spilling more blood," one resident said. (read more)

Pounding rain fuels radiation fears in Japan

Driving rain on Monday disrupted rescue efforts in Japan and compounded the misery of disaster survivors now fearing radioactive fallout from the smouldering wreck of a nuclear plant.

The bad weather forced Prime Minister Naoto Kan to call off a helicopter flight to the battered northeast coast including a trip to a football training centre about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The centre is now a staging area for emergency personnel working to avert a disastrous radiation release from the atomic plant, whose reactors have been overheating after cooling systems were damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

Engineers have laid an external electricity supply to reactor number two and may be able to restore power to its control room later Monday, Japan's nuclear safety agency said.

Equipment likely to be switched back on includes temperature and pressure instruments as well as the air filtering system, which is designed to prevent radioactive substances entering the control room.

"As a result, the environment for workers will significantly improve," an agency official told a news conference.

Power to the reactor's actual cooling unit has yet to be restored, and in the meantime fire trucks continue to spray water to help cool reactor fuel pools. (read more)

New crisis: Japan faces fresh food safety scare

Japan faces a further crisis with concern escalating about radioactive contamination of its food and water, even as the fight to stabilise the earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appears to be making progress.

Tests found levels of radioactive iodine up to seven times the legal limit in samples of raw milk, spinach and two leaf vegetables as far away from the nuclear plant as Chiba prefecture, to the east of Tokyo.

The results mean Japan faces a food safety scare on top of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Almost 300 engineers have been battling to bring six reactors under control at the plant, 240km north of Tokyo, since their cooling systems were knocked out 10 days ago by the tsunami.

Meanwhile the IAEA, the UN atomic watchdog, said on Sunday that there had been some positive developments at the Fukushima plant in the past 24 hours, though the overall situation remained “very serious”.

The government halted shipments of raw milk from Fukushima prefecture and spinach from Ibaraki prefecture. It will decide tomorrow whether to widen the freeze. Officials admitted that some food with radioactivity above the safety limit might be on shop shelves.

Tests also showed slightly elevated radioactivity in Tokyo’s drinking water although the measurement was still 100 times below the legal safety limit. (read more)

Taiwan Japanese restaurant offers radiation checks for diners

One of Taiwan's top Japanese restaurants is offering diners the use of a radiation gauge before they eat in case of any nerves in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster.

Diners at the upscale Peony in Taipei's Xinyi business and financial district can pick up the machine at the counter when they come in, check themselves for radiation or use it to check their food, general manager Catherine Yang told Reuters.

"I can give my customers a promise: if you eat at Peony I guarantee that everything you get will be the safest and the best," Yang said.

"Customers have found it really interesting, not many of them have seen radiation gauges, and many feel very reassured," she added.

The prospect of radiation releases after Japan's earthquake-triggered nuclear disaster has worried many in Taiwan, which is geographically relatively close, has its own nuclear power plants and is, like Japan, prone to earthquakes.

Japanese food is also hugely popular on the island, where the nuclear energy body has stepped up monitoring of imported goods from Japan and is checking all arriving airline passengers from Japan for radiation levels. (read more)

Allies desert Yemeni leader, Syria Potests Spread - 21st Mar 2011

SANAA/DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Popular unrest swelled into a crisis for one Arab autocrat and began to rattle another long seen as immune on Monday as leading figures parted ways with Yemen's president and street protests spread in Syria.

Top generals, ambassadors and some tribes endorsed the goals of Yemen's anti-government protesters in a glancing blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as he strove to withstand demands for his resignation after 32 years in power.

Saleh, an important U.S. and Saudi ally in the world's paramount oil-exporting region, has survived a civil war, tribal revolts and al Qaeda militant campaigns so far.

However, the defections of major officials appeared to pose the gravest threat yet to his tenure, although some important military allies remained loyal. ' The three-month-old tide of revolt against Arab rulers seen as repressive, corrupt and unaccountable for unemployment and poverty reached Syria on Friday and gained momentum on Monday as rallies for "freedom" spread in the south. Read More

Whoops! Scientists left red-faced as oldest 'evidence of life' turns out to be iron deposits - 18th Mar 2011

It was a discovery that scientists proclaimed was the oldest evidence of life on our planet.

But researchers who thought they had found 3.5 billion-year-old bacteria fossils in Australian rock have been left red-faced after U.S geologists debunked their findings.

A team from the University of Kansas said the microscopic structures are nothing more than tiny gaps in the rock that are packed with lifeless minerals.

Instead of primeval oxygen-producing cyanobacteria, they were found to be bits of the iron mineral hematite.

The scientists who reexamined the rock known as the Apex Chert, have published a study in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Team member Professor Alison Marshall, said: 'We found no sign of any microfossil.

'What we found were minerals that took the appearance of life. We went into this assuming these were microfossils - as was pretty well accepted in the scientific community.

'It was a good lesson in trusting your data over what you’d been told you should find. At every step of the way, we would do an experiment expecting to find one result and find the complete opposite instead.' Read More

Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night - 21st Mar 2011

Loud explosions and barrages of anti-aircraft tracer fire have been heard near the Tripoli compound of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Witnessed by Sky News foreign correspondent Lisa Holland, the night sky was lit up with tracer fire as gunners sought out aircraft imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Tripoli, the power centre for Col Gaddafi, has now come under attack for three successive nights.

The action comes hours after Prime Minister David Cameron spoke in the House of Commons about the Libyan military action.

Mr Cameron told MPs that Col Gaddafi's long-range networked air defences have been "largely neutralised".

"As a result the no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya," he said.

Mr Cameron also confirmed that control of the campaign will transition from US control to a Nato-led mission as part of implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1973. Read More

Putin likens U.N. Libya resolution to crusade calls

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Monday likened the U.N. Security Council resolution supporting military action in Libya to medieval calls for crusades.

Putin, in the first major remarks from a Russian leader since a coalition of Western countries began air strikes in Libya, said that Muammar Gaddafi's government fell short of democracy but added that did not justify military intervention.

"The resolution is defective and flawed," Putin told workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory. "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."

Putin said that interference in other countries' internal affairs has become a trend in U.S. foreign policy and that the events in Libya indicated that Russia should strengthen its own defense capabilities. (read more)

Indonesian volcano Mount Karangetang prompts evacuations -- 1200 have fled

Up to 1,200 people have fled an active volcano in northern Indonesia, disaster officials said Monday.

The evacuations were made from two villages near Mount Karangetang, on Siau Island, the country's National Disaster Management Agency said.

Local and national officials estimated the number of evacuees at between 800 - 1,200 people, with damage reported to a home, a church and some bridges.

The nearly 6,000-foot (1,827-meter) volcano is one of Indonesia's most active. An eruption in August killed four people.

Late last week, Indonesia's Volcanology and Geological Disaster Management Agency raised the volcano's alert status to its highest level, after noting increased activity on March 11.

Ash clouds from Mount Karangetang reached 7,500 feet (2,300 meters) over the weekend, with lava reported flowing down the mountainside. (read more)

Safe nuclear does exist, and China is leading the way with thorium

A few weeks before the tsunami struck Fukushima’s uranium reactors and shattered public faith in nuclear power, China revealed that it was launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium.

This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert. (read more)

Markets second guessing how the aftershock from Japan will play out

How should an economist react to a catastrophe such as Japan? Even thinking about the financial and commercial impact of the country's most serious earthquake since seismological records began can appear callous – given the scale of the human suffering.

The official death toll, as it climbs up grimly, is now above 7,000. The eventual total is likely to be three times bigger. The impact on those left behind – families, work colleagues – is unthinkable. And words can't describe the courage of the engineers at the Fukushima nuclear power station, as they battle to prevent more fall-out, exposing themselves to surely fatal doses of radiation.

These human tragedies aside, though, Japan is a place of cardinal economic importance. Last year, total GDP was $5,300bn, according to the International Monetary Fund. So we're talking about the world's third largest economy, after America and China - some 60pc bigger than Germany, Europe's commercial power house.

Japan is also among the world's most important creditors - not least to the governments of some ailing Western nations. So while the tsunamis didn't reach Europe, and the West should mercifully be spared any radiation, there could be a world-wide financial aftershock from Japan's worst ever peace-time disaster.

Not so long ago, the Japanese economy, while not yet fully escaped from its long-term malaise, was in relatively good shape. During the third quarter of 2010, GDP grew by a buoyant annualized 3.9pc, with consumption leading the charge. This was unusual for Japan, given the population's neurotic savings habit - a reluctance to spend which has contributed mightily in recent years to keeping this once-dynamic economy locked in a deflationary spiral.

During the middle of last year, though, consumption temporarily boomed, in turn boosting investment. One reason was that many Japanese punters bought fuel-efficient cars ahead of the expiration of a popular government subsidy programme. (read more)

Japan Quake and Tsunami: The (scary and fragile) fault line beneath our nuclear world

In the early Eighties, I restarted Pickering & Chatto as an independent academic publishing house. The firm had been founded in 1820 by William Pickering and had published some of the major authors of the 19th Century, including Blake and Coleridge.

Our customers were - and still are - the major libraries; in national terms America is our largest customer, with Japan in second place.

In 1986 we published our first title - an eight-volume collection of the works of the political economist Thomas Malthus. We were given an advance order by one of the major Japanese booksellers, Kinokinya.

That order paid for our first printing. I made regular visits to Japan, partly to sell books, and partly as an investment consultant. Those were the years of the great Japanese boom, when the real estate value of the Emperor's Gardens in Tokyo was reckoned to be equal to that of the state of Florida. The Japanese economic bubble was punctured in 1989, and has never been reflated.

I found the Japanese with whom I dealt had the virtues that form the backbone of Japanese business. The businessmen were reliable; if they said that they were going to do something, they usually did it. Indeed their sense of business honour was more like that of Britain in 1910 than 1980.

It was not easy to establish a good relationship, but once established, it was likely to last for decades. We built our business on the solidity of Japanese support. At the same time, the British banks were moving in the opposite direction, from relationship to transactional banking.

The worst horror stories of the 2008 crash, which destroyed half of Wall Street, all involved big banks putting bonuses on short-term transactions ahead of their duty to their clients. Many Wall Street investment banks did not hesitate to sell toxic investments to their clients, which the banks themselves believed to be unsafe.

Now the Japanese economy has been hit by the physical disasters of the earthquake, the tsunami - and then the nuclear power threat. This is as big a challenge for Japanese business as the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 was for Wall Street, but the ethics are quite different. (read more)

UK: 20% tax? It's 31% really... and George Osborne wants us to know why

The Prime Minister’s ability to multi-task has been tested to the limit this week.

On Thursday alone he was trying to deal with Libya, the final Budget negotiations, a Press conference on education, dinner with the Prince of Wales and a telephone call with President Obama.

At dinner with Prince Charles, I’m told, he was impressively calm, as if it was just a normal day at the office.

That afternoon, David Cameron was meant to be sitting in the final and decisive Budget meeting in the Cabinet room with Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Danny Alexander.

But he was also trying to telephone round the swing votes in the UN Security Council to gather support for the British position on Gaddafi.

The result was that Cameron twice had to duck out of the meeting for extended phone calls, including one with the key vote, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who was coming under considerable Chinese pressure to abstain.

But in contrast to the Blair-Brown era, nothing was slipped into the Budget in his absence. The others simply sucked Glacier Mints while the Prime Minister made his calls. In the end, agreement was reached after two-and-a-half hours.

Obsorne’s Budget is a crucial moment for the Coalition. It is its last best chance to chip away at the obstacles to growth. (read more)

The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed talks Monday 21st March 2010 to discuss Libya - 21st Mar 2011

The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed talks Monday to discuss Libya's call for an emergency meeting of the U.N.'s most powerful body to halt what it called "military aggression" by France and the United States.

The council scheduled consultations for 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) in response to a letter dated Saturday from Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kousa.

China's deputy U.N. ambassador Wang Min said "the council members will consult on how to deal with the request" for an emergency session.

The Security Council late Thursday authorized military action to protect civilians from attacks by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces and imposed a no-fly zone over the country.

On Saturday, U.S., French and British forces launched airstrikes against Libyan air defenses, tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military hardware.

Kousa's letter, obtained by The Associated Press, claimed that "an external conspiracy was targeting the (Libyan) Jamahiriya and its unity and territorial integrity."

By authorizing military action to protect civilians and imposing a no-fly zone, he said, "the Security Council has paved the way for military aggression against Libyan territory."

The foreign minister accused France and the United States of bombing "several civilian sites, thereby violating all international norms and instruments, most notably the Charter of the United Nations, which provides for non-intervention in the affairs of member states."

The letter called for "an emergency meeting in order to halt this aggression." Read More

SURVIVED - A Canada Goose with arrow through its chest for six weeks finally caught, operated on and... survives - 21st Mar 2011

Some believed it was a wild goose chase.

But after more than a month of pursuing a Canada goose with an arrow through its body, rescuers at the Wildbird Rehabilitation Center in Denver, finally caught their prize.

The bird, given the name Quilly, has undergone surgery to have the arrow removed and, once recovered, will be released back into the wilds of Denver, Colorado.

First spotted in Washington Park by concerned onlookers more than a month ago, rescuers tried in vain to catch the goose.

Volunteer Gabrielle Wimers from the Rebabilitation Center told the Denver Post: ‘He is a very smart goose. He outsmarted everybody for a month.’

Gabriele Braunschweiger, another volunteer added: ‘We knew where he was for several weeks, but it was hard to catch him with all the people around.

‘Everyone tried to catch her and that made her skittish.’ Read More

Welcome to spring! Rain, floods and snow in California and storms from Illinois to Massachusetts - 21st Mar 2011

It may be the first day of spring, but the season was greeted with plunging temperatures, storms, flooding and even deep snow in southern California.

The bad weather stretched from Illinois to Massachusetts, bringing snow showers in New York and the threat of blizzards from North Dakota to parts of Michigan.

Worst hit was Los Angeles where storms shut down major highways, cutting power to thousands and forcing dozens of evacuations over threats of mudslides or rising rivers.

Rain caused rock slides in Malibu and closed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway, while snow and ice forced the shut-down of parts of Interstate 5 connecting Los Angeles with northern areas.

California Highway patrol officers were busy removing cars and trucks that had crashed and were stuck on the road overnight.

Some drivers spent the night in their cars while others packed local motels. Lightening flashes illuminated the sky from Santa Barbara to downtown Los Angeles.

In the San Fernando Valley, 30 people were evacuated as at least three inches of rain fell, according to the National Weather Service. Read More

Knut's last moments: Harrowing film of the death of the world's most famous polar bear emerges amid fears over his treatment - 21st Mar 2011

WARNING: Animal lovers will find this video extremely distressing, please do NOT view it if you are easily upset. We have chosen to include it because of the profound animal welfare issues raised by Knut's short life and and untimely death

This is the moment Knut, the world's most famous polar bear, died as he had lived his controversial life - in captivity and in front of a crowd of human spectators.

After compulsively turning in circles, he convulsed violently on his favourite rocky perch, let out a blood-curdling scream then fell dead into his enclosure's water pool.

The final, horrific moments of the world's most famous polar bear were captured on a tourist's video camera at Berlin Zoo on Saturday.

In the deeply harrowing film, spectators' whoops turn to screams as the realisation dawns that Knut's wild convulsions are not one of his usual playful performances.

In obvious pain, he is shown repeatedly circling his own shadow, his left hind leg twitching uncontrollably, before he is overcome by a violent fit.

Moments later, the four-year-old bear lets out a gut-wrenching scream as he rises onto his haunches and lurches forward into a pool of water.

Although the cause of death has not yet been determined, serious concerns over his treatment at Berlin Zoo have already been raised. Read More

WARNING: Animal lovers will find this video extremely distressing, please do NOT view it if you are easily upset.




Fact or Fiction - Are lead tablets discovered in a remote cave in Jordan the secret writings about the last years of Jesus? - 21st Mar 2011

Artefacts discovered in a remote cave in Jordan could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.

The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices - tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection - has excited biblical scholars.

Much of the writing is in code, but experts have deciphered images, symbols and a few words and the texts could be 2,000 years old.

Some academics are sceptical about the discovery because there have been numerous hoaxes and sophisticated fakes produced over the years.

Many of the codices are sealed which suggests that they could be secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra - an appendage to some versions of the Bible.

Texts have been written on little sheets of lead bound together with wire.

The treasure trove was found five years ago by an Israeli Bedouin and may have been around since the 1st century, around the time of Jesus's crucifixion and Resurrection. Read More

Colonel Gaddafi's son 'killed in kamikaze pilot attack on Tripoli barracks' - 21st Mar 2011

Colonel Gaddafi suffered a massive personal setback today when one of his sons was allegedly killed in a suicide air mission on his barracks.

Khamis, 27, who runs the feared Khamis Brigade that has been prominent in its role of attacking rebel-held areas, is said to have died on Saturday night.

A Libyan air force pilot crashed his jet into the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli in a kamikaze attack, Algerian TV reported following an unsubstantiated claim by an anti-Gaddafi media organisation.

Khamis is alleged to have died of burns in hospital. The regime denied the reports.

It was claimed he died in the same compound hit by RAF cruise missiles hit by coalition forces last night.

Loyalists have been photographed with shrapnel from the missile that struck the building and throughout the day there has been no information on Gaddafi's whereabouts.

Libyan state TV has claimed that 48 people were killed in the weekend attacks, causing friction between the west and the Arab world but the Ministry of Defence said it wasn't aware of civilian casualties.

But it exposed fractures between the U.S. and British positions, with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates saying getting rid of Gaddafi would be unwise while the UK refuses to rule out any course of action. Read More