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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Japanese space probe goes into orbit around Venus

Tokyo (AFP)
Dec 9, 2015

Japan's space agency said Wednesday its "Akatsuki" probe had successfully entered into orbit around Venus after an initial attempt at reaching the second planet from the sun failed five years ago.

The success marks the first time a Japanese space probe has entered into the orbit of another planet, according to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"The probe is functioning properly," Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) project manager Masato Nakamura said during a press conference.

"We'll conduct an initial observation for three months... We'll then shift to full observation in April," he said.

Akatsuki, meaning dawn, blasted off in 2010 on a 25.2 billion yen ($205 million at current exchange rates) mission to observe the toxic atmosphere and super-hot volcanic surface of Venus.

But the box-shaped probe failed to enter the planet's gravitational pull and shot past it, forcing JAXA technicians to make the second attempt.

The successful Venus orbit came a week after another Japanese space probe, "Hayabusa 2", passed by Earth to harness the planet's gravitational pull to propel it toward a far away asteroid in its quest to study the origin of the solar system.

The explorer conducted an "Earth swing-by" and came as close as 3,090 kilometers (1,900 miles) above the planet's surface, before switching its orbit to continue towards the tiny Ryugu asteroid.

Hayabusa 2 was launched a year ago on a six-year mission to bring back mineral samples from the asteroid.

It is expected to reach Ryugu, named after a mythical castle in a Japanese folk tale, in mid-2018.

If all goes well, soil samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020.

Analyzing the extra-terrestrial materials could help shed light on the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago and offer clues about what gave rise to life on Earth, scientists have said.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Japanese_space_probe_goes_into_orbit_around_Venus_999.html.

New US space mining law to spark interplanetary gold rush

By Luc Olinga
New York (AFP)
Dec 8, 2015

Flashing some interplanetary gold bling and sipping "space water" might sound far-fetched, but both could soon be reality, thanks to a new US law that legalizes cosmic mining.

In a first, President Barack Obama signed legislation at the end of November that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.

That could kick off an extraterrestrial gold rush, backed by a private aeronautics industry that is growing quickly and cutting the price of commercial space flight.

The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.

While the Space Act breaks with the concept that space should be shared by everyone on Earth for scientific research and exploration, it establishes the rights of investors to profit from their efforts, at least under US law.

Christopher Johnson, a lawyer at the Secure World Foundation, which focuses on the long-term sustainable use of outer space, said the law sets the basis for the next century of activity in space.

"Now it is permissible to interact with space. Exploring and using space's resources has begun," he said.

The US move conjured visions of the great opening of the United States' Western frontier in the 19th century, which led to the California Gold Rush of 1849.

But for the moment, the costs of pioneering the economic exploitation of space remain exorbitant and the risks high.

Large companies are still studying their options, but smaller startups are impatient to get going, like Planetary Resources, launched in 2012 by Google co-founder Larry Page.

"It has often been a question as to whether a commercial company will be able to go out and develop a resource," said Chris Lewicki, president of Planetary Resources, which bills itself as "The Asteroid Mining Company."

But now, the Space Act "allows us to give assurances to our customers and investors as we build a resource business in space," Lewicki told AFP.

"Since the passage of the law, we've been getting a lot of support messages and our current investors are very excited," he added.

Meagan Crawford, vice president at another ambitious asteroid miner, Deep Space Industries, said that with the law's passage investors are no longer fretting that they are wasting their money.

"This is absolutely a big win for us. We don't seem crazy any more. We don't have to work very hard to convince investors."

According to NASA research, of some 1,500 asteroids within easy reach from Earth, possibly 10 percent have valuable mineral resources.

Both companies see great possibilities in space: deposits of nickel, iron ore, gold and platinum that could support the space industry in the same way that the huge deposits of iron ore in the US upper midwest laid the foundations for the Detroit auto industry.

But their first target is water frozen in substantial deposits on relatively close asteroids.

The water's value, more than just to drink, is in providing hydrogen fuel for space vehicles. It could supply a refueling station for the rockets, for instance, destined to explore Mars. And it could be used to refuel satellites in orbit.

Lewicki says an in-space fueling station could save hundreds of millions of dollars in water transport costs.

"If we can store that water there, we can refuel rockets, satellites -- it will be a huge opportunity.

"You can refuel your rocket in orbit; that makes it easier to get it there, and cheaper."

The first space prospecting missions could be launched from 2017, the companies say, and extracting minerals could begin as early as 2020.

Deep Space Industries is planning the deployment of 25-32 kilogram (55-70 pound) mini-satellites to asteroids with good prospects to better assess their resources and bring back samples.

For its part Planetary Resources has already identified asteroids for exploitation using space telescopes place in orbit last year. It plans to launch a small exploration satellite early next year, Lewicki said.

The two companies estimate that the new space gold rush could need around $3 trillion dollars over the next 10-15 years.

For that, they need global support for their operations, and need to begin pressing other governments to adopt laws similar to the US Space Act that will recognize a company's rights to any space mineral riches it can harvest.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/New_US_space_mining_law_to_spark_interplanetary_gold_rush_999.html.

Orbital cargo ship blasts off toward space station

By Kerry Sheridan
Miami (AFP)
Dec 6, 2015

Orbital ATK on Sunday launched its Cygnus cargo ship to resupply astronauts at the International Space Station, one year after a sudden rocket accident delivered a setback to commercial spaceflight.

"Liftoff, on the shoulders of Atlas," NASA spokesman Mike Curie said as the unmanned spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop a white Atlas V rocket at 4:44 pm (2144 GMT).

The launch marks Orbital's fourth scheduled mission to the orbiting outpost, as part of a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to deliver necessities to the astronauts living in space.

The spacecraft is carrying the most cargo ever packed onto a barrel-shaped Cygnus, with some 7,300 pounds (3,300 kilograms) of gear, including science experiments, ready-made food, a jet pack for spacewalking astronauts and even a satellite made by elementary school students.

In October 2014, an Orbital Antares rocket packed with thousands of pounds of supplies exploded seconds after takeoff, marking the first catastrophic failure since private companies began resupplying the orbiting outpost in 2010.

It was followed eight months later by a SpaceX rocket explosion, and the consecutive accidents effectively shut off the flow of US supplies to astronauts in orbit.

Orbital ATK and SpaceX -- which has a contract worth $1.6 billion to send food and equipment to the research lab over a series of supply trips -- are the only two US companies that can send spacecraft to the ISS.

A Russian Progress ship was also lost after launch in April, but ISS program managers said the astronauts were never in danger and still have several months of supplies in storage.

- Different rocket -

Orbital ATK arranged to use United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket while it upgrades its Antares rocket, which failed due to a problem with its reconditioned Ukrainian engine.

The company said after the accident that a control operator detected a suspected rocket engine failure, and the rocket was purposefully detonated to prevent damage to people in the area.

The blast cost Orbital at least $200 million in lost equipment and supplies.

The liftoff Sunday atop the Atlas V rocket went smoothly, with no flaws or problems after a launch delay of several days due to bad weather.

"The countdown was exceptionally smooth. It was one of those countdowns that makes them look kind of boring," said Vern Thorp, mission manager for United Launch Alliance.

"We had a pretty clean flight, too, everything happened right on time... This is about as good as it gets."

The spacecraft should arrive at the space station on Wednesday.

Astronauts will use the Canadian-made robotic arm to grapple the spacecraft at around 6:10 am (1110 GMT), NASA said.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Orbital_cargo_ship_blasts_off_toward_space_station_999.html.

UAE, Russia agree to cooperate in space industry

Abu Dhabi UAE (SPX)
Dec 04, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build a strategic partnership in the field of space exploration.

The MoU was inked by Chairman of the UAE Space Agency Khalifa Mohammed Al-Rumaithi and General Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency ROSCOMOS Igor Komarov.

The deal allows for extensive cooperation in space policy, human capital development and training, as well as in future development, ground station operations support and general awareness, the UAE agency said in an e-mailed statement.

The UAE Space Agency is keen to benefit from the expertise of other space programs, Al-Rumaithi said at his meeting with Komarov.

The meeting aimed to discuss ways of boosting cooperation between the UAE and Russian programs in the space industry and exploration, Al-Rumaithi added.

Conquering space is part of the UAE's strategy to diversify the economy of the country, a major oil supplier, away from oil.

The UAE, which already developed several research and observation satellites, aims to launch a Mars mission by 2023.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/UAE_Russia_agree_to_cooperate_in_space_industry_999.html.

Dozens of Russian protesters detained on Constitution Day

December 12, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police on Saturday detained dozens of opposition activists who had tried to hold a demonstration in central Moscow on Constitution Day.

The liberal opposition Yabloko party had planned to distribute a pamphlet outlining the rights guaranteed under the Russian Constitution and how it believes they are systematically being violated in the country now.

News reports said police detained 33 people, including Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin. He told the Interfax news agency that he and four others had been told by police they would be held until Monday, but when police failed to produce the proper documentation they walked out of the police station.

Mitrokhin earlier posted a photograph on Twitter of himself and 10 other activists in the police station, with one of them holding a sign reading: "Respect our Constitution." The Russian Constitution was adopted in 1993 under Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Since Vladimir Putin was first elected president in 2000, Russia has seen a steady erosion of democratic and civic institutions. The opposition has largely been barred from elections and national television has been put under Kremlin control.

Russia, Kazakhstan to Build Common Aerospace Defense System

Moscow (Sputnik)
Dec 06, 2015

Moscow and Astana have agreed the terms of Russia's use of a Kazakh radio communications center as part of Russia's ballistic missile early warning system, media reports said on Saturday.

The head of the Defense Ministry's international cooperation department, Sergei Koshelev, said the measure would enhance Russia's defense capability and help build a unified regional air and missile defense system.

"It will also give boost to the mutually-beneficial defense cooperation between our two countries," Koshelev added.

The Balkhash radio communications facility is an important element of Russia's ballistic missile early warning system, which ensures the security of all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Armenia and Tajikistan.

The Dnepr long-distance radar, which is part of the Balkhash facility, provides round-the clock observation of outer space and registers ballistic missile launches in the entire southeastern collective security region.

Russia has long been leading efforts to build a joint air defense shield for the CIS, a loose organization of former Soviet republics.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_Kazakhstan_to_Build_Common_Aerospace_Defense_System_999.html.

Russia flies strategic space warfare missile

Moscow (Sputnik)
Dec 03, 2015

Moscow carried out the first successful flight test of its new anti-satellite missile last month, becoming just the second nation to arm its military with space warfare weapons.

Russia's direct ascent anti-satellite missile, known as Nudol, was successfully tested on November 18, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the test. It was the first successful test in three attempts, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Russia now joins China as the only nations with strategic space warfare weapons. In October, China conducted a flight test of its anti-satellite missile, the Dong Neng-3 direct ascent missile.

Analysts say anti-satellite missiles could cripple US intelligence, navigation, and communications capabilities that are critical for both military operations and civilian infrastructure.

The Russian test is a concern for Washington, Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, told the paper.

"As President Obama cuts our defense budget and seeks to ally with Putin, the Russians continue to develop their technological abilities to weaponize space and to take out our national technical means - kinetically and through cyber," said Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"We can foolishly turn a blind eye to these developments, or acknowledge this threat and develop our own capabilities to ensure that our satellites - military and commercial - are not susceptible to attack or blackmail."

Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said the Russian test highlights the failure of the United States to prepare for space warfare.

"There is an enormous asymmetry in play regarding space weapons," said Schneider, now with the National Institute for Public Policy.

"For decades the Congress has prevented the US from putting weapons in space and even developing a ground-based ASAT capability," Schneider said. "There is no such constraint upon the Russians and Russia violates arms control treaties when this is in their interest to do so and they find ample opportunity to do this."

A February 2015 unclassified Defense Intelligence Agency report to the Congress stated that "Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to deny US use of space in the event of a conflict," Schneider added.

The US military is developing a hypersonic missile intended to deliver an airstrike anywhere on the globe within an hour, and potentially be used in a nuclear conflict.

"The US philosophy of a global strike is obviously foolish because it aims at dealing irreparable damage within such a huge time span, " Yuri Solomonov, chief designer at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MIIT), told RIA Novosti.

Solomonov, who designed Russia's submarine-launched Bulava ballistic missile and Topol-M ballistic missile, said some defense systems could target a missile in flight within five to 10 minutes after its launch.

"This would mean war, a system like this must not be used," he added, saying the US government was pouring funds into the PGS program.

The US military has reportedly been testing a PGS prototype for several years. Russia views PGS attack weapons as capable of delivering a disarming strike to its strategic infrastructure.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_flies_strategic_space_warfare_missile_999.html.

Russia builds new military airbase near Homs

Wednesday, 02 December 2015

British media has revealed Russia’s plan to open a new military airbase near the central Syrian city of Homs to accommodate warplanes and additional troops.

According to The Times newspaper, the new airbase is called Al-Shayrat and it is the home of Russia’s attack helicopters. In a report published yesterday, the paper revealed that a Russian team arrived at the site “about a month ago and brought in new equipment” in order to prepare it for opening.

Sources said that there are between 50 to 60 Russian military officials living in special homes in the base and that more officials are already living in Homs itself.

Reports from the Middle East suggest that Russia has 50 military planes at the base and that around 1,000 Russian troops have been deployed in the area.

In addition, the Times said that Russian had pledged to increase the number of planes to 100, depending on the need of its ground forces.

According to the report, Russian has also sent a “big number” of TOS 1 rocket launchers to Homs, which are designed to explode in the fortified bases of the enemy.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/22614-russia-builds-new-military-airbase-near-homs.

New Zealand picks new flag design to challenge current flag

December 15, 2015

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The British Union Jack once symbolized the reach of a powerful empire — but it may need to yield soon to a delicate silver fern. At least on New Zealand's flag.

New Zealand on Tuesday revealed the new flag design chosen by the public to be put up as a challenger to the current flag in a March vote. The question of whether to change a national symbol that has endured for more than a century and harks back to a colonial past has raised plenty of passion, and skepticism, in this nation of 4.6 million.

People submitted more than 10,000 potential new flag designs, including bizarre ones like a kiwi bird shooting a green laser beam from its eye and a stick drawing of a deranged cat. In the end, it came down to two flags by architectural designer Kyle Lockwood that featured the same design of a silver fern and four red stars, but with different background colors.

Results announced Tuesday showed that Lockwood's black and blue flag just edged his red and darker blue flag 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent in a runoff postal vote. Even the designer himself found it a tough choice.

"I agonized over the two on my voting form," Lockwood said. "For a couple of weeks, I'd walk past it and think, 'Which one?' I like them both equally." Lockwood, who was born in New Zealand's capital, Wellington, and now lives in Australia, said he didn't want to say which one he gave his top vote.

His winning design has similarities to the current flag but ditches the Union Jack, or Union Flag, in favor of the fern, which has become a national symbol and is worn by many of New Zealand's sports teams, including the beloved All Blacks rugby team.

Those who want to change the current flag say it's too similar to Australia's and references a colonial past that it's time to leave behind. But opinion polls taken before the result was announced Tuesday indicated a majority favored keeping the existing flag. Many don't see the need for change or view the process as an expensive stunt by Prime Minister John Key, who opponents say is trying to forge a legacy or distract from other issues.

The Returned and Services Association, which represents New Zealand's war veterans, is opposed to change, saying soldiers pledged allegiance to the current flag. "Where were the people marching down the street saying 'Change the flag'?" said BJ Clark, the RSA's national president. "If a majority had wanted it, then maybe we could understand it."

Those favoring Lockwood's design hope that opinions will change before March as the debate focuses in on the two flags. Clark said people should vote with their heart and accept the result. "The wonderful thing is that those people who served, fought for the country to be able to have their opinion," he said.

With lives at risk, Nepal struggles to escape dysfunction

December 05, 2015

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Shiva Parwar has been camping on the pavement for five days, waiting in line for cooking gas. There are 521 gas cylinders ahead of his, and not even the dealer knows when more fuel will arrive, thanks to a two-month-long border blockade that shows no sign of ending.

"I sent my wife and child back to our village home because we don't have the gas to cook," said Parwar, whose roadside candy stall is shuttered while he waits. "I have been eating in restaurants with borrowed money but that too has run out. I have no option but to wait in line."

An ethnic group's blockade of a key border point with India is leaving Nepal with only about 15 percent of its normal supply of gasoline, diesel and cooking fuel, and creating shortages of other goods including food and medicine.

The group's dispute with the government is part of the political dysfunction that has held back development and even prevented the adoption of a constitution for nearly a decade. Now it is threatening lives as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them displaced by Nepal's devastating spring earthquakes, face the winter without fuel, secure housing and many essential goods.

"We are all suffering. Prices of food have gone up and there is shortage of many things here," Parwar said in Kathmandu, the capital. "It is the common people who are suffering. The rich and the leaders are getting the fuel and gas and living comfortably."

A look at Nepal's crisis through the eyes of those close to the dispute, and others who are struggling with its consequences:


Members of the Madhesi ethnic group in south and southeast Nepal are blockading the border to protest Nepal's new constitution, which was adopted in September after years of infighting. The group wants a larger Madhesi province and more seats in Parliament than they have been given.

Madhesi protesters have clashed with police, attacked public vehicles and shut down highways. At least 50 protesters, police and bystanders have died in the violence.

Upendra Yadav, a leading Madhesi protest leader, blames the government for ignoring their demands and using excessive force to crush peaceful demonstrations.

"Just last week the government sent their goons to disrupt our mass gathering, burning down the stage and chasing our supporters," Yadav said.

The Madhesis have held talks with government negotiators at least nine times but have not reached any agreement.

"We are very clear with our demands," Yadav said, accusing the government of failing to present a clear agenda.


The coalition government led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli took office after the protests began with promises it would resolve the conflict, but two months later, a solution is nowhere in sight.

The government has said it's ready to make changes to the constitution but has said little about protesters' demands for a bigger province. The Himalayan country has more than 100 ethnic groups, and while the Madhesi are among the largest, making up about a fifth of Nepal's 30 million people, there are fears that a deal to end the blockade could set off protests elsewhere.

"We fear that giving more land to the Madhesi province and making changes to the state boundaries could trigger new conflicts in the country," said Pradip Gyawali, secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). Gyawali said any such changes would require detailed research and agreement among the main political parties.


Sundari Lama was forced to live in a tent this spring after her house was destroyed in the April earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. She eventually moved into an apartment, but now she's back in the tent, this time because of the blockade.

With no gas available, she must cook with wood, but she's not allowed to burn wood in the apartment. So she's bracing for near-freezing winter temperatures in the drafty tent in the outskirts of Kathmandu with her husband and their 5-month-old daughter.

And the fuel shortage is just part of her family's hardship. Food prices are soaring: A bottle of vegetable oil has tripled in price to 300 rupees ($2.81). And work has become scarce for her husband, a day laborer.

"First we got hit by the earthquake, losing our homes and then this blockade is causing so much difficulty and pain," Lama said. "We are collecting wood from fallen houses and from wherever we can, but how long can we go on like this?"


Nepali Congress, the main opposition and largest party, says it is trying to mediate a solution between the government and the protesters. It blames government apathy for the lack of progress, though it shares the government's concern that overly generous concessions to the Madhesis could drive other ethnic groups to protest.

"The government is not clear on what they are doing to deal with the situation. They have no idea or any plan and come to talks unprepared," said Ram Hari Khatiwada, a Nepali Congress lawmaker. "But if a solution is not found soon this situation could escalate."

Nepali Congress and Oli's ruling party are traditional rivals, and Khatiwada acknowledged that their rivalry "is one of the reasons for the obstacles in the talks with the Madhesi." He said it's time for that to end.

"The prime minister needs to act as leader of a nation and not chief of a party," he said.


Since most of Nepal's imported goods flow through India, many businesses are being squeezed by the blockade. They are having a tough time paying rent, utility bills and employee salaries.

Madan Gautam has been able to open his Chakupat Fuel Center in Kathmandu only about once a week, and he's not sure how long he can survive. He gets fuel only from the state-owned Nepal Oil Corp., which distributes its limited supplies to stations on a rotating basis.

"I get about 4,000 liters (1,060 gallons) of fuel one day a week to distribute, but there are hundreds of vehicles lined up outside the pump every day," Gautam said. "I work one day a week and have nothing to do the next six days. ... At this rate we will all go out of business."


Most people in Nepal blame politicians for their country's troubles. After the end of an authoritarian monarchy and a bloody communist insurgency nearly a decade ago, a new constitution was supposed to bring positive changes in the new republic. The years since, however, have seen a host of political squabbles and seven different governments.

"Our leaders have failed us again and again. They have done nothing more than work either for themselves, their close supporters and or their own parties. They have done little for the country and the people," said K.C. Raja, who serves buffalo dumplings and noodles at his Top Ten Momo Restaurant near the Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu. He too lacks cooking gas and must cook by burning wood, which fills his small shop with smoke and has already blackened the walls.

"These leaders don't have to wait in line to fill their fuel tanks," Raja said, "or worry about how to cook dinner without gas."

Japan and India agree bullet train, nuclear deals

New Delhi (AFP)
Dec 12, 2015

Japan and India agreed several high-profile deals Saturday including on high-speed rail, defense technology and civil nuclear cooperation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in New Delhi.

Following talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Modi said the pair had agreed plans for Japan to build India's first bullet train to slash journey times between the cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

"This enterprise will launch a revolution in Indian railways and speed up India's journey into the future," Modi said of the deal, adding that Tokyo would also extend a $12 billion package of financing and assistance for the train.

"It will become an engine of economic transformation in India."

The two leaders also agreed a long-mooted memorandum of understanding on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which will be signed once technical details are finalized, a spokesman for India's foreign ministry said on Twitter.

Japan once shunned nuclear cooperation with India, which has not ratified the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but analysts say Tokyo has since softened its stance.

The two countries also agreed to explore future projects on defense technology transfer, including on Japanese-made US-2 amphibian aircraft.

Modi also said India would extend visas on arrival to Japanese citizens from next year.

Modi and Abe, both right-wing nationalists, have forged an unusually close relationship since the Indian leader came to power last year, in part to counter China's growing influence.

The Indian PM has pledged to overhaul India's ramshackle railways and other infrastructure as part of his ambitious economic reforms -- an area praised by Abe earlier in the day.

"Prime Minister Modi's economic policies are like Shinkansen -- high speed, safe and reliable while carrying many people along", the Japanese premier said in a reference to the Japanese bullet train.

After a meeting with business leaders on Saturday morning, Modi lauded the recent decision by Japanese-owned carmaker Maruti Suzuki to export Indian-made Baleno cars to Japan.

"For the first time, Japan will import cars from India. And Maruti will manufacture cars here," Modi said.

Tokyo is encouraging Japanese businesses to tap fast-growing emerging markets such as India, as the domestic market shrinks due to a rapidly ageing population and low birthrate.

The two leaders are expected to leave later Saturday for India's holiest city of Varanasi and the premier's parliamentary constituency.

India's economic growth accelerated to 7.4 percent in the second quarter of the financial year, figures released in November showed, outperforming China.

Source: Nuclear Power Daily.
Link: http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Japan_and_India_agree_bullet_train_nuclear_deals_999.html.

India and Pakistan to resume peace process

By Masroor Gilani
Islamabad (AFP)
Dec 9, 2015

India and Pakistan agreed to resume high-level peace talks on Wednesday, according to a joint statement that signaled a thaw in tense relations between nuclear-armed neighbors that have fought three full-scale wars.

The breakthrough came at the close of a regional conference in Islamabad attended by India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, which also saw Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meet in a bid to revive the Taliban peace process.

"Both the countries have agreed to resume the stalled talks," said Swaraj, who met with Sharif and his foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz.

"We will start the dialogue process from scratch," Swaraj added.

The dialogue will cover peace and security as well as territorial disputes, including over Kashmir, a Himalayan region that has seen India and Pakistan fight two wars since gaining their independence from Britain in 1947.

Delhi suspended all talks after Islamist gunmen attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people. The attacks were later found to have been planned from Pakistan.

The countries agreed to resume the peace process in 2011 but tensions have spiked over the past two years, with cross-border shelling over the disputed border in Kashmir claiming dozens of lives since 2014.

A brief meeting between Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UN climate change summit in Paris on November 30, followed by talks between the two countries' national security advisers in Bangkok, appeared to have broken the ice.

Pakistani opposition lawmaker Sherry Rehman, a noted foreign policy expert, said the agreement was "important" but expressed disappointment that the dialogue would start from scratch -- a demand she said likely came from the Indian side.

"The good news is they've agreed to resume what they call 'comprehensive dialogue' and really all the subjects are the same," she said.

Rehman said it was unlikely the deal had been made without the approval of Pakistan's all-powerful military, which ruled the country for around half its history and is widely seen as setting the country's foreign and security agenda.

"I'm assuming they've had a discussion and come to some agreement," said Rehman.

Neither side, however, mentioned whether a proposed cricket series in December and January would go ahead -- an omission that Pakistan's cricket chief said meant the plan was much less likely to happen.

- Taliban talks -

On Wednesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Islamabad in an effort to jumpstart peace talks with the resurgent Taliban, as he and Sharif inaugurated the regional Heart of Asia conference.

Sharif welcomed Ghani at the airport in a red-carpet reception with a guard of honor and 21 gun salute, in what was seen as an attempt to thaw frosty ties between the two Muslim neighbors.

Ghani's visit came as at least 37 people were killed in a Taliban siege at an airport in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, with analysts noting the "familiar pattern" of the insurgents launching large-scale attacks "whenever there is talk about peace talks".

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have foundered since the Taliban confirmed in July that its founder Mullah Omar was dead, a revelation that scuppered nascent negotiations between Kabul and the Islamist movement.

Ghani subsequently blamed Pakistan for a surge in Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, accusing Islamabad of sending "messages of war".

But on Wednesday, both leaders vowed to fight militancy and extremism in the region.

Their meeting was seen as a strong signal that they are attempting to revive the Taliban talks, brokered by the Pakistani army, which has long wielded influence over the insurgent group.

Ghani also met with Pakistan's military chief Raheel Sharif, who assured him of the military's "continued full support", according to an army statement.

"I strongly reiterate our commitment to a lasting and just peace within which all movements that resort to arms convert themselves to political parties and participate in the political process legitimately," said Ghani.

Pakistan later said the United States supported the talks, while the foreign minister for regional heavyweight China also backed the process after meeting Ghani, Sharif and a US official at the conference.

"The Chinese side... hopes that the Afghan government will overcome difficulties and stick to the peace talks with the Taliban," Wang Yi was quoted as saying by Chinese state media.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/India_and_Pakistan_to_resume_peace_process_999.html.

India to Build 6 Nuclear-Powered Submarines

New Delhi (Sputnik)
Dec 06, 2015

India will commission the construction of six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), India's navy chief Adm. Robin Dhowan said.

The boost to India's navy will renew the country's submarine fleet currently composed of 13 aging diesel-powered submarines and one Nerpa SSN, called Chakra locally, on lease from Russia.

"The six SSNs will be constructed under the Make in India program," Dhowan said, as quoted by The Times of India on Thursday.

Technical parameters are being drawn up, and a shipyard for the construction is yet to be selected, according to the newspaper. Another three Scorpene-class submarines will be ordered from the French DCNS company.

India's own nuclear-powered ballistic missile INS Arihant submarine is due to be commissioned next year at the Navy Shipbuilding Centre in Visakhapatnam.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/India_to_Build_6_Nuclear_Powered_Submarines_999.html.

India's capital to restrict cars to curb choking smog

By Claire Cozens
New Delhi (AFP)
Dec 4, 2015

Private vehicles will only be allowed on Delhi's roads on alternate days from January, authorities said Friday, as the world's most polluted capital tries to clean up its fetid air.

The Delhi government will also improve public transport in the city, shut down a coal-fired power station and start vacuuming the roads to reduce dust, said chief secretary KK Sharma.

"Every year, the pollution level goes up in winter. Now for the last several weeks and before that also... we have been working to find a solution (to) this problem," he told reporters after an emergency meeting of the state government to discuss the crisis.

"Particularly in winter, when the pollution is high, we will implement for some time odd and even number vehicles operation."

He said the government would aim to start the scheme on January 1 and that the restrictions would initially be temporary.

"Let us see how it rolls out," he added.

There are already more than 8.5 million vehicles on Delhi's roads and 1,400 new cars being added every day, contributing to some of the worst pollution in the world.

Several Chinese cities have slapped limits on car numbers because of congestion and pollution, but it is the first time the Indian capital has implemented such a measure.

The decision to restrict private cars came two days after India's environmental court ordered the Delhi government to come up with a strategy to tackle the smog that has settled over the city in recent weeks.

- World's worst air -

Successive Delhi governments have faced flak for failing to clean up the filthy air, ranked as the worst in the world in a World Health Organization survey of more than 1,600 cities.

The issue has been in the spotlight this week as negotiators from 195 nations haggle in Paris over a planned universal accord to slash the greenhouse-gas emissions that trap the Sun's heat.

India has said poor countries cannot be expected to make the shift away from cheap and abundant fossil fuels at the expense of struggling populations, many of whom do not even have access to electricity.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the Delhi government's plan, but said it would be tough to implement.

"I think it (government) has taken the serious measures that are needed to deal with Delhi's air, we have an emergency-type situation and I'm glad the government is stepping in," Sunita Narain, head of the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, said on the NDTV news channel.

"It's very important for us to recognize the fact that these may be tough measures, they will be difficult to implement, but that is what governments are for and it has responded to a public health emergency. That is very good."

Delhi's air routinely worsens in the winter as residents start lighting fires to stay warm and as cooler air and clouds trap pollutants.

But unlike Beijing, which also suffers from hazardous haze levels, the city does not issue public health warnings.

Courts have been pushing authorities to act, including ordering a toll tax on the thousands of diesel-guzzling trucks entering the city every night.

Sharma said city authorities would begin vacuuming the roads in April, citing dust as a major contributor to poor air quality.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Indias_capital_to_restrict_cars_to_curb_choking_smog_999.html.

Armenia votes to give president's powers to prime minister

December 07, 2015

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Early results show that Armenian voters at Sunday's referendum have supported constitutional changes that would give more powers to the prime minister and parliament at the expense of the president.

Armenia's Central Election Commission said in a statement early on Monday that 63 percent have supported the amendments that would make the president largely a figurehead. The opposition has seen the reform as an attempt by President Serzh Sargsyan to extend his rule. Sargsyan has denied the claim, saying he has no intention of shifting into the prime minister's seat after his second term in office ends in 2018.

Sargsyan's government has promoted the constitutional changes as a step toward strengthening democracy in the former Soviet state by providing for a greater balance of powers and a stronger judicial branch.