Tuesday, March 22, 2011

UK: 200,000 would die and public order could break down in flu pandemic

The Department of Health report says that half the population could develop symptoms of the disease, possibly “overwhelming” hospitals and doctors as well as costing the economy £28billion, but police and the army would be unable to help as their forces would also be depleted.

It says the outbreak of a new influenza pandemic is “one of the greatest threats facing the UK” as it could not be stopped from spreading and vaccines would take months to develop.

However the report also points out that the wave of swine flu that spread from Mexico two years ago was “very mild” in comparison with previous pandemics, although the public wrongly believed that the “worst-case scenario” was likely to take hold.

The UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011 is the first update to official advice since the H1N1 virus killed “significantly less than one million” people in 2009. In Britain, 457 people died from the pandemic flu strain between June 200 and March 2010.

By contrast, the 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” outbreak killed up to 50million while the “Asian Flu” pandemic of 1957-58 and the “Hong Kong flu” a decade later each killed up to 4million.

But the report says the authorities in Britain must remain prepared for another pandemic, and based on the “reasonable worst case" assessment, “up to 50% of the population could experience symptoms of pandemic influenza during a single pandemic wave lasting 15 weeks, although the nature and severity of the symptoms would vary from person to person.”

Although the number of extra deaths is “impossible to predict”, it says: “Local authorities in conjunction with local service providers should ensure that they have plans in place to surge their capacity to cope with an increase in burials and cremations during a pandemic (for up to 200,000).” (read more)

Libyan air strikes: Armed Forces minister admits there is no exit strategy

The Government does not know how long the Armed Forces will be engaged in Libya, a defence minister admitted as debate intensified over the likely outcome, cost and leadership of the mission.

Nick Harvey, the Armed Forces minister, was asked how long Britain would be involved in the military operation in north Africa. He replied: “How long is a piece of string? We don’t know how long this is going to go on for.”

His admission, three days into the intervention, came as ministers faced mounting pressure to set out the limits of Britain’s involvement and explain their eventual exit strategy.

MPs were becoming increasingly concerned that Britain would be “sucked in” to a prolonged conflict.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty, France and Britain remained at odds over a plan for Nato to take over command of military operations when the US winds down its involvement, a transition expected in days. (read more)

Middle East round-up: Yemen president warns country on brink of civil war

Yemen's increasingly isolated president warned that his country stood on the brink of civil war as he made his biggest concession yet by promising step down at the end of the year.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been president for 32 years, attempt to both assuage and frighten the movement demanding his resignation as he made a last-ditch effort to avert his immediate downfall.

With his power base disintegrating after nearly two months of protests, Mr Saleh, a key US ally against the growing al Qaeda presence in Yemen, promised to step aside after legislative elections in January that, he said, would institute a parliamentary system of government.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary voiced his concern over the unrest, saying it could divert attention from the country's fight against al Qaeda. His comments came amid reports 13 militants were killed in clashes with Yemeni soldiers.

Like Mr Saleh, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's former president, sacked his cabinet and offered to stand down within months before bowing to the inevitable and departing in ignominy.

Opposition leaders, who have learned from experience that Mr Saleh's offers to stand down cannot always be taken at face value, immediately rejected the offer. (read more)

FDA: Some foods from four Japanese prefectures can't enter U.S.

In the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster, all milk, milk products, fresh vegetables and fruit from one of four prefectures closest to the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will be prevented from entering the United States, a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

All other food products produced or manufactured in one of those prefectures -- Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma -- will be diverted for testing, the spokesperson said. Food products from other parts of Japan will be tested as resources allow, but the FDA's main focus is food from these four areas, the spokesperson said.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered damage from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. Efforts to bring the plant's cooling systems back online to stabilize the situation continue.

Some of these food products have already been officially taken off the domestic and export markets: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had previously ordered the governors of these four prefectures to halt the distribution of spinach and the local vegetable kakina and told the governor of Fukushima to cease all raw milk distribution, the FDA said.

The FDA will continue to flag all entries from Japan in order to determine whether they originated from the affected area, the spokesperson said. (read more)

Japan: Vegetables near stricken plant test high for radiation



Japan's Health Ministry reported Tuesday finding radioactive materials at levels "drastically exceeding legal limits" in 11 types of vegetable grown in Fukushima Prefecture, including broccoli and cabbage, according to Kyodo News Agency.

None of the vegetables has been shipped since Monday, it said.

The news agency, citing the ministry, said, "If a person eats 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) of the vegetable with the largest detected amount of radioactive materials for about 10 days, it would be equal to ingesting half the amount of radiation a person typically receives from the natural environment in a year.

"If a person keeps eating the vegetable at the same pace, the amount of radiation intake could exceed the amount deemed safe."

Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked Ibaraki Prefecture -- near the plant -- to suspend shipments of raw milk and parsley, Kyodo reported. And the government of Fukushima Prefecture told residents not to eat leafy vegetables, it added. (read more)

Libya: Col Gaddafi says country 'ready for battle, be it long or short’



Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi made a late night speech in Tripoli on Tuesday to state the country was “ready for battle, be it long or short”.

The dictator made the address at his Bab al-Aziziya compound that was attacked by coalition air strikes on Sunday.

“We will win this battle,” Gaddafi told a crowd of supporters. “The most powerful air defence, the most powerful air defence is the people. Here are the people. Al-Gaddafi is in the middle of the people. This is the air defence.”

Gaddafi said there was a “new crusader battle launched by crusader countries on Islam”.

The speech marked Gaddafi’s first public appearance since March 15, before the air strikes began, although since then he has issued recorded audio remarks and granted interviews.

The event was followed by fireworks in the Libyan capital. Crowds could be heard cheering and shooting into the air in the city centre. (read more)

Libya: rows of empty graves - so where are all the victims?

The mourners had gone, but the graves remained as they were on Sunday: empty. The heaps of earth to fill them bordered the 23 vacant spaces, topped by the wreaths that were supposed to be placed in honour of the dead.

"These ones are now free," said the gravedigger, a short, puzzled government employee in orange workmen's overalls. "Anyone can use them."

With bombing raids continuing over Libya, there may still be takers. But the lack of occupants poses the biggest unanswered question of the allied air strikes: where are the victims?

Death tallies have been given by the authorities – though not for two days – and state television has shown pictures of bandaged casualties. But the authorities have so far not allowed visits to hospitals or morgues in Tripoli, and journalists who have visited the former on their own have found no one there.

The empty graves were in Tripoli's Martyrs' Cemetery, overlooking the Mediterranean, and the venue for one of the Gaddafi regime's eccentric attempts at news management. On Sunday, journalists were brought here for a carefully stage-managed set of funerals. As a crowd of pro-Gaddafi demonstrators chanted slogans, reporters spoke to two families who were burying their dead – a three-month-old baby girl and a 29-year-old man.

They said they were both victims of the bombing raids. It was impossible at the time to verify their stories, and has remained so. Officials say they will release full names and family details of the 48 who were killed across Libya on Saturday night – a figure later raised to 64. On Monday, they said the list was ready, but by last night it had still not been released. The number of dead from Sunday and Monday nights' raids is unknown. (read more)

Fire breaks out at Egyptian Interior Ministry in aftermath of protest



A fire broke out in the Egyptian Interior Ministry on Tuesday in downtown Cairo following a protest earlier in the day.

Flames could be seen on the roof of the multistory building, and a dark plume of smoke loomed over the city. People could be seen fleeing the building as it burned. The blaze was extinguished in under an hour.

The ministry was the site of a peaceful protest Tuesday morning and afternoon, with thousands of ministry employees -- many of them police officers -- making demands, mainly for higher wages.

Protesters at the building denied setting the fire, saying it originated inside. During the protest, some of them could be seen climbing on guard posts and the building's roof. (read more)

Japan fallout: Radioactive particles reach Iceland

Miniscule amounts of radioactive particles believed to have come from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected as far away as Iceland, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

They stressed the tiny traces of iodine -- measured by a network of international monitoring stations as they spread eastwards from Japan across the Pacific, North America and to the Atlantic -- were far too low to cause any harm to humans.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), a Vienna-based U.N. body for monitoring possible breaches of the atom bomb test ban, has 63 stations worldwide for observing such particles, including one in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik.

They can pick up very small amounts of radioactive particles, in this case iodine isotopes.

"They measure extremely small amounts," one Vienna-based diplomat said. "It has nothing to do with any health risks."

Another source said several CTBTO stations had so far detected particles believes to originate from the Fukushima nuclear complex, which emitted some radioactivity in the days after it was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami.

"Reykjavik is the first in Europe," the source added.

Experts and diplomats had earlier predicted that very small amounts of radioactive particles were expected to reach Europe. (read more)

Not Home By Christmas: Gadhafi, Under Attack, Has History of Digging In

Inside Col. Moammar Gadhafi's Bab Azizya residential complex, where a building was struck this weekend by coalition fighter jets, stands another, older ruin.

It is a previous home of Col. Gadhafi, struck by U.S. airstrikes in 1986 after Libya was implicated in a deadly Berlin discotheque bombing. The damaged home has been kept intact as a "house of perseverance" and a monument to Libyan defiance against the attack. In front stands a statue of a fist crushing a U.S. fighter plane. It was here, when Libya's anti-Gadhafi demonstrations first turned violent, that Col. Gadhafi angrily rallied his supporters on television to pursue his enemies "from house to house."

The coalition airstrikes against Libyan military targets that started this weekend were aimed at preventing Col. Gadhafi from finishing off opposition groups in the east and in other pockets around Libya. Among the targets hit was a building in Bab Azizya, Col. Gadhafi's residence-cum-military barrack, that officials said was used for administrative purposes.

If Col. Gadhafi's past serves as a guide, the international attacks will set the leader's resolve to fight back at any cost against enemies inside the country and out. "The more you challenge him, the more he'll dig in," said George Joffe, a Libya expert at Cambridge University.

The offensive also appears to have fed Col. Gadhafi's view of himself as a champion of the masses across the world. (read more)

Syria Protests Spread, Authorities Pull Back

Unrest spread in southern Syria on Monday with hundreds of people demonstrating against the government in three towns near the main city of Deraa, but authorities did not use force to quell the latest protests.

Security forces killed four civilians in demonstrations that erupted last week in Deraa, in the most serious challenge to President Bashar al-Assad's rule since the 45-year-old succeeded his father 11 years ago.

An 11-year-old child died overnight from inhaling tear gas fired by security forces, activists said.

"This is peaceful, peaceful. God, Syria, freedom," chanted the protesters in Jassem, an agricultural town 30 km (20 miles) west of Deraa.

Demonstrations also erupted in the towns of Nawa and Inkhel during which marchers held placards with the word "freedom".

Leading opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said on Monday a desire for democratic reform was near-universal in Syria.

"The revolution is at the door and the regime is still flirting with change," said Maleh, an 80-year-old lawyer and former judge who has spent his life peacefully resisting the ruling Baath Party's monopoly on power, much of it from prison. (read more)

Video interview -- Democratic Congressman Ed Markey: "We're In Libya Because Of Oil"

"Well, we're in Libya because of oil. And I think both Japan and the nuclear technology and Libya and this dependence that we have upon imported oil have both once again highlighted the need for the United States to have a renewable energy agenda going forward," Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said on MSNBC. (Watch the video here)

France fights Big Brother: Google fined first time ever for improperly gathering and storing data through Street View

Google received its first ever fine for improperly gathering and storing data for its Street View application on Monday when it was penalized by France's privacy watchdog.

The euro100,000 ($141,300) penalty - the largest ever by French body CNIL - sanctions Google for collecting personal data from Wi-Fi networks - including e-mails, web browsing histories and online banking details - from 2007 to 2010 through its roaming camera-mounted cars and bicycles.

The fine is the first against Google over the data-gathering, which more than 30 countries have complained about. At least two other European countries are considering fines, while some others have ruled against penalizing Google.

Google Inc. has apologized and says it will delete the data.

"As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks," Google's Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer said in an e-mailed statement. "As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities." (read more)

How the rich think: Buffett says Japan quake a 'buying opportunity'

US billionnaire investor Warren Buffett said Monday that a massive natural disaster would not hamper the future of the Japanese economy and could prompt a new bout of stock buying.

"I'm not looking at Japan's economic future differently from 10 days ago... extraordinary events offer (a) buying opportunity," he told reporters.

Buffett, the chairman of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, was visiting South Korea to attend a ground-breaking ceremony for a local unit of Israel's Iscar Metalworking Companies, 80 percent owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

Japan's Nikkei index lost around 10 percent in the week following the devastating March 11 quake and tsunami.

Buffett, however, urged against selling Japanese stock -- markets were closed in Tokyo on Monday -- and said Japan would recover relatively quickly, Yonhap news agency said.

The disaster, which has left 8,649 people dead and 13,262 missing, could cost the Japanese economy up to $235 billion, the World Bank said Monday.

Growth, however, should pick up in subsequent quarters "as reconstruction efforts, which could last five years, accelerate", it said. (read more)

Obama: ‘President Does Not Have Power Under Constitution to Unilaterally Authorize a Military Attack’ -- that is, until *he* became president

As a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) emphatically stated that the Constitution does not give the president the authority to unilaterally authorize a military attack unless it is needed to stop an actual or imminent attack on the United States.

Obama made the assertion in a Dec. 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe when reporter Charlie Savage asked him under what circumstances the president would have the constitutional authority to bomb Iran without first seeking authorization from Congress.

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama responded. (read more)

Trump: I 'screwed' Gadhafi -- get in line, Donald

Donald Trump, whose flirtations with a presidential bid continue, says he has special experience dealing with Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi.

Speaking on Fox News Monday, Trump says he has more of a track record than anyone in the Republican presidential field when it comes to dealing with foreign leaders and dignitaries: "I sell them real estate for tremendous amounts of money. I mean, I've dealt with everybody."

Trump, who has said he will decide on a presidential bid by June, said he is particularly happy with the fact he "screwed" Gadhafi on a past real estate deal.

"I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn't let him use the land," Trump boasted. "That's what we should be doing. I don't want to use the word 'screwed', but I screwed him." (Source)

Florida pastor Terry Jones oversees Quran burning, despite saying he wouldn't do so

The controversial Florida pastor who halted plans to burn a Quran on the 9/11 anniversary last year oversaw the burning of the Islamic holy book on Sunday after it was found "guilty" during a "trial" at his church.

"We had a court process," said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as judge, in a phone interview. "We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult."

Jones said about 30 people attended the mock trial at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville.

Jones considered the "International Judge the Quran Day" to be a fairer way of addressing the Islamic holy book, and denied breaking earlier promises not to burn a Quran.

If the jury had reached a different conclusion, Jones said he would have issued an apology for his accusations that the Quran promotes violence.

"We still don't feel that we broke our word — that was in relationship to International Burn a Quran Day," he said, referring to his previous plan to burn a pile of Qurans on the 9/11 anniversary to protest plans for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. "We would not establish another International Burn a Quran Day."

Last year's aborted event provoked criticism from U.S. religious leaders, violent protests abroad and pressure from President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates before Jones called it off.

After a six-hour trial on Sunday that featured a Christian convert from Islam as a prosecuting attorney and a Dallas imam as a defense lawyer, a jury of 12 church members and volunteers made the judgment, Jones said.

He said the punishment — burning the book after it had been soaked in kerosene for an hour — was determined from four choices on his organization's Facebook page. He said "several hundred" were polled and voted for burning over shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. (read more)

Seawater damage to reactors worse than thought, official says



Reactors 1 and 2 at Japan's earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered more damage from seawater than originally believed and will take more time to repair, the plant's owner said Tuesday.

The tsunami that followed the 9.0-magnitude earthquake March 11 damaged electrical components and coolant pumps in units No. 1 and 2. Those are two of the three units now believed to have suffered damage to their reactor cores, said Sakae Muto, vice president of the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Reactor No. 2 suffered more damage than No. 1, and the earliest those parts can be replaced is Wednesday, Muto said. The cause of the damage was unclear, but seawater was pumped in previously to cool the reactors as an emergency measure after the earthquake.

Reactors No. 3 and 4 were still being evaluated to determine which parts need repair or replacement, he said. The first priority is to work on the lighting and air conditioning in the central control room so crews can work from inside and gather further data.

Efforts to restore power at the Fukushima Daiichi plant -- a key step that officials hope will allow them to bring cooling systems back online -- were ongoing. Earlier Tuesday, a faint trail of white smoke could be seen rising over the damaged nuclear plant. (read more)

In northeastern Japan, hope dwindles as death toll mounts -- to 9000



Toyoko Numayama walks from town to town, clutching a photograph of her husband and praying someone recognizes him.

"Of course, I have to have hope," she says.

Missing-persons notices are like wallpaper at the city office in this quake-ravaged coastal town in northeastern Japan. Signs posted show pictures of mothers, grandmothers and husbands.

Survivors sift through evacuation center and hospital logs as the government's tally of the missing grows daily. By 9 a.m. Tuesday, officials said they still had not accounted for 12,664 people, and police say they fear at least half of those are dead.

A glimmer of optimism surged Sunday after rescuers found a grandmother and her teenage grandson, who had been trapped for nine days in their Ishinokmaki home. But happy reunions are increasingly rare.

Japan's national police say 8,928 people are confirmed dead after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami March 11 pulverized entire towns, leaving broken wood beams and massive piles of rubble where organized neighborhoods once stood. (read more)

Japanese officials will test food, seawater to determine health risks

Japanese officials' concerns over food contamination expanded beyond the country's borders Tuesday as tests detected radiation in ocean water offshore.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that high levels of radioactive substances were found in seawater near the plant, but said that the results did not represent a threat to human health.

"There should be no immediate health impact. If this situation continues for a long period of time, some impact can occur," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The impact such radiation could have on marine life was unclear. Japanese authorities were scheduled to measure radioactivity in waters around the plant on Tuesday and Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Earlier seawater radiation monitoring detected levels of iodine-131 that were 126.7 times higher than government-set standards, the electric company said on its website. Its monitors detected cesium-134, which has a half-life of about two years, about 24.8 times higher than the government standards. Cesium-137 was found to be 16.5 times higher than the standard.

The electric company detected these levels in seawater 100 meters (328 feet) south of the nuclear power plant Monday afternoon. Radioactive particles disperse in the ocean, and the farther away from the shore a sample is taken, the less concentrated the contamination should be. (read more)

House prices drop by £45,000 since start of credit crisis

House prices have dropped more than £45,000 since the beginning of the credit crisis, new research reveals.

The average value of a home in Britain is £201,000, down 18 per cent from £247,500 in October 2007, according to property website Zoopla.

Much of the drop has been seen during the last eight months, with prices dropping 11 per cent since last summer.

The North East has been hardest hit, down 14.12 per cent since last July with average local house prices at £142,242. London has proved to be the most resilient, down 7.59 per cent to £378,295.

Zoopla suggested that the recent fall in values may have created a buying opportunity.

Nick Leeming, business development director at Zoopla.co.uk, said: “While it has been a challenging period for the property market over the past few months, the recent dip in prices and the notable variance between regions may have created some interesting buying opportunities. The first half of 2010 provided strong gains in market values but, since last summer, economic uncertainty and lending constraints have eroded these gains and put downward pressure on house prices.” (read more)

Japan and the truth: Disaster analysis you may not hear elsewhere

The seemingly limited information being provided by both the government and the operating company, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), about the ongoing disaster at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is a source of widespread public concern.

However, a nonprofit organization focused on nuclear power issues and founded in Tokyo in 1975 — and which includes among its contributors former engineers at such power plants — has been clearly presenting expert analysis of the situation since its inception with the megaquake and tsunami that struck the northeast of the country on the afternoon of Friday, March 11.

The organization, named the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), has provided information and opinions throughout on its website, and has also been holding daily press conferences to disseminate what it comes to know.

One thing that has emerged above all else is the public's astonishment — and many experts' incredulity — that this nuclear plant and others in Japan were ever sited in the quake-prone places they were.

"Unit (Reactor) 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) Nuclear Power Plant is in a state of meltdown. A nuclear disaster which the promoters of nuclear power in Japan said wouldn't happen is in progress," Philip White, CNIC's international liaison officer, said on its website on Saturday, March 12. "This could and should have been predicted." (read more)



Fresh fears for Fukushima: Stricken nuclear plant heats up AGAIN as radioactive particles are detected in Iceland - 22nd Mar 2011

Workers desperately battling to contain a meltdown at Japan's crippled nuclear plant today faced a fresh crisis as a pool for storing spent fuel began heating up.

The news came as diplomatic sources said the Icelandic capital Reykjavik had become the first European city to detect radioactive particles believed to be from the Fukushima plant.

Temperatures in the facility have already reached boiling point and staff believe this is responsible for the clouds of steam drifting from reactor two yesterday.

The hot storage pool is another complication in bringing the plant under control and ending the nuclear crisis which followed the massive earthquake and tsunami which devastated the north-east coast on March 11. Read More

Berlin zoo: Brain problems led to Knut's death

Brain problems apparently caused the shockingly early death of Knut, Germany's four-year-old celebrity polar bear, the Berlin Zoo said Tuesday.

Initial findings from a necropsy performed Monday by an institute in the German capital showed "significant changes to the brain, which can be viewed as a reason for the polar bear's sudden death," the zoo said in a statement.

The zoo didn't elaborate on the changes to the animal's brain, and officials could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Pathologists found no changes to any other organs, the zoo said, adding that it will take several days to produce a final result. Further planned tests include bacteriological and histological, or tissue, examinations.

Knut died Saturday afternoon in front of visitors at the zoo, turning around several times and then falling into the water in his enclosure. Polar bears usually live 15 to 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. (read more)

Libya fights onward: Gold key to financing Gaddafi struggle

The international community has hit Muammer Gaddafi with a raft of sanctions and asset freezes aimed at cutting off his funding. But the embattled Libyan leader is sitting on a pot of gold.

The Libyan central bank – which is under Colonel Gaddafi’s control – holds 143.8 tonnes of gold, according to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund, although some suspect the true amount could be several tonnes higher.

Those reserves, among the top 25 in the world, are worth more than $6.5bn at current prices, enough to pay a small army of mercenaries for months or even years.

While many central banks hold their gold reserves in international vaults in London, New York or Switzerland, Libya’s bullion is in the country, said people familiar with the country’s activities in the gold market.

US and European governments have frozen billions of dollars in Libyan assets, as sanctions have hit the central bank, sovereign wealth fund and state oil company.

But Libya’s gold reserves may provide Col Gaddafi with a lifeline – if he can sell them. To raise large amounts of money, bankers said, Col Gaddafi would have to transport the bullion out of Libya. (read more)

Costs of Libya Operation Already Piling Up -- $100,000,000 on first day alone

With U.N. coalition forces bombarding Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi from the sea and air, the United States’ part in the operation could ultimately hit several billion dollars -- and require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress to pay for it.

The first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn had a price tag that was well over $100 million for the U.S. in missiles alone. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now in its third day, has pumped millions more into air- and sea-launched strikes targeting air-defense sites and ground-force positions along Libya’s coastline.

The ultimate total that the United States spends will hinge on the length and scope of the strikes as well as on the contributions of its coalition allies. But Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said on Monday that the U.S. costs could “easily pass the $1 billion mark on this operation, regardless of how well things go.”

The Pentagon has the money in its budget to cover unexpected contingencies and can also use fourth-quarter dollars to cover the costs of operations now. “They’re very used to doing this operation where they borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” said Gordon Adams, who served as the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for national security during the Clinton administration.

However, there comes a point when there simply isn’t enough cash to pay for everything. The White House said on Monday it was not prepared to request emergency funding yet, but former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim estimated that the Defense Department would need to send a request for supplemental funding to Capitol Hill if the U.S. military’s share of Libya operations expenses tops $1 billion. (read more)

Portugal braces for govt collapse amid debt crisis

The leader of Portugal's main opposition party says the minority government's downfall is "inevitable" after it failed to win political support for its latest plan to cut the country's huge debt burden.

Portugal is trying to avoid becoming the latest of the 17 eurozone countries to need a bailout, following financial aid for Greece and Ireland last year.

But all opposition parties have balked at the Socialist government's new austerity measures, which are expected to be rejected by Parliament even though European leaders praised them.

Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, said late Monday that the political deadlock made an early election unavoidable. (Source)

Israel Strikes In Gaza After Hamas Rockets

Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip - wounding at least 19 people - after militants fired mortar shells and rockets into the Jewish state.

The Israeli military confirmed one of the later air raids. It said Hamas-affiliated militants were targeted in northern Gaza, as well as a tunnel used to smuggle weapons.

Hamas medical officials said 19 people were wounded in these strikes, including four militants, seven children and two women.

Witnesses in Gaza said Israeli warplanes fired a missile after three mortar rounds were shot at Israel. The Israeli missile landed harmlessly.

Israel fired five more missiles later, at targets including a Hamas security compound in Gaza City and a training camp north of the city.

The violence reflected rising tension between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian territory, Gaza.

Hamas has stepped up rocket attacks into Israel after a hiatus since the two sides fought a war two years ago.

It claimed responsibility for firing more than two dozen mortars and rockets over the weekend.

But medical officials said Israel killed two Palestinians in Gaza in a separate border confrontation on Saturday. (read more)

Libya conflict: 30 dramatic pictures by Goran Tomasevic

Japan Quake and Tsunami Toll: Dead and missing up to 21,911

The combined toll of dead and missing from the Tohoku quake-tsunami disaster was 21,911 as of noon Monday, the National Police Agency said.

The number of deaths reported in 12 prefectures came to 8,649, while those reported missing by relatives climbed to 13,262 in six prefectures. Police have identified about 4,080 bodies, including 2,990 that have been turned over to relatives, the agency said.

About 340,000 evacuees, including those who fled areas near the troubled nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, have occupied about 2,070 shelters set up by 16 prefectures.

"Until now, we have asked (relief workers) to prioritize rescuing afflicted people. We now want them to give priority to assisting people who are living in the shelters," Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai told reporters after calling at a Ground Self-Defense Force camp in Sendai to encourage troops engaged in the disaster mission.

In the hard-hit city of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi, the governor handed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Naoto Kan requesting aid for reconstruction, to a visiting ruling party lawmaker there. Kan canceled a scheduled visit to the city Monday due to bad weather. (read more)

US house prices tumble to lowest in almost a decade

US house prices have tumbled to their lowest in almost a decade, raising the prospect that even a recovery in the labour market may not be enough to pull prices from their slump.

The median price of a previously owned home in the US fell to $156,100 (£96,800) in February, the lowest level since 2002, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Monday. The overall volume of purchases declined 9.6pc during the month, weaker than was expected on Wall Street.

The collapse in house prices helped precipitate America's worst recession since the Great Depression, and a recovery is proving elusive.

Despite the construction of new homes falling to a record low level, the market remains burdened by an excess of supply generated during the boom. "If the house price declines persist, even with the job market recovery, that could hamper recovery in the housing market," said Lawrence Yau, the chief economist at the NAR.

February saw prices fall across the country, with declines reaching double-digits in the midwest and the south.

Distressed sales - or those in which a lender has repossessed the house or the owner has agreed to a price below the value of the outstanding mortgage - accounted for 39pc of all sales. While distressed sales should eventually help the market find a bottom, it is likely to mean further declines on the way. (read more)

Miratah, Libya Fighting Caught on Camera

U.S. rescue chopper shoots six Libyan villagers as they welcome pilots of downed Air Force jet - 22nd Mar 2011

Six Libyan villagers are recovering in hospital after being shot by American soldiers coming in to rescue the U.S. pilots whose plane crash-landed in a field.

The helicopter strafed the ground as it landed in a field outside Benghazi beside the downed U.S. Air Force F-15E Eagle which ran into trouble during bombing raid last night.

And a handful of locals who had come to greet the pilots were hit - among them a young boy who may have to have a leg amputated because of injuries caused by a bullet wound.

The doctor, speaking anonymously, said nine people were killed this morning, including a fellow medic and his four children who were shot by snipers.

'Snipers are everywhere in Misarata, shooting anyone who walks by while the world is still watching. There is no protection for civilians,' he said.

Mokhtar Ali, a Libyan dissident in exile, said he was in touch with his father in the town and described increasingly dire conditions. Read More

Qatari jets make emergency landing - 22nd Mar 2011

Larnaca - Cyprus said on Tuesday it had refused permission to Qatari air force jets to land at Larnaca Airport and only changed tack when they reported they were running out of fuel.

"Cyprus Republic authorities did not give permission [to land], subsequently they asked for permission for an emergency landing due to lack of fuel," said Cyprus government spokesperson Stefanos Stefanou in a written statement.

"Civil Aviation acting under international rules had to give permission for landing and refuelling."

He said three aircraft landed at Larnaca, the main civil airport in Cyprus, two Mirage jet fighters and a C-17 transport plane.

"As soon as they refuel they will depart," ended the brief statement. Read More

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Libyan Govt: 'We Would Never Kill Civilians' - 22nd Mar 2011

A Libyan government spokesman has told Sky News that Colonel Gaddafi's forces would never kill civilians, insisting that the leader was "loved by millions".

Moussa Ibrahim blamed coalition forces for killing 48 civilians on the first night of military action.

He told Sky's Lisa Holland - reporting from Tripoli under the supervision of Libyan authorities - that "many" more had been killed on the second and third nights of strikes. He was unable to provide precise figures.

Britain and the international community should send a "fact-finding mission" from abroad to identify who is killing civilians, instead of sending "rockets and bombs".

Dr Ibrahim said: "We are saying we can not kill our children, our sons of Libya, because the Libyan army is composed of Libyan children, of Libyan tribes.

"How could Libyan tribes kill Libyan tribes? We can't do that even if we want to." Read More

New political steering committee, not NATO, to oversee no-fly zone over Libya - 22nd Mar 2011

New political steering committee, not NATO, to oversee no-fly zone over Libya, France says

NOTE: Hmm..... Can Anyone tell us who this "New Political Steering Committee" is?

Does anyone out there have any information please do not hesitate to enlighten us in the comment box below.

We have found some additional information on "New Political Steering Committee"
France has proposed that a new political steering committe outside NATO be responsible for overseeing military operations over Libya.

French Foreign Minister Alain Jupe says the new body will bring together foreign ministers of participating states — such as Britain, France and the United States — as well as the Arab League. It is expected to meet in the coming days, either in Brussels, London or Paris.

Jupe says not all members of the military coalition are members of NATO and “this is therefore not a NATO operation.” But he says the coalition would use the NATO's “planning and intervention capabilities.”

Not all NATO members are in favour of the no-fly zone and airstrikes against Libya. Read More

Spring Snow Storm in California -- freak worldwide weather continues

BREAKING NEWS: 6.0 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTHERN MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE - 22nd Mar 2011

Magnitude6.0
Date-Time
  • Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 13:31:29 UTC
  • Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:31:29 PM at epicenter
Location33.106°S, 16.027°W
Depth14.5 km (9.0 miles)
RegionSOUTHERN MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE
Distances
  • 2789 km (1733 miles) ESE (122°) from Campos, Brazil
  • 3444 km (2140 miles) WSW (243°) from WINDHOEK, Namibia
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 17.2 km (10.7 miles); depth +/- 0.6 km (0.4 miles)

Source

Russia, China call for immediate ceasefire in Libya - 22nd Mar 2011

BEIJING/MOSCOW: China and Russia have called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya expressing concern over civilian casualties in the military strikes by allied forces in areas controlled by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"China noticed reports of civilian casualties from the multinational military action against Libya and is very concerned with this," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a news briefing.

"We urge (the sides) to do everything to end the violence," Russia defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov told visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates after closed-door talks with him. He added that Moscow believed Libyan civilians had been killed in the Western air strikes. Read More

END WAR: Pentagon Admits No Proof Of Airstrkes, No-Fly-Zone Problems & Ships Send On Aid - 5th Mar 2011

Middle East Stance on Libya conflict - 22nd Mar 2011

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Despite reports of Offer - Now States 'Humanitarian Assistance' Only

SYRIA
Opposed to Intervention as it Faces Outbreak of Internal Violence

EGYPT
Won't take part in Military Alliance for Internal Security Reasons

SAUDI ARABIA
No Comment on Intervention, sent troops to help in Bahrain Unrest

QATAR
1st Arab State to offer help, French say "4 Qatari Jets expected to Join"

Yemen president warns of "coup", civil war - 22nd Mar 2011

(Reuters) - Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh told army commanders on Tuesday there could be civil war in the Arabian Peninsula state because of efforts to stage what he called "coup" against his rule.

"Those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this," he said in a speech before commanders.

Senior army commanders said on Monday they had switched support to pro-democracy activists who have been protesting for weeks, demanding that the veteran ruler stand down.

Source

Fresh Oil Continues to Wash Ashore in the Bayou - 21st Mar 2011

Fresh Louisiana crude washed into the beaches and dock areas near Grand Isle over the weekend, creating a sickening sight for the residents of this oil battered region. The reddish brown crude and oily sheen lapped onto the sandy and rocky shores, while some people flocked to Grand Isle's famous white beaches for spring break unaware of the oily assault nearby.

Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle said the oil had had hit Elmers island and Lafourch beaches near the main beach area of Grand Isle. He said the oil appeared to be about two miles offshore over the weekend but then started coming ashore to the west of the island. "It reminded me of the first time we saw oil last summer, a brown reddish sheen."

The Coast Guard says it is mobilizing workers to lay fresh boom in environmentally sensitive areas and arranging for additional cleanup crews to help as oil comes ashore. Read More

U.S. military considering mandatory Evacuations in Yokosuka - 21st Mar 2011

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military is considering the mandatory evacuation of thousands of American troops and their families in Japan out of concern over rising radiation levels, a senior defense official tells CNN.

The official, who did not want to be on the record talking about ongoing deliberations, says there are no discussions to evacuate all U.S. troops across the country. The talks have focused exclusively on U.S. troops in Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo, the official said. Yokosuka is home to America's largest naval base in Japan. The military is monitoring radiation levels on a constant basis.

As of Monday, the U.S. Navy had no more warships in port at the base. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which had been undergoing maintenance in Yokosuka, left port Monday in order to get away from the plume of radioactive particles that could blow over the base. Because it left port with a much smaller than normal crew, the George Washington will not take part in the Japanese relief effort. Read More

Japan tests sea-water radiation levels near nuclear plant - 126.7 times higher than the limit., but no cause for worry? - 22nd Mar 2011

(Reuters) - Japanese authorities began testing for radiation in sea-water off a badly damaged nuclear plant on Tuesday although officials stressed that elevated levels already detected were no cause for worry.

Reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, have leaked radiation after they were struck on March 11 by a massive earthquake and tsunami that led to the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

In a desperate attempt to cool down the reactors and their spent fuel ponds, workers have sprayed or dumped tonnes of sea-water into the cooling system. But several experts have questioned what happens to the water after that.

"I am interested to know how this water is being disposed, if it is being disposed or just allowed to drain to sea," said Najmedin Meshkati, a nuclear and environmental expert at the University of Southern California.

"This is now radioactive waste water. Has there been any measurement of its radiation effect?"

Officials have acknowledged that some of the water had spilled back to the sea.

Kyodo news agency quoted plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) as saying levels of radioactive iodine-131 in sea-water samples near the plant on Monday were 126.7 times higher than the limit.

Levels of cesium-134 were 24.8 times higher and those of cesium-137 16.5 times higher while a trace amount of cobalt 58 was detected, it said.

"Radiation levels higher than safety levels were found in the sea-water, but these levels indicate radiation levels that would still be safe even if you drank sea-water for a year," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Monday. Read More

U.S. Air Force top gun crashes in Libya after third night of coalition air raids... as Gaddafi's tanks bombard rebel town - 22nd Mar 2011

Libyans claim civilians killed in third night of air strikes
  • Chief of Defence Staff in spat with ministers over suggestions Libyan leader in assassination target
  • U.S. warns that taking leader dead would be 'unwise' and risked undermining cohesion

An American plane has come down in a Libyan field, it was claimed today in the first military setback for the coalition effort.

The U.S. Air Force F15E Eagle is believed to have crashlanded due to a mechanical failure during the third night of air strikes on Colonel Gaddafi's key military positions.

The pilot is safe, however, and is with rebels.

It came as reports filtered through today that Gaddafi's forces are bombarding Misrata, which is still held by anti-government forces.

The action on the ground followed a busy night of air raids by coalition forces, which were met by anti-aircraft fire over Tripoli. Read More

BREAKING NEWS: 2nd 6.6 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, Japan - 22th Mar 2011

Just 25 Min ago the East Coast of Honshu was hit by a 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake now a 6.6 Magnitude has hit just of the Coast of Honshu much shallower than the previous to 6+ quakes at just 9.6 Miles depth.

This is the 3rd Large Quake to hit the area in 2 hours

Third large earthquake strikes off coast of Japan


A third large earthquake struck off the coast of Japan on Tuesday.

The 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck at a depth of nine miles (15 kilometers), about 353 miles (568 kilometers) northeast of the capital Tokyo, at 9:44am GMT, according to the US Geological Survey.

The tremor followed a 6.4-magnitude earthquake at 9:19am GMT. That quake struck at a depth of 16.7 miles (27 kilometers), about 81 miles (131 kilometers) from the city of Fukushima in northeastern Japan.

Earlier, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck at a depth of 16.5 miles (26.5 kilometers), some 194 miles (312 kilometers) from Fukushima, where workers continue to battle to contain radiation leaks from a stricken nuclear reactor. Read More