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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kyocera expands number of solar recharging stations in Japan

Kyotango, Japan (SPX)
Dec 14, 2015

Kyocera has supplied two more solar-powered recharging stations in Kyotango City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan which began operation earlier this month. The stations power electric vehicles (EVs) as well as plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs).

In addition, the stations become central hubs for back-up power during emergencies by switching to grid-independent operation, improving access for electric-powered transportation, as well as contributing to the community's overall disaster preparedness infrastructure.

More than 740,000 electric cars were on the road across the world by early 2015, with the U.S., Japan and China among the top markets - and the U.S. leading the world with more than 11,000 recharging stations.

In Japan, the government is aiming to increase the ratio of EVs and PHVs to 15-20% by 2020*4 and is promoting the expansion of charging facilities for next-generation vehicles.

In conjunction with this project, Kyotango City is adding recharging stations at multiple convenient public sites for tourists and residents who rent or own EVs and PHVs.

Kyocera's solar recharging stations provide an ideal configuration for independent power production to help with emergency situations as well as daily electric vehicle charging.

The two stations for this project, installed by Ostem Co., Ltd., each include a 3.2kW Kyocera solar power generating system, standard charger, 30kW Nichicon quick charger and 7.2kW Nichicon battery storage system.

In addition, the stations are equipped with LED lighting and disaster control boxes which include an emergency power strip, radio, flashlight and work gloves.

During normal operation, electricity generated by solar modules assists the commercial grid in powering the standard charger, and is also sent to the storage system for LED lighting at night.

In times of disaster, the solar-generated electricity saved in the storage system powers the disaster control box in addition to powering LEDs at night. By operating off-grid during disasters, the stations will enable the community to charge devices such as mobile phones during power outages.

Originally, Kyocera's solar recharging stations were developed in 2010 as an environmentally-friendly solar-powered station to power electric-assisted bicycles, using the company's high performance PV modules.

Based on this system, the company developed solar recharging stations to power EVs and PHVs in 2012. By making solar technology more ubiquitous in society, Kyocera hopes to contribute to the development of sustainable and resilient communities.

Source: Solar Daily.
Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Kyocera_expands_number_of_solar_recharging_stations_in_Japan_999.html.

Drone laws tightened in Japan as police deploy air-to-air take down unit

Tokyo (XNA)
Dec 11, 2015

A new law that regulates the use of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) came into effect Thursday as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police eyes launching a dedicated anti-drone unit.

According to revisions to the current civil aviation law, those operating drones or other types of UAVs will be required to obtain special governmental approval to operate the aircraft in certain areas.

Regulations in areas that are densely populated, event spaces, airports and sensitive government-linked buildings and facilities like nuclear power stations, will be strictly enforced, according to the new revisions.

Flights taking place at night, or beyond the vision of the operator, will also require special permission, the new regulations state, with operators being required to state in advance to authorities the purpose of the drone's flight, its route and the drone's serial number.

In addition, the operators will be required, in some instances, to have clocked up at least 10 hours of flying time, before being allowed to operate drones in certain areas.

The new police unit to be launched will comprise expert drone operating officers who, when they detect a drone entering a no-fly zone, will deploy a larger net-carrying drone to effectively ensnare the offending drone in a mid-air intervention. Local reports have said the drones will also be equipped with cameras and nets measuring some 3 meters.

The tighter restrictions on drone usage comes following the Tokyo metropolitan government in May banning the flying of drones in the city's parks and gardens with the ordinance coming into effect following a drone carrying radioactive material being found on the roof of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office in April.

A man was arrested after admitting to police he landed a drone on the roof of the prime minister's office that was found by authorities on April 23, while the prime minister was out of the country.

The drone was found to be carrying a payload of low-level cesium-tainted sand, and was landed on the roof some time before it was actually detected.

The drone's pilot claimed he landed the aircraft on Abe's roof to protest the government's nuclear policy.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Drone_laws_tightened_in_Japan_as_police_launch_specialized_air_to_air_take_down_unit_999.html.

Chinese capital to keep schoolchildren indoors as smog alert returns

Beijing (AFP)
Dec 6, 2015

Schools in the Chinese capital were ordered Sunday to keep children indoors in the coming days, when the city's notorious choking smog is forecast to return.

All kindergartens, elementary and middle schools must suspend outdoor activities after the city issued another "orange" alert for smog from Monday to Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The decision was taken Sunday by the city's Commission of Education.

Beijing first issued an orange alert -- the second-highest warning -- last week, ordering hundreds of factories to shut and allowing children to skip school. Construction sites were told to stop activities which create dust.

The smog, which at one point was over 25 times safe levels and covered swathes of northern China, cleared later in the week.

Some schools allowed students to choose whether to study at home or in school while Beijing Digital School ran classes online, the education commission said.

The smog is created largely by vehicle exhaust emissions and coal-burning by industry and for winter heating.

The frequently filthy air is a major source of public discontent with the Communist rulers.

China pledged last week to upgrade the nation's coal-fired power plants to cut pollution, as negotiating teams were locked in crucial talks at a climate change summit in Paris.

The State Council, or cabinet, announced plans to reduce by 60 percent the amount of "major pollutants" coming from its coal-fired power plants by 2020.

Analysts said the announcement was intended mainly to allay public anger over smog rather than to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Chinese_capital_to_keep_schoolchildren_indoors_as_smog_alert_returns_999.html.

NATO, Ukraine officials sign defense cooperation agreement

Washington (UPI)
Dec 16, 2015

NATO leadership signed an agreement with the Ukrainian government outlining a roadmap to modernize the country's defense industry and capabilities.

The NATO-Ukraine Defense-Technical Co-Operation agreement was co-signed by NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment Patrick Auroy and Ukraine Defense Council Oleg Gladkovskyi.

The roadmap of priorities include improving Ukraine's armed forces, cooperation in standardization and codification, and enhancing the country's defense industry. The move comes as Ukraine's government pushes for deeper ties with the alliance.

Additional collaborations between the alliance and Ukraine will focus on defense science and technology. Most of the activities included in the agreement focus on the country's role in working with the Conference of National Armaments Directors.

Ukraine has moved closer to NATO and its member states following its 2014 revolution and the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych, and subsequent armed insurgency from pro-Russian militants. Western militaries from the United States, United Kingdom, and others have responded by providing tactical training and material support for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/NATO_Ukraine_officials_sign_defense_cooperation_agreement_999.html.

Ukraine stops buying Russian gas, closes airspace

November 25, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated Wednesday as Ukraine decided to stop buying Russian natural gas — hoping to rely on supplies from other countries — and closed its airspace to its eastern neighbor.

Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in the east has brought relations between the two countries to a post-Soviet low. Ukraine has since been trying to cut its dependence on Russian gas.

Russia's state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, said Wednesday that it stopped sending gas to Ukraine on Wednesday morning and will supply no more because Ukraine has not paid in advance for more deliveries.

Ukraine said it was its own decision to stop buying gas from Russia after it was offered better prices from other European countries. Those other countries import gas from Russia but can pipe it back to Ukraine.

The stoppage comes less than two months after the two countries signed an EU-brokered deal ensuring supplies through March. Under the deal, Russia lowered the price it charged Ukraine to the same level granted to neighboring countries, from $251 per 1,000 cubic meters to about $230.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller on Wednesday warned Ukraine and Europe of possible gas disruptions following the cut-off. Russia uses Ukraine's pipelines to transport a part of its gas deliveries to other European countries.

Ukraine's "refusal to buy Russian gas threatens a safe gas transit to Europe through Ukraine and gas supplies to Ukraine consumers in the coming winter," Miller said. The Gazprom chief said Ukraine had been buying up gas to store for the coming winter in the past two months but claimed it was not enough to get it through the winter.

On the other hand, the EU's executive arm, the European Commission which has been mediating the gas row between the sides, noted that Ukraine's gas reserves are well stocked and that the mild recent weather means that consumption has been below average.

"We are not particularly concerned about the gas flows from Russia to Ukraine at the moment," said Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen. Past gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have led to cutoffs. One standoff in 2009 caused serious disruptions in shipments EU countries in the dead of winter.

Temperatures in Ukraine, where most homes rely on gas for central heating, were below freezing Wednesday morning. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk also announced that his government has decided to close the country's airspace to all Russian planes as "an issue of the national security as well as a response to Russia's aggressive actions.'

Ukraine last month banned all Russian airlines from flying into Ukraine but Russian planes have been allowed to fly over its territory.

Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

Preliminary results: Slovenians reject same-sex marriage law

December 20, 2015

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenians rejected same-sex marriage by a large margin in a referendum on Sunday, according to near-complete results, in a victory for the conservatives backed by the Catholic Church in the ex-communist EU nation.

The results released by authorities show 63.5 percent voted against a bill that defines marriage as a union of two adults, while 36.5 percent were in favor. Slovenia's left-leaning Parliament introduced marriage equality in March, but opponents pushed through a popular vote on the issue. The "Children Are At Stake" group has collected 40,000 signatures to challenge the changes before any gay couples were able to marry.

"This result presents a victory for our children," said Ales Primc, the group's leader. Ljudmila Novak, from New Slovenia, described the outcome as a "clear defeat" of the leftist government, which backed the changes.

Supporters of same-sex marriage have called for Slovenia to join Western European nations that have allowed more gay rights. Conservatives and the right-wing opposition have campaigned on traditional family values, arguing that marriage equality paves the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Although Slovenia is considered to be among the most liberal of the ex-communist nations, gay rights remain a contentious topic in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation of 2 million. Voters in the former Yugoslav republic rejected granting more rights to gay couples in a referendum in 2012.

Violeta Tomic, a lawmaker from the United Left party which initially put forward the bill, said referendum results presented a temporary setback only. "It's not over yet. Sooner or later the law will be accepted," she said.

The Slovenia vote illustrates a cultural split within the European Union in which more established western members are rapidly granting new rights to gays, while eastern newcomers entrench conservative attitudes toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Igor Zagar, a 55-year-old professor from the capital, Ljubljana, said he voted in favor of marriage equality to "support the secular state and against the interference of the church into political issues."

Gregor Jerovsek, a 40-year-old mechanic from Ljubljana, said he believed that "the family should not be a field for experimentation." "A traditional family should remain the key value of our society," he said.

Romania: government removes sheepdog restrictions

December 16, 2015

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A day after thousands of shepherds protested in the capital, Romania's government has lifted a ban on sheep grazing in the winter months and regulations limiting the number of sheepdogs.

Government spokesman Dan Suciu said the government temporarily removed two articles from a law designed to protect hunters in an emergency ordinance Wednesday, and would find a permanent solution by April. Shepherds say the law is an attack on their rights and centuries of traditions.

The law limited shepherds to three dogs for flocks of sheep in the mountains, and a single dog on the plain. It also banned sheep grazing from December to April. Hunters say the dogs attack deer and wild boar that they hunt.

There are 10 million sheep in Romania.

Romania OKs visit by Russian official under EU travel ban

November 27, 2015

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's foreign ministry has defended a visit by a Russian legislator who is on a European Union sanctions list, saying restrictions do not apply for international meetings.

State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin arrived in Romania on Friday for a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The foreign ministry said Romania was "obliged" to allow Naryshkin enter Romania because the EU travel ban establishes "that restrictions do not apply in the situation where a state member has obligations of international law, which comes from a multilateral accord which confers privileges and immunity."

Naryshkin spoke to the Romanian Senate later and lawmakers representing the ethnic Ukrainian community walked onto the Parliament floor where he was speaking to protest his presence. They held a banner saying: "2008-Georgia, 2014-Ukraine, Who's next? Putin Stop."

Naryshkin carried on with his speech, without further interruption.

New Polish authorities raid NATO spy center, fire staff

Warsaw (AFP)
Dec 18, 2015

Poland's new conservative government on Friday continued a controversial drive to replace senior officials with its own appointees when it raided a NATO counter-espionage center in Warsaw and fired its senior staff.

Colonel Krzysztof Dusza, the sacked head of the Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence, said defense ministry officials and military police raided the joint Polish-Slovak center in the early hours of Friday.

"I told them their presence here was illegal. When they left, I asked the police to put seals on the door," Dusza told public television, adding he had informed Slovakia "and other foreign partners".

The defense ministry issued a terse statement on the incident, saying only that it had installed a new interim director, Colonel Robert Bala.

In office since November, the new administration has already sparked uproar with its attempts to replace constitutional judges, a move that triggered mass protests.

Dusza insisted he was still at the helm because a joint Polish-Slovak decision was necessary to oust him.

"We expect a thorough clarification of the situation from our Polish partners," said the Slovak defense ministry, adding it was following the affair "very closely".

Polish deputy defense minister Bartosz Kownacki told local media the center's officials had been sacked a week ago but held on "illegally to their posts, rejecting orders."

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told public radio they "had lost the right of access to confidential documents and should be replaced by others who have such rights."

Former defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak apologized on behalf of Poles to Slovakia over the raid, dubbing it "an absolute scandal" and "an unprecedented act in a NATO member country."

Antoni Macierewicz, the current defense minister and a hardliner within the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, is reputed to have carried out extensive purges in the military intelligence services in 2006 when he was deputy defense minister.

Designed to expand NATO's intelligence-gathering capabilities in the light of new threats, especially from Russia, the Polish-Slovak center was formally endorsed by NATO in October.

But a NATO official in Brussels told AFP that Friday's raid on the military center was a uniquely Polish affair as the center "has not yet been accredited by NATO."

"In general terms, Centers of Excellence are international research centers, which are nationally or multi-nationally funded and staffed, and work alongside the Alliance, but they are not NATO bodies," said the official, who did not wish to be named.

The center's headquarters are located in Warsaw. The southern city of Krakow is scheduled to host the unit eventually.

Slovakia, Poland's neighbor to the south, is to also to host a branch.

Poland joined NATO in 1999 and Slovakia followed suit in 2004.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/New_Polish_authorities_raid_NATO_spy_centre_fire_staff_999.html.

Poland's ruling party tries to solve conflict with new law

December 17, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's ruling party on Thursday proposed new legislation concerning the Constitutional Tribunal that, it says, should calm the political storm surrounding the special court.

The conflict between the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party and the pro-EU opposition over control of the court has led to peaceful street demonstrations by both sides and has provoked concerned comments from some leaders in the EU. The opposition, which controls the constitutional court, accuses the government of undermining Poland's democracy. More demonstrations by government opponents are planned on Saturday.

Law and Justice's proposal increases the number of judges needed to make key rulings, requires a two-thirds majority for its rulings instead of the current simple majority, transfers the power to swear in judges from the president to the parliament speaker and moves its headquarters out of Warsaw, which is supposed to free it from political pressure.

Despite vehement opposition protests, the parliament and the president — both controlled by the ruling party — are expected to adopt the legislation eventually. Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski believes that without influence in the 15-member tribunal he will not be able to implement the sweeping social and political reforms he has promised. The tribunal has the power to put a check on new legislation. Currently most of its judges were appointed by the previous ruling team, now in the opposition. Law and Justice's attempts to place its own five choices there, and the opposition's resistance, led to a constitutional crisis in the country.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was to meet European Parliament head Martin Schulz in Brussels on Thursday. She has said she wants Schulz to apologize for having said that the developments in Poland have a "coup d'etat" character.

The European Parliament is to debate the situation on Jan. 19, a move that is criticized in Poland as unnecessary. "There are no grounds for this debate or for saying that democracy in Poland is threatened," said Tomasz Poreba, a member of the EU parliament for the ruling party.

Government critics in Poland fear rights are under threat

December 16, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — European Union flags have disappeared from government press conferences. The constitutional court has suffered a huge blow to its authority. Grassroots initiatives have sprung up to protect the country's young democracy.

Poland is in the grip of dizzying political changes since the nationalistic right-wing party, Law and Justice, took power last month and acted quickly to solidify its hold over this nation of nearly 38 million people. Their most controversial move has been an attempt to pack the Constitutional Tribunal — the only real check on the party's power after it took control of the presidency and parliament in elections this year — with loyal supporters.

Many Poles fear their hard-earned democracy is in jeopardy. "They have started to violate the foundations of the democratic state of law. This is unprecedented. In Poland's 26 years of democracy, a ruling party has never behaved like this," said Hanna Szuczewska of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, a movement founded days after the new government took power in November.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo lashed out Wednesday against such accusations, saying the "opposition is trying to provoke a political row ... that is harmful to Polish citizens." Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski says the Constitutional Tribunal was filled with people loyal to the previous centrist government, led by the Civic Platform party, and changes must be made so it "no longer protects the previous crony system."

"We must reorganize Poland and it must be a huge reorganization," Kaczynski told supporters at a pro-government march Sunday. "But we are denied that right today, even though we won the election." Accusations of anti-democratic behavior are powerful in a nation where fighting for freedom is a deep tradition. Poland is the birthplace of two major figures in the struggle against Soviet communism: Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II. Millions joined Walesa's Solidarity movement in the 1980s. More recently, Poland has been the region's most successful post-communist transformation, with fast economic growth and an increasingly prominent role in European affairs.

Walesa, alarmed by the country's political direction, called this week for a referendum on shortening the government's four-year term. Law and Justice rule "will lead to a lot of misfortune. It will end badly," Walesa told private Radio Zet.

A pro-democracy demonstration Saturday drew 50,000 people to Warsaw's streets. Some marchers compared the recent political changes to the authoritarian turn taken in Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"This is Warsaw, not Budapest!" went one chant. The next day, however, some 35,000 rallied in Warsaw in support of the new government — underlining the deep chasm between those who support the government's Catholic and Euroskeptic vision and those who support a secular, pro-European world view.

A conflict over the appointment of new judges to the court — a legally complex drama that has played out over past weeks — has appeared to reduce the court's impartiality. Law and Justice is still not heeding a ruling by the court that said three judicial appointments by the previous government were valid.

Another controversy has been a presidential pardon for Mariusz Kaminski, the new government's minister for security services who was convicted of abuse of power during a previous stint in power. "What is happening in Poland has the character of a coup d'etat," the head of the European Parliament, Martin Schutz, said Monday.

Schutz's comment sparked an angry reaction by Polish leaders, with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski calling it "irresponsible" and noting that democracy in Poland remains strong. He pointed out that the election that brought Law and Justice to power was free and undisputed and that all developments now taking place are being monitored by a free press.

Law and Justice says it simply wants to fix what it sees as damage done 26 years ago by a political compromise between the former communists and Solidarity. That negotiated political transformation allowed former communists to take control of some of the nation's resources and maintain some political influence. Kaczynski and his allies also object to what they consider to be excessive power by foreign countries, corporations and banks in Poland.

His party wants to reshape many aspects of society and replace hundreds of officials in government institutions — something that offends many Kaczynski opponents, but also often happens regularly after a change of power in Poland and in older democracies like the United States. Another law being drawn up would give the government greater control over the state-run media, a cause of concern for Polish journalists and media watchdogs.

"They want to control every aspect of life, every sphere of the public scene," said Krzysztof Izdebski, a human rights lawyer who co-founded another new democratic initiative, We Are Watching You. Yet Kaczynski and his allies say they are fulfilling will of the nation. The party won nearly 38 percent of the vote in the October but its support has since dropped to 27 percent, according to a poll by the TNS agency published Tuesday. The poll has a margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

At the heart of the controversy is Kaczynski, seen to be the real power behind both the prime minister and the president. A former prime minister himself from 2006-2007, Kaczynski's rule was marked by domestic political turmoil and tensions with neighboring Germany and other European powers. Law and Justice, however, says it was just protecting the country from outside powers that wanted to erode Poland's sovereignty.

Signaling a return to a more nationalistic agenda, Szydlo has abandoned her predecessors' practice of holding government press conferences in front of both Polish and EU flags, saying she prefers Poland's "most beautiful white-and-red flags."

German steps up deportation of failed asylum-seekers

December 21, 2015

BAMBERG, Germany (AP) — Faced with an unprecedented influx of refugees and growing anxiety among voters, German authorities have stepped up the deportation of failed asylum-seekers.

New figures show that the number of deportations almost doubled this year from 2014. By the end of November, authorities had deported 18,363 people whose asylum request had been rejected, compared to 10,884 in all of last year.

"(The increase) can be explained on the one hand simply by the increasing number of people who are getting negative (asylum) decisions," Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said Monday. But the trend is also affected "by the states' increasing willingness to carry out these procedures," he said.

The task of handling asylum requests falls to Germany's 16 states and some have been more rigorous in applying the law than others. Bavaria, the state that most asylum-seekers first set foot in, more than trebled its deportations to 3,643 in the first 11 months of 2015 from 1,007 last year. The conservative government there has been particularly forceful in pushing to limit the number of refugees coming to Germany — estimated at about one million this year — and speed up deportations of those already in the country.

Earlier this year, Bavaria opened a special center for people unlikely to get asylum. Situated on a former U.S. Army barracks in Bamberg, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Nuremberg, the Arrival and Return Facility II currently houses about 850 people.

Almost all are from western Balkan nations, chiefly Albania, followed by Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia. Germany considers them to be safe countries where individuals are unlikely to face the kind of persecution that would warrant asylum. Some were sent to the center straight from the border, others have been in Germany for more than a year. Most said economic hardship made them travel to Germany.

"In Serbia there's no work," said Elvis Asani, a Roma from Serbia who is being sent back with his wife and children. "So we thought we go to Germany and work a little bit." "I go back, but we have no home," Asani said when asked what he would do in Serbia. "Where shall we go with three kids?"

Since the center was opened in mid-September, the 15 staff processing asylum requests haven't issued a single permanent residency permit, officials said. Meanwhile, 463 people were deported voluntarily and 170 were forcibly deported. Decisions are made within five to ten days.

"We don't want to paint a discouraging picture, we want to paint a realistic picture," Stefan Krug, an official with the regional government of Upper Franconia, said Monday. "The mood ahead of Christmas is obviously a bit depressed," he added. "But all in all it's peaceful."

Interior Ministry spokesman Dimroth said, unlike in previous years, none of Germany's states have suspended deportations for the winter — and says federal authorities also see "no place for a halt to deportations."

Authorities are planning to increase the Bamberg center's capacity to 1,500 by the end of December, and to 4,500 by the end of March.

Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Haiti officials postpone vote set for this weekend

December 22, 2015

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Less than a week before balloting was scheduled, Haitian authorities postponed the country's presidential and legislative runoffs because they said they needed to wait for recommendations from a special commission tasked with evaluating the widely criticized electoral process.

In a brief statement issued Monday evening, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council said the vote scheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed until further notice. They did not provide a new date for the final round of national elections. Council spokesman Roudy Stanley Penn said a new date will be announced once a commission created by presidential decree has concluded its work.

Last week, President Michel Martelly announced that a five-member commission would assess Haiti's electoral process ahead of the runoffs that opposition factions have threatened to derail because of suspicions of widespread fraud. It was expected to take three days to conclude its review and make recommendations to the government and the electoral council.

But the review panel has not yet been installed and various opposition factions objected to the commission's members, saying that the government didn't seek consensus with the 10 sitting senators and opposition leaders before the five members were chosen. The "Group of Eight' alliance led by second-place presidential finisher Jude Celestin said it was meant merely as a "cosmetic solution."

In Monday comments to The Associated Press, Martelly said the evaluation commission is intended to provide clarity to what he asserts are baseless fraud allegations stoked by the opposition. Once the commission finishes its work, he said he's confident the country can move ahead with the final round of elections "because we want it to be credible."

He said his government has lately been in talks with electoral officials, senators and opposition figures, including Celestin's camp, to find a way out of the electoral impasse. For weeks, the opposition alliance demanded an independent review of late October elections that it insists were rigged in favor of the government-backed presidential candidate. But the Provisional Electoral Council rejected their demands, arguing that they lacked the power to authorize a review of the official results.

Sauveur Pierre Etienne, one of eight presidential candidates who formed an opposition alliance with Celestin after preliminary results were issued last month, said Monday that it was only a matter of time before the electoral council would be forced to postpone the December vote.

"The government and CEP kept talking about the Dec. 27 date like it would happen but everyone knew that the runoffs could not take place then with so many questions," he said. Political analysts questioned whether runoff elections could feasibly take place in late December, especially when one of two presidential candidates in the runoff is alleging rampant fraud and not campaigning.

In their final results, the Provisional Electoral Council said government-backed Jovenel Moise had nearly 33 percent of the vote compared to 25 percent for Celestin, a former state construction chief who was the government-backed candidate five years ago. Celestin has dismissed the final results as a "ridiculous farce" and alleged that the CEP was complicit in vote-rigging in favor of Moise.

The office of Prime Minister Evans Paul said an evaluation commission was expected to be installed Tuesday. Martelly, who is blocked by the constitution from seeking a consecutive term, is due to leave office on Feb. 7.

German-made submarine heads to Israel for delivery

Washington (UPI)
Dec 18, 2015

The latest German-built Dolphin-class submarine INS Rahav is en route to Haifa to be delivered to the Israeli Navy.

INS Rahav, given the Hebrew name for Greek god of the seas Poseidon, is one of the Israeli Defense Force's most expensive weapons. The vessel's voyage to Haifa comes roughly a decade after the Israeli government placed the order to German defense contractor Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft.

The company unveiled the submarine in April 2013, however more work was needed to ensure the vessel was fully operational. Rahav is the fifth submarine of its class to be delivered to the Israeli Navy, The Times of Israel reports.

Rahav is the second new-generation, air-independent propulsion submarine built after Israel's INS Tanin, which entered service in 2014. The submarines are capable of staying submerged for longer periods of time, according to IHS Janes. Rahav cost an estimated $2 billion to build.

"Submarines are a strategic tool in the IDF's defense arsenal. Israel is prepared to act at any time in any place to ensure the safety of Israel's citizens," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said when Rahav was unveiled in 2013.

Rahav is expected to reach its home port in Haifa in mid-January. After its arrival, the vessel will undergo a series of system installation programs before officially entering service later in 2016.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/German-made_submarine_heads_to_Israel_for_delivery_999.html.

FIFA ethics court bans Blatter, Platini for 8 years

December 22, 2015

ZURICH (AP) — Banished from soccer's ruling body for eight years for unethical conduct, Sepp Blatter won't give up the presidency of his beloved FIFA without a fight.

"I will fight. I will fight until the end," Blatter said Monday at a news conference that started 90 minutes after he and former protege Michel Platini were each banned by FIFA's ethics committee. It was a stunning removal of world soccer's most powerful leaders over a $2 million payment by FIFA to Platini, the president of European soccer's ruling body UEFA. The payment is also the subject of a criminal investigation in Switzerland.

"I'm sad. It can't go on this way. It's not possible," said the 79-year-old Blatter, who has spent more than half his life working for soccer's scandal-hit governing body. "After 40 years, it can't happen this way. I'm fighting to restore my rights."

Already serving a provisional ban, the elected FIFA president and his long-time likely successor were kicked out of the sport just two months before 209 member federations elect a new leader. Platini, a FIFA vice president whose bid to succeed Blatter on Feb. 26 now looks over, described the proceedings as a "true mockery."

Their offences were judged to be conflict of interest and disloyalty to FIFA. They avoided life bans because corruption was not proven. Platini's lawyer, Thibaud d'Ales, told The Associated Press it came as no surprise that the corruption charge had been dropped.

"They used it with the sole purpose of dirtying Michel Platini, although they knew from the start it was an untenable argument," D'Ales said. Guilty verdicts were expected. So were the subsequent denials of wrongdoing and promises of urgent appeals to FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Blatter's defiant display was a bonus for international media summoned to FIFA's former headquarters, just hundreds of meters (yards) from the new building where he spent eight hours with four ethics judges last Thursday.

The choice of venue hinted at a vintage Blatter show. He did not disappoint. Blatter invoked Nelson Mandela within a minute, pointing to the spot where the iconic South African leader had lifted the World Cup trophy 11 years ago, when his country was chosen as the host nation for the 2010 tournament.

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, the Nobel organization and the United Nations were also referenced in a spirited 52-minute performance as he held court with more than 100 journalists. His last words were "I'll be back, thank you."

Blatter's trademark fighting talk was delivered while still sporting a strip of surgical tape on his right cheek after a minor medical procedure five days earlier. Blatter made it clear he regretted his current position but declared he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

"I am not ashamed," he said. "I am sorry that I am a punching ball. I am sorry for football. ... I am now suspended eight years, suspended eight years. Suspended eight years for what?" Platini was also dismissive of the ethics commission's work.

He said its proceedings, which included a hearing earlier this month that he did not attend, had been "orchestrated... by governing bodies that I know well" to tarnish him. "I'm convinced that my fate was sealed before the Dec. 18 hearing and that this decision is just a pathetic maneuver to hide a true will of taking me out of the football world," the Frenchman said.

"My behavior has always been faultless and I'm at peace with my own conscience." Platini said he will also file a lawsuit in a civil court to seek damages for what he has endured during the ethics commission's proceedings. In a brief statement, UEFA said it was "extremely disappointed" with the ruling and supported its leader's right to clear his name.

FIFA's ethics judges decided that Blatter and Platini had broken ethics rules on conflicts of interest, breach of loyalty and offering or receiving gifts. Platini took $2 million of FIFA money in 2011 - a payment approved by Blatter as uncontracted salary for work as a presidential adviser from 1999-2002.

In Monday's verdict, Blatter was fined 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,250) and Platini 80,000 Swiss francs ($80,400). "Neither in his written statement nor in his personal hearing was Mr. Blatter able to demonstrate another legal basis for this payment," the judges said. "By failing to place FIFA's interests first and abstain from doing anything which could be contrary to FIFA's interests, Mr. Blatter violated his fiduciary duty to FIFA.

"His (Blatter's) assertion of an oral agreement was determined as not convincing and was rejected by the chamber." Blatter hit back at that conclusion during his news conference, portraying the ethics committee as saying of Platini and himself: "He's a liar and I'm a liar."

"This is not correct," Blatter said. Blatter acknowledged an administrative "error" in failing to register FIFA's debt to Platini in its accounts for eight years, though he insisted: "This is nothing to do with the ethics regulations."

The Swiss had started tentatively and the grey bristles on his chin - that clearly showed he hadn't shaven that morning - added to his aged appearance. Yet his voice grew stronger, seeming to take heart from gentle prompts and notes given by his only child, daughter Corinne, sitting to his left.

He spoke in four languages and translated his own German, French and Spanish answers into English, clearly relishing the attention of a big audience again. By the end, with his top shirt button undone and tie loose, it was possible to forget that Blatter had faced a health scare on Nov. 1.

"I am back, I am back, I am doing better," he said. "I have the support of my daughter, I have the support of Linda (Barras), my love." While Blatter wants to leave FIFA with his head high, the 60-year-old Platini wants to clear his name, pass a FIFA integrity check and be declared an official candidate in the election he had been favored to win.

Platini's campaign has stalled since he was questioned on Sept. 25 in a Swiss federal investigation of suspected criminal mismanagement at FIFA. Switzerland's attorney general has opened criminal proceedings against Blatter for the suspected "disloyal payment" of FIFA money to Platini and selling undervalued World Cup TV rights for the Caribbean.

Platini was paid in February 2011, just before Blatter began campaigning for re-election against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Platini's UEFA urged its members weeks before the June 2011 election to back Blatter, who was elected unopposed when Bin Hammam was implicated in bribery.

Few FIFA officials knew of the Platini payment which emerged during a wider Swiss probe of the governing body's business affairs, including suspected money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

"I have never cheated with money," Blatter insisted, before claiming he still wielded authority in the sport. "I am still the president. Even if I am suspended, I am still the president."

AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed from Paris.

Russia, China Sign Range of Space Industry Agreements

Beijing (Sputnik)
Dec 21, 2015

Russia's space agency Roscosmos signed a cooperation agreement on Thursday with China National Space Administration. The document was signed at the 20th regular meeting of Russian and Chinese heads of government, during Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's three-day visit to Beijing.

The sides signed a cooperation agreement on navigation technologies and the use of the Russian satellite navigation system Glonass. Russian state-owned nanotechnology company RUSNANO and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation also signed a strategic partnership agreement.

Among other documents, Russia and China also signed a strategic cooperation agreement on the development of Russian company I-Teco's cloud computing and data processing center, the other parties to the deal were the China-Eurasia Economic Cooperation Fund and the Huawei company.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Russia_China_Sign_Range_of_Space_Industry_Agreements_999.html.

Nearby star hosts closest alien planet in the 'habitable zone'

Sydney, Australia (SPX)
Dec 19, 2015

UNSW Australia astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light years away. The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.

"It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the 'Goldilocks' zone where it might be possible for liquid water - and maybe even life - to exist," says lead study author UNSW's Dr Duncan Wright.

"It is fascinating to look out at the vastness of space and think a star so very close to us - a near neighbor - could host a habitable planet.

"While a few other planets have been found that orbit stars closer to us than Wolf 1061, those planets are not considered to be remotely habitable," Dr Wright says.

The three newly detected planets orbit the small, relatively cool and stable star about every 5, 18 and 67 days. Their masses are at least 1.4, 4.3 and 5.2 times that of Earth, respectively.

The larger outer planet falls just outside the outer boundary of the habitable zone and is also likely to be rocky, while the smaller inner planet is too close to the star to be habitable.

The discovery will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The UNSW team made the discovery using observations of Wolf 1061 collected by the HARPS spectrograph on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6 meter telescope in La Silla in Chile.

"Our team has developed a new technique that improves the analysis of the data from this precise, purpose-built, planet-hunting instrument, and we have studied more than a decade's worth of observations of Wolf 1061," says Professor Chris Tinney, head of the Exoplanetary Science at UNSW group.

"These three planets right next door to us join the small but growing ranks of potentially habitable rocky worlds orbiting nearby stars cooler than our Sun."

Small rocky planets like our own are now known to be abundant in our galaxy, and multi-planet systems also appear to be common. However most of the rocky exoplanets discovered so far are hundreds or thousands of light years away.

An exception is Gliese 667Cc which lies 22 light years from Earth. It orbits a red dwarf star every 28 days and is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth.

"The close proximity of the planets around Wolf 1061 means there is a good chance these planets may pass across the face of the star. If they do, then it may be possible to study the atmospheres of these planets in future to see whether they would be conducive to life," says team member UNSW's Dr Rob Wittenmyer.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Nearby_star_hosts_closest_alien_planet_in_the_habitable_zone_999.html.

Soaring aspirations of Myanmar's drone enthusiasts

By Kelly Macnamara, Phyo Hein Kyaw
Yangon (AFP)
Dec 18, 2015

In a ramshackle workshop behind a bustling Yangon market, Kyi Tha fixes the plastic propeller of a home-made drone, one of a growing number of enthusiasts refusing to let poverty clip the wings of their hi-tech dreams.

A new generation of creative young inventors have turned to the Internet to catch up with the rest of the world, after years of isolation under junta rule left the country with little access to engineering expertise or cutting-edge technology.

"Studying drone technology is not easy in Myanmar. So we watched videos about it on YouTube," said Kyi Tha, admitting he watch clips for months, patiently enduring notoriously slow web connections in his search for knowledge.

"First we did not have any success, but after experimenting for one year we could do many things," he told AFP.

Kyi Tha, 26, and his cousin Thet San, 30, have transformed a modest wooden home into the nerve-center of their engineering and technology business, Myanmar Future Science.

A workbench in the backyard is cluttered with the signs of feverish invention -- boxes of screws, aluminium rods, and the body of a model airplane.

Their firm makes its money providing engineering services to the government and private firms, using drones and model aircraft to conduct aerial surveys for maps and assessments of agricultural areas.

But their passion is opening up the world of technology to fellow budding inventors. They have a little shop in their garden packed with tiny motors, propellers and plastic body-parts for drones, planes and radio-controlled cars.

Myanmar's youth are eager to keep up with the latest technological developments, but are often held back by poverty -- a legacy of decades under junta rule.

A new ready-made drone could set you back up to 300,000 kyats (around $230), far beyond the financial reach most young people in Myanmar, where the World Bank puts average annual income per capita at $1,270.

But enterprising gadget builders rely on creativity to keep their costs down to just $10 -- using materials like polystyrene foam packaging to build their models and seeking out cheap engine parts.

"This is our hobby. We are crazy about making things with these accessories, just as many young students in Myanmar would like to do," said Kyi Tha, who imports most of the parts from China.

- Flying free -

Drones are the tool of choice for legions of photographers and video-makers eager to capture a bird's eye view of everything from tourist attractions to protests.

Australia has begun using them to track sharks with the hope of protecting swimmers from attack, while Amazon wants to use them for shopping delivery. But their burgeoning popularity has also caused security jitters.

In September a drone crashed at the US Open, causing the match to be interrupted, the latest incident in America, which is considering mandatory registration.

In Southeast Asia some countries, like Cambodia, have imposed strict controls on drone use. But the nascent field remains largely unregulated -- for now.

Model aircraft are not currently subject to specific legal restrictions in Myanmar, although authorities are believed to be mulling regulation.

On weekends and holidays, teams of enthusiasts take their flying machines out for a spin in Yangon and the less populous industrial outskirts of the city.

As his new drone swooped through the air in a park near Yangon's revered Shwedagon Pagoda one local IT worker said most objections he normally receives are vague concerns over "security".

"I just want to show Myanmar's beautiful scenery in my drone footage," he told AFP, asking just to be referred to by his nickname, Ethan.

"People love drone shots, they're awesome. When my drone is flying I feel amazing, very happy," he said.

- Sky's the limit -

At the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University in the central town of Meiktila -- whose main building is shaped like an airplane -- researchers are utilizing drone technology for a more scientific purpose.

The university has operated recent drone surveys to assess the impact of devastating monsoon floods that inundated huge areas of the country from July to September, affecting some 1.6 million people at their peak.

"Drone pictures can be very useful for prevention and measuring damage," said Thae Maung Maung, head of the department for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

He said the purpose of the surveys was to find out the scale of losses from the disaster, map the points where rivers had burst their banks and plot the best place for relief camps.

The new department is striving to keep up with technological advancements overseas -- no mean feat in an education system that was mired in underfunding and neglect for years.

Thae Maung Maung suggests enthusiasts such as Kyi Tha and his industrious customers will be crucial in helping Myanmar catch up with the rest of the world.

He explains: "We need to encourage young people's interest in technology so that we can keep developing."

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Soaring_aspirations_of_Myanmars_drone_enthusiasts_999.html.