Sunday, 18 May 2014

Syria war: Air defence chief Gen Hussein Ishaq killed

Assad election poster in DamascusDespite the fighting, President Assad is seeking re-election
The head of Syria's air defences has died amid fighting near Damascus.
Gen Hussein Ishaq was said to have been wounded as rebels attacked an air defence base near the town of Mleiha on Saturday and later died.
He is one of a handful of high-ranking military officers to be killed in the country's civil war.
Rebels are fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad's regime in a bloody conflict that began three years ago.
Despite the war, the government plans to hold a presidential election next month in the areas under its control.
Fiercely contested
The director of the UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said Gen Ishaq's death was an "important psychological blow" to the regime.
The air defence forces' headquarters is in a fiercely contested area of the current fighting around Damascus, AFP news agency reports.
The rebels do not have an air force, the agency adds, so forces under Gen Ishaq's command have rarely been deployed for air defence.
For more than a month the Syrian army, backed by Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, has been fighting to force the rebels out of Mleiha.
The Observatory said that despite initial regime advances in Mleiha, the rebels have recovered ground, retaking several buildings around the central town hall.
The army is completely in control of Damascus, but rebels still hold several towns and villages on the outskirts of the city despite blockades, air strikes and shelling.
More than 150,000 people have been killed since the war began and millions more have become refugees.

'Biggest dinosaur ever' discovered

Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say.
Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall.
Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus.
Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur - an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period.
A local farm worker first stumbled on the remains in the desert near La Flecha, about 250km (135 miles) west of Trelew, Patagonia.
Dr Diego Pol explains how the weight of the dinosaur was calculated
The fossils were then excavated by a team of palaeontologists from the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio, led by Dr Jose Luis Carballido and Dr Diego Pol.
They unearthed the partial skeletons of seven individuals - about 150 bones in total - all in "remarkable condition".
A film crew from the BBC Natural History Unit was there to capture the moment the scientists realised exactly how big their discovery was.
By measuring the length and circumference of the largest femur (thigh bone), they calculated the animal weighed 77 tonnes.
"Given the size of these bones, which surpass any of the previously known giant animals, the new dinosaur is the largest animal known that walked on Earth," the researchers told BBC News.
"Its length, from its head to the tip of its tail, was 40m.
"Standing with its neck up, it was about 20m high - equal to a seven-storey building."
SauropodThe new dinosaur is a type of sauropod similar to Argentinosaurus, illustrated here
This giant herbivore lived in the forests of Patagonia between 95 and 100 million years ago, based on the age of the rocks in which its bones were found.
But despite its magnitude, it does not yet have a name.
"It will be named describing its magnificence and in honour to both the region and the farm owners who alerted us about the discovery," the researchers said.
There have been many previous contenders for the title "world's biggest dinosaur".
The most recent pretender to the throne wasArgentinosaurus, a similar type of sauropod, also discovered in Patagonia.
Originally thought to weigh in at 100 tonnes, it was later revised down to about 70 tonnes - just under the 77 tonnes that this new sauropod is thought to have weighed.
The picture is muddied by the various complicated methods for estimating size and weight, based on skeletons that are usually incomplete.
Argentinosaurus was estimated from only a few bones. But the researchers here had dozens to work with, making them more confident that they really have found "the big one".
Dr Paul Barrett, a dinosaur expert from London's Natural History Museum, agreed the new species is "a genuinely big critter. But there are a number of similarly sized big sauropod thigh bones out there," he cautioned.
"Without knowing more about this current find it's difficult to be sure. One problem with assessing the weight of both Argentinosaurus and this new discovery is that they're both based on very fragmentary specimens - no complete skeleton is known, which means the animal's proportions and overall shape are conjectural.
"Moreover, several different methods exist for calculating dinosaur weight (some based on overall volume, some on various limb bone measurements) and these don't always agree with each other, with large measures of uncertainty.
"So it's interesting to hear another really huge sauropod has been discovered, but ideally we'd need much more material of these supersized animals to determine just how big they really got."

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Turkey mine disaster: Three face charges over deaths

People pray in a Soma cemetery where several miners who died in the Soma mine explosion have been buried, in Soma, Turkey, 18 May 2014The Soma mine disaster claimed 301 lives and sparked angry protests

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Three people arrested in Turkey by police investigating the Soma mine disaster are facing a charge of causing multiple deaths, officials say.
They were among 25 people detained on Sunday, including several mining company officials.
The explosion and fire on Tuesday sent carbon monoxide gas into the mine's tunnels, claiming 301 lives.
It was the country's worst-ever mining disaster and sparked protests against the government and mine operators.
The three facing charges are also accused of negligence, AP news agency reports.
Public prosecutor Bekir Sahiner said that one of the 25 arrested was the mine's operations manager.
The manager, Akin Celik, has previously denied any negligence.
Turkey's Dogan news agency has also said general manager Ramazan Dogru was among those arrested.
It is not yet clear if either of the men faces charges.
Six of those arrested on Sunday have now been released, the prosecutor said.
Muzaffer Yildirim, a miner whose brother died in Tuesday's incident, told the BBC the managers were responsible for the disaster and "should be punished".
Initial reports suggest that the disaster could have been caused by coal in the mine overheating.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Nigeria abducted schoolgirls: President cancels Chibok trip

Nigerian policemen walk past Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state (21 April 2014)The kidnapping of the schoolgirls from Chibok has outraged the international community
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has called off a visit the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted, officials say.
Sources had told the BBC he would stop in Chibok, in the north-east, on his way to a conference in France on the threat from Boko Haram militants.
But the visit was called off for security reasons, the officials said.
The president - under pressure over his government's failure to rescue the girls - will fly direct to Paris.
The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Nigeria says the cancellation of this visit underlines just how fragile the security situation is in the north-east.
On Thursday, relatives of the girls called for their unconditional release by Boko Haram.
Mr Jonathan is said to have ruled out negotiations over a possible release of prisoners.
Nothing was seen of the girls for almost a month after they were taken from Chibok.
But on Monday the group released a video showing more than 100 of them and offering an exchange for prisoners.
UK Africa Minister Mark Simmonds said Mr Jonathan had "made it very clear that there will be no negotiation" at a meeting on Wednesday.
Screen grab of video released by Boko Haram showing abducted Nigerian schoolgirls (12 May 2014)A video emerged on Monday showing about 130 of the girls wearing hijabs and reciting Koranic verses
President Jonathan has been criticised for not visiting the town - more than a month after the girls were seized.
The president will travel to Paris to take part in a summit convened by French President Francois Hollande to discuss Boko Haram.
The leaders of Nigeria's neighbours - Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad - are scheduled to attend the summit on Saturday, which will also include representatives from the UK, US and EU.
A statement said delegates at the meeting will "discuss fresh strategies for dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in west and Central Africa".
'Troubling atrocities'
Meanwhile, US officials on Thursday criticised the speed of Nigeria's response to the threat from Boko Haram.
Alice Friend, director for African affairs at the US defence department, said its security forces had been "slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics".
John Simpson assesses the threat of Boko Haram
She also said the US was unable to offer aid to Nigeria's military because of "troubling" atrocities perpetrated by some units during operations against Boko Haram.
"We cannot ignore that Nigeria can be an extremely challenging partner to work with," Ms Friend said.
State of emergency
US drones and surveillance aircraft have been deployed to assist in the search for the schoolgirls, while the UK has sent a military team to the capital, Abuja, to work alongside US, French and Israeli experts.
The lower house of Nigeria's parliament, the House of Representatives, approved an extension of the state of emergency in the north-east states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa on Thursday.
Nigerian soldiers on patrol in the north of Borno state - 5 June 2013A US official said its cooperation with Nigeria's army was limited by its links to "troubing" atrocities
President Jonathan had requested a six-month extension, calling the security situation in the region "daunting" and saying he was concerned by the mounting loss of life among civilians.
The state of emergency, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, gives the military widespread powers such as detaining suspects, imposing curfews and setting up roadblocks.
On Thursday, there were reports of fresh attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants in Borno state.
A witness told the BBC's Hausa Service that there had been explosions in Gamboru Ngala, were some 300 people were killed last week in a massacre blamed on Boko Haram.

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Bosnia and Serbia emergency after 'worst ever' floods

A view of a landslide and floodwaters around houses in the village of Topcic Polje, near the central Bosnian town of Zenica, on 15 May 2014Landslides destroyed homes in a number of towns and villages in Bosnia

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States of emergency have been declared in parts of Bosnia and Serbia after the heaviest rain and worst floods since records began 120 years ago.
Overflowing rivers have burst into towns and villages, cutting off whole communities, while landslides have buried houses.
At least three people have drowned.
Army helicopters have been sent to evacuate thousands of stranded residents but reports say bad weather is hampering the rescue efforts.
Residents of Sarajevo look at the river Miljacka on 14 May 2014 River levels rose all over Bosnia, including in the capital Sarajevo
A man stands in his flooded garden in front of his house in the town of Lazarevac, south from Belgrade, on 15 May 2014. Rising water levels have cut off communities south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade
Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said it was the "greatest flooding disaster ever".
He said his government had appealed for help from the European Union, Russia and neighbouring countries.
Rescuers in Serbia say they have so far managed to to evacuate around 4,000 people.
Serbian police officers evacuate people from their homes surrounded by flood waters near the town of Lazarevac, on 15 May 2014Residents boarded boats to escape the flood waters near the Serbian town of Lazarevac
A Bosnian man looks out from a balcony at floodwaters surrounding his house in the village of Topcic Polje, near the central Bosnian town of Zenica, on 15 May 2014. Some of those left stranded in Bosnia could only wait for rescue teams to arrive
In Bosnia, army helicopters have been trying to rescue residents, some of whom have been sitting on their roofs waiting for help.
But reports say strong wind and rain may be hampering the efforts.
"We had to abort the mission because of the rainfall and winds. The weather is horrible and the helicopter has its limits," said rescue pilot Fahrudin Memic.
"This is the most difficult mission I have ever participated in."
Thousands of homes are without electricity.
An aerial view of the flooded suburb of Sarajevo on 15 May 2014.Whole suburbs of Sarajevo have been submerged
Serbian police officers evacuate people from their homes surrounded by flood waters near the town of Lazarevac, south of Belgrade, on 15 May 2014.Many towns in Serbia could be reached only by boat

Stuart Hall cleared of rape but convicted of indecent assault

Stuart Hall court sketchStuart Hall sat in the dock as verdicts were returned

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Ex-BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall has been cleared of raping two girls.
Hall, 84, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, was found not guilty of 15 charges of rape and four counts of indecent assault by a jury at Preston Crown Court.
He was accused of abusing the girls from the age of 12 between 1976 and 1981. Jurors found him guilty of one count of indecent assault.
The former It's a Knockout presenter said the sex was consensual, apart from one occasion which "never happened".
At the beginning of the trial he admitted indecently assaulting one woman when she was aged 13.
The jury reached a majority decision that he was guilty of a separate indecent assault against the same woman.
No reaction
Mr Hall was charged under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, where he could be charged with rape, indecent assault and unlawful sex with a girl under 16.
The jury was told "no proceedings can be brought" in relation to unlawful sex with a girl aged under 16 "after 12 months had expired from the date".
But the 12-month time limit did not apply when the charges were rape or indecent assault, jurors heard.
The judge, Mr Justice Turner, said "therefore it is permissible" for the prosecution to bring the charges against Hall.
The BBC's Judith Moritz takes a look at the background to the case
The Sexual Offences Act 1956 was amended in 2003.
Hall showed no reaction as the jury of eight women and four men delivered the verdicts after more than seven hours of deliberation.
He mouthed "thank you" to the jurors as he was led away to the cells to continue serving his sentence for earlier offences.
'Respect the verdicts'
A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation was "appalled by the crimes of Stuart Hall".
She said a "detailed investigation into Hall's conduct at the BBC" was being conducted by Dame Linda Dobbs and her conclusions would be published as part of Dame Janet Smith's review of former BBC DJ Jimmy Savile's conduct later in the year.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "The jury has listened to all the evidence from the prosecution and defence and we of course respect the verdicts they have reached."
Det Ch Insp Neil Esseen said Lancashire Constabulary had "worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service throughout and all of the evidence was subject to careful scrutiny before a decision was taken to charge, in the belief that there was a realistic prospect of conviction".
"Whenever anyone comes forward to report allegations of a sexual nature, it is absolutely right that we carry out a professional investigation, which is what we have done in this case.
"We have recognised and considered the views and needs of the victims throughout this investigation and we will continue to offer them whatever support they need," he said.
Hall is serving a 30-month jail term after he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 13 other girls, one as young as nine.

Bees swarm on shop window in London's Victoria Street

Topshop in Victoria Street, central LondonPeople stopped to take pictures of the swarm in Victoria Street

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Trained beekeepers had to tackle a 5,000-strong swarm of honeybees surrounding a central London store.
The insects were smoked out after gathering around a sign in front of a store in Victoria Street earlier.
Tony Mann, a trained beekeeper, said the bees were flying around the areas "like scouts".
The bees were moved to nearby Westminster Cathedral, where they will be looked after by beekeepers on the church's roof.
Beekeepers at Topshop in Victoria Street, central LondonBeekeepers had to smoke the insects into a box
Mr Mann said: "We have either had a virgin Queen or an old Queen, she has left the nest and she has brought the swarm and settled on the shopfront."
He added that some of bees were flying around "like scouts to try to find out where the next best place to go is".
Beekeepers in Victoria Street, central LondonThe colony was transported to nearby Westminster Cathedral
It is not known where the bees came from, but some shops in the area have their own hives.
David Beamont, from the Victoria Business Improvement District, said: "Local beekeepers were able to respond swiftly to manage the swarm, collect them in a mobile hive and move them to a suitable location."

Indian election: Narendra Modi hails 'landmark' win

Narendra Modi: "We have to take India forward... we have to fulfil the dreams of more than a billion people"
Incoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed a "landmark" election victory by his BJP party.
Thanking supporters in his own constituency in his home state of Gujarat, Mr Modi said they had written a new chapter in the country's history.
Results show the BJP won the biggest victory by any party for 30 years, gaining a majority in parliament and trouncing the outgoing Congress Party.
The controversial leader campaigned on promises to revive the economy.

At the scene

The scene at the BJP headquarters resembles a carnival. The entire building has been decorated with the party flag, giant posters of Narendra Modi have been placed outside and large television screens are displaying the vote count.
As the scale of the BJP's victory became apparent, the atmosphere became more frenzied.
Young men with "Modi for PM" emblazoned on their t-shirts danced, chanting his name. Others signed a huge banner with their hero's picture, congratulating him and even advising him on how to run the country.
And the street outside the party headquarters is already resembling a battlefield, strewn with the remains of firecrackers, the air thick with smoke.
However, many Indians still have profound concerns over Mr Modi because of claims he did little to stop communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 when he was first minister in the state.
At least 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims.
Mr Modi has always denied the allegations over he was never charged.
'Real government'
With votes still being counted, the BJP has won more than the 272 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
With its allies, the party could get more than 330 seats.
"India has won, good days are about to come," Mr Modi tweeted as it became clear that the BJP had triumphed.
The tweet became the most retweeted in India's history.
The prime minister-elect told his supporters the victory was no ordinary one.
"In the 60-year history of Indian independence, I have never seen this in the Indian media, what you have done in our country," Mr Modi said, as supporters shouted "Modi, Modi, Modi".
He said he would rule for all Indians.


"Real government doesn't belong to a community. It belongs to the entire country," he said.

Start Quote

Shamila Chaudhary
The elections offer a chance for a fresh start for the stalled India policy of the Obama administration”
Shamila ChaudharyJohn Hopkins University
"The real government will belong from Kashmir on top to Kanya Kumari [on India's southern tip] - that is a real government."
Several world leaders have congratulated Mr Modi on his victory.
US President Barack Obama phoned the prime minister-elect and said the US "looks forward to working with India to continue to build a strong partnership between our democracies", National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote on Twitter.
Earlier UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Mr Modi.
He received invitations to Washington and London, despite being persona non grata in both capitals following the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif commended the BJP's "impressive victory" in the election.
The election result will be a crushing blow to the Congress party, which is led by the Nehru-Gandhi family and has dominated Indian politics since independence.
It is only expected to win 44 seats.
Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi: "I respect the verdict of the people"
The election reflects voter anger with Congress, which has been mired in serious corruption scandals and whose leadership has been considered ineffective in recent years, analysts say.
Accepting defeat, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said: "We humbly respect the verdict of the people."
Narendra Modi bows to supporters at a rally in Gujarat - 16 MayNarendra Modi thanked supporters for the election victory in his home state of Gujarat
BJP supporters in Delhi - 16 MayCelebration of the BJP victory continued into the night in Delhi
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi accepting defeat on 16 May 2014Sonia and Rahul Gandhi said they took full responsibility for the Congress party's heavy defeat
Vote counting in Gauhati, India, on 16 May 2014More than 500 million votes are being counted, with the official results expected later on Friday
Share prices rallied to new highs on BJP promises of economic revival.
More than 500 million people voted in what is the world's biggest exercise in democracy.
Voter turnout in the mammoth nine-phase general election was a record 66.38%, beating the previous 1984 poll record.
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Yogita Limaye reports: "There's great excitement because the stock market has hit another record high"
The BBC's Andrew North travelled to Narenda Modi's home state of Gujarat
India election
  • World's biggest exercise in electoral democracy; 814 million eligible voters
  • A total of 8,251 candidates stood for election
  • It started five weeks ago and a total of 551 million votes were cast, with a record 66.38% turnout
  • The party or alliance that wins a majority in the 543-seat parliament forms the government

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