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Friday, December 18, 2015

Challenge for socialists as Venezuelans elect legislature

December 06, 2015

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The socialist system built by Hugo Chavez faces its gravest electoral test Sunday when Venezuelans cast ballots in what seems to have become a tightening race for control of the national legislature.

Until recently, the opposition was seen coasting to its first major electoral victory since Chavez became president in 1998, with Venezuelans tired of rampant crime, routine shortages of basic goods and inflation pushing well into triple digits. The economic crisis has worsened with this year's slump in oil revenue, which funds almost all public spending.

But support for President Nicolas Maduro's rule, a good proxy in deeply polarized Venezuela, recently jumped 11 points, to 32 percent in late November, according to a survey by respected local pollster Datanalisis. Analysts attributed the bounce to an aggressive government campaign of funneling resource to key districts and warning voters that Chavez's legacy of social programs would be lost if the opposition took control of the National Assembly.

A small opposition majority in the new 167-seat National Assembly could create only minor inconveniences for Maduro, such as denying him a budget for foreign travel and having committees scrutinize the executive's record. Some hardliners are also vowing to seek a recall referendum to cut short Maduro's term before it ends in 2019.

But reining in Maduro, who became president after Chavez died in 2013, would require new laws needing at least a three-fifths majority, or 101 seats — two more than now held by the socialists. Maduro's near-complete grip on other branches of government like the Supreme Court mean he can easily outflank a hostile congress.

It's also possible the Democratic Unity opposition coalition could win the nationwide popular vote by a large margin but fail to win even a majority in the legislature because of the underrepresentation of Venezuela's urban areas, where frustration with the government runs highest.

The opposition, with little cash and little access to broadcast media, has struggled to compete in far-flung rural districts against the government's campaign machine. In 2010, voting nationwide was almost evenly split yet the government ended up seating 33 more lawmakers due to Venezuela's complicated electoral system.

Still, even a small victory would provide an important lift to the frequently outmaneuvered opposition. The socialist party has often touted its unbroken chain of electoral victories over the past 17 years to defend itself against allegations that it's undemocratic.

More than 163,000 police and troops have been deployed around the country ahead of Sunday's vote, but many Venezuelans still fear postelection violence. Maduro reiterated his promise this week to take to the streets if his party lost. Opposition leaders said that if their coalition failed to win, it would mean the state cheated.

During the campaign, the government drew criticism from the U.S. and other governments for tactics that appeared to tilt the playing field, including barring high-profile opposition leaders from running and printing a confusing ballot with a mysterious party listed next to the opposition coalition with a nearly identical logo and name.

The U.S. State Department on Friday muted some of its past criticism but called on the National Electoral Council to ensure a fair vote. "We're going to be very closely watching," spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.

Extended-range Reapers start flying in Afghanistan

by Ryan Maass
Kandahar, Afghanistan (UPI)
Dec 11, 2015

U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles are being given an extended range modification, and the first upgraded aircraft flew a sortie out of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Dec. 1.

The 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron stationed at the Kandahar Airfield have completed the modification for almost half of their fleet of MQ-9 Reapers, flying the first ER sortie in Afghanistan. The modifications enhanced the unmanned aircraft's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission capabilities.

"All of our ER aircraft out here were boxed up, shipped out, and between us and our General Atomics partners, we performed all the mods here in the AOR," 62nd ERS maintenance operations officer Capt. Garrik said in a statement.

The MQ-9 Reaper was developed by contractor General Atomics as the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance missions, and is a follow-up to the MQ-1 Predator.

The modifications, which took a month to complete, increase the fleet's flight length capability by 20 to 40 percent depending on the UAV's loadout.

"Instead of having to come back, land and try to get another airplane out there, it allows the airplane to stay airborne longer," maintenance officer Capt. Mike explained.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Extended-range_Reapers_start_flying_in_Afghanistan_999.html.

Chile plans hydropower plant -- in desert

Santiago, Chile (AFP)
Dec 10, 2015

Building a $400-million hydroelectric power plant in the world's most arid desert may seem like an engineering debacle, but Chile sees it as a revolutionary way to generate green energy.

The idea is to take advantage of the Atacama Desert's unique geography to solve one of the most sticky problems of renewable energies like solar and wind power: inconsistency.

The sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing, but in long and narrow Chile, there are always mountains next to the sea.

Chilean energy company Valhalla wants to use solar power to pump water from the Pacific Ocean into two reservoirs high in the Andes mountains.

Then it will be allowed to rush back down into a hydroelectric plant with a capacity of 300 megawatts -- enough to power three provinces in Chile, a net energy importer that relies mainly on fossil fuels.

"This is the only place in the world where a project of this kind can be developed," said Francisco Torrealba, the company's strategy manager.

The two mountaintop reservoirs will hold as much water as approximately 22,000 Olympic swimming pools, enough to generate electricity around the clock.

"The technology has been super well tested around the world. It's this particular combination that has never been tried," said Torrealba.

The plant got the green light from environmental authorities last week.

Valhalla is seeking investors and hopes to break ground in late 2016, with an estimated construction timeline of three and a half years.

It is also studying three other areas with similar characteristics.

Source: Solar Daily.
Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Chile_plans_hydropower_plant_in_desert_999.html.

Canadian children's choir welcome Syrian refugees with oldest Islamic song Tala al-Badru Alayna

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Late on Thursday night the first 163 of a planned 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and were greeted and given winter coats by prime minister Justin Trudeau.

The day after their arrival, a video of a choir singing one of the oldest songs in the Islamic culture, Tala' al Badru 'Alayna, surfaced on YouTube. In the video, a group of children aged 8-12 sing the song, with piano playing in the background.

A look at choir's members shows diversity and multiculturalism, hailed by Canadians to be some of the most important values in the country, in addition to human rights.

Regarded as the first nasheed (Islamic religious song), Tala' al-Badru Alayna. It's an incredibly symbolic song, having been sung when Prophet Mohammed arrived in Medina after having fled his home in Mecca as a refugee in the year 622...

Canada has only accepted 3,500 Syrian refugees since 2014, and the new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to accept 25,000 refugees this year.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/22803-canadian-childrens-choir-welcome-syrian-refugees-with-oldest-islamic-song-tala-al-badru-alayna.

Impeachment proceedings opened against Brazil's Rousseff

December 03, 2015

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Impeachment proceedings were opened Wednesday against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff by the speaker of the lower house of Congress, a sworn enemy of the beleaguered leader.

A special commission in which all political parties are represented must now weigh the decision of speaker Eduardo Cunha to open proceedings against Rousseff based on accusations her government broke fiscal responsibility laws by using money from state-run banks to fill budget gaps and pay for government social spending.

Rousseff sharply disputes the accusations — and most analysts at this point think she will survive. "I've committed no illicit act, there is no suspicion hanging over me of any misuse of public money," she said in a nationally televised statement. "I don't have any offshore bank accounts, I have no hidden assets."

The president's statement was a direct jab at Cunha, who is charged with taking millions in bribes in connection to a massive kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras. Prosecutors say Cunha has at least $5 million hidden away in Swiss bank accounts — and it's widely thought that he could be arrested.

Cunha is also facing the chance of being kicked out of the lower house, as an ethics committee in that body weighs whether it'll recommend a full vote on whether he can remain as a seated congressman while facing the corruption allegations.

Cunha's decision to introduce the impeachment proceedings came just hours after three Workers' Party deputies who are on the 21-member ethics committee that will determine whether the speaker faces a vote to be kicked out of congress indicated they would recommend that action against the speaker — viewed as a key decision as the committee is narrowly split.

Members of Rousseff's Workers' Party say the proceedings are retribution by Cunha. Sen. Humberto Costa, the party's leader in the Senate, said "Cunha has created the lowest-level of blackmail a nation can see."

While proceedings to impeach Rousseff are expected to get by the commission, most political analysts say it's unlikely to get the two-thirds vote of the lower house that would remove her from office temporarily. But if it does pass, the case would then go to the Senate to decide whether she should be removed permanently.

"The chances of President Rousseff being impeached aren't as big as politicians say now, despite this bold move by Cunha," said Luciano Dias, a political consultant at the Brasilia-based Analise Politica firm. "They are not insignificant, but they are not huge. There needs to be more than two-thirds of more than 500 deputies voting against her, and that number is very hard to reach."

Rousseff began her second term in office on Jan. 1 and has been hobbled by a political corruption scandal centered around a kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras. She has faced repeated calls to step down, but with Rousseff herself facing no accusations of wrongdoing in the Petrobras scandal, her opponents' calls have until now gone unheeded.

But in October Brazil's federal audit court ruled that Rousseff broke the nation's fiscal responsibility law in 2014, opening the door for impeachment proceedings. There is sharp legal debate about whether Rousseff can face impeachment for an offense committed during her previous term — a matter that's expected to be taken up by the nation's Supreme Court as this situation moves forward.

Rousseff's woes could not come at a tougher time for Brazil, with its economy expected to contract by more than 3.5 percent this year and again be in recession next year. That could be a wild card for her as she fights for her political life.

"It is going to get worse for Rousseff because the economic crisis will get worse in the first quarter of 2016," said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia. "The pressure against her will be huge."

"This decision could also stimulate Dilma's party to tell her to resign, since the Worker's Party might suffer a heavy defeat in next year's mayoral elections because of her unpopularity," he added. The Latin America analysis team at the New York-based Eurasia Group political risk firm said in a Wednesday research note that Cunha's sudden decision actually bodes in Rousseff's favor.

"A hasty impeachment process is unlikely to succeed given the lack of alignment between the main parties in congress," the firm wrote. "Even though support for Rousseff's removal may grow, the pro-impeachment factions in congress are far from the two-thirds majority needed to approve the motion in the plenary."

Bolivia to receive its last three Super Pumas in 2016

by Ryan Maass
Washington (UPI)
Dec 4, 2015

Bolivia is scheduled to receive its last three AS332 Super Pumas from Airbus Helicopters in 2016, completing a 2013 order.

The Bolivian Ministry of Defense ordered six AS332 C1e Super Puma helicopters from manufacturer Airbus Helicopters in September 2013, with the first two delivered in 2014, and the third in 2015. Bolivian Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira says the helicopters will be used for fighting drug trafficking and smuggling as well as humanitarian operations.

The Airbus Helicopters-built AS332 C1e is designed to perform in a variety of environments, providing protection against sand ingestion and icing, with crash-worthy seats installed for pilots and co-pilots.

The aircraft is fitted to carry large payload volumes, and can be customized for seating 20 passengers or troops. Custom options include armor plating for pilot and co-pilot seats, wire strike protection and an external beam for fast roping.

Ferreira also announced Bolivia will seek to procure two transport aircraft by 2017.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Bolivia_to_receive_its_last_three_Super_Pumas_in_2016_999.html.

Argentine president blasts incoming leaders in final speech

December 10, 2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters jammed Argentina's most famous square Wednesday night to say goodbye to President Cristina Fernandez, who lauded her government's achievements while blasting the incoming administration in the same withering tones she aimed at opponents throughout her eight years in office.

As blue and white Argentine flags waved and people cheered on a balmy night, Fernandez gave a speech that was both a recap of her years in power and a clear sign that she does not plan to make things easy for President-elect Mauricio Macri, who will be inaugurated Thursday.

Fernandez addressed the crowd on Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires amid widespread criticism for her decision not to attend Macri's inauguration. The two spent much of the last 10 days bickering over where the presidential baton and sash would be handed over. Macri wanted to receive them at the Casa Rosada presidential offices from Fernandez, while she insisted the handover happen in Congress. Many Argentines viewed the argument as a national embarrassment.

Without mentioning him by name, Fernandez framed the tiff as Macri's fault. She also criticized a Wednesday federal court ruling in a case brought by Macri that determined her presidency ended at midnight, saying it would leave Argentina without a president until Macri's swearing-in at midday Thursday.

"I can't talk much because after midnight I'll turn into a pumpkin," she joked. Fernandez talked about "an agenda from the outside being imposed on the region," apparently referring to the United States and others she sees as enemies of Argentina. During her two terms in power, Fernandez frequently accused other countries of meddling in this South American nation's affairs, though rarely provided details.

For 12 years, Fernandez, and before her, late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, dominated the political landscape. The couple rewrote the country's social contract, spending heavily on social programs for the poor while passing liberalizing laws, such as legalizing gay marriage in 2010.

They also aligned Argentina with socialist leaders like the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who attended Fernandez's farewell speech. "She made me proud to be Argentine for the first time in my life," said onlooker Pablo Vega. "She defended the interests of the country more than anybody."

Macri, who ran on free-market ideas, beat Fernandez's chosen successor by 3 percentage points in a runoff election last month. The close result underscored the deep polarization in Argentina, and Fernandez has made clear she will continue to be heard, albeit from the sidelines of power.

The 62-year-old, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, leaves office with approval ratings around 40 percent, and some have speculated she might try to run again in 2019.

However, just as many Argentines love her, many also loathe her, and the fight over the presidential transition brought out the frustration of detractors. By Wednesday afternoon, her decision not to attend the inauguration had spawned a trending Twitter hashtag: #CFKVerguenzaMundial, or Fernandez's world shame.

Calls for investigation after "massacre" in Nigeria

December 16, 2015

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Human rights advocates and the United States called for an investigation following the Nigerian army's raid on a Shiite sect in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed.

Details of the weekend violence in Zaria have been slow to emerge, with the three attacked areas of the northern town on lockdown as late as Tuesday, with no one allowed to enter or leave. "The United States calls on the Government of Nigeria to quickly, credibly, and transparently investigate these events in Zaria and hold to account any individuals found to have committed crimes," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Wednesday.

"It is essential that all sides refrain from actions that further destabilize the situation," U.S. Ambassador James Entwhistle added. He said he expects that a visit to Zaria on Tuesday by Nigeria's interior minister is a first step in a "timely, transparent investigation."

The bloodshed was yet another blow to Africa's most populous nation, already beset by a 6-year-old insurgency waged by Boko Haram, a violent Islamic group which is at odds with the Shiites and others who oppose its extremist views.

Amnesty International said in a statement late Tuesday that the shooting of members of the Shiite group in Zaria "must be urgently investigated ... and anyone found responsible for unlawful killings must be brought to justice."

"Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt of that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military," said M.K. Ibrahim, director of Amnesty International, Nigeria.

Spokesman Ibrahim Musa of the Shiite Islamic Movement in Nigeria said soldiers on Monday carried away about 200 bodies from around the home of the head of the sect, Ibraheem Zakzaky — who was himself badly wounded and whose whereabouts have not been disclosed by the authorities — and hundreds more corpses were in the mortuary. Human rights activists said hundreds of people, perhaps as many as 1,000, were killed.

The military has said Zakzaky is in its "safe custody." The army said troops attacked sites in Zaria after 500 Shiites blocked the convoy of Nigeria's army chief, and tried to kill him on Saturday. A report from the military police said some Shiites were crawling through tall grass toward Gen. Tukur Buratai's vehicle "with the intent to attack the vehicle with (a) petrol bomb" while others "suddenly resorted to firing gunshots from the direction of the mosque."

In a statement Monday, the army said there was "loss of lives as a result of the Shiite group members blocking roads and not allowing other passers-by to go about their lawful businesses and activities," and added that "as soon as order is restored ... the police will conduct an enquiry and the public will be informed."

The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria said it set up a special investigations panel on Tuesday to investigate, following complaints filed by concerned citizens and from the military, which has asked the commission to investigate the alleged assassination attempt on the army chief.

The commission's chairman, Chidi Odinkalu, called the army attacks "a massacre." Odinkalu told The Associated Press that Zakzaky suffered four bullet wounds and that one of the sect leader's wives was killed in raids that began Saturday and ended Monday morning. He was quoting the family doctor. Two of Zakzaky's sons also were killed and one was wounded, according to Musa.

Odinkalu and other human rights activists said there are hundreds of bodies at the mortuary of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital on the outskirts of Zaria. "Citizens must ask, who ordered this carnage?" Odinkalu tweeted.

Outraged Nigerians took to social media to condemn "trigger-happy troops" and "extra-judicial killings." Iran, seen as the guardian of the Shiite Muslim faith, condemned the killings. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Iran state TV said Rouhani told Buhari he expects the Nigerian government to compensate families of the dead and injured victims.

Hundreds of Shiites protested in front of the Nigerian embassies in the Iranian and Indian capitals on Tuesday. Nigeria's Shiites, a movement of millions started 37 years ago by Zakzaky, who dresses in the robes and turban of an Iranian ayatollah, often have clashed with police and other security forces over their unlawful blocking of major roads to hold religious processions.

Nigeria's military is infamous for its excesses. In 2009, Nigerian armed forces attacked Boko Haram's headquarters and killed about 700 people, including its leader. The Shiites two weeks ago suffered a suicide bombing in a procession that killed 22 people. Boko Haram, a Salafist group, claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened to "wipe out" the Shiites opposed to its radical vision of Islam.

Nigeria gets Africa's first football pitch lit by players

By David Esnault
Lagos (AFP)
Dec 12, 2015

Africa's first football pitch lit solely by the players' movements has been inaugurated in Lagos, the economic hub of power-starved Nigeria, at a ceremony attended by US-Senegalese rapper Akon.

The technology, invented by a young British engineer, consists of placing electronic tiles under the artificial turf, which is converted into power by kinetic energy.

Each time a player steps on a tile, seven watts of electricity are generated and sent to a battery.

The stored power helps to feed six powerful but low consumption LED floodlights that shine on the pitch. Solar panels around the pitch complement the technology, stocking electricity throughout the day.

The system has already been installed at a football pitch in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, in football-mad Brazil, which hosted the 2014 World Cup.

"It's brilliant," said Kusagba Oluwadamilola, an 18-year-old sports student, who plays for the football team at the Federal College of Education (Technical), where the pitch has been set up.

"It's going to be really useful. Until now we couldn't play at night," he told AFP.

The man behind the technology, Laurence Kemball-Cook, 30, launched his own company, Pavegen, four years ago.

Since then, the invention has been installed in 150 locations across the globe from parks and airports to shops and even dance floors.

Inspiring new generations with new technology is essential, he said, particularly in Nigeria where residents often have just a few hours of power a day because of an erratic electricity supply.

As a result, households and companies are forced to rely on heavily polluting generators.

Kemball-Cook said the pitch would not only help "create a community" but also showed the need to diversify Africa's energy mix.

"We need solar, we need other solutions as well... we need it right now, we don't want to be using these fossil fuel generators. We need to be using more renewable sources of power," he said.

With the initial cost of solar energy high, Kemball-Cook said he hoped to bring down the cost of the tiles by mass production to as little as $50 (45 euros) per square meter through economies of scale.

- 'No brainer' -

Rap superstar Akon made a surprise appearance at the launch of the newly built pitch on Thursday to the delight of the students.

He has been involved in renewable energy projects with his Akon Lighting Africa, created in 2004, whose objective is to electrify Africa with solar energy.

The project is already running in 15 countries and he is aiming for 34 by 2020.

"I am proud to be here," said the singer and producer, who was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Senegal.

"Climate change makes things different today," he said, as delegates to a UN conference in Paris thrashed out a historic agreement to cut global warming.

The Pavegen tiles are "an extraordinary concept for Africans who play football every day," he added.

Football is the king of sports in Nigeria, whose national team the Super Eagles has won the African Cup of Nations three times, as well as gold at the 1996 Olympic Games.

"This is an amazing concept... to be able to generate energy while you're playing football to me is a no brainer to help build new renewable sources and also to support the entrepreneur that comes up with this invention," he added.

The development of renewable energy could create businesses and jobs in Africa, he added.

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, partners of Pavegen, financed the installation of the pitch.

The company is the main oil explorer in Nigeria -- Africa's number one producer -- and has been widely criticized for the environmental impact of its activities in the Niger Delta region.

Pavegen and Shell have learnt lessons from the Rio pitch, where residents objected to having to pay by the hour. There will be no charge at the Lagos pitch.

Source: Solar Daily.
Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Nigeria_gets_Africas_first_football_pitch_lit_by_players_999.html.

Burundi: 15 killed in coordinated attacks on military camps

December 12, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — In coordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi before dawn Friday. At least 15 people were killed as gunfire and explosions rocked the African capital of Bujumbura, marking a steep escalation of a simmering conflict.

Around 4 a.m., the unidentified attackers wearing civilian clothing hit two military installations in the capital and one in the countryside. Terrified civilians in Bujumbura stayed in their homes as stray rounds hit some of them.

The sounds of battle continued into the afternoon, residents said. Military and police vehicles were the only ones on the deserted streets and roadblocks were set up. "A stray bullet hit the wall of my neighbor's house. We do not know what's going on in the streets. We are living in fear," said Claire Biguda, a resident of the city's Nyakabiga neighborhood, who was locked up in her house along with her husband and two children.

Taxi driver Emery Sahabo said, facing roadblocks and gunfire early Friday, he and other motorists abandoned their cars and ran home. Burundian officials have previously accused neighboring Rwanda of supporting an insurgency against President Pierre Nkurunziza. There was no immediate comment from Rwanda.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and warned they could lead to further destabilization in Burundi. "Anyone responsible for ordering or committing human rights violations will be held individually accountable," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The U.N. chief urged Burundi's government to create conditions for an inclusive dialogue "that can address the deep political challenges facing the country."

The U.N. Security Council also strongly condemned the latest attacks, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the council should look at "how the international community can protect civilians from mass violence, including for the possible deployment of a regionally led peace support operation."

Friday's fighting is apparently part of violence linked to Nkurunziza's third term, which many Burundians and foreign observers had opposed as unconstitutional and in violation of peace accords. The treaty ended a civil war in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2006.

At least 240 people have been killed since April and about 215,000 others have fled to neighboring countries, according to the U.N. Several hundred people have also been imprisoned for opposing Nkurunziza's re-election this year.

Twelve attackers were killed on Friday and 20 others were arrested, including one who was wounded and is being treated at a military hospital, military spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza told state radio.

The attackers wanted to steal weapons and use them to free prisoners, he said. Baratuza said five soldiers were wounded in the attacks. However, military officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said three soldiers were killed.

Five attackers and two soldiers were killed in the assault at a camp in Ngagara neighborhood, a soldier said. Another soldier at the ISCAM military academy said one soldier died there. A third attack took place in Mujejuru, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital, Baratuza said.

Nkurunziza, who took power in 2005, won re-election in July. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Nkurunziza, who says he was entitled to another term because for his first term he was elected by parliament and not by popular mandate. The deputy president of the Constitutional Court fled to exile in Rwanda before the ruling and said the court had been coerced to rule in favor of the president.

Burundi has a history of deadly conflicts between the country's Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, though the current violence appears more politically than ethnically motivated.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

Burkina Faso commission says Kabore wins presidency

December 01, 2015

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Roch Marc Christian Kabore was elected Burkina Faso's president, according to preliminary results announced early Tuesday, replacing the transitional government put in place after the West African nation's longtime leader was toppled in a popular uprising last year.

The country's electoral commission said results show Kabore, from the Movement of People for Progress party, won 53.5 percent of the vote, or more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Zephirin Diabre came in second place with 29.6 percent of the vote, and Tahirou Barry came in third with 3 percent.

Electoral commission president Barthelemy Kere said 60 percent of the country's 5.5 million registered voters participated in Sunday's election. Fourteen candidates took part in the elections to replace the transition government set up after President Blaise Compaore was forced into exile in October 2014 after a 27-year rule. The poll, originally scheduled for October, was postponed after a coup by the presidential guard in September. Transitional President Michel Kafando and the prime minister were restored to power after a week, and the guard was disbanded.

Hundreds of supporters gathered Monday night at Kabore's campaign headquarters as early results showed him likely to win. Diabre joined and congratulated him. Candidates have seven days to contest the results before the constitutional court finalizes them.

The 58-year-old Kabore was the prime minister and speaker of parliament under Compaore. In January 2014, Kabore and others broke with the president to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Compaore to extend his power.

Kabore will be the second civilian president since the country gained independence from France in 1960 and has faced six coups. A new electoral code barred Compaore's party candidate from running, however the party could have a strong showing in legislative results which could be announced later Tuesday.

Burkina Faso holds 1st vote since popular uprising

November 29, 2015

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Thousands of people cast their ballots Sunday in Burkina Faso's first presidential and legislative elections since a popular uprising toppled the nation's longtime leader last year.

Many say the vote will be the most democratic in the West African nation's history, because no incumbent is on the ballot and the presidential guard has been dissolved. "It is a victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and for real democracy," said transitional President Michel Kafando after casting his vote.

He also said it was a victory for the about 17 million citizens of Burkina Faso who have waited decades for a democratic vote and called on citizens to avoid violence after results are announced. A popular uprising in October 2014 forced President Blaise Compaore to resign after a 27-year rule. A transitional government was put in place, but it was soon at odds with Compaore's elite presidential guard. The presidential guard staged a coup in September that lasted only a week and caused the election, originally scheduled for October, to be postponed. It was the country's sixth coup since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Burkina Faso's new electoral code bars presidential candidates who supported Compaore's bid to change the constitution, although the ex-president's party could have a strong showing in the legislative election.

"We must show that civilians can rule the country, and bring it to normality. We have faced a lot of coups and it is enough," said Roch Marc Christian Kabore, one of the front-runners. Abdoulaye Sawadogo, an engineer at a road building company, said he hopes the new leader will address issues of employment, health and education.

Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group said whoever is elected will have a hard time fulfilling voters' hopes. "The expectations are so high — for change, for justice, for the fight against corruption," Ohayon said.

Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations that closed around 6 p.m. local time on Sunday. Preliminary results are expected to start being announced on Monday.

A candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. More than 17,000 local and foreign observers monitored the poll, and 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed.

Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast contributed to this report.

Israel tests Arrow 3 missile defense system, target locked on from space

Tel Aviv (Sputnik)
Dec 11, 2015

The Israeli Defense Ministry announced Thursday it has successfully carried out a test on locking on a missile target from space using its Arrow 3 missile defense system that was developed jointly with the United States.

"The anti-missile Hetz 3 [Arrow 3] complex completed all of its planned flight stages and destroyed its target. Target lock on occurred in space," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The Arrow 3 is an anti ballistic defense system, jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and US aviation giant Boeing. The system is incorporated into Israel's multi-level defense shield and designed to intercept missiles of varying ranges - from short-range missiles fired from neighboring territories, to long-range missiles launched from Iran.

The Arrow 3 interceptor missile is capable of operating in space, as its hypersonic speed allows it to overcome the atmosphere.

A previous Arrow 3 test, conducted by Israel in December 2014, failed. According to reports, the launch of the Arrow 3 interceptor missile had to be canceled as it had failed to lock on to its target missile.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Israel_tests_Arrow_3_missile_defense_system_target_locked_on_from_space_999.html.

Israel suspends contact with some EU groups over labeling

November 29, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Sunday suspended contacts with European Union representatives on Mideast peace issues to protest the 28-nation bloc's decision to label Israeli exports from the West Bank.

The decision, which deepened a fissure with the EU over the labeling issue, came as a rash of Palestinian attacks showed no signs of relenting. In Sunday's violence, Palestinians carried out two new stabbing attacks — wounding a woman and a police officer. One of the assailants was shot dead.

Israel has been up in arms since the EU announced this month that goods produced in Israeli settlements must have special labels and cannot say they were made in Israel. Israel has said the decision is discriminatory and unfairly singles out Israel, while the EU says it is a technical matter to clarify the origins of the products.

Israel's Foreign Ministry announced late Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered contacts frozen until a "reassessment process is completed." The peace process with the Palestinians broke down early last year, so the practical implications of the announcement were not immediately clear. The Israeli statement did not say which institutions are affected, and an EU official would only say the bloc was still trying to determine the effect of the move. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Immediately after the EU's decision on Nov. 11, Israel also said it would suspend dialogue on certain bilateral political issues. Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan and began building settlements soon after. The Palestinians claim both territories as parts of a future state, a position that has global support.

Israel has linked the EU move to a growing international boycott movement, and some officials have accused the EU of anti-Semitism. The EU says it opposes boycotts, and says its move is a matter of consumer protection. Settlement products, including agricultural goods, olive oil, cosmetics and wines, make up a tiny percentage of Israeli exports to Europe.

The EU labeling move has come during a two-month spate of Palestinian attacks that shows no signs of ending. In the latest bloodshed, Israeli police reported a pair of stabbings Sunday. In one instance, a 38-year-old Palestinian man yelled "God is greatest" before stabbing an Israeli policeman at Jerusalem's Old City, moderately wounding him before officers shot and killed him.

Hours later, a Palestinian stabbed a woman in the back as she waited at a Jerusalem bus stop. The woman, a foreign national identified by media as Nepalese, was evacuated to a hospital. Police later said they found the attacker — a teenage boy —hiding at a nearby construction site.

The violence erupted in mid-September over tensions at a Jerusalem holy site. Since then, 19 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings and shootings. At least 97 Palestinians have been killed, including 62 said by Israel to be attackers. The others died in clashes with Israeli forces.

Israel says the violence stems from Palestinian incitement and incendiary videos that encourage bloodshed on social media. Most of the attackers have been young Palestinians in their teens and early 20s. The Palestinians say the violence is rooted in frustration over a lack of hope for obtaining independence.

Exoplanets Water Mystery Solved

Baltimore MD (SPX)
Dec 16, 2015

A survey of 10 hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets conducted with NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has led a team to solve a long-standing mystery - why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected. The findings offer new insights into the wide range of planetary atmospheres in our galaxy and how planets are assembled.

Of the nearly 2,000 planets confirmed to be orbiting other stars, a subset are gaseous planets with characteristics similar to those of Jupiter but that orbit very close to their stars, making them blistering hot.

Their close proximity to the star makes them difficult to observe in the glare of starlight. Due to this difficulty, Hubble has only explored a handful of hot Jupiters in the past. These initial studies have found several planets to hold less water than predicted by atmospheric models.

The international team of astronomers has tackled the problem by making the largest-ever spectroscopic catalog of exoplanet atmospheres. All of the planets in the catalog follow orbits oriented so the planet passes in front of their parent star, as seen from Earth.

During this so-called transit, some of the starlight travels through the planet's outer atmosphere. "The atmosphere leaves its unique fingerprint on the starlight, which we can study when the light reaches us," explained co-author Hannah Wakeford of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

By combining data from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space telescopes, the team was able to attain a broad spectrum of light covering wavelengths from the optical to infrared. The difference in planetary radius as measured between visible and infrared wavelengths was used to indicate the type of planetary atmosphere being observed for each planet in the sample, whether hazy or clear.

A cloudy planet will appear larger in visible light than at infrared wavelengths, which penetrate deeper into the atmosphere. It was this comparison that allowed the team to find a correlation between hazy or cloudy atmospheres and faint water detection.

"I'm really excited to finally see the data from this wide group of planets together, as this is the first time we've had sufficient wavelength coverage to compare multiple features from one planet to another," said David Sing of the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, lead author of the paper. "We found the planetary atmospheres to be much more diverse than we expected."

"Our results suggest it's simply clouds hiding the water from prying eyes, and therefore rule out dry hot Jupiters," explained co-author Jonathan Fortney of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "The alternative theory to this is that planets form in an environment deprived of water, but this would require us to completely rethink our current theories of how planets are born."

The results are being published in the British science journal Nature. The study of exoplanetary atmospheres is currently in its infancy. Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will open a new infrared window on the study of exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Exoplanets_Water_Mystery_Solved_999.html.

UK astronaut Tim Peake puts space back on agenda in Britain

December 15, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Britain has decided to boldly go where others have gone before.

More than half a century after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in orbit, the U.K. is experiencing a surge of space mania thanks to its first official astronaut — a soft-spoken pilot named Tim who will spend some of his six-month stint on the International Space Station attempting to brew a decent cup of tea in zero gravity.

Millions around the country paused in front of TVs and computer screens Tuesday to watch a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Maj. Tim Peake and two other astronauts — Timothy Kopra of the United States and Yuri Malenchenko of Russia — blast off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Peake, a 43-year-old former army helicopter pilot, is not the first Briton in space. Helen Sharman visited Russia's Mir space station in 1991 on a privately backed mission and several British-born American citizens flew with NASA's space shuttle program.

But Peake is Britain's first publicly funded British astronaut and the first Briton to visit the International Space Station. The spacecraft docked successfully at the space station roughly six hours after liftoff.

For decades, cost-conscious British governments declined to invest in human space flight, confining the U.K.'s space contribution to robotic missions. "The U.K. has taken an understandably hard economic view of human space flight over the years and asked itself what it might be worth," said Kevin Fong, an expert in space medicine who will explore how to survive in space in this year's Royal Institution Christmas science lectures. "The answer to that question is quite a lot, actually."

He said Peake's voyage "has already inspired schoolchildren, and will go on to do so. But there's a wider importance in showing that Britain is not done exploring yet." The government has been raising Britain's space aspirations for several years. In 2010 it set up the U.K. Space Agency, which has a relatively modest budget of about 320 million pounds ($485 million) a year.

This week the Conservative government announced Britain's first National Space Policy, which aims to capture 10 percent of the global space industry and create 100,000 high-tech jobs — though it's unclear how these goals will be funded.

Peake's voyage has helped millions of Britons rediscover an excited interest in outer space. One British reporter at a pre-launch press conference told Peake that "you will be taking the pride and excitement of everybody back home, so much so that you probably won't need any fuel to get into orbit."

As Peake psyched himself for liftoff Tuesday by listening to tracks by Queen, U2 and Coldplay, the BBC offered wall-to-wall TV coverage, complete with good-luck messages from Sting, Prime Minister David Cameron and "Doctor Who" star Peter Capaldi. At London's Science Museum, hundreds of students cheered wildly as the rocket lifted off.

Aboard the space station, Peake will conduct experiments on how the human body reacts in space. And in a distinctly British contribution to science, he will try out a new tea-making process that lets him remove the teabag from the drink pouches used in zero gravity.

"That way," Peake told students during a question-and-answer session last month, "I can spend as long as I like drinking my tea and it won't get stewed, and hopefully it won't get cold either."

Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

Astronomers recall discovery of source of Geminids

Leicester UK (SPX)
Dec 12, 2015

The beautiful Geminids meteor shower is due to light up the heavens this weekend, but the source of the enigmatic cosmic display had eluded stargazers for more than 120 years.

Although the popular astronomical event has been observed since the 1800s, its origins had long remained a mystery.

It was only discovered relatively recently, compared to other showers such as the Perseids, which were first documented in 36 AD and Leonids, which date back to 902 AD.

Then, in 1983, two University of Leicester astronomers - Dr. Simon Green and Dr. John Davies - were studying data from the infrared sensitive telescope on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, IRAS, and discovered an asteroid with a very unusual orbit.

Originally designated 1983 TB, the comet was renamed 3200 Phaethon after the son of Greek Sun god Helios - an appropriate moniker as it orbits closer to the Sun than any other asteroid then known.

Shortly after the find, Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple was able to link the newly discovered rocky object, which is about three miles wide, with the Geminid meteors, and the mystifying source of the showers was revealed.

Now a Senior Lecturer in Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University, Dr. Green - a PhD student at the time of Phaethon's discovery - said: "I was a PhD student at Leicester at the time. Professor Jack Meadows, my supervisor, had arranged for me to work on his proposed IRAS Fast Moving Object Survey for my thesis.

"The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Didcot operated the ground station and did the preliminary analysis of the data to check that everything was working correctly (the complete analysis and catalogs were produced at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory after the mission).

"My first task was to write the software to search among all the data rejected from the survey and try to identify potential fast-moving asteroids. It was based on code written by Brian Stewart at RAL to do the rejection."

Dr. Green said due to the mounting workload, more help was needed and Dr. Davies joined the team.

Dr. Green said: "When we realized that we would need to check the outputs of the code every 12 hours for the planned year of the mission, Jack bid for and obtained funding to employ a postdoc (John).

"One or both of John and I were at RAL for almost all the actual 10 months that IRAS operated before running out of liquid helium coolant.

"Much of the time we alternated time at RAL and I was the one who was around when Phaethon appeared.

"In fact, the previous weekend, on one of the rare times when neither of us could be there, there was another fantastic candidate that we had missed, and I was determined not to miss another - which was the reason why I telephoned Palomar.

"We had set up a system to telex observatories (this was pre-email and Internet days), but I didn't want it to be left lying on a desk somewhere.

"John and I 'shared' the discoveries we made - several comets including IRAS-Araki-Alcock, which was a naked-eye comet in summer 1983 as it flashed by the Earth, a few asteroids in addition to Phaethon, and the first-ever detection of a cometary dust trail.

"The end result of the survey was several papers, including one in Nature, and my PhD thesis."

Dr. Green went on to be Comet Halley UK Coordinator and also worked on several space missions including Cassini, Huygens, Stardust and Rosetta.

Dr. Davies moved to the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh in 1987 and then relocated to Hawaii in 1993, to join the Joint Astronomy Center before returning to Edinburgh in 2001.

Professor Paul O'Brien, of the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: "The Geminids are usually the brightest meteor shower of the year, sometimes reaching over 100 per hour.

"Finding the source of them was a great achievement and is a good example of how you can make valuable yet unexpected discoveries using spacecraft."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Astronomers_recall_discovery_of_source_of_Geminids_999.html.

Exp 45 set to return from space station

Houston TX (SPX)
Dec 11, 2015

Three International Space Station crew members are preparing to return to Earth early Friday after 141 days in space. Expedition 45 Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will land in their Soyuz spacecraft at 8:12 a.m. EST, northeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

NASA Television coverage begins at 1 a.m. Friday as they bid the station farewell, enter the Soyuz, and close the hatches. So far, the crew's return is on track, and the space station is in good shape.

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA, along with crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, will operate the station for four days until the arrival of three new crew members.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 15 and arrive at the station about 6 hours later.

Kelly and Kornienko are on the first joint U.S.-Russian one-year mission, an important stepping stone on NASA's journey to Mars.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Exp_45_set_to_return_from_space_station_999.html.

SpaceX to launch rocket Dec 19, six months after blast

Washington (AFP)
Dec 10, 2015

SpaceX on Thursday announced plans to launch its Falcon 9 on December 19, its first mission since a massive explosion after liftoff destroyed the rocket and its space station cargo six months ago.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that the company is preparing for a static fire -- an engine test on the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida -- on December 16, followed by "launch about three days later."

The Falcon rocket will carry 11 satellites for the US company Orbcomm into low-Earth orbit, a company spokesman told AFP.

The spokesman did not say when SpaceX planned to begin sending cargo to the International Space Station again.

SpaceX's only competitor in the commercial resupply industry is Orbital ATK, which also suffered a major setback when its Antares rocket exploded after launching from Wallops Island, Virginia in October 2014.

Orbital ATK launched on Sunday its unmanned Cygnus cargo ship to the ISS, this time aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket while it upgrades the Antares, which previously used a reconditioned Ukrainian rocket engine.

The Falcon 9 exploded on June 28, just over two minutes after launching from Cape Canaveral with its Dragon cargo ship loaded with supplies for the astronauts living in space.

Musk said the blast was due to a faulty strut.

The accident was a blow to the California-based company, which was the first commercial outfit to send a cargo craft to space under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

The Falcon 9 rocket that is scheduled to fly December 19 is a new version that is 30 percent more powerful and designed to improve the controlled landing of the rocket's first stage, a mission that SpaceX has been attempting to refine in the hope of one day making rockets as reusable as airplanes.

SpaceX has tried multiple times to land its rocket upright on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean, without success.

For this next launch, SpaceX said it plans to attempt a touchdown on land for the first time.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, an Internet entrepreneur who like Musk also owns a rocket company, announced on November 24 that he had successfully landed his New Shepard rocket after a suborbital flight.

While Bezos touted the achievement, Musk and other experts pointed out that it would have been much easier to control the landing of a rocket that flies lower in altitude than the first stage of the Falcon 9.

Once rockets do become reusable, analysts say the practice will save millions of dollars in equipment and launch costs.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/SpaceX_to_launch_rocket_Dec_19_six_months_after_blast_999.html.

Orbital cargo ship arrives at space station

Miami (AFP)
Dec 9, 2015

Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday, carrying more than 7,000 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of water, food and supplies for global astronauts.

"Capture confirmed," a NASA commentator said at 6:19 am (1119 GMT), as NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, operating the Canadian made robotic arm from inside the space station, reached out and grabbed the beer-keg shaped spaceship.

"Cygnus has arrived at the station."

Following the capture, the spaceship will slowly be brought closer to the ISS to be bolted securely on in the coming hours.

The spaceship launched Sunday from Cape Canaveral Florida atop an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance.

Orbital has not sent a cargo spaceship to orbit since October 2014, when its Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff due to a problem with its Ukrainian-made engine.

Both Orbital ATK and SpaceX have billion-dollar contracts with NASA to supply the ISS over a series of cargo missions with their Cygnus and Dragon spaceships.

Astronauts plan to dive into the contents of the Cygnus and begin unpacking it early Thursday, NASA said.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Orbital_cargo_ship_arrives_at_space_station_999.html.

India to develop its own stealth combat drones

by Ryan Maass
New Delhi (UPI)
Dec 15, 2015

The government of India is preparing to launch its program to develop its own unmanned combat aerial vehicles, according to Indian media reports.

Times of India reports the proposed combat aircraft will be armed with missiles and designed to engage targets, and return to home bases to be re-fitted for future missions. The initiative, known as Project Ghatak, has already been cleared by the Indian Ministry of Defense, and now awaits approval from the Indian Ministry of Finance.

"The project is now being evaluated by an expert committee set up by the finance ministry. Once approved, Project Ghatak will be placed before the cabinet committee on security for the final nod," a source told Times of India.

The unmanned combat aerial vehicles will be powered by a variant of Indian-designed Kaveri aerospace engines, and will weigh less than a conventional fighter jet.

While many nations have fleets of unmanned combat aerial vehicles through foreign military sales, the United States, China, Pakistan and Israel are the only nations known to manufacture their own UCAVs.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/India_to_develop_its_own_stealth_combat_drones_999.html.