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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Canadians, Pakistani, Nigerian among dead in Saudi fire

August 31, 2015

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Three Canadians, a Pakistani and a Nigerian were among those killed in a fire that engulfed parts of a residential compound in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich east, a Saudi official said.

The blaze began early Sunday in a sprawling, multistory housing complex in the city of Khobar that accommodates workers for state oil giant Saudi Aramco. Col. Ali bin Saad al-Qahtani, a civil defense spokesman for the kingdom's Eastern Province, provided the update in comments carried by the official Saudi Press Agency early Monday.

He said a total of 10 people died and 259 were injured in the blaze. The civil defense directorate previously said 11 people were killed. Al-Qahtani did not provide the nationalities of the other five people killed.

Diana Khaddaj, a spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, said consular officers in Riyadh are in touch with Saudi authorities "to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to those affected and their family during this difficult time."

Of those injured, 179 have left the hospital after receiving treatment. A preliminary investigation suggests a short circuit in an electrical transformer in the building's basement sparked the blaze, which quickly spread through 130 cars parked in the basement, al-Qahtani said.

The complex, known as Radium, is a gated community of eight six-story buildings with a total of 486 residential units as well as swimming pools and other leisure facilities, according to Aramco's website.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed reporting.

Ukraine's parliament shows cracks over devolving powers

September 01, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's parliament majority showed cracks Tuesday after a right-wing party said it was leaving the coalition over a measure to give more power to Ukraine's regions, including the rebel-held east.

The announcement from the Radical Party, which came in fifth in last year's election, came as two more National Guard officers died from injuries suffered in a grenade explosion, bringing the death toll to three from Monday's clashes between nationalists and police outside Ukraine's parliament.

About 140 people were hospitalized following the violence, most of them law enforcement officers, the Interior Ministry said. Most of the 100 violent protesters were members of Svoboda, a Ukrainian nationalist party that holds only a handful of seats in parliament. Wielding truncheons, pipes and sticks with nails, they faced off against police in riot gear.

Investigators have summoned nearly 30 people for questioning including Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok in connection with the clashes, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday. A statement on the website of the Ukrainian president claimed that Svoboda, the Radical Party and one other group were behind the rally Monday.

President Petro Poroshenko met with the country's top law enforcement officers and urged for a speedy investigation into the clashes. Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin said the perpetrators and organizers of the clashes would face lengthy prison terms on charges of carrying out a terrorist attack.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Groisman urged all political parties Tuesday to condemn violence and rally around the president and his plans to devolve powers, but the Radical Party led by Oleh Lyashko said it would now officially oppose Poroshenko and his plan, which they believe threatens the country's sovereignty.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sergey Lavrov said Monday's clashes showed the "danger of flirting with extremists." The decentralization of power was a condition demanded by Russia for a truce signed in February aimed at ending the fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists that has left more than 6,800 people dead since April 2014.

Poroshenko has found himself in a tight spot with the bill, attracting the ire of nationalists who accuse him of undermining Ukraine's independence. At the same time, the Russian-backed rebels say the bill does not give them as much as power as they want.

Lyashko, who came in third in Ukraine's May 2014 presidential election, said Tuesday he will demand a referendum to discuss the measure. "Only the Ukrainian people as a source of power have the right to say what kind of country they should live in," he said in comments carried by Ukrainian news agencies.

Poroshenko, on a hospital visit to see the injured officers, pledged to find the organizers of the clashes who were handing out weapons. A total of 265 lawmakers voted to give preliminary approval to the bill, which still needs final approval. Only three out of the government's five coalition parties voted for the bill.

The government insists the constitutional amendment would devolve powers to local communities in all of Ukraine, from east to west, while making sure that Ukraine stays one state. In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday welcomed the vote, saying it "shows that Ukraine is steadfastly upholding its commitments under the Minsk agreements to adapt governance structures in certain parts of Donetsk and Luhansk" — the separatist areas.

Speaking to Russian news agencies in Donetsk, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko criticized Poroshenko for taking out a clause that could offer sovereignty to the east and make it a part of a loose confederation within Ukraine.

Yuras Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

2 US F-22 fighter jets in Poland for exercises with ally

August 31, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two U.S. stealth F-22 fighter jets have arrived in Poland to carry out combat air exercises for a day with the Polish air force.

The exercises are part of a broader U.S. policy of assurance to NATO allies in Eastern Europe worried about Russian aggression. The two F-22 Raptor jets arrived on Monday at Lask Air Base in central Poland. They are part of the first U.S. deployment of the high-tech jets to Europe.

The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw said that four F-22 Raptors arrived last week at the Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and will remain there until mid-September.

Poland's mixed feelings over memorial to rescuers of Jews

August 31, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — As a Catholic Pole, Elka shouldn't even have been in the ghetto of Czestochowa, in southern Poland. But the nanny was so devoted to the 12-year-old Jewish boy she had raised since infancy that she refused to leave. She ended up being sent to the Treblinka death camp — where she was murdered with the Jews.

Today the boy, Sigmund Rolat, is an 85-year-old Polish-American businessman and philanthropist on a mission. He aims to build a memorial in heart of Warsaw's former ghetto to his beloved Elka and the thousands of other Polish Christians who risked their lives for Jews during World War II.

While the project has the blessing of Poland's chief rabbi, it has also sparked strong opposition. Many scholars and some Jews fear that a monument to Polish rescuers at Warsaw's key site of Jewish tragedy will bolster a false historical narrative that Poles largely acted as rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. In reality, many Poles were indifferent to the plight of Jews during the war and some participated in their persecution.

Official Polish narratives about the Holocaust already typically highlight the Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. Poland has been actively promoting the memory of Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who brought proof to the West of the destruction of Poland's Jews.

Yet little is said about the widespread passivity that existed despite such enormous Jewish suffering, or cases where Poles used the breakdown of law and order to blackmail and murder Jews themselves, driven by greed or anti-Semitic hatred.

"Poles were victims, but at the same time they were also victimizers of the most fragile members of society," said historian Jan Grabowski, an opponent of the memorial and author of "Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland."

The debate comes against the backdrop of a dramatic, more positive change in attitudes toward Poland's Jewish history since the country's repressive communist era. The democratic European Union nation is increasingly celebrating the large Jewish population that flourished in Polish lands for centuries until the Holocaust — the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a key example of this efflorescence.

Under Rolat's plan, the memorial would be next to the POLIN Museum and near a monument to the Jewish fighters of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But there is still stiff resistance by the Polish government and mainstream society to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that Poles — who were tortured, imprisoned and murdered in huge numbers by the Germans — also took part willingly at times in the murder of Jews.

Nobody questions the heroism of the Polish rescuers, who risked immediate execution along with their entire families. Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem has documented more than 6,500 such Poles. Opponents of the memorial, however, argue that the former Warsaw ghetto should remain primarily a site of Jewish mourning, not a site of Polish national glory — given how little help actually reached Poland's 3.3 million Jews, most of whom perished. They stress that saving Jews was the rare exception and that rescuers had to fear not only the Germans but also betrayal by other Poles.

Yad Vashem says even after the war, Polish rescuers sometimes asked the Jews they had helped not to tell anybody, not wanting their neighbors to know. "Polish anti-Semitism was ubiquitous before the war and unscrupulous," reads an open letter against the memorial project written by three Polish scholars — Bozena Keff, Helena Datner and Elzbieta Janicka — and signed by many others. "That was the context for the Righteous, who acted DESPITE and not with the consent of the majority."

Michal Bilewicz, a psychologist who specializes in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, describes Polish behavior toward Jews during the war as extremely complex and difficult to convey. Many assume that Poles collaborated with the Nazis, but this is wrong: Poland's underground state and army even had a unit to help Jews.

"They did not collaborate with the Nazis. But at the same time large numbers of these people were anti-Semites," said Bilewicz, an associate professor at the Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University. "They were more violently anti-Nazi than they were anti-Semitic, but they hated Jews. Sometimes they even said 'there is only one good thing about Hitler: that he resolved the Jewish issue in Poland.'"

This still-painful and unresolved relationship to the darker side of Poland's wartime history leads to frequent controversies. When the Polish film "Ida" won an Oscar this year, Polish nationalists denounced it as "anti-Polish" for depicting Polish peasants who killed a Jewish family during the war, without any hint that the country was under German occupation or any acknowledgement of the existence of some rescuers.

Poles were also outraged this summer when FBI director James Comey, in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in April, listed Poles among the war's perpetrators. "In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn't do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do," Comey said.

Then-president Bronislaw Komorowski called the comments "an insult to thousands of Poles who helped Jews," while Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said: "To those who are incapable of presenting the historic truth in an honest way, I want to say that Poland was not a perpetrator but a victim of World War II."

"The (Polish) reaction was completely hysterical," said Grabowski, the historian. "What Comey said was basically and entirely true: that otherwise good people under very particular circumstances during the war started murdering Jews and felt absolutely no remorse or guilt. He mentioned the Germans, Hungarian and Poles, and he also could have mentioned the French and Italians and Ukrainians. His only sin was the sin of omission."

Bilewicz attributes what he calls Polish "hypersensitivity" in such debates to a "lack of acknowledgement of Polish suffering during the Second World War" — widespread ignorance outside of Poland to the huge civilian losses, the destruction of Warsaw, the fact that many non-Jews were also sent to concentration camps.

Rolat, the Holocaust survivor sponsoring the project, faced a recent setback when an international art jury picked an unusual concept from the many proposals: a forest nursery next to the Jewish history museum whose trees would later be replanted in locations linked to Jewish life.

Rolat says that project cannot be implemented because it would not be permanent and would require continuous maintenance funds. He has vowed to still build sometime beautiful and appropriate, insisting that one can never do enough to show gratitude to people like his nanny — a woman whose last name he doesn't even know.

"Elka was as important to me as a child as my mother was," Rolat said. "And she died only because she loved a Jewish child."

Hungary railway station remains closed to migrants

September 02, 2015

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Thousands of migrants remain stranded at Budapest's main international railway station as Hungarian authorities are sticking to European Union rules and preventing them from leaving for Germany and other countries west.

Around 3,000 migrants were at the Keleti station in the Hungarian capital early Wednesday, many sleeping outside the main entrance guarded by police, who said citizen patrols were now assisting them in keeping order.

Volunteer groups accustomed to providing food, clothing and medical assistance to a few hundred migrants at a time struggled with the large number of people staying in every corner of the station's sunken plaza.

More than 150,000 migrants have reached Hungary this year, most coming through the southern border with Serbia. Many apply for asylum but quickly try to leave for richer EU countries.

Greek election could result in new, big coalition govt

August 29, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's outgoing prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is banking on his popularity to win a national election next month and strengthen his grip on power after purging his radical left Syriza party of dissenters.

But as the political jostling heats up ahead of the Sept. 20 vote, it appears increasingly likely that Tsipras will have to form a new, more unwieldy coalition government — possibly with as many as three other parties.

Tsipras called the election last week to rid his party of rebels who had refused to back the bailout deal he agreed upon with Greece's international creditors. The hardliners accused Tsipras of reneging on their party's promises to fight the budget cuts and tax increases demanded by creditors. Their defections came thick and fast, trimming Syriza's presence in parliament.

Now, as Tsipras weighs his options, experts say he may have to strike an alliance with the opposition, creating a so-called "grand coalition." "The most likely outcome is a coalition government with two, three or four parties taking part," said Theodore Couloumbis, a political scientist at the University of Athens.

Tsipras and his supporters say they are aiming to capture an outright majority of seats in the new parliament, hoping that the new Syriza, shorn of its hardliners, will attract enough moderate voters to more than make up for the defections.

This will be difficult to achieve, experts say. The first major opinion poll since elections were called, published Friday in the left-leaning Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, showed Syriza as the most popular party, with 23 percent saying they intend to vote for it. That was down from 26 percent in early July.

The second-biggest party, the conservative New Democracy, appears to be catching up, with 19.5 percent of the intended vote, up from 15 percent in July. The poll was conducted by the ProRata company on Aug. 25-26 with a sample of 1,000 people nationwide and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Much will depend on Tsipras, who is personally quite popular. Greeks feel that, although he agreed to the tough budget austerity measures in the new bailout, he did what he could to convince creditors to ease the terms. He also enjoys an image as a down-to-earth politician who dismantled the old, established parties that led the country into financial ruin six years ago.

"He is still seen as the fresh face, the likable David taking on the Goliaths," writes Aristides Hatzis, a professor of Law and Economics at the University of Athens Law School. A Syriza majority would give Tsipras a strong mandate to implement the terms of the bailout — a three-year plan of budget cuts, tax increases and broad economic reforms in return for 86 billion euros ($97 billion) in loans from Greece's European partners.

Critics, however, note that as the austerity measures bite and create discontent among Greeks, more lawmakers in Syriza might be tempted to defect. Many of them, including Tsipras, note that the policies go against their beliefs and they are supporting them only because the alternative to a bailout would have been to let Greece fall out of the shared euro currency, something most Greeks do not want.

Short of a majority, Tsipras would first look to renew Syriza's coalition with the Independent Greeks, a small right-wing party that had quietly backed all his policies. But in the ProRata poll, only 2 percent said they would support the Independent Greeks, below the 3 percent needed to enter Parliament.

If the Independent Greeks cannot guarantee Syriza a majority, things get more complicated. Syriza would almost surely reject the idea of an alliance with the Popular Unity, the new party formed by its own dissidents.

So it would be forced to turn to the old established parties: the center-left To Potami or the socialist PASOK, or even the center-right New Democracy. The problem with this option is that Tsipras accuses them of being corrupt and allied with business interests. Tsipras said this week that if an alliance with these parties is the only option, he would not accept being prime minister. That has been widely interpreted as meaning he would let someone else take the role, while leading his party within the coalition government.

That would raise questions on who the new government leader would be — and whether they would be as dedicated to implementing Greece's bailout program as Tsipras. All this coalition talk is predicated on one, rather shaky, assumption: that Tsipras is, or has become, a sincere reformer who has purposely rid himself of his left-wingers and is now ready to transform his neo-communist party into a social-democratic one. Some analysts have even called him, long before he signed the new bailout, an American-style liberal.

Beyond the governing coalition, the composition of the new parliament will also be crucial to the success of the bailout program. A strengthening of the anti-bailout forces, such as the Popular Unity party, the Communist Party or the extreme-right Golden Dawn, might cause Syriza to gradually backslide from its pro-reform position and start dithering on reforms.

And that, in turn, could lead to a new clash and crisis with Greece's European creditors.

Greece's new prime minister names caretaker cabinet

August 28, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's new prime minister, a top judge who is the country's first female premier, named the members of her caretaker government Friday as the country heads to early elections next month, the third time Greeks will go to the polls this year.

The appointments come a day after Supreme Court head Vassiliki Thanou was sworn into office. The 65-year-old was appointed after outgoing prime minister Alexis Tsipras resigned last week, barely seven months into his four-year mandate, following a rebellion by members of his radical-left Syriza party who objected to his agreement with the conditions of Greece's third international bailout.

The finance ministry post went to Giorgos Houliarakis, an academic who had been on Greece's negotiating team during talks with creditors. Popular Greek pop singer Alkistis Protopsalti was named tourism minister. The new cabinet was to be sworn in later Friday.

Elections are widely expected to be set for Sept. 20. Tsipras has said he needs a stronger mandate to implement the tough austerity measures accompanying the three-year, 86 billion euro bailout, but an opinion poll published in the left-leaning Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper Friday found small support for his move.

Sixty-four percent said Tsipras' decision to call the snap poll was wrong, compared to 24 percent who considered it correct. The remainder took no position or did not reply. Sixty-eight percent said they believe the country should remain within the euro even if it means further austerity measures and sacrifices. Asked whether the government got the best deal it could for the third bailout, 48 percent said yes and 45 percent disagreed.

The poll showed Syriza supported by 23 percent, compared to 26 percent in an early July survey by the same company. The conservative New Democracy party stood at about 20 percent compared to 15 percent in July.

The small nationalist Independent Greeks, Syriza's partner in the seven-month coalition government, were backed by 2 percent, below the 3 percent threshold for to enter Parliament. Tsipras has ruled out forming a coalition with any of the center-right or center-left parties if he fails to win a majority to govern outright, meaning he would be unable to form a government unless a party that didn't make it into parliament last time manages to win above 3 percent.

The poll was conducted by the ProRata company on Aug. 25-26 with a sample of 1,000 people nationwide and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Greece appoints 1st female prime minister ahead of snap poll

August 27, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's first female prime minister, a top judge, was sworn in Thursday to head a caretaker government ahead of early elections next month in the bailout-dependent country.

Supreme Court head Vassiliki Thanou, 65, was appointed after radical left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned, seeking a stronger mandate to implement tough austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors in return for a third bailout worth 86 billion euro ($97 billion).

Her main task will be to hold the reins until a new government emerges from the vote expected on Sept. 20. "But, given the circumstances ... I believe that this government will also have to handle crucial matters," Thanou said in her first public comments in office, singling out for mention Greece's immigration crisis.

Since January, the financially struggling country has received more than 160,000 mainly Syrian refugees and economic migrants — a record number — who arrive in boats from Turkey before heading to wealthier European countries.

Tsipras was forced to step down last week, barely seven months into his four-year term, following a rebellion in his radical left Syriza party over his agreement to the new income cuts and tax hikes. Syriza hardliners were furious that Tsipras signed the deal with even harsher terms than those he had vowed to abolish when he was elected in January. The deal was approved with support from pro-European opposition parties, who now accuse him of rushing to call elections before voters are hit by the full force of the new tax measures.

The 41-year-old outgoing prime minister has argued he was left with no choice but to accept European creditors' demands, to save Greece from defaulting on its debts and being forced out of the euro currency it shares with another 18 European nations.

Thanou will appoint a Cabinet that will be sworn in on Friday, when the election date will be formally confirmed. Greek President Procopis Pavlopoulos announced her appointment after parliament's three largest parties failed to find willing coalition partners. The last to hold the mandate to form a government was former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who created the new Popular Unity party last week after splitting from Syriza.

Greece has relied on funds from two bailouts by other European countries and the International Monetary Fund totaling nearly 240 billion euros ($270 billion) since 2010. In return for the loans, successive governments imposed deeply resented spending cuts that slashed incomes by more than a third, deepened a dire recession and pushed unemployment well over 25 percent.

The second bailout expired earlier this year, and Tsipras insisted he could negotiate a better deal for his country. But the talks with creditors floundered and eventually collapsed in June, with Tsipras calling a referendum and urging Greeks to vote against creditor demands. They overwhelmingly did so, but the prime minister eventually signed up to even stricter demands in return for the third, three-year rescue loan agreement.

Despite his about-face on policies, Tsipras is expected to win the next election although it's unclear whether he will secure enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. He has ruled out a coalition with any of the centrist opposition parties: center-right New Democracy, the socialist PASOK party or the small centrist To Potami party.

Unless other smaller parties manage to enter Parliament, that would leave his current coalition partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks — which, however, may struggle to cross the 3 percent parliamentary threshold.

Tsipras is not expected to form a government with the new Popular Unity party, the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, whose leader and lawmakers still face criminal charges, or the communist KKE party.

Merkel makes vague warning on Catalan independence plan

September 01, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says European Union treaties guarantee the integrity and sovereignty of member nations, a diplomatic warning to separatist politicians in the Spanish region of Catalonia who plan to declare independence if they win a majority in upcoming local elections.

Asked at a news conference Tuesday with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy if such a declaration would mean Catalonia's expulsion from the EU, Merkel would only say she shared Rajoy's stance and that international and national laws must be obeyed.

Catalonia's ruling Convergence party and other political and civil groups are running joint candidates and say they will unilaterally leave Spain if they obtain a majority in elections Sept. 27. Madrid has ruled out any possibility of secession.

Germany open to new 4-way Ukraine summit

August 31, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she's open to holding a new summit with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France but that there would have to be hope of progress for it to make sense.

France and Russia issued statements talking of a possible summit with Ukraine's leader to discuss the conflict in the country's east after Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Saturday.

Germany didn't immediately mention that possibility. Merkel said Monday the next step will be another phone call among the leaders, and the countries' foreign ministers may then meet. She said a summit also is a possibility, adding: "one has to have hope of moving a step forward, so it must be well-prepared. But in principle all sides are open to this."

As asylum-seekers flood in, Germany struggles to house them

August 29, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Twenty-three-year-old Leila, her husband and two small children spent their first week in Germany in a temporary shelter, an austere but desperately needed haven after a traumatic flight from Syria that began when her husband was told to fight for the government.

Among an expected 800,000 asylum seekers flowing into Germany this year — some four times last year's count — she and her family shared a small room built in a converted covered tennis court in downtown Berlin during their first week in the country in August, furnished with three Ikea bunk beds, a small table and a small closet. They received three meals a day in a common room for the 300 refugees in the facility, and bathrooms were shared.

The setup was basic by European standards, but for Leila, who cannot forget the bodies littering the streets of the Syrian city of Aleppo, it was a fresh start. "We were so afraid, before we came here," said Leila, who requested that her last name not be used for fear of retribution against her family still in Syria. "Now we feel comfortable because we are treated well ... We feel safe here."

The surge in migrants and refugees to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and elsewhere this year has sent countries scrambling to come up with housing — both temporary for those awaiting the outcome of asylum applications, and permanent for those allowed to stay. German authorities say they have 45,000 spots in temporary facilities for new asylum applicants — excluding tent settlements that have been hastily erected — but they need as many as 150,000.

Many European countries face similar problems, but none greater than Germany. Europe's richest economy attracted 43 percent of Europe's 400,000 asylum applications in the first half of the year — more than double the number in the same period of 2014.

The converted tennis court where Leila and her family are being housed was supposed to be closed in May, but it has been kept open to help deal with the flood of newcomers. Funded by the city, it is run by the Berlin City Mission, a Christian nonprofit organization, and staffed largely by volunteers.

Elsewhere in Berlin, portable shipping containers have been converted into small stacks of apartments to accommodate 2,400 refugees around the capital. At one in container village in southwestern Berlin, which is just opening, colorfully painted containers offer comfortable space for 300 refugees. It boasts single rooms with shared kitchens and bathrooms on each floor, as well as small flats for families, and even accommodation for the disabled.

In government and non-governmental projects around the country, former military barracks are being converted to housing, disused nursing homes are being refurbished and even small tent cities are being erected. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has already doubled the financial assistance available to local authorities to 1 billion euros ($112 billion) and has called a meeting with state leaders in September to discuss the refugee situation further.

Some Germans have taken matters into their own hands. Last year, Berlin resident Jonas Kakoschke decided with his roommate to house a refugee in her place while she was spending six months abroad. Kakoschke helped the refugee, a Mali-born man from Senegal, learn the language, get his paperwork done and eventually find his own apartment. Now, with the online project "Refugees Welcome" that Kakosche and his roommate founded together, they help find private placements for more new arrivals, by matching ages, language skills and other criteria.

"Many refugees say they don't have direct contact with local population and our project helps them with that," Kakoschke said. Through July, they say they have placed 64 refugees across Germany and 34 in Austria in private apartments. There's also been reports of people across Germany who have taken in refugees on their own, but it is not clear exactly how many.

Even with a combination of government, NGO and grass-roots efforts, Merkel still sees the migrant situation in Germany as "extremely unsatisfactory." "Every person who comes is a human being and has the right to be treated as such," she said.

In Berlin, which expects to receive 35,000 refugees this year — almost triple the number in 2014 — Mayor Michael Mueller said the system needs to be streamlined to quickly separate those who will likely be allowed to stay long-term and those who won't.

"We need very quick procedures so that we can know as soon as possible who has a chance to obtain residence and who does not," Mueller said. Adding to the challenge has been an uptick in anti-foreigner violence, primarily in cities in former East Germany.

A week ago in Heidenau, a town near the Saxony capital of Dresden in eastern Germany, a far-right mob hurled bottles and fireworks at police protecting a temporary shelter being set up for 600 refugees. Merkel, visiting the town on Wednesday, called the incident "shameful and repulsive."

In nearby Meissen, a refugee home was burned down two months ago, just days before it was to open for 32 asylum seekers. And in the Bavarian town of Reichertshofen, a building for 67 refugees was set ablaze last month, just before the asylum seekers were to move in.

Overall, in the first half of the year, 202 anti-foreigner incidents were reported in Germany, more than in all of 2014. Authorities have been forced to take extra precautions, even in places like Berlin where there have been no major incidents.

"Our container village has not experienced any attacks, however we are very concerned," said Detlef Cwojdzinski, who is in charge of managing the construction of one such settlement in southwestern Berlin. "That's why we have had a security service on site since we started the project."

Nora Brezger, an expert from the Refugee Council Berlin, a nonprofit refugee support group, criticized temporary housing options as short-sighted, saying it costs the city approximately 25 euros ($28) per day to house refugees in container villages or shelters. She argued the money could be used to pay for apartments that would help them integrate better into society as well as be more comfortable.

At the shelter where Leila was living, volunteers did their best to make the refugees feel at home. The structure looks like a backpacker hostel with a check-in entrance, a big canteen and lounges. Cultural events, workshops and even a small kindergarten are available for those who stay longer. More than 950 people have worked as volunteers at the shelter since it opened in November, providing psychiatric counseling, medical help and general assistance.

"We don't simply open the doors, point at the beds and say that's it," said Joachim Lenz, the Berlin City Mission's director. Leila said back home in Syria, her family had no gas, no electricity and little food, barely enough to survive on for her 3 ½-year-old son and six-month-old daughter. Now she has allowed herself to think ahead, about getting her children into kindergarten, then a good education, and eventually rewarding careers.

"There is no better place than a homeland, but now it is safe for us in Germany," she said. "We want our kids to see and live normal life, to have a childhood like everybody else's children."

David Rising and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this story.

German authorities brace for protests at refugee shelter

August 28, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — German authorities braced for possible far-right violence in the eastern state of Saxony at the weekend, with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday promising federal support for local police seeking to prevent anti-refugee riots of the kind seen in the town of Heidenau last week.

Local authorities had imposed a blanket ban on public assemblies to prevent a repeat of the violence that occurred outside a refugee shelter last weekend, in which dozens of police officers were injured. The ban was partially lifted by a court to allow a welcome party for refugees to take place.

Johannes Dimroth, a spokesman for Germany's Interior Ministry, said federal police would be sent to Heidenau to support local forces. He was unable immediately to say how many officers would be deployed.

"We've already made one step in the right direction," with the decision to provide help, Merkel said, adding that federal authorities would "do everything within their power in order to support the Saxony police."

More generally, Merkel said European Union Interior Ministers meeting this weekend would be looking into "rapid changes to the asylum system." She said Greece and Italy needed to be supported with common registration centers equipped with "European-wide personnel," but also with the assurance that the migrants coming in would then be distributed around Europe.

Germany, which expects some 800,000 migrants this year, has complained many others in Europe aren't pulling their weight in dealing with the influx. "There has to be a fair distribution of refugees and asylum seekers who are deemed eligible," she said, speaking at a press conference with Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

Germany in the first half of the year has seen more than 40 percent of all asylum applications, which Loekke Rasmussen said could not be allowed to continue. He said Europe needed to reduce the number of economic refugees, partially by working with the countries they come from to create economic growth and political stability, so those fleeing wars and other violence could be offered refuge faster.

"It is not fair that Germany and a handful of other member states receive the vast majority while others receive none, but a fair burden sharing is not a solution in itself," he told reporters. "We also need to reduce the numbers of migrants that arrive in Europe to be able to welcome those refugees who have a real need for protection."

Most Germans have been welcoming to refugees, but attacks on migrants and refugee shelters have increased significantly over the past year. On Friday, police said a petrol bomb was thrown through a window at an asylum-seekers' home in a town in northwestern Germany, starting a small fire but injuring none of the residents.

The dpa news agency quoted police spokesman Jens Petersen as saying that a mattress and a rug caught fire in the attack overnight on the school building in Salzhemmendorf that had been converted to house some 30 asylum seekers. The blaze was quickly extinguished and no one was injured.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported Friday that security officials are concerned about the possible emergence of far-right terror cells, and have asked local authorities to provide data on recent attacks against refugees.

"Of course there's a noticeable trend," said Dimroth, the Interior Ministry spokesman. But he added that so far "according to the assessment of the federal security services there is no visible national network."

French police dismantle Roma camp on Paris outskirts

August 27, 2015

LA COURNEUVE, France (AP) — Police, working swiftly in the pouring rain, cleared out one of France's biggest and oldest Roma camps on Thursday, dismantling a sprawling network of makeshift shelters that housed hundreds of people.

After the 2½-hour-long evacuation, some 50 people milled about on the streets of La Courneuve, despite official promises that no one would be left in the streets. Hugues Besancenot, secretary general of the prefecture of the Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris, said around 60 pregnant women, young children and disabled camp residents received vouchers for urgent housing. The others were given a homeless shelter hotline.

About 200 people had been living in the camp, which sprang up in 2009, he said. However, associations put the number at about 300, noting that not all are present year-round. "They did nothing for us. They said there's no place for me," said Brindus Dan, who lived in the camp with his wife and three children, including a 6-month-old baby, for four years.

Residents had six months to prepare for the evacuation since a court ordered the camp shut last February. Police gave a final warning Tuesday, Besancenot said. Riot police lined the street leading to the camp, blocking the demolition of the shantytown from the public.

About 50 people, including mothers with infants, stood dazed and drenched on a nearby sidewalk, or under the awning of a closed cafe. One family of eight, with an infant in a stroller, echoed Dan's assertion that no one offered them help.

"For them to end up on the sidewalk, under the rain, will not help change the situation," said Livia Otal, Doctors of the World coordinator for shantytowns. "To be here today, does not mean that in the next two or three weeks they will not be starting over in another slum."

About 20,000 Roma, also known as Gypsies, live in shantytowns around France, according to Manon Fillonneau of the Romeurope Collective. About 4,000 to 5,000 Roma lived in 30 camps for the last 10 years — with some 20 of them evacuated, according to the mayor's office.

Roma face routine discrimination and evacuations, with expulsions in recent months in about 30 shantytowns, including in July in the town of Chelles, east of Paris where some 500 people lost their homes, Fillonneau said.

Their camps tend to lack water and electricity, and authorities often cite sanitary reasons for dismantling them. Authorities reserved 12 lodgings for residents in extreme need. A statement from La Courneuve Mayor Gilles Poux, who pressed for the camp's closure in 2013, said no "human, durable response to the distress of these Roma families" has been forthcoming from French or European authorities, even though Roma are from European Union countries, mainly Romania. He is seeking a "veritable effort of solidarity" organized by the state to share the burden.

Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

2 Belarus opposition figures pull out of presidential vote

August 27, 2015

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Two prominent potential candidates in Belarus' presidential election are pulling out, alleging that a free and fair vote is impossible under longtime authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Anatoly Lebedko and Sergei Kalyakin were among eight aspirants, including Lukashenko, who were authorized to try to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot for the Oct. 11 vote. But they've decided not to submit their signatures. The central Elections Commission will announce on Sept. 10 who qualifies to run in the vote.

Lukashenko, widely characterized in the West as Europe's last dictator, has run the former Soviet republic since 1994, cracking down on any opposition and retaining a largely centralized Soviet-style economy in this nation of nearly 10 million. Although he has allowed opposition candidates to run in presidential elections, none of the ballots have been recognized in the West as free or fair. Most of the candidates who opposed him in 2010 were arrested soon after the polls closed.

As Belarus' economy deteriorates sharply and neighboring Russia appears increasingly intimidating, Lukashenko has made brief attempts to improve ties with the West. Last week he ordered the release of all the country's political prisoners, including Nikolai Statkevich, a candidate in the last presidential election who had been imprisoned since then.

A wide field of candidates for president could bolster Lukashenko's image-building. Lebedko, however, regards any changes as only cosmetic. "When you beat people with truncheons for 20 years and then give them two months of some kind of freedom, you don't expect that he's suddenly becoming a European who understands what human rights are," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Miracles do not happen."

Rather than risk adding a sheen of legitimacy to the presidential vote, Lebedko said he and Kalyakin intend to capitalize on a "window of opportunity" under which opposition figures can meet with citizens and hold rallies until Sept. 10.

"We've set ourselves the tasks of increasing the number of participants in the political process and gathering evidence that these are not free elections," he said. Statkevich, who while still in prison had sought to run in the Oct. 11 election but was rejected, said he supports the strategy of opposition by withdrawal. He said those running against Lukashenko are just "artificial candidates."

"I intend to oppose this and unify with those colleagues from the democratic forces who don't juggle in the electoral circus of Lukashenko," he said.

Dozens of Venezuelan shot by police amid crime crackdown

August 31, 2015

MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) — Workers in the industrial complex had been hiding in bathrooms and closets for hours when the shooting stopped. The last of the four suspected thieves, a slightly built man in yellow rain boots, surrendered on the roof, crying out, "Jesus saves!"

Police put him into a truck and started to drive away. But then witnesses watched, confused, as the truck circled back. A video secretly recorded that rainy day in early August showed that police officers took the man to a concrete alley in the complex where his three companions already lay dead, held him in place, and then shot him point blank. The video does not show the deaths of the others, but two witnesses told The Associated Press they saw the trio lined up against a wall earlier in the morning, police pointing guns at their chests.

The slayings raised new concerns about a crime-fighting initiative launched this summer that aims to take back neighborhoods overrun by gangs. The program, officially rolled out in July as Operation Liberate the People, has already seen police shoot and kill more than 80 suspected criminals, according to an AP tally based on officials' statements to the media. There have been no reports of police injuries or deaths during the blitzkrieg-style operations.

Human rights groups are accusing security forces of carrying out summary executions. But many here also say the government is right to take a more militarized approach to fighting crime. Venezuelans broadly support iron fist policing. And it's the poor— those most likely to be caught in the crossfire— who most want to see an increased use of force, according to national polls.

In the case of the four killings, officials initially said that the men died during a shootout after they were caught stealing from a metalworking shop in the city of Maracay, outside Caracas. But after the video was leaked to the Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, eight officers were arrested and charged with homicide. The AP has not independently verified the authenticity of the video, but witnesses corroborated what it shows, and officials acted immediately after its release, apparently in reaction to what it revealed.

"The police and the thugs are one and the same here," said Willy Contreras, a young man who works beside the courtyard where the men were killed. "Neither side cares about human rights. And we can't, either. Killing the criminals is the only way to make sure they won't just go free."

President Nicolas Maduro has not addressed the case. National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello addressed the issue of human rights concerns about police killings generally in July, saying opposition groups were trying to score points by undermining what he said was an effective approach.

State officials overseeing the crime-fighting initiative did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Days after the video was released and sparked wide outrage, Gov. Tareck El Aissami of Aragua state, where Maracay is located, ordered the officers' arrests.

Venezuela has the world's second highest murder rate, after Honduras, according to the United Nations. Virtually everyone here has been touched by violence, and a culture of impunity means most killings go unsolved. While police generally acknowledge when they kill someone, it is not always clear that the slaying was committed in self-defense.

The government stopped publishing any data on police-related slayings in 2008, but the local nonprofit Committee of the Families of Victims counted 1,018 cases of extrajudicial killings in 2014, a 25 percent increase from 2013. That's more than twice the number of people who were reported killed by police last year in the United States, which has 10 times the population of Venezuela.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture has called on the country to investigate an emerging pattern of extrajudicial killings. The neighborhood of warehouses and low-slung cinderblock homes where the four thieves died was the site of the summer's first mass pacification campaign, one of dozens of similar operations that have been carried out this summer as the government works to reassert its authority after years of a more passive approach to law enforcement. In May, about 2,000 law enforcement officers stormed in to reclaim an abandoned police station, killing 10 people over two days, according to local news reports.

A similar operation in Caracas in July resulted in 14 deaths and hundreds of arrests. Analysts say the anti-crime initiative appears to be a bid to drum up support ahead of December elections, which the opposition could sweep for the first time in more than a decade. But police killings were already on the rise, according to Central University of Venezuela criminology professor Andres Antillano. He said police have killed 20 people during the past year and a half in the Caracas slum he studies.

Slayings by security forces is a pervasive problem in South America. In Colombia, scores of army troops have been jailed for killing an estimated 3,000 civilians and tagging them as rebels a decade ago to inflate body counts during the country's civil conflict. Brazilian police kill an average of five people a day.

And with Venezuela's out of control crime rate, police are increasingly under attack themselves, with an average of one officer killed every day, often for their weapons. Earlier this year, a security camera captured a teenager shooting a state police supervisor from behind as he ordered breakfast at a bakery in a small town near Caracas, then stealing his gun. The 18-year-old was later caught and killed by police.

Venezuelan police admit they are scared to leave their stations, and this spring held a street march demanding better protection and harsher punishment for criminals. Marion Conoropo, the cousin of one of the officers charged in the Aug. 5 killings, and a former Maracay police officer herself, says the agency is underpaid and under-protected, and officers are pushed to show results.

"You have to understand he was under so much pressure," she said of her cousin Humberto Conoropo. "The only thing people understand here is force." The same day the Maracay video was leaked to the South Florida newspaper, men with automatic weapons attacked the police station near the site of the slayings that had just been reopened after a pacification operation, killing one officer and injuring two others in an attack that locals widely believe was an act of retaliation.

The whitewashed walls of the police station are still stippled with bullet marks, and the carcass of a police truck, its windows punched out by the shooting, blocks the building's entrance. Workers at the industrial complex were reluctant to condemn the killings of the four suspected thieves even as they scrubbed down bloodied cement and paint over the chest-level craters left by the bullets. They said thieves have targeted them for years, despite electric fences, surveillance cameras, and weekly protection payments to both gangs and law enforcement.

Andres De La Cruz, who says he saw three of the men standing against a wall with police pointing guns at them, said he's still trying to forget that nightmarish morning. But he's glad there have been no robberies since.

Israeli army seeks harsh new sanctions against deserters

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Israeli army is moving to legislate new, wide-ranging sanctions against deserters, including a ban on obtaining a driver’s license, passport, and ID card.

According to the report in Ynet, the “severe government sanctions” could also include “a denial of housing benefits and scholarships.”

The army recently sent text messages to mobile phones belonging to an estimated 3,000 deserters, warning that “absence from service without approval” will “result in a criminal record.”

The paper states that the Israeli military was “encouraged by the success of legislation” initiated by Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun, “which established that deserters cannot receive state scholarships, and hopes to expand on the law.”

The officer told Ynet that the directorate is seeking to pass legislation resulting in government ministries not issuing ID cards or passports to deserters, rejecting requests for tax dedications or housing benefits, and even refusing to renew driver's licenses. In addition, the legislation would block deserters from public offices and ban them from renewing or receiving a weapons license.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20682-israeli-army-seeks-harsh-new-sanctions-against-deserters.

Soyuz carrying 3-man crew blasts off for orbiting station

September 02, 2015

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — A Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Russian, a Dane and a Kazakh blasted off on Wednesday for a two-day trip to the International Space Station.

The rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian launch facility in Kazakhstan, on schedule at 10:37 a.m. (0437 GMT), with "everything going flawlessly," according to a commentator on NASA television. It was the 500th launch of both manned and unmanned spacecraft from the launch pad used in 1961 by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, the commentator said.

Andreas Mogensen is the first Dane in space. Russia's Sergei Volkov is following in the footsteps of his father, who 24 years ago launched into space with the first astronaut from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh on the current mission, Aidyn Aimbetov, got his seat when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.

The new three-man crew will arrive at the orbiting outpost on Friday after a two-day flight through space. For the past two years, the crews have taken a more direct, six-hour flight, but the Russian Federal Space Agency decided last week to revert to the traditional route, citing security concerns after the International Space Station had to adjust its orbit to dodge space junk.

The arrival of Volkov, Aimbetov and Mogensen will bring the number on board the station to nine for the first time since November 2013. The Kazakh and Dane are scheduled to return to Earth on Sept. 12 with Russian Gennady Padalka, the current station commander.

Command will then be passed to NASA's Scott Kelly, who along with Mikhail Kornienko of Russia is spending a full year on the station to study the effects of long space travel in preparation for a possible future trip to Mars.

Destination Red Planet: Will Billionaires Fund a Private Mars Colony

Moscow (Sputnik)
Aug 27, 2015

With over 1,800 billionaires in the world, a sizable investment from at least one of them could provide a major push to colonize the Red Planet. For nonprofit organization Mars One, the right wealthy investor could help with their ambitious plan to put man on Mars by 2027.

Mars One was founded with the goal of eventually colonizing the fourth planet from the Sun. Bas Lansdorp, one of the organization's co-founders, admitted that such a venture is impossible without huge investments. During a speech at the annual International Mars Society Convention in Washington DC, Lansdorp pointed out that tycoons like Bill Gates are badly needed.

"That will change everything," he said. According to Mars One's estimates, establishing a settlement of six individuals on the Red Planet by 2027 will cost roughly $6 billion.

To lay the groundwork, the organization plans to launch a communications satellite to remain in Martian orbit, as well as a Mars lander, by 2020. By 2022, a second satellite will be launched, as well as a small rover. In 2024, Mars One hopes to send six cargo ships loaded with all of the equipment necessary for construction of the settlement.

That same year, two astronauts will be launched to Mars to setup the colony. Four additional people will land on the Red Planet by 2027. That's the plan, at least, according to Mars One's website.

Experts attending the Mars Society Convention called the proposal "infeasible." They noted that the cost of creating such a colony would rise dramatically over time. The number of specialists and spare parts required for further development of the colony would also increase constantly.

According to MIT students Sydney Do and Andrew Owens, every new launch would cost about $4 billion.

"[T]he Mars One strategy of one-way missions is inherently unsustainable without a Mars-based manufacturing capacity," Owens said, according to Space.com.

However, Landsorp remains optimistic about the future of the project. He argued that landing human beings on the surface of the moon seemed impossible in 1961, but that mission was completed within just 8 years.

He did, however, concede that his cost estimates may be too low. But this is a problem he's prepared to address.

"Mars One's goal is not to send humans to Mars in 2027 with a $6 billion budget and 14 launches," Landsorp said. "Our goal is to send humans to Mars, period."

So far, Mars One has a long way to go. The organization is currently struggling to raise the $15 million required for the project's first stages. But in the near future, Landsopr hopes to attract imaginative investors by staging a huge media event across the globe.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Destination_Red_Planet_Will_Billionaires_Fund_a_Private_Mars_Colony_999.html.

Young hopefuls in race to be first black African in space

By Frankie TAGGART
Lagos (AFP)
Aug 27, 2015

In half a century of space travel more than 500 people have glimpsed the Earth from the unique vantage point of the cosmos, yet no black African has been among them.

Now a Nigerian and two South Africans are in a race to become the first after being shortlisted in a global talent search to send a "young icon of the future" into the heavens.

The winner will undergo intense training, experiencing extreme G-forces and weightlessness before taking off in American developer XCOR's Lynx spacecraft, on a voyage loosely envisaged for next year.

Among the three is Freeman Osonuga, who is competing with 30 hopefuls shortlisted for the Rising Star Program run by talent agency Kruger Cowne and the One Young World charity, both based in London.

"It feels great, being on the verge of making history. And to be in a position to inspire a generation and the continent," said Osonuga, a doctor at a teaching hospital in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.

"It would be a rare opportunity to be a beacon of hope to the continent, that truly we can literally reach for the stars and fulfill our potential."

Osonuga, who grew up in poverty in the southeastern state of Ogun, the youngest of six children, is no stranger to risk.

The 30-year-old returned in May from six months in Sierra Leone as part of the African Union's Ebola response team, for which he was given the country's Meritorious Service Award.

He acknowledges the danger in which he placed himself but maintains that "every effort to save fellow human lives" is worth the potential pitfalls.

"My risk-taking ventures aren't just for pleasure or fun, but for humanitarian purposes," said the medic, who told AFP he had always wanted to experience weightlessness.

- Goose bumps -

XCOR offers one-hour flights for $95,000 (84,000 euros) on a shuttle that takes off from the Mojave Desert in California. It has already sold hundreds of tickets, although it has yet to start commercial trips.

Its Lynx Mark II spacecraft is capable of carrying a pilot and a passenger over the 100-kilometer (62-mile) limit known as the Karman line -- the border between the atmosphere and outer space.

The Rising Star shortlist will be whittled down to three finalists who will deliver a 15-minute speech on any subject to an audience of 1,300 from 196 countries at the One Young World Summit in Bangkok in November.

A panel of judges will then decide which candidate most deserves the journey of a lifetime and the right to call themselves an astronaut.

Nono Cele, 28, a leading Johannesburg-based sports broadcasting producer and director, is another of the contenders and told AFP the idea of being the first black African in space "gives me goose bumps".

"My background, my country, my struggles and my mistakes have all told me that these things are not possible for a person like me -- black, female and South African," she said.

"So, to even stand a chance at such greatness only validates that passion in me that my life is meaningful. My life is valuable. And most importantly, I can make a difference."

Cele is joined by Tshepo Seloane, 25, from South Africa's northern province of Gauteng, an adviser to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and a campaigner on a variety of youth issues.

Quite when any of the hopefuls would actually reach space is subject to the vagaries hi-tech engineering and the timetable for their flights remains as up in the air as they hope to be.

- 'Afronaut' -

A fourth contender in the race, part-time South African DJ Mandla Maseko, landed a coveted seat in in 2013 to join one of the Lynx Mark II flights.

He was due to fly this year after winning a competition organised by the US-based AXE Apollo Space Academy but no firm plans for his trip have yet been made public.

Although the stated program for the "Rising Star" winner is to board a flight in 2016, progress had been slower than expected on developing the spacecraft.

Plans for an operational vehicle by 2010 slipped first to early 2012 and then to 2015.

Meanwhile XCOR says on its website it only expects to start the Lynx Mark I testing phase -- which will last up to 18 months -- towards the end of 2015.

A representative of Maseko, who calls himself "The Afronaut", told AFP his flight had been rescheduled for "early 2016" while XCOR did not respond to requests for comment.

All four candidates will claim a unique place in history if they are lucky enough to get a place on an XCOR flight, but will be following a trail blazed by Arnaldo Tamayo.

The 73-year-old Cuban was proclaimed the first black person in space when he was launched into orbit aboard the Soyuz 38 on September 18, 1980.

The first African in space was Mark Shuttleworth, 40, a South African entrepreneur who now lives on the Isle of Man, a British Crown dependency, and holds dual citizenship.

He made headlines around the world when he became the second self-funded space tourist aboard Russia's Soyuz TM-34 mission on April 25 2002, paying a reported $20 million for the privilege.

While in space he had a radio conversation with Nelson Mandela and a terminally-ill 14-year-old South African girl who asked him to marry her.

"I'm very honored by your question," replied Shuttleworth, before changing the subject.

Source: Africa Daily.
Link: http://www.africadaily.net/reports/Young_hopefuls_in_race_to_be_first_black_African_in_space_999.html.

Discovery of the Origin of Saturn's F Ring and Its Shepherd Satellites

Kobe, Japan (SPX)
Aug 26, 2015

Saturn, which is the second largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter, is known to possess multiple rings and satellites. In 1979, Pioneer 11 discovered the F ring located outside the main ring system that extends tens of thousands of kilometers.

The F ring is very thin with a width of only a few hundred kilometers and possesses two shepherd satellites called Prometheus and Pandora, which orbit inside and outside the ring, respectively. Although the Voyager and Cassini spacecrafts have made detailed observations of the F ring and its shepherd satellites since their discovery, their origin was unclear.

According to the latest satellite formation theory, which includes contributions by Hyodo and Ohtsuki, Saturn used to possess rings containing many more particles than they do today, and satellites formed from aggregates of these particles. During the final stage of satellite formation, multiple small satellites formed in close orbit.

The data obtained by Cassini indicated that the small satellites orbiting near the outer edge of the main ring system have a dense core. In their simulations using the computing facilities at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Hyodo and Ohtsuki revealed that the F ring and its shepherd satellites formed as these small satellites collided and partially disintegrated. In other words, the F ring and its shepherd satellites are natural by-products of the formation process of Saturn's satellite system.

This new revelation should help elucidate the formation of satellite systems both within and outside our solar system. For example, the above formation mechanism can also be applied to the rings and shepherd satellites of Uranus, which are similar to those of Saturn.

Hyodo remarked, "Through this study, we were able to show that the current rings of Saturn reflect the formation and evolution processes of the planet's satellite system."

"As plans are underway in and outside of Japan to explore the satellite system of Jupiter and the satellites of Mars," said Ohtsuki, "we will continue to unravel the origin of satellite systems, which is key to understanding the formation process of planetary systems."

Source: Saturn Daily.
Link: http://www.saturndaily.com/reports/Discovery_of_the_Origin_of_Saturns_F_Ring_and_Its_Shepherd_Satellites_999.html.

Flood at Russian zoo kills 1 bear, traps 14 others in cages

August 31, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — A flood has swept through a private zoo in Russia's Far East, trapping 14 brown bears and a lion in their half-submerged cages.

Video broadcast on Russian state television showed the bears standing on their hind legs and clinging to the bars with their front paws to keep their heads above the muddy water. Vera Blishch, identified in the TV report as a bear trainer, checked on their condition from a boat Monday and said they were suffering from cold and lack of sleep.

One other bear at the Green Island zoo in Ussuriysk already drowned after a river burst its banks Sunday following a deluge caused by Typhoon Goni, the state RIA Novosti news agency reported. The television report showed volunteers gathering food and medicine for the surviving animals.