Sunday, July 15, 2012

Israel continues illegal settlement expansion

Three dead as South Africa reels under heavy rain and snow

JOHANNESBURG — At least three people were found dead Sunday and thousands were evacuated as rains and snow battered South Africa's southeast, officials and media reports said.

A 69-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman were found frozen on separate roads in the Eastern Cape province Sunday morning, police spokesman Mzukisi Fatyela told Sapa news agency.

Anther person drowned in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth in the same province, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported. A further two people were feared dead after they were washed away.

Rescue workers evacuated over 2,000 people in Port Elizabeth between Saturday and Sunday as rising waters flooded settlements.

The main highways linking the north and south of the country were reopened on Sunday afternoon, said Road Traffic Management Corporation spokesman Ashraf Ismail.

Around 500 trucks held up in Johannesburg started their journey to Cape Town in the south, Ismail told AFP. Read More

FDA surveillance operation draws criticism from lawmakers

(Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration's secret monitoring of its staff raised hackles in Congress on Sunday after lawmakers learned their own offices were apparently targeted by the surveillance operation.

Six current and former FDA scientists and doctors filed a lawsuit in January claiming the agency tried to repress warnings about potential corruption in device reviews.

Documents detailing the surveillance operation suggest it was large-scale and that the FDA kept a list of targets including lawmakers and their aides, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for the FDA to be spying on employees who reach out to members of Congress to expose abuses or wrongdoing in government agencies," said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Van Hollen, who is a member of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, was named in the documents as a target, the paper reported. Read More

Egyptians pelt Clinton motorcade with tomatoes

(Reuters) - Protesters threw tomatoes and shoes at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade on Sunday during her first visit to Egypt since the election of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

A tomato struck an Egyptian official in the face, and shoes and a water bottle landed near the armored cars carrying Clinton's delegation in the port city of Alexandria after she gave a speech on democratic rights.

A senior U.S. official said neither Clinton nor her vehicle, which was around the corner from the incident, were hit by the projectiles, which were thrown as U.S. officials and reporters walked to the motorcade after her speech.

Protesters chanted "Monica, Monica," a reference to the extra-marital affair conducted by Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, while in the White House. Others earlier chanted "leave, Clinton" an Egyptian security official said.

It was not clear who the protesters were or what were their political affiliations. Demonstrations have become common in Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak, long-time U.S. ally, was brought down by mass street protests last year. Read More

Fiercest fighting yet reported inside Damascus

(Reuters) - Opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in Damascus into the early hours of Monday in what residents described as the fiercest fighting yet inside the capital.

Activists said the fighting spread from the south of the city to a second area as night fell. At least five people were killed and dozens wounded, locals said.

The spread of fighting came as U.N. peace mediator Kofi Annan was due to fly to Moscow for a two-day visit in which he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin who has resisted Western calls to increase pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Numerous Damascus residents contacted by Reuters said they could hear loud explosions, persistent gunfire and sirens wailing overnight, and described the fighting as the worst so far of the 17-month uprising against Assad.

Thick black smoke was visible above the Damascus skyline in live Internet video links. Government troops closed the airport road, activists said. Read More

Obama admits failure to turn Washington around

WASHINGTON — Elected in 2008 on a "hope and change" mantra and vowing an end to bitter partisan politics, President Barack Obama admitted in remarks released Sunday that he had failed to close the divide.

"Washington feels as broken as it did four years ago," Obama said in an interview with CBS television, betraying the fact that Congress is more polarized than ever between rival Republicans and Democrats.

The past three-and-a-half years have been marked by blanket Republican opposition to Democratic initiatives as Obama's opponents adopt a policy that any compromise that helps the president must be snuffed out at all cost.

Democrats, in turn, have refused to budge on protecting large social programs and insist that the wealthiest Americans should pay more tax if the poorest are to lose some of their state benefits. Read More

Japan floods: Rescue and relief teams work in Kyushu

Rescue and relief operations are continuing in Japan after floods caused by record rainfall left thousands cut off and more than 30 dead or missing.

Japanese troops are airlifting supplies to people trapped in mountainous districts on the southern island of Kyushu.

Rescue teams have been searching for at least six people missing following floods and landslides.

A whole year's worth of rain fell on parts of the island over the weekend.

The weather agency says the worst is over but it warns that even a small amount of rainfall today could trigger further landslides, says the BBC's Mariko Oi in Tokyo.

More rain and thunderstorms were being forecast for some areas, reports said.

Heavy rain has also caused flooding in parts of Japan's historic capital, Kyoto, on the main island of Honshu. Read More

North Korea: Army Chief 'Relieved Of Post'

North Korea's top military leader, and a key mentor to leader Kim Jong-Un, has been removed from all posts due to illness, state media has reported.

Ri Yong Ho has been at the young leader's side since he succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il in 2010.

But it has been suggested that the reason for his sudden departure could be Mr Kim's desire to put his own mark on the government he inherited.

The decision to relieve Mr Ri of his duties was made at a Workers' Party meeting on Sunday, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

It was not immediately clear who would take his place and the agency did not elaborate on Mr Ri's condition or future.

Mr Ri was vice marshall of the Korean People's Army and the military's General Staff chief, as well as a top figure in the Workers' Party.

Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, was sceptical about the illness claim, saying that when top North Korean officials do get sick, they typically remain in office while deputies handle their duties. There had been no previous sign that Mr Ri was ill, he added. Read More

Syria Regime denies using heavy weapons in village of Tremseh

Syria's 16-month bloodbath crossed an important symbolic threshold Sunday as the international Red Cross formally declared the conflict a civil war, a status with implications for potential war crimes prosecutions.

The Red Cross statement came as United Nations observers gathered new details on what happened in a village where dozens were reported killed in a regime assault. After a second visit to Tremseh on Sunday, the team said Syrian troops went door-to-door in the small farming community, checking residents' IDs and then killing some and taking others away.

According to the UN, the attack appeared to target army defectors and activists.

"Pools of blood and brain matter were observed in a number of homes," a UN statement said. Read More

5.4 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF KAMCHATKA, RUSSIA - 16th July 2012

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake has struck NEAR THE EAST COAST OF KAMCHATKA, RUSSIA at a depth of 81.7 km (50.8 miles), the quake hit at 03:08:31 UTC Monday 16th July 2012
The epicenter was 301 km (187 miles) WNW from Nikol'skoye, Komandorskiye Ostrova, Russia
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

Mystery deaths of 500 penguins, Brazil

More than 500 dead penguins have been washed up on beaches in southern Brazil over the past week.

Marine biologists and veterinarians reported yesterday that the birds had no visible injuries or oil stains and appeared to be well fed. The Centre of Coastal and Marine Studies said it expected to receive the results of autopsies on some of the birds within the next month.

The 512 Magellanic penguins were found on beaches of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and had been migrating north from Argentina in search of food in warmer waters. Source

After Meeting With Clinton, Egypt's Military Chief Steps Up Political Feud

CAIRO — Egypt’s top military official stepped up his feud with the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday, saying the army would prevent Egypt from falling to a “certain group,” according to the state news agency.

The remarks by the official, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, did not mention the Brotherhood by name but were widely seen as a reference to the group and to Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s newly elected president and a former Brotherhood leader. And they came just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the field marshal in Cairo in an effort to prod Egypt’s military to hand its power to civilians.

The accelerating dispute between the military and the Brotherhood marked the latest unpredictable turn in Egypt’s chaotic transition, and underscored the challenges Mrs. Clinton faced on her two-day visit to Egypt.

Constrained by an almost complete mistrust of the United States’ motives, Mrs. Clinton was forced to avoid strong calls for a quick end to military rule, favoring language instead that called for Egyptian solutions along with respect for minority rights. Read More

Tornadoes Tear Down Homes Across Poland at least 1 Person Killed

At least one person has been killed and ten others injured after a series of tornadoes ripped through parts of Poland.

An area around Bory Tucholskie forest, a national park and popular tourist destination, was hit by a twister between 800 and 1,000 metres wide.

More than 400 hectares of woodland were flattened in the area and more than 100 houses destroyed, authorities said.

Power lines were downed and roads were closed as hundreds of firefighters worked to clear away fallen trees. Some trains had to make detours after debris fell onto tracks.

Local resident Stara Rzeka said: "I was sleeping at the front of my house when a buzzing sound woke me up. I didn't know what was happening. I looked out and saw a huge number of branches. Then there was a terrifying rumble. It all lasted for four or five minutes.

"When it all ended I looked around and saw that my yard was covered in fallen trees that had been growing nearby, the fence had collapsed. There was a complete disaster at my neighbour's yard." Read More

4.4 Magnitude Earthquake IZU ISLANDS, JAPAN REGION - 15th July 2012

A magnitude 4.4 earthquake has struck IZU ISLANDS, JAPAN REGION at a depth of 56.1 km (34.9 miles), the quake hit at 22:18:09 UTC Sunday 15th July 2012
The epicenter was 261 km (162 miles) SSE of Hachijo-jima, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

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381,000 in China infected with foot and mouth disease, 212 dead: Country on alert

The Chinese province of Hunan urged parents on Sunday to seek immediate treatment for children showing symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease after official figures showed 112 people died from the illness last month.

The disease, which children are especially vulnerable to, also infected more than 381,000 people, the Ministry of Health reported last week.

"The disease incidence rate in June was much higher than that of last June, which has much to do with the high temperatures this summer," said Liu Fuqiang with the provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The province urged parents and teachers to send children to hospital as soon as they showed symptoms of the disease, including mouth sores, skin rashes or fever.

In June, 34,768 cases were reported and 17 people died from the disease in Hunan, the statement said.

According to the Ministry of Health, over 460,000 people were infected by the disease in May, leading to 132 deaths.

In recent days, health departments in numerous Chinese provinces and regions, including Gansu, Fujian, Jiangsu and Xinjiang have issued warnings over the outbreak of the disease, state press reports said. source

Getting ready for the Big One: Japan chooses disaster-alternative capital

The Japanese government is considering unparalleled counter-measures to withstand the inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis awaiting Japan in the future. Experts propose preparation of emergency government offices in the country’s five major cities.

­One of the main anti-earthquake emergency measures proposed by the Central Disaster Prevention Council is a recommendation to be ready to transfer central government offices, as well as the Bank of Japan and other facilities, in case Tokyo is devastated by a tsunami. The country’s major cities, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo and Sendai are recommended as suitable substitutes because they already have some governmental facilities and branches of the Bank of Japan, Kyodo reports.

A draft report prepared by the Council says a natural disaster damaging administrative, economic and political functions of the central government would “affect our country’s future.”

As of now, the alternative headquarters of Japanese government and the Prime Minister’s office are located in the Tachikawa district in western Tokyo. The emergency residence is ready, but since it is located a mere 30 kilometers from central Tokyo, it would also be affected by a serious earthquake should one shatter Tokyo.

The panel’s recommendations also include preparing temporary public and private shelter facilities for those commuting to work from different regions. The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 revealed that commuters working in Tokyo became stuck in the city after transport communications went out of order, making it impossible for them to return home.

The panel is expected to present the final report on anti-earthquake measures by next spring. more

"Iran warns it’s closely monitoring the “enemy’s” moves from the Caribbean Sea to the Persian Gulf"

Iran warns it’s closely monitoring the “enemy’s” moves from the Caribbean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The statement comes after Washington is reported to have dispatched a fourth aircraft carrier and a fleet of underwater drones to Gulf waters.

­Iran’s intelligence systems are tracking all the activities of the US forces and its allies from the Caribbean Sea to the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf, says Rear Admiral Javad Mashidi, the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy.

“By being vigilant about the plots of the enemies and maintaining a massive presence in the country’s maritime borders, the IRGC Navy counters any potential threat posed by the enemies and aggressors,” said Mashidi as quoted by Iran’s Press TV.

The US has already sent three aircraft carriers to the waterways near Iran, namely the USS Enterprise, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Abraham Lincoln. Now the USS John C. Stennis will be joining this group in August, recent reports show.

Besides these vessels, dozens of small unmanned Sea Fox submersibles are to be dispatched along the same route. The submarine-like drones can detect and destroy any mines that Tehran may plant on the sea bed if they decide to increase efforts to block the Strait of Hormuz. The US has pledged to ensure the Strait of Hormuz, a major traffic lane for Gulf oil, remains open. However, so far, Iran only seems to be stepping up its hawkish rhetoric. more

High Ranking Chinese Officer Demands “Japan Should Leave Okinawa”

According to South Korea’s Far East Daily newspaper, China’s public radio broadcast an interview with a currently active Major General who spoke like many Generals do, with much aplomb and sabre rattling to be heard. Let’s see what he has to say.

MGen. Jin Yinan is the head of China’s National Defense University’s Strategic Studies department. However, for the “head of strategic studies” he certainly speaks from the hip.

“In regards to the Daioyu Islands, China must clearly show their rightful ownership through their actions. However, this problem expands to China’s rightful ownership of all Okinawa too.”

For a quick geography lesson; Okinawa refers to the chain of over 100 subtropical islands to the south of Japan’s main islands, also known as the place Karate Kid II took place. The Daioyu Islands (aka Senkaku Islands in Japan, aka Pinnacle Islands in other countries) are a few uninhabited islands at the very south edge of Okinawa.

Japan has been widely accepted as the owner of these islands until recently when China and Taiwan have been making claims of ownership based largely on history. However, the head of strategic studies’ solution seems to be sending warships out to them. And while they’re at it they ought to start planting Chinese flags all over the Okinawan islands too. That’s quite the gambit, MGen. Jin. more

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Obama Quietly Takes Over Internet

Assad receives last warning to stop moving his WMD: Top generals defect

Several high-placed generals bolted Bashar Assad’s inner circle Sunday, July 17, including such key figures as two security services chiefs who were operations commanders of the Alawite Shabiha militia plus the former head of Syria’s chemical and biological administration who took six other generals with him. They all fled to Turkey and defected. A fourth senior general from another security service was assassinated in Aleppo. This is reported exclusively by debkafile’s military sources.

The loss of the generals orchestrating the pro-Assad paramilitary Shabiha’s savage crackdown on the opposition has seriously weakened Assad’s protective circle of trusties and reduced his military and security options.

Also today, the Syrian ruler was given a “last warning” through intelligence channels in the West to leave the warheads and shells loaded with mustard gas, sarin and cyanide where they are. If he dared move them out of the northern and central locations where he deployed them last week, they would be destroyed from the air. more

New Evidence Points to Syria Firefight, not Massacre

BEIRUT—New evidence on last week's killings in a village in central Syria indicate that the bloodshed may have involved a raid by heavily armed government forces to arrest male rebels that quickly evolved into a lopsided gunbattle in which opposition fighters were obliterated, rather than a deliberate massacre of around 200 civilians as initially reported by Syrian opposition leaders and their Western allies.

Preliminary findings by a team of Syria-based United Nations observers may ease the pressure on Russia and China to back tougher measures against Bashar al-Assad's government, underscoring how competing narratives and interpretations of events in Syria continue to divide world powers over how to end a conflict now recognized by most as a civil war.

Two casualty lists with the names, genders and ages of victims compiled by separate activist networks and seen by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday also appeared to corroborate this version of events in Treimseh, northwest of the city of Hama. The majority of the 65 to 68 people identified so far were men in their 20s, most likely rebels from Treimseh and surrounding villages affiliated to the so-called Free Syrian Army of local fighters and defecting military personnel.

"On the basis of some of the destruction observed in the town and the witness accounts, the attack appears targeted at army defectors and activists," said Sausan Gosheh, spokesperson for the U.N. observer team in Syria, on Sunday, hours after the monitors visited the village. Read More

Nepal: Bus plunges into river, killing dozens of Pilgrims

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) -- An overloaded bus in Nepal plunged into a canal on Sunday, killing at least 35 people, police said.

The dead included 10 women and a child, said Ram Dutta Joshi, deputy superintendent of police in Nawalparasi district, about 150 km (93 miles) southwest of Kathmandu.

Ten people were rescued from the site, he said.

It was not immediately known how many people were on the bus.

Most were Hindu pilgrims from India, on their way to bathe at Triveni, a confluence of three rivers, Joshi said.

Bus accidents are relatively rare in that region, filled largely with plains. They're far more common in mountainous areas of the country, due to overcrowding, poor roads and inexperienced drivers. Read More