Posted: 23 Dec 2012 02:30 PM PST
Washington: The US Navy is investigating the death of a top SEAL officer in Afghanistan as an apparent suicide, CNN reported Sunday.
The Pentagon said Commander Job Price, 42, did not die in combat, and that his death is under investigation.
Price, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, died Saturday of a “non-combat related injury while supporting stability operations in (central) Uruzgan province, Afghanistan,” a Defense Department statement said.
It said Price was assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
CNN and NBC News reported that Price commanded SEAL Team 4, one of eight SEAL team deployments.
The family has been notified of the death, which is being investigated as an apparent suicide, a US military official with direct knowledge of the event told CNN.
The official said there was no immediate indication that Price was involved in any military-related investigations or controversies.
CNN reported that military staff found Price’s body with an apparent gunshot wound.
It said the Navy SEAL commander oversaw more than two dozen commandos and support staff conducting counterterrorism operations in insurgent-heavy Uruzgan.
SEAL Team 6 became famous after tracking down and killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is accused of being the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 02:20 PM PST
Paris: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, whose melt may be responsible for 10 percent of the sea-level rise caused by climate change, is warming twice as quickly as previously thought, a study said Sunday.
A re-analysis of temperature records from 1958 to 2010 revealed an increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius (36.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over the period — three times the average global rise.
The increase was nearly double what previous research had suggested, and meant this was one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, according to paper co-author David Bromwich of the Byrd Polar Research Center.
“Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea-level rise than it already does,” he said.
Scientists believe the shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is responsible for about 10 percent of global warming-related sea-level rise, which if unchecked threatens to flood many coastal cities within a few generations.
The sheet, a huge mass of ice up to four kilometres (2.5 miles) thick that covers the land surface and stretches into the sea, is melting faster than any other part of Antarctica.
Data records kept at Byrd Station in the central West Antarctic had been incomplete.
Since being established in 1957, the research station has not been consistently occupied and has seen frequent power outages, especially during the long polar night, when its solar panels cannot recharge.
Bromwich and a team from several US-based research institutions used weather data from different sources to plug holes in the Byrd data and corrected calibration errors.
The updated log was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
“Aside from offering a more complete picture of warming in West Antarctica, the study suggests that if this warming trend continues, melting will become more extensive in the region in the future,” said Bromwich.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 had projected sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimetres (seven to 23 inches) worldwide by the year 2100.
But a study by the US National Research Council said in June the actual rise could be two to three times higher, with polar ice-cap melt speeding up the process.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 02:04 PM PST
Paris: Scientist in the United States on Sunday offered a molecular-level explanation for how a Chinese herbal medicine used for more than 2,000 years tackles fever and eases malaria.
The herb is an extract of the root of a flowering plant called blue evergreen hydrangea, known in Chinese as chang shan and in Latin as Dichroa febrifuga Lour.
Chang shan’s use dates back to the Han dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD, according to ancient documents recording Chinese oral traditions.
In 2009, researchers made insights into its active ingredient, febrifuginone, which can be pharmaceutically made as a molecule called halofuginone.
They found that halofuginone prevented production of rogue Th17 immune cells which attack healthy cells, causing inflammation that leads to fever.
A study published in the journal Nature on Sunday found halofuginone works by hampering production of proteins for making “bad” Th17 cells, but not the “good” ones.
Specifically, it blocks molecules called transfer RNA (tRNA), whose job is to assemble a protein bit by bit, in line with the DNA code written in the gene.
As for malaria, halofuginone appears to interfere with the same protein-assembly process that enables malaria parasites to live in the blood, the study said.
“Our new results solved a mystery that has puzzled people about the mechanism that has been used to treat fever from a malaria infection going back probably 2,000 years or more,” said Paul Schimmel, who headed the team at the Scripps Research Institute in California.
Halofuginone has been tested in small-scale human trials to treat cancer and muscular dystrophy. Drug engineers also eye it as a potential tool for combatting inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis, which are also autoimmune diseases.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:54 PM PST
Washington: The most powerful gun lobby in the United States ruled out Sunday any support for greater regulation of firearms or ammunition magazines in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), said planned legislation to outlaw military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines was “phony” and would not work.
He repeated the NRA’s call to place an armed guard in every school and argued that prosecuting criminals and fixing the mental health system, rather than gun control, were the solutions to America’s mass shooting epidemic.
On December 14, a disturbed local man, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed his mother in their Newtown, Connecticut home before embarking on a horrific shooting spree at a local elementary school.
He blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot dead 20 six- and seven-year old children and six adults with a military-style assault rifle before taking his own life with a handgun as police closed in.
The bloodshed, the latest in a string of mass shootings in the United States, has reopened a national debate on the country’s gun laws, which are far more lax than in most other developed nations.
President Barack Obama said he would support a new bill to ban assault rifles and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a panel looking at a wide range of other measures, from school security to mental health.
Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein has pledged to table a bill on January 3 that would ban at least 100 military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, and would curb the transfer, importation and the possession of such arms.
“I think that is a phony piece of legislation, and I do not believe it will pass for this reason,” LaPierre told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It is all built on lies that have been found out.”
“We don’t think it works and we’re not going to support it,” he said. “A gun is a tool, the problem is the criminal.”
The NRA points to the fact that the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, when 12 kids and a teacher were gunned down by two senior students, occurred despite similar legislation being in force at the time.
“I don’t think it will (work). I keep saying it, and you just won’t accept it: it’s not going to work, it hasn’t worked. Dianne Feinstein had her (previous) ban and Columbine occurred,” LaPierre said.
America has suffered an explosion of gun violence over the last three decades including 62 mass shooting incidents since 1982. The vast majority of weapons used have been semi-automatic handguns and rifles obtained legally by the killers.
There were an estimated 310 million non-military firearms in the United States in 2009, roughly one per citizen, and people in America are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.
The NRA has been in the crosshairs since the Sandy Hook massacre and took the unusual step on Friday of holding a press conference and speaking out on the tragedy.
Rather than come out in support of limited gun control measures, the lobby — which retains a powerful influence over politicians, especially from rural districts where gun owners are the norm — demanded that armed police be deployed to every school in the country.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre told Friday’s media event, which was interrupted by hecklers, one holding a banner that read: “N.R.A. Killing Our Kids.”
LaPierre reaffirmed the group’s position on Sunday and launched a fierce defense of gun owners’ rights, which he portrayed as being imperiled by rich folk in cities, elite politicians and a hysterical media.
“The average guy in the country values his freedom, doesn’t believe the fact that he can own a gun is part of the problem and doesn’t like the media and all these high-profile politicians blaming him,” he said.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools, then call me crazy,” he added. “If I’m a mom or a dad and I’m dropping my child off at school, I feel a whole lot safer.”
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:47 PM PST
Cairo: Egypt’s opposition said on Sunday it will appeal a referendum seen as voting in a new constitution backed by ruling Islamists, and vowed to keep up a struggle that has spawned weeks of protests and instability.
Polling “fraud and violations” skewed the results of the two-stage referendum, the final leg of which was held on Saturday, the National Salvation Front charged.
“We are asking the (electoral) commission to investigate the irregularities before announcing official results,” a Front member, Amr Hamzawy, told a Cairo news conference.
”The referendum is not the end of the road. It is only one battle,” said another member, Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, reading from a Front statement. “We will continue the fight for the Egyptian people.”
Germany immediately backed the call for a transparent investigation into the results. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “The new constitution can only meet with acceptance if the process of its adoption is beyond reproach.”
But Westerwelle said it was “not the power of the street but rather the spirit of compromise and tolerance that should determine the way forward for Egypt.”
Egyptian state media and President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood said the constitution was passed with the support of nearly two-thirds of voters, based on unofficial tallies.
A member of the national electoral commission, Mohamed el-Tanobly, told AFP that “no official date has been fixed” for the publication of the final referendum results.
The state news agency MENA had reported they would be released on Monday.
Opposition to the charter has fuelled demonstrations for the past month, some of them violent, such as clashes that wounded 62 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on Friday, the day before the final round of voting.
The army has deployed troops to reinforce police since December 5 clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo killed eight people and injured more than 600 others.
Morsi and Islamists backing the charter say it is necessary to restore stability after the early 2011 revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
But the opposition sees the new constitution as a wedge to usher in creeping Islamic law through a weakening of human rights, particularly women’s rights, and undermine the independence of the judiciary.
It accuses Morsi of steamrolling through the referendum without consensus on the charter, and argues that a low voter turnout of around 32 percent undermined the plebiscite’s legitimacy.
Approval of the constitution would trigger parliamentary elections in two months’ time to replace an Islamist-dominated assembly that was dissolved by Egypt’s constitutional court before Morsi’s election in June.
In the meantime, all legislative business is being handled by the senate, also under the sway of Islamists.
In a gesture to “national dialogue,” Morsi on Saturday appointed 90 additional senators, including eight women and 12 Christians.
The US government, which sees Egypt as a pillar of its Middle East policy and provides Cairo with $1.3 billion annually in military aid, has deliberately avoided public comment on the crisis.
But the Republican chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called the vote “a defeat for the Egyptian people” at the hands of “an Islamic dictatorship.”
She said: “We must use our aid as leverage to promote democratic reforms, support freedom of religion, and enshrine the protection of minority communities.”
A foreign ministry spokesman in Iran, whose diplomatic ties with Cairo were cut three decades ago, said the new constitution would advance the goals of all Egyptians.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:43 PM PST
Guatemala City: Tourists flocking to Guatemala for “end of the world” parties have damaged an ancient stone temple at Tikal, the largest archeological site and urban center of the Mayan civilization.
“Sadly, many tourists climbed Temple II and caused damage,” said Osvaldo Gomez, a technical adviser at the site, which is located some 550 kilometers (340 miles) north of Guatemala City.
“We are fine with the celebration, but (the tourists) should be more aware because this is a (UNESCO) World Heritage Site,” he told local media.
Gomez did not specify what was done, although he did say it was forbidden to climb the stairs at the site and indicated that the damage was irreparable.
Temple II, which is about 38 meters (125 feet) high and faces the central Tikal plaza, is one of the site’s best known structures.
Friday marked the end of an era that lasted 5,200 years, according to the Mayan “Long Count” calendar. Some believed the date also marked the end of the world as foretold by Mayan hieroglyphs.
More than 7,000 people visited Tikal on Friday to see native Mayan priests hold a colorful ceremony and light fires as the sun emerged to mark the new era.
Critics complained that the event was really for tourists and had little to do with the Mayans. About 42 percent of Guatemala’s 14.3 million residents are native Mayans, and most live in poverty and endure discrimination.
The ancient Mayans reached their peak of power in Central America between the years 250 and 900 AD.
UNESCO declared Tikal a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:37 PM PST
London: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson fumed that Swansea City defender Ashley Williams could have killed Robin van Persie during his side’s 1-1 draw at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.
The Wales centre-back struck the prone van Persie in the back of the head with the ball during the second half of the match, sparking a furious reaction from the Dutchman that culminated in bookings for both players.
Swansea top scorer Michu had earlier cancelled out Patrice Evra’s opener for United to prevent Ferguson’s men from restoring their six-point advantage over second-place Manchester City at the Premier League summit.
“Robin van Persie is lucky to be alive,” said Ferguson.
“It was a disgraceful act from their player today and he should be banned by the FA (Football Association). Robin could have had a broken neck.
“It was one of the most dangerous things I’ve seen on a football pitch in many, many years. It was absolutely deliberate, and right in front of the referee.”
Williams claimed it had been an accident, telling Sky Sports: “I just cleared the ball with frustration and unfortunately it hit him in the head and he got a bit angry about it.”
Swansea threatened first in the match, Michu firing off-target after out-pacing the returning Nemanja Vidic, before Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young tested fit-again Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm at the other end.
United took the lead in the 16th minute, with Evra getting in front of his marker to dispatch van Persie’s corner and claim his third goal — all headers — of the season.
Michu headed over from Nathan Dyer’s cross, but it did not take long for the Spaniard to find the net.
In the 29th minute, Wayne Routledge’s cute pass freed Jonathan de Guzman and when his shot was parried by David de Gea, Michu followed up from close range to claim his 13th league goal of the campaign.
Vorm saved from Rooney again before half-time, while at the interval, Ferguson harangued referee Michael Olivier for failing to penalise Chico Flores for a challenge on van Persie prior to Swansea’s equaliser.
De Gea thwarted Kemy Agustien and Routledge early in the second period, before van Persie hooked a superb volley onto the top of the Swansea crossbar from a left-wing Rooney cross.
Michael Carrick then hit the bar from a corner, while both van Persie and Ashley Young were thwarted by some last-ditch defensive blocks, but Williams’ clash with the former Arsenal striker was to prove the biggest talking point.
It was United’s first draw of the season in all competitions and leaves them four points above City ahead of the home game with Newcastle United on Wednesday.
Arsenal climbed to third place with a 1-0 victory at third-bottom Wigan Athletic on Saturday and they are one of four teams on 30 points along with Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.
However, seventh-place Chelsea — back in England after their loss to Corinthians in the Club World Cup final — will move into the top three if they win at home to Aston Villa later on Sunday.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:28 PM PST
Damascus: More than 60 people were killed in a regime air strike on a bakery in a rebel-held town on Sunday, monitors said, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi launched a new bid to resolve Syria’s brutal 21-month conflict.
In one of the deadliest incidents of the conflict, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike hit a bakery in Halfaya in the central province of Hama, killing more than 60 people and wounding at least 50.
Many of the wounded were in critical condition, it said.
“In Halfaya, regime forces bombarded a bakery and committed a massacre that killed dozens of people, including women and children, and wounded many others,” said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists.
“A MiG (jet) has attacked! Look at (President Bashar al-) Assad’s weapons. Look, world, look at the Halfaya massacre,” says an unidentified cameraman shooting an amateur video distributed by the Observatory.
The footage showed a bombed one-storey block and a crater in the road.
Bloodied bodies lay on the road, while others could be seen in the rubble. Men carried victims out on their backs, among them at least one woman, the video showed.
On Monday, rebels launched an all-out assault on army positions across Hama, which is home to strong anti-regime sentiment.
During the summer, rights groups accused government forces of committing war crimes by dropping bombs and using artillery on or near several bakeries in the northern province of Aleppo.
Another of the bloodiest attacks in the Syrian conflict was on a bread line in the Qadi Askar district of Aleppo city on August 16 that left 60 people dead, according to local hospital records.
International envoy Brahimi, meanwhile, travelled to Damascus overland from neighbouring Lebanon on a previously unannounced visit, officials said.
The UN-Arab League envoy last visited on October 19, but since then there has been fighting between government forces and rebels on the road to Damascus airport.
During his October visit he met Assad and other officials to clinch a temporary ceasefire for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.
At least 44,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March 2011, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory.
Shortly before Sunday’s air strike, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi reiterated calls for national dialogue. “We tell those who do not want dialogue to engage in talks, because time is running out,” he told reporters.
The minister also played down Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa’s assessment that the conflict could not be resolved by military means.
“It is one opinion among 23 million opinions in Syria, which is a state led by institutions and leaders who will give the final opinion,” said Zohbi.
Sharaa said in a Lebanese newspaper interview published last Monday that a clear winner was unlikely to emerge in Syria’s war and he preferred a negotiated solution, in remarks at odds with Assad.
Including those killed in Halfaya, at least 174 people — 108 of them civilians — were killed on Sunday across Syria, said the Observatory.
Other air strikes included a raid in Aleppo province. “At least 13 people were killed in an air raid on the town of Sfeira,” said the group, which relies on a network of doctors, activists and lawyers for its information.
A Palestine Liberation Organisation official, meanwhile, told a conference in Cairo that more than 700 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, including in the Yarmuk refugee camp of southern Damascus.
“We have asked the Syrian authorities not to let Palestinians be drawn into the conflict,” the PLO’s Zacharia al-Agha said.
Late on Sunday, several rockets were fired into the camp which has been the scene of deadly clashes between pro- and anti-regime forces over the past week, the Observatory said.
It said two men were killed by the rocket fire and another was shot dead by a sniper.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:23 PM PST
London: Muhammad Shahid Nazir, or commonly known as one-pound-fish man, will be sent packing from Britain on Christmas Day after immigration officials discovered he had overstayed his welcome.
Nazir, 31, whose song ‘One Pound Fish’ has had four million Youtube hits, is one of the main contenders for the top spot in the festive charts, ANI reported.
Nazir's agent Samir Ahmed said that the fish seller will leave for Pakistan on December 25 and his return is uncertain.
The father of four, whose family stays in Pakistan, had been working at a fish market near West Ham’s ground in East London for eight months where he first sang his song.
Posted: 23 Dec 2012 01:06 PM PST
London: Rafael Benitez took a big step in his efforts to win over doubting Chelsea fans by overseeing a stunning 8-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday that moved the Spaniard’s side back up to third spot.
Fernando Torres kick-started the win with his seventh goal in six appearances, while Frank Lampard marked his 500th Premier League start with a goal that made him the club’s leading scorer in the top flight.
Ramires scored twice, with David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard and Oscar also on target in a victory that emphatically drew a line under the club’s recent slump.
There was much for Benitez to be pleased about, particularly the continuing good form of Torres.
But for Aston Villa, this result — their heaviest top-flight defeat — will come as a crushing blow after the improvement they have shown in recent weeks.
One of the first questions asked of Benitez when he took charge at Stamford Bridge was whether he could revive Torres.
The interim manager insisted he could and the striker’s recent strike rate suggests Benitez has been good to his word, as the sharpness of Torres’s third-minute header demonstrated.
Picked out by Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from deep, the Spain international connected with a powerful header, twisting his body to direct the ball beyond Brad Guzan from 16 yards out.
It was the perfect start for the Blues, who came into the game on the back of an impressive 5-1 League Cup quarter-final victory at Leeds United.
Villa are also in the last four of that competition and Paul Lambert’s side arrived in west London unbeaten in their previous six games.
But any confidence they have built up during that impressive run was shredded during a first half when Chelsea easily assumed complete control of the game.
Chelsea thought they should have been given the chance to double their lead in the 22nd minute when Torres appeared to be held by Nathan Baker, but referee Phil Dowd waved away appeals for a penalty.
They soon had their second, however, when Luiz assumed responsibility for a free-kick 25 yards out, curling the ball up, over the wall and inside Guzan’s right-hand post in the 29th minute.
Lambert had understandably kept faith with the side that won 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend and it was, with an average age of just under 24, the youngest team Villa had ever fielded in the Premier League.
Their inexperience showed as they collapsed under the weight of the Chelsea pressure, falling further behind when Ivanovic made it three in the 34th minute.
A Chelsea corner was met by Gary Cahill, whose deflected shot was beaten away by Guzan, but only into the path of Ivanovic, who headed home unchallenged.
Villa’s priority was to save themselves from humiliation in the second period, but it quickly became clear that that task would prove beyond them.
Juan Mata produced an outstanding save from Guzan five minutes after the restart, before Torres had a header ruled out for offside.
It was left to Lampard to add the fourth, the Blues’ stand-in skipper marking his big day in style with a powerful low drive from 25 yards.
Chelsea scored their fifth in the 75th minute when Ramires collected a pass from fellow substitute Lucas Piazon and stroked the ball through Guzan’s legs.
Four minutes later, Chris Herd fouled Oscar and the Brazilian picked himself off the floor to convert the penalty.
Hazard then exchanged passes with Piazon before creating space inside the area and beating Guzan with a vicious rising drive in the 83rd minute.
Guzan saved excellently from Piazon’s penalty after the Brazilian had been fouled by Ciaran Clark, but that was only a temporary reprieve before Ramires struck Chelsea’s eighth.
Labels: 2012 exposed