Sunday, December 25, 2011

'War On Christmas' Declared In America

The season of peace and goodwill is under threat in the United States amid claims that a "war on Christmas" has been declared.

Rows about the display of traditional Christmas symbols have broken out across the country.

But one of the pressure groups accused of being partly responsible has told Sky News it defends its campaign on behalf of non-Christians and non-believers.

The usual debate over whether it is acceptable to say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays' has exploded into a much wider disagreement this year.

Thousands of people took part in a prayer rally in the city of Athens in Texas after an atheist group took court action to have a nativity scene removed from outside the courthouse.

They claim it promotes Christianity and excludes non-Christians but a judge has so far ruled the traditional Christmas scene can stay. more

Rough surf closes half of New South Wales beaches: Australia

Rough surf from ex-tropical cyclone Fina has forced the closure of half the beaches in New South Wales.

Dean Storey from Surf Life Saving NSW says the large swells are extremely dangerous.

"At this stage it's looking likely like at least half of the beaches across the state are closed. The swell is affecting most of the New South Wales coastline," Mr Storey said.

"The beaches that are exposed to the north-east are copping the swell the biggest, but the key message today is the whole coastline is affected by a large swell, very strong rips, very strong current.

"The north coast has been copping it the last couple of days, but it's now affecting pretty much the whole state."

He says swimmers should only swim between the flags at patrolled beaches. more

At least 40 patients die amid India doctors' strike

More than 40 patients have died in the last five days amid an ongoing strike by doctors at public hospitals in India's Rajasthan state, CNN sister network CNN-IBN reported Sunday.

The government has suspended 40 doctors, and 390 others have been arrested for failing to perform their duties, CNN-IBN reported.

Some 10,000 doctors remained on strike. The doctors, who work at government-run hospitals that cater to the poor, are demanding higher salaries and better promotion opportunities that are on par with their counterparts in federal medical services.

But so far, the state government has not budged.

Instead, it made interim arrangements by bringing in 373 military doctors Saturday, said Dr. Lokendra Sharma of SMS Medical College in Jaipur. Another 1,000 doctors will be brought in Monday, he said.

The government has also tapped doctors from railway services, brought others out of retirement and has asked some private hospitals to provide care at government rates.

Army doctors have also stepped in to help out, and emergency services were restored in some hospitals, CNN-IBN reported Sunday.

Attempts by CNN to reach state health officials were unsuccessful.

"Patients, they are dying," said Dr. Ganpat Chandra Gupta, an anesthesiologist.

He said the government needs to negotiate with the state's government doctors.

"They are working in poor conditions," he said. "The government is deaf and dumb and blind." more

Marriage database raises privacy concerns among Chinese

China is launching a national online marriage database to fight bigamy, a move that has raised concerns among millions of Chinese about protection of privacy.

The Chinese government's announcement that it plans to make the database available next year comes amid reports last week that hackers gained access to the personal information of 6 million users of the China Software Developer Network, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

The hacking triggered widespread panic in China, and some Chinese citizens raised questions about the safety of the anticipated marriage database, Xinhua said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs dismissed concerns, saying more than 20 provinces have already digitized local marriage registrations. The ministry says a centralized database will make it harder for people to commit bigamy.

Bigamy is a problem in China as many couples live apart for work and migration reasons. more

Collapse of the Soviet Union in pictures: Just in case a refresher is needed

4.9 Magnitude Earthquake SOLOMON ISLANDS - 25th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.9 earthquake has struck the Solomon Islands at a depth of 70.9 km (44.1 miles), the quake hit at 20:07:32 UTC Sunday 25th December 2011.
The epicenter was 51 km (31 miles) South of Kira Kira, San Cristobal, Solomon Islands
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Class 2 Storm Warning Issued for Sweden - 25th Dec 2011

A Class 2 warning has been issued for Sweden as a storm, dubbed Dagmar, approaches from the west.

"We have issued Class 2 warnings and the most powerful winds are expected in the southern peaks of Norrland. There's a risk of 25 or 30 metres per second. That's almost hurricane strength," said Alexandra Ohlsson of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, SMHI, to news agency TT.

According to the forecasters, regions of the counties Jämtland and Västernorrland look to be particularly in danger of being hit by the storm, although much of the country can expect strong winds.

During the afternoon on Sunday the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), announced that all rail traffic to and from Norrland would be halted from 8pm onwards in anticipation of the storm approaching from the west.

"The reason is that we are worried trains will be left standing following fallen down cables and other obstacles," said Peter Behrman of the agency to TT.

SMHI had already issued a Class 1 warning on December 23d and there were widespread problems on the roads throughout Christmas Eve as the weather progressively got worse across Sweden.

With Dagmar believed to be one of the most powerful storms of the past 30 years, Norway has been most seriously affected so far. Read More

38 Haitians found dead in shipwreck off Cuban coast - 25th Dec 2011

The Cuban military searched for survivors after at least 38 Haitian migrants died as a boat in which they fled their country started taking in water and got stranded at sea.

The gruesome discovery was made Saturday when the Cuban Coast Guard found the half-sunken boat about 100 meters (110 yards) off Point Maisi on the eastern shore of the island, the Cuban government said.

A statement from the Cuban Civil Defense agency read on state television said the dead included 21 men and 17 women.

Another 87 people, including four children and seven women, were rescued and moved to an international migrants' camp at Point Maisi, where they have been given assistance, the statement said.

The Civil Defense agency did not elaborate on the cause of the shipwreck. But rusty, dilapidated and overcrowded boats carrying migrants from Haiti are often found in distress in the Caribbean Sea.

A similar tragedy occurred in July 2009 off the coast of Turks and Caicos Islands when a boat carrying dozens of Haitian migrants capsized and sank, forcing its passengers to jump overboard.

The US Coast Guard managed to rescue 118 of the migrants, but at least 15 were found dead and about 70 others remained missing.

Cuban officials said the Coast Guard and Red Cross continued searching for more survivors around Point Maisi. Read More

2 dead, 5 missing in shipwreck off central coast, Vietnam - 25th Dec 2011

At least 2 people are dead and 5 still missing after a military-owned ship carrying 35 passengers was wrecked offshore Quang Nam Province on Sunday afternoon.

The ship, owned by the Battalion 70 under the Military Command of the central province, was sunk at 1:00 pm by huge waves when it was just 800 meters from land, after departing 2 hours earlier from the Cham Islands about 15 kilometers off the coast.

Twenty eight have been so far rescued and moved to local hospitals by search and rescue forces that were immediately called in with coracles, canoes, and even helicopters.

Six of the passengers are civilians, the rest being soldiers and military officials, according to a list obtained by Tuoi Tre.

The rescue forces found the bodies of 2 women later the day, one of which was identified as Nguyen Thi Phuong – a 50-year-old healthcare worker on the Cham Islands – while the other is still unidentified at the moment.

Alang Bong, one of the survivors, said the soldiers and officials were on their way to Hoi An Ancient Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – for a professional training course.

The civilians asked them for a ride to the town, the soldier said.

Most of the soldiers were enlisted 4 months ago, and have been deployed to the Cham Islands for 1 month. Source

Gas leak kills 2, injures 23 in East China's Jiangsu Province - 25th Dec 2011

A gas leak left two workers dead and poisoned 23 others in East China's Jiangsu Province on Sunday, local government said.

The accident happened around 9 am at a wire factory in the city of Jiangyin, when gas leaked from a malfunctioning stove, poisoning 25 workers at the site, the city government said in a statement.

Two workers died in hospital after treatment failed, while others are still being treated, it said.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is under way. Source

Huge wave sweeps away houses in southern Thailand, people evacuated - 25th Dec 2011

Five meter waves hit three sub- districts in Thailand's southern Chumpon province's Langsuan district on Sunday noon, destroying several houses, bungalows and restaurants and forcing local residents to flee their homes.

The seawater also flooded Hua Lame village in Langsuan district with approximate height of 70 centimeter, forcing people to evacuate to a temple seen as a safe shelter.

According to chief of Bangmaprao Tambon Administrative Office, huge waves lashed many villages in three sub-districts slightly before noon. As a result, several bungalows and restaurants were devastated while some people's houses swept away.

Chumpon Meteorological Station director-general Decha Sukgaeo said that the intense high pressure from China has moved to cover the southern region, causing rain storms and high waves in the area during Dec. 25-28. Small fishing trawlers should remain onshore, he warned. Source

Sharks continue to plague Perth beaches, Australia - 25th Dec 2011

Sharks are continuing to plague Perth beaches today, closing swimming areas along the coast and causing frustration to Christmas beachgoers.

Both Mullaloo and Scarborough beaches have been closed at times this morning because of shark sightings.

The Westpac shark spotting helicopter spotted a 2.5m shark about 400m Mullaloo Beach this morning and made a separate sighting at Scarborough. Source

Fatal Afghan mine collapse, 13 Dead - 25th Dec 2011

Officials in Afghanistan ordered an investigation into a collapse at a coal mine that left as many as 13 miners dead this weekend.

District Chief Fazel Rahman said Sunday that the cause of the collapse at the mine in central Baghlan province the day before was not immediately known.

The South Asian News Agency said safety standards at mines in Afghanistan were often lax; however, the government was actively seeking foreign investment to expand and modernize the important industry.

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force said Sunday one of its Provincial Reconstruction Teams had been dispatched to provide medical and humanitarian aid. "Our hearts go out to the families of this tragedy and we will, of course, stand ready to provide any additional assistance necessary if called upon by the Afghan government," ISAF commander Gen. John Allen said in a written statement. Source

North Korea may make armed provocations under new leader: official - 25th Dec 2011

A senior Japanese defense official said it is possible that North Korea may make military provocations as a display of power under new leader Kim Jong Un.

"The young leader does not fully control the military," Shu Watanabe, parliamentary senior vice defense minister, told a TV program. "It is likely that (North Korea) will take certain provocative military actions to show it is a dangerous country."

Watanabe also said his ministry has acquired significant amounts of information on North Korea through its links to U.S. and South Korean forces, and there have not been any specific moves in North Korea so far.

He added Japan's Defense Ministry has "compiled several scenarios so we will be able to provide optimal responses" to contingencies. Source

India paramilitary soldier opens fire on comrades, kills 3, police say - 25th Dec 2011

Three Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed by a comrade who opened fire at a military camp near Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administer Kashmir, a district police chief said Sunday.

The shooting followed an altercation between the men, Maqsood ul Zaman, the police chief, said.

"Following an altercation between two troopers in the barracks, one of them opened indiscriminate fire at his colleagues," Zaman said.

The shooting occurred late Saturday at a paramilitary camp in Kulgam, south of Srinagar, he said.

In addition to those killed, a fourth soldier was wounded, Zaman said.

Kashmir has faced separatist violence for 20 years.

More than 40,000 people have been killed, according to the official count, but several human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations believe the number of dead is at least twice that amount. Read More

3 Americans among Mexico victims - 25th Dec 2011s

Three of the seven victims of a highway attack this week in the Mexican state of Veracruz were American citizens, officials said.

A mother and her two daughters, dual Mexican-U.S. citizens who lived in Fort Worth, Texas, were aboard one of three buses that were attacked by gunmen in the city of Panuco, in the northern part of Veracruz.

"We express our deepest condolences to their family and friends during this difficult time," State Department spokeswoman Neda Brown said.

A Mexican official in the state of Hidalgo, the hometown of the mother, identified the Americans as Maria Sanchez Hernandez and her two daughters, Karla, 19, and Cristina, 13.

The buses were on a road between the towns of Tempoal and Panuco near the border of Veracruz and Tamaulipas, Mexican and U.S. government officials said. Read More

Earthquakes Christchurch, New Zealand 25th Dec 2011 - UPDATE

Note: Additional Aftershocks 24th Dec 2011
  • 18:55 UTC - 3.1 Magnitude - Depth 7 km - 20 km Southeast of Christchurch
  • 20:26 UTC - 2.9 Magnitude - Depth 7 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 23:47 UTC - 3.5 Magnitude - Depth 10 km - 20 km East of Christchurch
  • 23:53 UTC - 3.5 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 20 km East of Christchurch
SUNDAY 25th DECEMBER 2011
  • 00:50 UTC - 3.3 Magnitude - Depth 7 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 01:11 UTC - 3.4 Magnitude - Depth 7 km - 20 km East of Christchurch
  • 03:05 UTC - 2.9 Magnitude - Depth 7 km - 10 km Northeast of Christchurch
  • 04:00 UTC - 4.1 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 05:49 UTC - 3.4 Magnitude - Depth 11 km - 10 km Northeast of Christchurch
  • 06:32 UTC - 3.1 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 07:49 UTC - 3.3 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 10:55 UTC - 3.0 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 20 km Northeast of Christchurch
  • 11:32 UTC - 4.0 Magnitude - Depth 9 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 11:35 UTC - 3.8 Magnitude - Depth 11 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 12:26 UTC - 3.7 Magnitude - Depth 11 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 13:40 UTC - 4.1 Magnitude - Depth 15 km - 20 km East of Christchurch
  • 14:29 UTC - 4.1 Magnitude - Depth 10 km - 10 km East of Christchurch
  • 17:16 UTC - 2.9 Magnitude - Depth 8 km - 10 km East of Christchurch

Good Samaritan pays for shoppers' toys, Australia - 25th Dec 2011

A good Samaritan has brought Christmas cheer to shoppers at a US Toys'R'Us after she paid for at least 50 people's purchases.

The woman, who described herself as a "retired grandma", flittered between two registers, paying for surprised customers' goods.

“She was very quiet and unassuming and nobody in line had a clue what was going on,” Laura Yoo told the New York Daily News.

“They had one Amex card and were passing it back and forth between two lines swiping and signing,” Yoo said. “People were excited and crying.”

Some shoppers had full trolley carts worth of toys, but that didn't stop the kind grandmother from paying for the goods.

Ms Yoo, who was behind about 20 shoppers when the generous act began, arrived to the cashier with a Lego set for her son, 6, and beading kit for her daughter, 4.

The cashier totalled the gifts for $US54 before the kind woman's sidekick stepped in.

“My boss would like to pay for your purchases today,” she said.

First Yoo asked the smiling cashier, “Is this for real?” and then she accepted.

“I said, ‘Thank you very much’ and gave a hug and she said ‘Merry Christmas’.” Source

Hail and Thunderstorms cause havoc in Melbourne, Australia - 25th Dec 2011

Hailstones the size of cricket balls, flash-flooding, planes diverted and flights postponed, power lost from homes, major transport delays and a tornado to top things off - that was Christmas Day in Melbourne.

Much of Victoria copped the extremes - from steamy, sultry weather for Christmas lunch to severe storms that left many residents struggling to compare them with anything in memory.

The volunteers who staff the State Emergency Service had little time to digest their lunch when the calls for help started arriving.

Melton, on Melbourne's western fringes, was the first to report hailstones at 3.30pm (AEDT).

Then the skies exploded over greater Melbourne, as lightning strikes, loud cracks of thunder, torrential rain and hailstones hammered the city.

By 9pm the SES had handled more than 2000 calls for assistance, mainly damage caused by hailstones to skylights and windows.

It may be a few days before the damage to motor vehicles can be assessed.

SES spokesman Lachlan Quick said reinforcements from SES branches in the western districts will be drafted in on Monday to help with the huge clean-up in the north and northwest parts of the state.

He said most of the calls concerned smashed windows and skylights. Read More

Cyclone moves on after whipping remote island, Australia - 25th Dec 2011

Police at remote Croker Island in the Northern Territory say the local community has escaped serious damage from a category two cyclone.

Tropical Cyclone Grant intensified into a category two system late on Christmas Day and came within kilometres of Croker Island.

The Bureau of Meteorology says the storm brought winds of 130 kilometres per hour and torrential rain.

Residents of the island's community of Minjilang, about 230 kilometres north-east of Darwin, took shelter in their homes, and about 70 weathered the storm at a cyclone shelter.

But Minjilang police station sergeant Jeff Pickering says conditions have now begun to ease and there have been no reports of major damage.

"Our initial assessment shows there has been no structural damage to any buildings," he said

He says some power lines have fallen and most of the community's trees are down.

The local power station was shut earlier today and will remain closed until power lines are restored.

Earlier, the weather bureau's director of emergency services, Peter Davies, said the cyclone has caused some damage to Croker Island. Read More

Large swells close Qeensland beaches at Xmas - 25th Day 2011

Queenslanders will have to give Christmas Day picnics on the beach a miss this year as swells as high as four metres take over many popular spots.

The Queensland Weather Bureau has issued a severe weather warning for dangerous surf conditions and abnormally high tides for coastal areas.

Areas affected include Sandy Cape to Point Danger as well as the Fraser, Sunshine and Gold Coasts.

"We've got a low pressure system south of the Coral Sea, we have a high pressure system near New Zealand," forecaster Gavin Holcombe told AAP.

"And as a result those systems are producing large swells moving on to those beaches south of Fraser Island.

"Those swells are up top the four metre mark and may even get higher

"They are long period swells and as a result when they break on the beach they're particularly strong and pretty dangerous.

"As a result those beaches have closed." Read More

Bushfire threatening lives, homes in Western Australia's mid-west - 25th Dec 2011

An out-of-control bushfire is threatening lives and homes in Western Australia's mid-west.

A bushfire watch and act has been issued for people at Marrilla Station, in the Shire of Carnarvon, and Giralia and Yanrey Stations, in the Shire of Exmouth, including Burkett Road.

The fire started near Marrilla Station and crossed Burkett Road last night.

It is now burning towards Yanrey Station.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority says there is a risk to lives and homes as conditions are changing.

Authorities say residents in the area have been notified and are believed to be safe. Source

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 25th Dec 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 49.3 km (30.6 miles), the quake hit at 17:41:39 UTC Sunday 25th December 2011.
The epicenter was 51 km (31.6 miles) SSE of Mito, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time