"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Scans Show Culture Fundamentally Alters the Brain

It's no secret that culture influences your food preferences and taste in music.But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain.New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.
Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context.This study provides the first neurological evidence that these cultural differences extend to brain activity patterns.
"It's kind of obvious if you look at ads and movies," Gabrieli told LiveScience. "You can tell that East Asian cultures emphasize interdependence and the U.S. ads all say things like, 'Be yourself, you're number one, pursue your goals.'""But how deep does this go?" Gabrieli said. "Does it really influence the way you perceive the world in the most basic way? It's very striking that what seems to be a social perspective within the culture drives all the way to perceptual judgment."The results of the study were published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Hard work
The scientists asked 10 Americans and 10 East Asians who had recently arrived in the U.S. to look at pictures of lines within squares.In some trials, subjects decided whether the lines were the same length, regardless of the surrounding squares, requiring them to judge individual objects independent of context.In others, participants judged whether different sets of lines and squares were in the same proportion, regardless of their absolute sizes, a task that requires comparing objects relative to each other.The fMRI revealed that Americans' brains worked harder while making relative judgments, because brain regions that reflect mentally demanding tasks lit up.Conversely, East Asians activated the brain's system for difficult jobs while making absolute judgments.Both groups showed less activation in those brain areas while doing tasks that researchers believe are in their cultural comfort zones."For the kind of thinking that was thought to be culturally unpreferred, this system gets turned on," Gabrieli said. "The harder you have to think about something, the more it will be activated."
Individual flexibility
The researchers were surprised to see so strong an effect, Gabrieli said, and interested in the reasons for individual variations within a culture.So they surveyed subjects to find out how strongly they identified with their culture by asking questions about social attitudes, such as whether a person is responsible for the failure of a family member.In both groups, participants whose views were most aligned with their culture's values showed stronger brain effects.Gabrieli said he is interested in testing whether brain patterns change if a person immigrates."There's a hint that six months in a culture already changes you," he said, referring to psychological, rather than neurological, research. "It suggests that there's a lot of flexibility."
The big divide
Scientists have long wondered about the biological root of cultural differences."One question was, when people see the line and box, do they look different all the way, starting at your retina?" Gabrieli said. "Or do you see the same thing to start with, but then your mind focuses on one dimension or another?""These data indicate that it's at that later stage," he said. "In parts of the brain that are involved in early vision, we didn't see a difference. Rather we saw a difference in higher-processing brain areas. People from different cultures don't see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see."Gabrieli said he does worry about unintended consequences of his research."The downside of these cultural studies is that one ends up stereotyping a culture," he said. "Are you creating big differences between people? I like to think the more you understand different cultures, the better you understand their perspectives."
As in the days of Noah.....

Texas Creationist Museum Selling Off Mastodon Skull

DALLAS-A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction. The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder."If it sells, well, then we can come another day," Joe Taylor said. "This is very important to our continuing."Heritage Auction Galleries says the skull is estimated to be 40,000 years old, and projects it will fetch upward of $160,000.The artifact discovered in La Grange in 2004 is believed to be the largest of its kind, Heritage spokesman David Herskowitz said.The auction will be held Sunday in Dallas, with bids accepted on the Internet until Saturday night. "We're trying to reach out to someone who would buy it, then reach out to a museum in Texas," Herskowitz said.Taylor said he would love to keep the skull of the elephant-like mammal as the centerpiece of his tiny museum just outside Lubbock, which includes creationist exhibits.Claims on the museum's Web site include that Noah took dinosaurs aboard his ark. The prevailing scientific wisdom is that humans and dinosaurs missed each other by tens of millions of years. Taylor said he's been financially crippled by about $136,000 he's been ordered to pay in a legal dispute over finder's rights to an Allosaurus skeleton unearthed in Colorado.About $141,000 has also been put into the mastodon skull's restoration, he said.If the mastodon auction doesn't cover the judgment, Taylor said local authorities will seize his 10-year-old museum and sell off its contents in February."We've struggled so long here just to keep this thing going," Taylor said." We're kind of losing interest. You can just tread water for so long."The Heritage auction will also include other natural history items, including a 26-pound gold nugget found in Mexico that is expected to fetch at least $1 million.

As in the days of Noah....

JESUS APPARITIONS WATCH:Some See Jesus on the Cross in Granite Slab to Be Sold on eBay

TAMPA-Look at this 400-pound piece of granite and you see something set in stone.The question is, what?Many people say they see the image of Jesus on the cross.A granite distributor in Pinellas County has had this piece for two years.He bought it at a granite mine in Brazil that, coincidentally, is near the town of Espirito Santo-translated, it means 'holy spirit.'It was then in two pieces, already cut for commercial sale.Even that way, he saw what others see now."We've had a couple of photographers and marketing people who have observed it individually. Everyone has seen the image immediately," explained Thomas Finkbiner of isolditgulfcoast.com.
Finkbiner helps people sell things on eBay.The 7-by-7-foot piece of exotic polished granite will be up for bid on the auction site next week.The owner does not want to be identified.And he doesn't want it to be disclosed where the granite is being kept.As for how much it will sell for? A normal piece of granite like this would sell for $4,000.But remember the grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary?It sold for $28,000-and that was just a sandwich."This isn't the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich sold on eBay.It's quite a substantial piece.And I assume that whoever buys it is going to put it on public display.It is a very interesting natural image," Finkbiner continued.Whatever you believe, whatever you see, you will have to agree that it is unique.
PS:Im still trying to find the"Holy Spirit" in it....Pitiful....BUT there are tons of people that believe in these things and build shrines around and lit candles and etcetc.....
As in the days of Noah....

GAY AGENDA WATCH:Motion to Protect Religious Speech Defeated in UK Gay Hate Crimes Bill

[[[The Labour-controlled British Parliament has rejected a motion that would have afforded Christians and other conscientious objectors legal protection from accusations of hate crimes by homosexual activists.The Labour party refused to allow its majority MP's the freedom to vote on the amendment. The hate crimes bill moved through its final stages in the House of Commons on January 9.The proposed "gay hate crimes" law would carry a maximum penalty of seven years in jail for anyone convicted of "inciting hatred" against homosexuals. The motion to amend was introduced by Jim Dobbin, the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, who warned that some Catholic and Anglican leaders believed the proposed law would make it impossible to teach or preach Christian moral doctrine on sexuality and marriage without incurring criminal penalties.]]]The motion was drafted with assistance from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council. The two Churches made a joint presentation to the Commons Committee drawing a comparison with provisions in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006:"In religious hatred debates, both supporters and opponents of the Bill maintain a distinction between protection of people from personal attack, which was agreed to be desirable, and protection of their beliefs and practices from criticism or satire, which was generally thought to be undesirable."Dobbin, who has chaired the all-party Pro Life Group and is a Catholic, told the House during the debates that a similar distinction should exist in matters related to sexuality."Sexual activity and lifestyle, as distinct from sexual orientation, are matters of choice," he said, "and impinge on the public sphere. As such, they are subject to evaluation and criticism and the freedom to discuss them should be preserved."Dobbin said the Churches fear that the bill "may impinge on their basic freedom to practise their religion."He added, "We cannot ignore such a serious concern from two important national religious institutions."The law is regarded as unnecessary and a suppression of freedom of speech even by homosexual activists and some journalists. In the House, Dobbin mentioned homosexual rights activist Peter Tatchell who opposes the bill and has argued that existing laws are adequate to protect homosexuals. Journalists Matthew Parris and Iain Dale, both publicly homosexual, also oppose the bill on free speech grounds.Nick Herbert, Tory MP for Arundel South Downs, who supports the legislation in general, said, "Such legislation needs very careful drafting." He said the sexual orientation clause limits the act to "intentional acts and threatening words, not merely abusive or insulting words" the bill remains unclear exactly what words and behaviour would constitute an offence. Herbert warned against "clumsy police investigations and the chilling effect of the law."The bill now moves on to the House of Lords.

As in the days of Noah....

A Day in the Life of a Gaza-Belt Israeli Community

Early this week Netiv Ha’asara was in the news again—just barely, a passing mention—when a mortar shell fired from Gaza lightly damaged a house there. Netiv Ha’asara, a moshav (cooperative farming community) of 550 people, is the closest Israeli community to Gaza, a scant 100 meters from the northern border of the Strip. It was formerly one of the Sinai settlements and was reestablished at its current location in 1982 after those were torn down at the behest of Israel’s then peace partner, Egypt.Netiv Ha’asara also flickered briefly into the news on January 4 when it was hit by eight mortars from Gaza that caused no injuries or damage. If any of the Israeli Gaza-belt communities has a substantial news presence it’s the much larger Sderot, the battered town of twenty thousand to Netiv Ha’asara’s south and west.Netiv Ha’asara, though, is a microcosm of a nightmarish reality and an almost incomprehensible story of perseverance.Before Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in August and September 2005, Netiv Ha’asara was subjected to a lower frequency of fire from the Strip, though on June 19, 2003, at 1:30 a.m., a Qassam rocket hit and extensively damaged a house there. It was reported that "Residents of the moshav ran outside, thinking that the missile had struck nearby, and then saw smoke coming from [the] home, where the missile had landed near a bedroom.”July 2005, the month before the disengagement, was marked by the Gaza terrorists with massive barrages, and in one of them Netiv Ha’asara suffered its only fatality so far. On the evening of July 14 Dana Gelkowitz, a 22-year-old woman from a nearby kibbutz who was visiting her boyfriend in Netiv Ha’asara, was killed in a direct hit by a Qassam as she and the boyfriend, Amir Rogolsky, who took a shrapnel wound, sat on the porch of his home.On October 2, 2005, Haaretz reported on “complaints voiced this week by the residents of Netiv Ha’asara…that they have been ‘abandoned’ to Gaza Strip terrorism”—complaints that weren’t heard and still haven’t been. On October 26 a Qassam hit the community’s soccer field without causing injuries.This may already seem like a lot for a community of 550, but it was still only the beginning. Just a few days later on November 2, Qassams hitting Netiv Ha’asara knocked out the community’s power and injured five people. Or as Human Rights Watch reported on one of the houses that were hit:Eshel Margalit said that the Red Dawn warning [system] sounded at 6:45 p.m., indicating a rocket launching. His daughter was upstairs in the family study working on the computer. “I yelled to her but she was not eager to leave the computer, she was 18, you know,” Margalit said. “She came down and we were running to the secure room when the Qassam hit the house.” The rocket penetrated the roof and exploded in the study. “We went up, opened the door, and saw the room was destroyed. When my daughter realized what could have happened she burst into tears and it took a week to get over the trauma,” Margalit said. The strike damaged the roof and walls and destroyed the solar water heater...
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As in the days of Noah....

Jesus Tomb 'Archeoporn' Resurrected

A panel of scholars and researchers revived the debate over the validity of claims presented in the controversial “Lost Tomb of Jesus” film nearly one year after it riled academic and Christian communities. [[[In “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” the filmmakers-“Titanic” director James Cameron and Jewish investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici-claimed that archeologists had found the family tomb of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, challenging most Christians’ belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.]]](1){{{{Most experts, however, including Christian theologians as well as secular scholars, """rejected the film's claims""" and pointed to holes in the documentary, which drew more than 4 million viewers last March when it aired on the Discovery Channel. The work was called "archeoporn" by some religious scholars who found the film to be entertaining and exciting """but lacking substance"""}}}}Nearly a year later, opinion among the panel of five scholars and researchers who met in Jerusalem this week ranged from "no way" to "very possible," according to a report by Time magazine.In an attempt to lay the controversy to rest, James Charlesworth, professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, had organized the Jan. 13-16 conference, bringing together over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages.(what a waste of time....)Charlesworth sided with two panelists who rejected the idea that Jesus had been buried in the tomb but didn't rule out the possibility."I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan," Charlesworth said, according to Time.He said that the evidence suggests that the tomb belonged to a Jewish family from the time of Jesus and the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as “Jesus, son of Joseph."(2)But like many scholars who had examined the ossuary, the professor had his doubts.[[["The name on Jesus' ossuary was scrawled on, like graffiti. There was no ornamentation. And there should have been. After all, his followers believed he was the Son of God," Charlesworth noted.]]]{{{{{{In addition to Jesus, the filmmakers also suggested that Mary Magdalene was buried in the tomb, that she and Jesus were married, and that an ossuary labeled "Judah son of Jesus" belonged to their alleged son.}}}}}}The scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries after its discovery read it as "Mariamene e Mara," meaning "Mary the teacher" or "Mary the master." Before the movie was screened, Jacobovici said that particular inscription provided crucial support for his claim. The name Mariamene is rare, and in some early Christian texts it is believed to refer to Mary Magdalene.But having analyzed the inscription, Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, published a detailed article last year on his university's Web site asserting that [[it doesn't read "Mariamene" at all.]]The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, "Mariame," was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words "kai Mara," meaning "and Mara." Mara is a different form of the name Martha. According to Pfann's reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of "Mary the teacher," but rather of two women, "Mary and Martha.""In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary...to Mary Magdalene or any other person in Biblical, non-Biblical or church tradition," concluded Pfann, who made a brief appearance in the film as an ossuary expert.Another archaeologist – Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – [[[[also questioned why Jesus, who is known to come from a poor family, would be found in a tomb for middle class and wealthy families. Moreover, she noted last year that if for some reason his family could afford the tomb, his bones should be found in Nazareth not Jerusalem,]]]] according to the Washington Post.Other arguments given by leading biblical scholars opposed to the film’s claims include that the earliest followers of Jesus did not call him “Jesus, son of Joseph” and the body of James, the brother of Jesus, was buried alone near the temple mount – making it highly unlikely that the tomb in the film is Jesus’ “family tomb.” Furthermore, many scholars have said the filmmakers’ arguments were based on circumstantial evidence of exceedingly common names of the time.[[[My personal conclusion is that in no way can we say – with the conclusion postulated by the film – that the ‘lost tomb of Jesus’ is one in the same with the tomb in East Talpiot," said Duke University professor Eric Meyers, ]]]who was among the panelists at this week’s conference.Despite strong arguments against the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” claims, conference attendees decided that the tomb should be reopened and examined more carefully. The tomb site is currently sealed over with concrete in the garden of a suburban apartment building.
PS:It's simply PATHETIC to see this pair(Cameron & Jacobovici)trying to proof themselves right...Well...it's their money and their time....The funny thing is that they are so foolish as to think that they are going to DEBUNK BIBLICAL TRUTH...Give me a break.....
(1)They don't "challenge" mine or many other millions of christians belief in the TRUTH of what the BIBLE says about Jesus Resurrection....THEY WISH...it would...BUT IT DOESN"T at all....
Even though the crazy claims of this film have been called wrong and lacking substance,they still go ahead and have a conference to "examine the evidence"....My Oh My....What a waste of time and money....!!!!
(2)It's a well known fact that Jesus was a common name in those days and the claim about Mary Magadalene and Judah....(Jesus' baby)is not only blasphemous but a sad attempt to try to have scientist to label the resurrection and the Bible as a HOAX....
The rest of this article is more of the same just to show you that there are still those out there that hate God so much that would use their money and time to put together mediocre films to try to proof God Wrong....
I feel compassion for these two and all those that BELIEVE these bunch of baseless lies....If they don't repent and turn from their ways their end is gonna be horrible.....Cause I have news for them....JESUS is REAL and WHAT HE SAID IN THE BIBLE IS THE TRUTH...AND HE IS ALIVE and IS COMING BACK SOON....IT DOESN"T MATTER HOW MANY MORE MOVIES THEY MAKE....GOD AND HIS WORD ARE UNCHANGING....

As in the days of Noah....

HORROR WATCH:Hezbollah has 'heads' of Israeli soldiers

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a fiery speech on Saturday that [[[his Lebanese Shiite militant group had the "heads" and "body parts" of soldiers that the Israeli army had abandoned."We have the heads, the hands, the feet and even a nearly intact cadavre from the head down to the pelvis,"]]] he said in his first public appearance in more than a year to commemorate Ashura, Shiite Islam's holiest day.[[["The Israeli army left behind the remains of the bodies of a large number of soldiers,"]]] said Nasrallah.Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 led to a 34-day war with the Jewish state that left more than 1,200 civilians dead in Lebanon, a third of them children, as well as 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.The Jewish state failed in both its stated aims for launching the war: to stop rocket fire on northern Israel and to recover the two soldiers.
PS:Its always ISRAEL'S FAULT isn't it....?
Now....Can you trust a beast like this Nasrallah guy???And of course the body parts are the ones that they chopped from the soldiers bodies....THEY ARE SICK TO THE CORE....How can you negotiate anything with tihs kind of ELEMENT...?
Well....IF they treat their women the way they do...picture a "pig" israeli soldier....Once more the peaceful loving religion of Islam......
As in the days of Noah....

Christians Condemn Creation of Human-Animal Embryos

LONDON-Britain's fertility regulator gave the green light Thursday for the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research. In a controversial move, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved applications from two universities-King's College London and Newcastle University-to create “cytoplasmic” embryos by inserting human cells into animal eggs.Opponents condemned the decision as a "disastrous setback for human dignity," according to Agence-France Presse. Researchers want to produce hybrids that are 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.The approved research involves transferring nuclei containing DNA from human cells to animal eggs that have had nearly all their genetic information removed. The resulting embryos are effectively human, according to AFP, with a small animal component.Then, stem cells, which can grow into different kinds of tissue, are formed.Scientists argue the research could pave the way for therapies for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as reported by AFP.Earlier this week, hundreds of Christians rallied outside Parliament to express their opposition to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill on the basis that hybrid embryos go against God’s intention behind His creation.On Tuesday, the House of Lords voted against a ban on the creation of animal-human hybrids.Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON) expressed disappointment after Tuesday's vote, stating, "This legislation, which holds many other worrying provisions besides hybrids, is attacking the very core of who we are as a society, what we value as human beings, how we view the unique dignity of humanity and the lengths we are prepared to go to in perverting nature for our own selfish and often misguided desires.“If the nation is still capable of being shocked, then this bill-if its contents were more widely known and understood-would certainly do just that.”Williams called on the church to speak up on the risks that the bill’s provisions pose.“It is the church’s responsibility to speak up for God’s intention for His creation, and in the absence of a wider understanding of the Bill it falls to the church to speak on behalf the nation, to act as lookouts in the watch tower warning of the approaching dangers,” she said.
As in the days of Noah....

China's paths to hegemony

Much that is discussed about China's foreign policy and security posture these days revolves around military matters-warships and fighter planes bought from Russia, 1,300 missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the latest maneuvers of the People's Liberation Army.Another side to China's emerging might, however, is what some pundits call "soft power" or "smiling diplomacy" or the "charm offensive." Most of that involves application of China's expanding economy to trade, aid and investment to achieve political ends.In a wider context, China's soft power seems integral to what may be a campaign to revive the Middle Kingdom, the China of yesteryear that dominated Asia. Chinese armies won't march across international borders but rather Beijing seeks to acquire such political, economic and diplomatic clout that major decisions in every Asian capital will require Chinese approval.A scholar who specializes in China, Joshua Kurlantzick, has written: "China may want to shift influence away from the United States to create its own sphere of influence, a kind of Chinese Monroe Doctrine for Southeast Asia where countries would subordinate their interests to China's, and would think twice about supporting the United States." (President James Monroe proclaimed in 1823 that outside powers would not be permitted to intervene in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.)In a fresh assessment, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) in Washington, says China has been mostly, but not completely, successful in Southeast Asia: "Beijing has largely allayed Southeast Asian concerns that China poses a military or economic threat." In contrast, the United States is perceived as having "waning or limited attention" to Southeast Asia.China's ability to influence Southeast Asians, the CRS report contends, "largely stems from its role as a major source of foreign aid, trade, and investment." In addition, overseas Chinese communities in almost every Southeast Asian nation "have long played important parts in the economies, societies and cultures of Southeast Asian states."One set of figures is illuminating. China's imports of Southeast Asian goods from 1997 to 2006 soared 674 percent, to $89.5 billion. In the same period, U.S. imports rose 57 percent, to $111 billion. When the 2007 figures are in, China will more likely have bought more from Southeast Asia than the United States.The Chinese have concentrated their economic assistance on Burma and Laos on their southern border, and on Cambodia, reached through Laos. They are also the poorest countries in the region. A U.S.-shunned authoritarian junta rules Burma, or Myanmar.
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As in the days of Noah....


If You Died Today, Would You Go To Heaven?
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As in the days of Noah.....

Russia revives military boast of Soviet days

Reviving yet another iconic image from Soviet days, Russia's military announced plans to stage a parade of ballistic missiles, tanks and platoons of soldiers this May through the Kremlin's Red Square.The display of military hardware, the first of its kind since 1990, will be held May 9, the day Russians mark the victory over Germany in World War II, and could coincide with the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev, close aide to outgoing President Vladimir Putin, as Russia's new leader.Similar displays, typically held May 1, were a high point of the old Soviet calendar, with leaders such as Josef Stalin and other top Communist Party figures perched on the reviewing stand above Lenin's Tomb to witness the country's military prowess and send a message to the Soviet Union's Cold War adversaries.The announcement comes at a time of rising tension between Russia and the West, on issues ranging from a planned U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe, to human rights to the future of Serbia's Kosovo province. Mr. Putin also has struggled to rebuild Russia's military forces, which deteriorated badly in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse."You can't teach an old imperial bear new tricks," said Ariel Cohen, a Russian specialist at the Heritage Foundation. "The current regime's craving for international prestige is as high as the insecurity of its rulers."British Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday accused Moscow of following the old, hostile Soviet pattern in an escalating dispute over Russia's order that two British cultural outreach offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg be shut down. Russia claims the centers are operating illegally, but Mr. Miliband said Russian authorities were trying to intimidate the British employees."We saw similar actions during the Cold War, but frankly thought they had been put behind us," Mr. Miliband told the House of Commons.According to Russia's Interfax news agency, the May 9 parade lineup will include the newest version of the Topol-M SS-27 intercontinental ballistic missile, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and 6,000 troops decked out in a newly designed uniform.
By David R. Sands
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As in the days of Noah....

Could US, Iran stumble into war?

CAIRO, Egypt - Just how close might a military confrontation between Iran and the United States be?Though a war of words eased a bit recently, President Bush's strong Iran warnings during his just completed Mideast trip, coupled with a ship standoff, are raising fears that a small incident could someday spiral-even by accident-into a real fight.Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Bush Thursday of sending "a message of confrontation" during his trip to the region. It was a sharp response to Bush's tough rhetoric that Iran remains a serious threat.Tensions slackened somewhat late last year when a U.S. intelligence report concluded Iran had halted a nuclear weapons program four years ago. But Bush went out of his way while visiting Gulf countries to reiterate that "all options" against Iran remain on the table.Pointedly, he also warned of "serious consequences" if Iran attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf, even if it had not been ordered by the Tehran government but was the result of a rash decision by an Iranian boat captain.At the same time, Bush said he has told leaders of Sunni Arab states-who want the U.S. to keep Shiite Iran's ambitions in check but are nervous about the impact of any military confrontation-that he wants a diplomatic solution.In part, the president seemed to be trying to assure both Arab allies and Israel that the United States remains intent on pressuring Iran. He also seeks reluctant European support for another round of Iran sanctions.But the scenario Bush outlined-a rash decision on the water, spilling over into real fighting-is just the thing that many U.S. military officers, and much of the Gulf Arab world, are sweating over.Adm. William J. Fallon, the top U.S. military commander in the Mideast, told The Associated Press last week that Iran runs the risk of triggering an unintended conflict if its boats continue to harass U.S. warships in the strategic Gulf."This kind of behavior, if it happens in the future, is the kind of event that could precipitate a mistake," Fallon said. "If the boats come closer, at what point does the captain think it is a direct threat to the ship and has to do something to stop it?"Key details of the Jan. 6 incident-when five small Iranian boats swarmed three U.S. warships in the Gulf's narrow Strait of Hormuz-remain unclear, including the source of an accented voice heard warning in English: "I am coming to you ... You will explode after ... minutes."Iran called the tapes fabricated.Notably, the U.S. commanders did not fire any warning shots and the Iranians eventually retreated. But in a mid-December incident, publicized by the Navy for the first time last week, a U.S. ship did fire a warning shot at a small Iranian boat that came too close, causing the Iranians to pull back.The worry: That in a heated political climate, such cat-and-mouse maneuvers could spiral into a more-serious exchange of fire, difficult for either side to pull back from.Of course, Bush could succeed in getting Iran to be less aggressive with his strong words.But a major Gulf paper, the Khaleej Times, fretted publicly about the potential for an "ugly flare-up," comparing the confrontation to last year's Iranian seizure of British sailors.Iran eventually freed the British sailors, but then-as now-its motivations were deeply obscure.Ahmadinejad is struggling to retain domestic political support, in dire need of a boost to keep any real political influence during his last year and a half in office before seeking re-election.Standoffs with the United States often give him just such a boost, as the country draws together despite the bitter differences dividing its hard-line and pragmatic factions." Whenever there is a potential for confidence-building, there are actors, entrenched actors, in the Iranian system (who) have an incentive to keep the crisis going," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.In both the Jan. 6 confrontation and last year's British sailor seizure, the Iranian boats were manned by the country's hard-line Revolutionary Guards, not its regular navy, "which has been better behaved and much more professional," Fallon said.Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his sometime-protege, Ahmadinejad, are believed to be the two high officials in Iran with the most control over the Guards.There have been some attempts to cool down the rhetoric.Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an interviewer this week that he did not view Iran as a direct military threat to the United States, although he considered it a "challenge" to keep Iran contained.But people often listen the most closely to presidents. And as long as Bush and Ahmadinejad are both in office and focused on each other, said Gulf political analyst Mustafa Alani, the threat of "accidental war" will keep many people on edge.

As in the days of Noah....

Livni: Inconceivable that Russia is supplying Iran with nuclear fuel

Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni met with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday in Moscow, the two discussed the tightening of sanctions on Iran and the incessant Qassam rocket fire towards Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza. The three-hour meeting was held ahead of an upcoming round of talks between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, scheduled for late January.Speaking at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy, Livni said, ''I would like to see the translation of the understanding that the world cannot afford an Iran with nuclear weapons into more-effective sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.''But though Lavrov assured that Moscow was partaking in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Livni told her colleague that it is inconceivable for Russia to be shipping nuclear fuel to Iran while Tehran continued to enrich uranium.Livni told the audience that with the shipment of Russian nuclear fuel ''the resumption of enrichment could serve only military purposes.''''Iran's ideology borders on madness,'' she said. ''It could have a domino effect on other states in the region that would strive to get nuclear technologies.''She later told reporters that Israel and the international community stood for resolving the issue through sanctions and cooperation: ''We have discussed this issue at our talks today.''Lavrov said that Moscow continues to believe the International Atomic Energy Agency should play the primary role in resolving the standoff and that punitive UN sanctions were a bad idea. He said Russia was committed to a ''political-diplomatic settlement'' of the dispute.Lavrov condemned the continuing rocket attacks against Israel's south: "Women, children and the elderly should not be living under the threat of missiles. This must stop."Livni said in response that while terrorists "seek out women, the elderly and children," the IDF "only aims its weapons towards terrorists."
As in the days of Noah....

Iran receives third nuke fuel shipment

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran received a third shipment of nuclear fuel from Russia on Friday for a power plant being constructed in the southern port of Bushehr, state radio reported.The 11-ton consignment arrived at the Bushehr power plant on Friday morning, and the remainder of the fuel will arrive in five separate shipments in coming months, the radio report said.Iran received the first two shipments of nuclear fuel from Russia on Dec. 17 and Dec. 28 after months of dispute between the two countries, allegedly over delayed construction payments for the reactor.Iran has said Bushehr, the country's first nuclear reactor, will begin operating in the summer of 2008, producing half its 1,000-megawatt capacity of electricity.Tehran heralded the first shipment as a victory, saying it proved its nuclear program was peaceful, not a cover for weapons development as claimed by the U.S. and some of its allies.The U.S. initially opposed Russian participation in building the Bushehr reactor and supplying it with fuel, but reversed its position about a year ago to obtain Moscow's support for the first set of U.N. sanctions against Iran.The United States and Russia have said the supply of nuclear fuel meant Iran had no need to continue its uranium enrichment program — a process that can provide fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a bomb. Iran has agreed with Russia to return the spent fuel to ensure it doesn't extract plutonium to build a bomb.Iran insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needed to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it was building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.Iranian officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decades.Russia's decision to begin shipping nuclear fuel to Iran followed a U.S. intelligence report released earlier this month that concluded Tehran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it since. Iran says it never had a weapons program.

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Ehud Olmert: 'We are at war with Hamas'

The Israeli prime minister yesterday described worsening clashes with Hamas militants as "a war".The comments by Ehud Olmert reflected a sense of national anger at repeated rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.Mr Olmert said: "A war is going on in the south, every day, every night." Palestinian moderates then raised the stakes when the spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader conducting talks with Israel, said peace negotiations could collapse if the clashes continue.On the Gaza perimeter yesterday rockets were fired repeatedly, forcing thousands of Israelis into shelters.Israeli forces, including helicopters, pounded any militants suspected of involvement in the rocket fire.A man and his wife were killed when their car was hit by a missile. A second strike targeted a car carrying members of the radical Islamic Jihad movement, killing two of them. The blast also hit a nearby cart, killing the woman driver and seriously wounding her passenger, a child.No Israelis have died in several days of sustained attacks, in contrast to more than 20 Palestinians killed, including at least six civilians.An Ecuadorean worker on a kibbutz died earlier this week in the attack that sparked a major retaliatory operation by the Israeli military.Mr Olmert said: "We cannot and will not tolerate this unceasing fire at Israeli citizens... so we will continue to operate, with wisdom and daring, with the maximum precision that will enable us to hit those who want to attack us.He said that "this war will not stop" until Israeli forces "tip the scales" and force a halt to rocket fire.Mr Abbas's spokesman called on America to intervene.

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Israel test-launches nuclear-capable missile

Israel has carried out the successful test launch of a long-range, ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in what was intended as a clear show of strength to Iran. While Iranian military chiefs carry out regular test firings of their own missiles, events that are often shown on state television, in Israel things are done with less fuss.The lack of public awareness caused a flap when the contrail from the test firing was seen in the skies over Jerusalem causing many Israelis to call the emergency services fearing attack by Palestinian militants.It was launched from the top-secret Palmachim air base south of Tel Aviv, home to a number of highly sensitive Israeli weapon systems including the Arrow anti-missile defence battery.Israeli officials declined to comment publicly about the launching, but unnamed officials quoted in the Israeli press expressed satisfaction at both the launch and its impact across the region."There was great joy after the results of the test became clear," one security source said. "Whoever is watching what is happening in Israel will understand what he has to understand."Regional defence experts said Israel has begun a programme to extend the range of its existing Jericho-2 ground attack missiles.The Jericho-3 is planned to have a range of 2,500 miles which brings all of Iran within range.Iran is currently under international sanctions for failing to comply with inspectors into its developing nuclear programme. America, Israel and much of the international community suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.While Israel has never confirmed it has nuclear weapons, it is the worst kept secret in the Middle East that the Jewish State acquired them years ago.A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said American intelligence concluded as early as 1974 Israel had stockpiled nuclear weapons, and that the early Jericho ground-to-ground missile system was designed for nuclear warheads."Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world," Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now an MP, said.Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, often hints at the destruction of Israel and in his latest speech, given before news of the test launch, he again attacked the Jewish state."The Zionist regime ... would not dare attack Iran," he said,"The Iranian response would make them regret it, and they know this."The Israeli test was regarded as a technological breakthrough for Israel Aerospace Industries, manufactures of the missile system, as it showed the missile could be fitted with a dual-stage engine.One Israeli commentator suggested the launch was ordered by the government to detract worsening public criticism of its inability to stop rockets hitting Israel fired by Palestinian militants inside Gaza. d its impact across the region.

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Putin Warns Against Unilateral Declaration of Kosovo Independence

Russian President Vladimir Putin has again expressed opposition to a unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence.The Russian leader told reporters in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, international recognition of such a move would be illegal and immoral.Mr. Putin repeated his call for further talks in pursuit of a compromise between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders. Before his trip to Bulgaria, Mr. Putin said any solution to the problem of Kosovo will set a precedent for international practice.Earlier this week, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the Security Council Kosovo will never become a U.N. member or join any other international political organization if it unilaterally declares independence.Months of internationally-mediated talks between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians on the issue ended in November with no agreement. Serbia, backed by Russia, offered Kosovo broad autonomy with many characteristics of statehood, but insisted on maintaining sovereignty over the area. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence.The U.S., Britain, and many European Union countries support independence for Kosovo.The United Nations has administered Serbia's southern province since 1999, when NATO airstrikes stopped a Serbian offensive against ethnic Albanian separatists.

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Thailand Supreme Court Refuses To Disband Political Party

Thailand's Supreme Court said Friday it had no jurisdiction to rule whether Mr. Thaksin's(picture left) supporters committed fraud in the recent parliamentary elections by serving as a proxy to the ousted leader - who is banned from politics.The court's action is another indication that Mr. Thaksin's opponents' efforts to keep him out of politics in Thailand are failing.With the former leader's Thai Rak Thai party disbanded after the 2006 coup, his supporters formed the People Power Party, which won the largest number of parliamentary seats in an election last month.The court ruling clears the way for the PPP to announce a new government on Saturday. PPP supporters and party officials, including its candidate for prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, say they want to bring Mr. Thaksin back to Thailand. He is currently in Hong Kong, monitoring political developments at home.Thai electoral law bans candidates from being reelected by proxy, and that was the argument used in the suit filed against the PPP by Thaksin opponents. Politics professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University says the court had to balance its obligation to uphold the law, against a need to prevent protests that would deepen Thailand's political crisis."On the one hand there is the law, and I think many people do see that the PPP and Samak as its leader are proxies of Thaksin," said Thitinan. "On the other hand, if that is grounds for dissolution of the party, then it would bring about more turmoil in Thai politics."In another ruling Friday, the court threw out a petition to annul some of the results of the December 23 election that favored the PPP.Thaksin opponents' efforts have been relentless. They carried out the 2006 military coup, disbanded his original party, leveled corruption charges against him and his wife, and caused him to remain in exile.Still, his supporters' strong showing in the December election, and now the Supreme Court's rulings, are signs that Mr. Thaksin is making a comeback.Mr. Thaksin's opponents are mainly among the military, and the urban middle and upper classes, who despise him in part for the corruption that was rife during his administration. He was also accused of disrespecting the revered Thai king.His supporters are mainly the country's poor, who were drawn by his populist agenda.Despite rapid economic growth, much of Thailand's population lives in poverty, and Professor Thitinan says Mr. Thaksin owes his continued popularity to his shrewd exploitation of the country's gap between rich and poor."Poor people love him in the countryside and in Bangkok and this explains his populist agenda," he said. "His success explains his resilience and the PPP's longevity and PPP's popularity. This is why the establishment has been unable to finish Thaksin off politically."The rulings Friday clear the way for the PPP to form a coalition government led by Thaksin supporters. Party officials say they plan to announce the formation of a six-party coalition on Saturday.
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LEWDNESS WATCH:Students Object to Graphic Videos and Music at Gold's Gym

Five student organizations from Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College are asking Gold's Gym to get rid of sexually graphic videos and music, The AP reported. Gold's has its own programming network that is broadcast nationally.The groups submitted a petition and asked Kirk Livingstone, Gold's director of operations, to keep R-rated movies off the TVs, play less explicit music and install blinds on aerobic room windows to block views of dancing. "We've seen time and time again that when people speak up about offensive aspects of culture, their voices are heard," said Daniel Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality at Focus on the Family Action. "If there is a downfall to our so-called tolerant society, it is that too many decent people feel coerced into allowing all manner of rude, profane and offensive media to be crammed down their throat.{{{"Speaking up is an excellent and necessary first step to cleaning up society."}}}

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JIHAD WATCH:'Jihadi' software goes online

Dubai - An Islamist website often used by al-Qaeda supporters carried updated encryption software on Friday which it said would help Islamic militants communicate with greater security on the internet.The Mujahideen Secrets 2 was promoted as "the first Islamic programme for secure communications through networks with the highest technical level of encoding".The software, available free on the password-protected Ekhlaas.org site which often carries al-Qaeda messages, is a newer version of Mujahideen Secrets issued in early 2007 by the Global Islamic Media Front, an al-Qaeda-linked web-based group."This special edition of the software was developed and issued by... Ekhlaas in order to support the mujahideen (holy war fighters) in general and the (al-Qaeda-linked group) Islamic State in Iraq in particular," the site said.The efficacy of the new Arabic-language software to ensure secure e-mail and other communications could not be immediately gauged. But some security experts had warned that the wide distribution of its earlier version among Islamists and Arabic-speaking hackers could prove significant.Al-Qaeda supporters widely use the internet to spread the group's statements through hundreds of Islamist sites where anyone can post messages. Al-Qaeda-linked groups also set up their own sites, which frequently have to move after being shut by internet service providers.Al-Qaeda's own media arm, As-Sahab, has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. It issued 97 audio and video web messages in 2007 compared with just 6 in 2002, according to IntelCentre, a US-based group that monitors Islamist sites.Al-Qaeda and other groups have increasingly turned to the internet to win young Muslims over to their fight against Western countries and Western-backed governments.

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DICTATORSHIP WATCH:Havana pledges support to Zim

Harare - Cuba will support crisis-riddled Zimbabwe which is being "punished" by the West for seizing white-owned farms, the Cuban ambassador was quoted as saying on Saturday.In a belated address to mark the 49th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, Ambassador Cosme Torres Espinoza told reporters that there were similarities between the way the US treated Cuba and Zimbabwe.Cuba is under an economic blockade. The US, the EU and other Western countries have imposed travel sanctions and asset freezes on more than 100 top officials of Zimbabwe's ruling party to protest rights abuses by President Robert Mugabe.Mugabe blames the sanctions for Zimbabwe's deepening economic rot: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates annual inflation in this once-prosperous country reached 115 000% in December, reports said this week."I can see similar trends in the way America deals with Cuba and Zimbabwe," the Cuban ambassador said. Cuba has been sending doctors to staff many of Zimbabwe's rural hospitals, deserted by locals over poor pay and conditions.[[["The Cuban Revolution has been successful because our people understand the goals of the revolution and have benefited from independence," said the ambassador in quotes carried by the official Herald daily."We are therefore prepared to work with Zimbabwe in its quest for economic, social and political freedom," he added.]]](sigh....)Western countries maintain the sanctions they have imposed upon Zimbabwe are only targeted measures and that Mugabe's misrule including his controversial seven-year programme of white land seizures - is entirely to blame for the crisis.[[[The US granted Zimbabwe $220m in aid in 2007, US ambassador James McGee was quoted as saying this week.]]]

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EU WATCH:EU gives Swazi farmers €15m

Mbabane - Swaziland's sugarcane farmers were handed €15m by the European Commission on Friday in a measure to cushion them from the impact of a cut in industry prices, officials said.A joint statement by the Swazi government and EC said €15m would minimise any adverse impact on the sugar sector which has been a mainstay of the economy in the landlocked southern African kingdom."This will go towards the enhancement of the profitability of smallholder sugarcane growers and will contribute to maintain the efficiency of Swaziland's sugar production," said the statement."The beneficiary farmers will also be assisted to prepare sustainable farm plans."Some 700 sugar industry workers have been laid off in recent months with producers forced to cut costs as a result of the lower prices from Europe.Swaziland's yearly sugar quota to EU markets stands at 120 000 metric tonnes.

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Libya to deport 2 million

Tripoli, Libya - Libya asserted its right to carry out a massive wave of expulsions of illegal immigrants on Friday in the face of criticism that such actions violated international law.London-based rights group Amnesty International on Friday criticised a Libyan decision to expel all its illegal immigrants, calling it arbitrary and a violation of international human rights law - eliciting an angry response from Tripoli."Libyan tolerance was abused by those immigrants that have been using Libya as a passage to Europe and put Libya in a critical situation in front of the international community," Abdel-Moneim al-Lamoushi, a government spokesperson, told The AP.On Wednesday, the state news agency Jana said authorities were working on the "immediate deportation of all the illegal foreign residents," quoting a member of the national assembly."No resident without a legal visa will be excluded," the report added.
Rushed decision
Amnesty International called on Libya "not to implement what appears to be a rushed decision as it would violate the rights of potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children," it said in a statement.The organisation added that according to international human rights law, immigrants should not be deported back to a country if there is serious risk of human rights violations.The Libyan spokesperson, however, maintained that the expulsions are legal according to national law which requires entry and exit visas for foreigners and called the decision "final and not to be reconsidered."Labour officials in Libya put the number of foreigners in Libya as 2 million, of whom only 60 000 of them have work permits and legal visas. Most are Africans who sneak through the deserts into Libya from Sudan, Chad and Niger.Al-Lamoushi added that according to security reports, most of these Africans are involved in gangs "attacking the citizens inside their homes, forging money, producing liquor... and looking to immigrate to the Europe.""Based on these realities, we had to take these measures, though we will deal with them in a civilized way, dealing with them through their embassies and ambassadors," he said.
Libya has regularly deported refugees and asylum-seekers in recent years and routinely expels migrants, said Amnesty.

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Nasa investigates virtual space

The US space agency is exploring the possibility of developing a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.The virtual world would be aimed at students and would "simulate real Nasa engineering and science missions".The agency has published a "request for information" (RFI) from organisations interested in developing the platform.Nasa believe the game would help find the next generation of scientists and engineers needed to fulfil its "vision for space exploration"."A high quality synthetic gaming environment is a vital element of Nasa's educational cyberstructure," the RFI reads."The MMO will foster career exploration opportunities in a much deeper way than reading alone would permit and at a fraction of the time and cost of an internship program."
Space mission
Nasa already has a presence in the 3D virtual universe.The agency owns an island in Second Life where individuals and groups with an interest in the space programme can meet, share ideas and conduct experiments. CoLab, as it is called, is the brainchild of scientists at the Nasa Ames Research Center in San Francisco.The agency hopes that the environment could one day be used to allow the public to take part in virtual missions."We at Nasa are working hard to create opportunities for what I might call participatory exploration," the director of the project, Simon Worden, has said."We are looking at how this island can be a portal for all to fly along on space missions," he told delegates at the National Space Society's (NSS) conference last year."When the next people step onto the surface of the Moon in a little over a decade, your avatar could be with them," he said.The latest proposal was published by Nasa's Learning Technologies Project Office which supports and develops education projects to promote science and technology.
Job seeker
The document says that games are becoming increasingly important in education and could be useful for teaching a range of skills."Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity," it says.The document calls for a game engine that includes "powerful physics capabilities" that can "support accurate in-game experimentation and research"."A Nasa-based MMO could provide opportunities for students to investigate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career paths while participating in engaging game-play."Other organisations such as the US armed forces already use online gaming as a recruitment tool.America's Army for example introduces players to the "seven Army Core Values" and now claims to be one of "the most popular computer games in the world".Nasa has asked for interested organisations to respond to the request by the 15 February.

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Thirteen convicted for India riot

A special court in India has convicted 13 people in connection with the mass murder and gang-rape of Muslims during the 2002 riots in Gujarat state.A policeman is among those who have been found guilty.The case was moved out of Gujarat and handed over to federal police by the supreme court which said the state had done little to bring them to justice.More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots, although independent groups say the toll was nearly 2,000.
The convictions were delivered by a special court in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) where the trial was shifted following the supreme court order in 2004.This was one of the most infamous cases in the Gujarat riots - a Hindu mob attacked a group of Muslims.Fourteen Muslims were killed and three women were gang-raped.One of them was Bilkis Bano, who was pregnant at the time and only managed to survive because the attackers thought she was dead.
She was the key witness during the trial and it was the evidence she provided that led to Friday's convictions.Among those convicted is a policeman who was charged with protecting the guilty.Sentences will be handed out on Monday.The Gujarat government, which is run by the Hindu nationalist BJP, was heavily criticised for its poor handling of the riot cases.

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Ethiopia holds 'many Westerners'

Many US and European citizens of Ethiopian and Somali origin are being held in Ethiopia for alleged terrorist offences, a senior official has said.President of Ethiopia's Somali region Abdullahi Hassan refused to give exact numbers of those detained."Those who are waging the terrorist war against our people are coming from Europe, are coming from America," he told journalists.A rebel group is fighting for more autonomy for the Somali region.Mr Hassan said people originally from the region, also known as the Ogaden, were raising money for the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)."They are buying with this money weapons, mines and explosives," he said.An ONLF spokesman denied the claims.Abdirahman Mahdi told the BBC News website that hundreds of ONLF members were in prison at the moment but said none of them had foreign passports.
'Facing trial'
US embassy spokeswoman in Addis Ababa Darragh Paradiso said: "We have no information on American citizens being detained and are following up on this issue with the government of Ethiopia as we speak."Mr Hassan said he did not care whether foreign diplomats got involved in the cases."They are under Ethiopian law, they are facing trial."He said they were under detention in the regional capital, Jijiga.The conflict in the region has escalated since last April, when the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run oilfield, killing 74 people.Aid workers are concerned about hunger in the remote, arid area after commercial food deliveries were blocked for several months.

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DICTATORSHIP WATCH:Castro Stands for Re-Election in Cuba Voting

Fidel Castro was last seen in public in July 2006, shortly before undergoing intestinal surgery that he says left him in very weak health. Mr. Castro said he has recovered some strength in recent months, but this week he said he is still not strong enough to campaign for re-election as delegate for the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. He must be re-elected to the assembly in order to be eligible for the nation's top ruling body, the Council of State, and the presidency. Phil Peters, Cuba expert for the Lexington Institute near Washington, says he expects no real surprises in the outcome of the legislative voting. But he says the selection of the Council of State, several weeks later, is less certain."The key issue that will be decided in this is whether Fidel Castro will remain the head of state even though he has not been in public view now for nearly 18 months," he said.Peters says officials could use the process to formally hand the presidency to Raul Castro, who has been serving as provisional leader since his brother fell ill. In that case, he says the 81-year-old leader could assume another position in the government, while maintaining some influence over policy.Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, says political changes matter little to Cubans on the island. He says the key issue for many is expanding the economy."They are less concerned about what political system in Cuba is going to be after Fidel is gone, and more concerned about what the future holds for them in what the next Cuban leader will give them in terms of improving their living conditions," he noted.Cuba's economy has enjoyed above average growth in recent years, partly thanks to a recent deal to swap Venezuelan oil for Cuban medical care and other services.Paolo Spadoni, a professor at Rollins College in Florida, says the growth comes despite a housing shortage and transportation crisis caused by decades of weak investment. He also says economic inequality is on the rise."The problem and this is the second issue is that some of that growth or most of that growth has not been translated into tangible benefits for the Cuban population," he explained. Spadoni says many Cubans have embraced a recent call from Raul Castro for an open debate about ways to boost the economy and improve conditions for residents. Some proposals include easing restrictions on private enterprise, especially the island's key industry of farming.Phil Peters says possible reforms could give Cubans more control over their economic decisions and reduce the government's role in several industries."All of them reforms would improve the economy," he added."And, of course, I'm talking about changes that could be made without abandoning the fundamental socialist character of the system."Peters says it is difficult to tell if the economic debate sparked by Raul Castro will influence the electoral process in Cuba, where many campaign activities are restricted. But he says there is consensus among many sectors of Cuban society that an open discussion is needed to address the problems.Paolo Spadoni says the popularity of the economic debate shows that a political change has already taken place."The debate and everything that has happened in Cuba looks like Raul is the one right now who is ruling the country," he said. "And he will probably continue doing that."In a letter released last month, Fidel Castro said he will not seek to remain in power or block younger people from taking control. The upcoming electoral process will demonstrate whether the island is ready for that change.

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Rwanda Asked to Explain Disappearance of Parliamentarian

The Inter-Parliamentary Union says it is very concerned about the fate of Rwandan parliamentarian Leonardo Hitimana, who supposedly disappeared in 2003.The Geneva-based organization offers a forum for more than 140 national parliaments to discuss such issues as human rights and good governance.Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs chairs the IPU's Human Rights Committee. She says the Rwandan government has always taken the position that Hitimana left on his own and will return one day.But, she notes, it is now five years later and Hitimana still has not appeared. She says the circumstances surrounding his case remain murky and urges the Rwandan government to mount an appropriate investigation. "Mr. Hitimana was supposed to make a presentation to the parliament of Rwanda and the night before he was to make that presentation, he disappeared," she noted."That is why the Rwandan authorities indicate that he, of course, just simply left the country.But, he has not appeared anywhere and our experience over the years is that if someone leaves within two or three years, they show up. They show up in Belgium, they show up in Europe somewhere.They show up in North America. This man has not showed up."Carstairs says demands for the Rwandan government to conduct a thorough investigation into the missing parliamentarian's disappearance have always been rejected."There are many people in Rwanda who believe that he has been assassinated,"she added."And that he was assassinated because the government did not want to hear his testimony in parliament the next day. So we are asking and we have asked consistently the Human Rights Council of Rwanda, we have invited the government of Rwanda to investigate this case.But, five years has now gone by and I have to indicate that we see no thorough investigation of any taking place with respect to Mr. Hitimana."Rwanda is one of 31 countries cited by the IPU for violating the human rights of parliamentarians. A newly released report expresses grave concern about 11 parliamentarians who disappeared in Eritrea years ago without a trace. It says the government has offered no explanation.The report notes eight parliamentarians currently are under arrest in Zimbabwe.It accuses the government of harassing and intimidating members of parliament on a regular basis.It says the usual pattern is for parliamentarians to be arrested, held for a period of time and then released without formal charges being leveled against them.

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Russia, Bulgaria Sign Pipeline Deal

The Russian-Bulgarian agreement to build the so-called South Stream pipeline was reached in Sofia after intense last minute talks over ownership rights. Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev announced in Sofia that both sides would have an equal share in the company that will own and operate the pipeline on Bulgarian territory.When completed, the $14.5 billion project is expected to transport Russian gas under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and then in two directions toward Western Europe.The pipeline agreement came during a visit to Bulgaria by President Vladimir Putin and his chosen successor, the head of the Russia's state energy monopoly Dmitri Medevdev. Mr. Putin said both countries also signed documents on practical issues related to construction of a nuclear power plant in Belene, and an oil pipeline between the Bulgarian port city of Burgas and Alexandropoulos in Greece.The Russian leader says his country has set aside more than $5 billion in its budget, which Bulgaria may use as credit for construction of the Belene nuclear power plant.The South Stream project complements the Nord Stream pipeline now under construction for Russian gas deliveries under the Baltic Sea to Germany.Russian energy analysts view these projects as ways to diversify the country's energy delivery network. However, many analysts in the West fear Russia could use energy to force political concessions from Europe. For this reason, the United States and the European Union are backing the so-called Nabucco project, to deliver Central Asian gas under the Caspian Sea across Bulgaria to Western Europe.But Anatoly Dmitrievsky, the director of Moscow's Oil and Gas Research Institute, says the Caspian poses more technical challenges than the Black Sea.Dmitrievsky says the Caspian Sea is not only deep, but also has tectonic movement and volcanic activity.The analyst says this could be why Bulgaria opted for South Stream with Russia. However, Nabucco could yet be built, which would give Bulgarians two sources of revenue for transit fees across their territory.

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CULTURE of DEATH:Kevorkian Spreads Message of Death at University of Florida

[[[Jack Kevorkian earned $50,000 to speak at the University of Florida on Tuesday, telling students he did nothing wrong by helping people kill themselves. He claims to have helped end 130 lives,]]] The Associated Press reported.[[["I am a physician. I knew how to do it. … I did it humanely," Kevorkian told a crowd of about 5,000.]]]The 79-year-old was convicted of second-degree murder in 1998 and sentenced to 10 to 25 years for the death of Thomas Youk, which was shown on CBS News.[[[He was paroled in June 2007, after promising not to assist in any suicides.]]]what a JOKE....!!!!"Free speech is one thing. Jack Kevorkian has a right to free speech, like anyone else," said Rita Marker, head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.{{{{"It is really obnoxious, or close to being obscene, for student fees to be used to bring a convicted murderer on campus to promote his views."}}}}AMEN to that.....

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LAND FULL of VIOLENCE:Kenya: 'Death toll hits 1 000'

Nairobi - Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Thursday more than 1 000 people have died in unrest across the east African nation since President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in a December 27 vote."The number of dead is more than 1 000 and the majority of those are bullet wounds," said Odinga. He accuses police of shooting his supporters under government orders.
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PESTILENCE WATCH:S Leone braces for deadly fever

Freetown - Medical and aid officials in Sierra Leone are preparing for an anticipated outbreak of Lassa fever, a disease that claims about 200 lives every year, Health Minister Soccoh Kabia said on Thursday.The viral infection "is endemic over this period in the eastern district of the country", including the third largest city, Kenema, and the outlying towns of Tongo Field and Panguma in the diamond mining belt, Kabia said."We are studying the current situation and compiling reports on a possible outbreak as between January and February, the disease is at its peak with the preparation of farming activities," the minister said.He explained that when farmers were clearing and burning the brush, "the bush rats who carry the virus take cover in residential homes," then "people come in contact with the virus through excreta and urine of the bush rats and in some cases, people feed on these rats and are then exposed to the complications."Preventive measures taken include the establishment of a remedial centre in Kenema, with aid from the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme and a British non-governmental organisation, Merlin."It is a disease to take seriously because of its high rate of mortality," Kabia warned. "If it is not acted on, 90% of unborn babies as well as suckling and pregnant women will be at risk."District Medical Officer Yankuba Bah said "people affected by Lassa fever don't go for treatment in hospitals but prefer risky cures from fake medical workers at cheaper costs".The disease, which causes fever, headache, difficulty in swallowing and can lead to infection of vital organs and death, is named for a village in Nigeria where it was identified.An opposition member of parliament from Kenema, Francis Konuwa, said the district "is a Lassa fever belt. Poor water facilities as well as the unavailability of trained and qualified health officers have worsened the situation. We drink water from the same source where rats also drink."According to WHO statistics, life expectancy in the west African state is estimated at 38 years as the country is among those with the lowest life expectancy at birth.Before Sierra Leone was ravaged by a brutal 1991-2001 civil war, the average lifespan of Sierra Leoneans was about 45 years.The enormity of public health problems is largely considered accountable for such a short life expectancy, the WHO assessment said.
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Mid-East suffers rare cold snap

There have been a number of deaths and considerable damage to crops in the Middle East as temperatures in the region have fallen to exceptional lows.Local reports say that 10 people died in Saudi Arabia after snowfalls.In Syria, temperatures have dropped to minus 16 degrees Celsius.There has been widespread damage to crops in Syria, Jordan and Israel.There has also been snow in the Iraqi capital Baghdad for the first time in living memory.The Middle East is a region used to extremes of temperature - but not ones like these.Kuwaiti meteorologists are eagerly watching thermometers to see if the previous low recorded in the open desert, minus four degrees Celsius in 1964, could be broken in the coming days.Some in the Jordanian government are worried that food prices may increase, giving inflation another unwelcome bump.But reports from Israel suggest the weather may not be bad news for everyone.Some farmers are suffering, but there has been a jump in the sale of heaters and warm clothes, with retailers saying the demand for some goods has tripled.This cold snap has been caused by a weather system that began in Siberia.But meteorologists in the region cannot agree whether it is the result of climate change; the director of Baghdad's Meteorology Department reportedly said it could be, his counterpart in Amman disagrees.

As in the days of Noah....

Zambia declares floods 'disaster'

Zambia has declared the floods sweeping through the country "a national disaster".The authorities have closed schools, converting them into shelters for thousands of displaced people.President Levy Mwanawasa, in a television address, said a concerted effort was needed by the whole country to deal with the crisis.More than 40 people have been killed in the region, and roads, crops and livestock destroyed.Neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have also been affected by heavy rains for several weeks, causing swollen rivers to burst their banks.On Thursday, President Mwanawasa visited some of the worst affected areas."This is a national disaster and it requires concerted efforts of all of us to solve," Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said on state television.The government's Disaster Management Unit and the Red Cross have set up a $250m contingency fund to be used to acquire emergency shelters, such as tents, and food kits.
As in the days of Noah....

Data of 600,000 lost in UK laptop theft

LONDON-The personal details of up to 600,000 people were lost when a Royal Navy officer's laptop was stolen in the latest embarrassment to hit British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.The Defense Ministry said the laptop, containing personal information about people who had joined the Navy, Marines and Air Force and from people keen to join, was stolen from the officer in the central English city of Birmingham.The timing could not be worse for Brown, currently on a trade visit to China and India. He is seeking to put behind him several government blunders that have seen his popularity plummet in opinion polls.In November, details on 25 million child benefit claimants were lost by the Revenue and Customs department and a week later information on three million learner drivers went missing. Last month, it also was revealed that medical records had disappeared at some health trusts.In the latest case, entries on the stolen computer included family and passport details which could be used by fraudsters bent on identity theft.Police said the theft was being "thoroughly and professionally investigated" by their officers in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence.The theft took place on January 9 but was not revealed until nine days later because of the possible impact that might have on the investigation, the Ministry of Defence said.Media reports of the security gaffe prompted them to change their mind.In a statement, it said:"The stolen laptop contained personal information relating to some 600,000 people who have either expressed an interest in, or have joined, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force.The information held is not the same for every individual. In some cases, for casual inquiries, the record is no more than a name."But it did concede that "for those who progressed as far as submitting an application to join the Forces, extensive personal data may be held, including passport details, National Insurance numbers, drivers' licence details, family details, doctors' addresses and National Health Service numbers."Revealing such a wide array of information could have devastating consequences for anyone trying to defend themselves from identify theft.Banks holding personal accounts that could have been affected by the security breach have been "flagged for scrutiny against unauthorised access."
As in the days of Noah....