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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Greek buses sent to Idomeni camp to pick up refugees

March 25, 2016

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A fleet of buses has arrived in the sprawling refugee camp of Idomeni on Greece's northern border with Macedonia to take some of the estimated 12,000 people stranded there to nearby refugee camps.

Authorities sent 20 buses to transport 1,000 people to refugee camps set up in northern Greece. But refugees were reluctant to board as they had not been informed of where they would be taken. Greece's border with Macedonia has been shut to refugees since earlier this month after a string of countries shut down what has become known as the western Balkan route which migrants used to go from Greece to central and northern Europe.

Those stranded in the camp and surrounding fields have been living in dire conditions in small tents pitched in muddy fields.

Greece: Aid workers protest deportations as delays mount

March 24, 2016

LESBOS, Greece (AP) — Aid workers on the island of Lesbos Thursday protested planned deportations of migrants and refugees from Greece, as the government said the process would not start for at least another 10 days.

Blowing whistles and banging aluminum containers, dozens of aid workers gathered outside a refugee registration center on the island where hundreds of people are now being detained. "We organized this protest ... to give a face to the people because they almost have none anymore, since they are locked inside," independent aid worker Nefeli Gazis said.

More than 2,000 refugees and migrants have been detained on Lesbos and other islands near the Turkish coast since an international agreement went into effect Sunday to fast track deportations to Turkey.

Last week's EU-Turkey agreement stipulates those arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast as of March 20 would be detained and sent back. For every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country.

European officials say the system aims to discourage refugees from risking their lives to cross the Aegean. Human rights and aid groups have strongly criticized the decision as inhumane and illegal, with most scaling back operations that involve assisting the government.

In Athens, a government official told the AP that deportations would start on April 4, and would carried out by the European Union's border protection agency, Frontex. Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, said the send-backs would start with migrants who had made no asylum claim while being held in detention in Greece.

"It's unclear what vessels will be used to make the transfer, but Frontex will have the authority over those operations," he said. Earlier, Kyritsis announced the government was creating 30,000 new places at refugee shelters — extending capacity at existing sites and creating new ones — over the next 20 days for voluntary evacuation of refugees camped out at the Greek-Macedonian border and the country's main port of Piraeus.

Some 12,000 people remain at the border camp near the village of Idomeni, most living in squalid conditions. "We will intensify our efforts to persuade people to leave Idomeni. Chartered buses will be available starting tomorrow for people who want to start leaving," Kyritsis said.

Legislative amendments needed for the EU-Turkey deal to take full effect in Greece, would be submitted to parliament next Wednesday, he said.

Famed publisher opens Paris' first on-demand only bookshop

March 20, 2016

PARIS (AP) — To many Parisians, the letters PUF have always been associated with the intellectual heart of the French capital. So when the 95-year-old venerable publishing house specializing in human and social sciences was forced to close its historic bookstore on the Place de La Sorbonne in 1999, it left a big void in the heart of many students and researchers.

But Les Presses Universitaires de France (PUF) is back in town, just a stone's throw from their previous location in the Quartier Latin neighborhood. While the PUF's new bookshop is not as big as it used to be, its riches could fill the life of any reader. The few books on the shelves aren't for sale, but around 3 million titles are available in the 72-square meter (775-square foot) store, which opened last week.

"This is the first all-digital bookshop in Europe that sells books on demand only," PUF general manager Frederic Meriot told The Associated Press. "It is a model for the future, a model in which digital and paperback books can work together."

PUF's comeback in the City of Lights couldn't have been possible without the Espresso Book Machine, the robot that prints, binds and trims books in a few minutes. Available since 2006, the first one was installed briefly at the World Bank's bookstore. There are now more than 100 in bookstores and libraries across the world.

At PUF, it has been installed at the back of the shop and arouses interest from all kind of visitors. When the AP visited the shop earlier this week, three police officers patrolling the neighborhood were passing by and came in to learn more about books on demand.

"In France it's a small revolution," says Pauline Darfeuille, a project engineer from the Printers' national union who helped PUF set up the machine. "There are only five (machines) of this type in the country."

The Espresso Book Machine uses two PDFs, one for the cover and another for the text. While the cover can be printed in color, the inside of the book is black and white only. It takes only a few minutes to create a book.

"In the meantime, readers can enjoy a cup of coffee from the shop at a reasonable price," says Alexandre Gaudefroy, who has managed the PUF project since its inception. "The idea was to create a tea room and a bookshop at the same time."

"It's unbelievable," says Zeina Genadry, who used to buy books at the historic PUF bookshop, as she flips through the pages of the biography of Montaigne from Stefan Zweig that just came out of the machine.

Although the cover of the books are a bit sticky compared to those of traditional paperbacks because of the gloss used during the process, the machine produces library-quality books sold at the same price as in traditional bookshops.

According to Meriot, the on-demand-only model that PUF is developing in parallel to its traditional publisher's activities has a bright future. "Not only because at an equivalent price all readers, even among the young generations, prefer paper to digital," he said. "But also in terms of costs for us. We could not have afford to rent a 600-square-meter (6,450-square-foot) shop like we had in the past. With the Espresso Book, we don't need warehouses to stock the books, we don't spend money to pulp the books already printed that didn't sell, and it's also a low-carbon way of making books."

Meriot said he needs to sell about 15 books daily to break even. He sold 60 on the opening day of business. "It was almost a riot, our booksellers didn't even find the time to take a break for lunch," he said.

For now, about 5,000 titles from the PUF catalog are available at the bookshop, with an extra 3 million titles from other publishing houses and sources put together by On Demand books — the company behind the Espresso Book Machine — also printable at the shop.

Gunmen attack EU mission in Mali capital; 1 attacker dead

March 21, 2016

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen launched an attack Monday evening on the European Union military training mission's headquarters in the Malian capital, Bamako, in what appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks on Western interests in the region.

Armed forces killed at least one man, who lay outside the hotel in jeans and a shirt in a pool of blood next to a Kalashnikov rifle. His backpack lay beside him. Cmdr. Modibo Naman Traore, a spokesman for the Malian special forces, said three other attackers were still being sought. As of late Monday, no group had claimed responsibility.

Sgt. Baba Dembele from the anti-terrorism unit in Bamako told an Associated Press reporter at the scene that it was believed some attackers had entered the Hotel Nord-Sud, where the mission is headquartered.

The EU training mission later released a statement saying it had come under attack by small arms fire but no personnel had been wounded, and that Malian security forces were securing the area. EU soldiers, the Malian army, national police and other security forces stood outside the hotel.

The assault comes about four months after jihadis attacked the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital, killing 20 people. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it was their first joint attack since al-Mourabitoun joined al-Qaida's North Africa branch in 2015.

In January, extremists from the same militant groups attacked a cafe near a hotel popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso's capital, killing at least 30 people. And just last week, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for an assault on a beach in Ivory Coast that left at least 19 dead, identifying the three attackers as members of al-Mourabitoun and Sahara units.

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the coup that unleashed widespread chaos in Mali. After the overthrow of the democratically elected president, extremists in the northern half of Mali took over major towns and began implementing their strict interpretation of Islamic law. The amputations and public whippings only ended when a French-led military mission forced them from power in 2013.

Over the past year, the jihadis have mounted a growing wave of violent attacks against U.N. peacekeepers who are trying to help stabilize the country. The EU launched a training mission to help support and rebuild the Malian armed forces in February 2013 at the request of Malian authorities. The training is carried out in Koulikoro, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of the capital.

Exiled Tibetans vote for government shunned by China

March 20, 2016

DHARMSALA, India (AP) — The prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile called Sunday for China to engage in dialogue on autonomy for his people's homeland, as tens of thousands of Tibetans around the world voted for new leaders of a government that Beijing does not recognize.

Buddhist monks in crimson robes lined up along with hundreds of Tibetan men and women in schools, government buildings and the courtyard of the Tsuglakhang Temple in India's northern city of Dharmsala, where the exiled government is based, to cast their votes for prime minister and parliament.

They started to line up early Sunday, carrying their "Green Books" — passport-size booklets that record their paid taxes and are mandatory for Tibetans to be eligible to vote. The voters stood patiently, at times for more than an hour, as they waited for their turn to mark their choices on ballot papers printed with the images of the two prime minister candidates. Elderly Tibetans carrying walking sticks and rosaries were assisted by government officials in voting.

The ballot boxes were fashioned out of painted tin boxes with hinged lids. Separate boxes were marked in Tibetan for the election of the prime minister and for parliament. It was the second election since the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government-in-exile in 2011 to focus on his role as the Tibetans' spiritual leader. Some 80,000 voters were registered, and results are expected next month.

Lobsang Sangay, the incumbent prime minister, arrived with his young daughter to cast his vote at a polling booth in a government building. "The dialogue (with China) will be the main initiative," Lobsang, who is running for re-election against parliamentary speaker Penpa Tsering, told reporters.

"I hope Chinese President Xi Jinping in his second term in 2017 will look at the Tibetan issue and take the initiative" to hold talks with Tibetan exiles, he said. Lobsang added, however, that the reality on the ground "is repression."

China doesn't recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, and hasn't held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010. "We never recognize this so-called government-in-exile," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular news conference Thursday in Beijing. "We hope that all countries in this world, especially those that want to maintain friendly relations with China, will not provide facilities or venues for any anti-China, separatist activities by the so-called Tibet independence forces."

China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.

The Dalai Lama and his followers have been living in exile in Dharmsala since they fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Both prime minister candidates support the "middle way" approach advocated by the Dalai Lama, which calls for seeking regional autonomy under Chinese rule.

Some Tibetan groups advocate independence for Tibet, since little progress has been made in dialogue with China. But their representatives couldn't win enough support in the first round of voting last year to be in the running for the prime minister's post.

"There has been little discussion about the future of Tibet," said Bhuchung D. Sonam, a Tibetan writer. "For example, how the two candidates would approach the issue of Tibet in terms of talking to China."

Lobsang said he wants India's government to recognize Tibet as a core issue of its policy. New Delhi considers Tibet as part of China, though it is hosting the Tibetan exiles. He said that Tibet has become more of an issue for India, and mentioned New Delhi's concerns over the falling water levels of the Brahmputra River, which flows from Tibet into India, as well as plans for a railway link.

"In that sense, I think Tibet is becoming an important issue not just simply for human rights, but also from a geopolitical point of view, an environment point of view and from a climate change point of view," he said.

Exiled Tibetan officials say at least 114 monks and laypeople have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule over their homeland in the past five years, with most of them dying. U.S. government-backed Radio Free Asia puts the number of self-immolations at 144 since 2009.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama and others for inciting the immolations and says it has made vast investments to develop Tibet's economy and improve quality of life.

China's aim to explore Mars

Beijing (XNA)
Mar 22, 2016

China is preparing to launch a Mars probe in 2020, and it is expected to arrive on the red planet in 2021, aerospace expert Ye Peijian has said. "Although we are not the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, we want to start at a higher level," said Ye, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The probe will include an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The orbiter will conduct global surveys of Mars, and the entry device will land a rover on the surface. Parachute and reverse thrust engine technologies will probably be used in the landing, according to Ye.

"We have less than five years till the launch, but we are confident. The probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang'e-3 lunar probe," says Ye, leader of the team with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

A 3D demonstration video from CAST shows how the Mars probe will fly about 10 months before closing on the red planet. Controllers on Earth will guide it into a large elliptical orbit and the orbiter and lander will separate. The orbiter will stay in orbit for at least a year to photograph key areas and monitor the planet's environment.

Unlike the lunar lander of the Chang'e-3 probe, the Mars lander will carry a gasbag, a parachute and reverse thrust engines, which will together secure a safe landing, according to experts from CAST.

Zheng Yongchun, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observatory, says that combining orbiting exploration and a roving probe in one mission is a rational choice for starting Mars exploration at a high level.

"The best and most direct method to look for evidence of life on Mars is to explore the surface. Mars will be a key focus of China's deep space exploration in the future," Zheng says.

But communicating with the Mars probe is still a great challenge. China needs to develop a long-life, powerful relay communication device on the orbiter, says Zheng.

So how will the Mars rover differ from lunar rover Yutu (or Jade Rabbit), which China sent to the moon at the end of 2013?

In an exclusive interview, Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe, tells Xinhua the Mars rover will have a better autonomous capability as Mars is much further away than the moon. The distance between Mars and Earth ranges from 55 million kilometers to 400 million kilometers.

"The Mars rover should be able to sense the environment, plan its route, conduct scientific exploration and detect faults autonomously. It should be a mobile intelligence," Jia says.

Two-way signal transmissions between Mars and the Earth could be as long as 40 minutes. So most of the time, the rover will deal with things on its own. Ground controllers will solve the complicated problems, Jia says.

Chinese space experts say they still face a lot of technological hurdles in developing the Mars rover, which should be stronger than the lunar rover Yutu.

Since Mars is further from the sun than the Earth's moon, its solar panels should be as large as possible to generate more electricity, Jia says.

"Although the temperature change on Mars is less drastic than that on the moon, the Mars rover still needs an 'overcoat' to keep warm," Jia says.

Sandstorms often form on the red planet during summer, which inspired the story in the Hollywood blockbuster "The Martian." During the sandstorms, the solar energy will drop dramatically. Chinese space experts will design a "sleep" mode for such occasions, says Jia.

A prototype model of the Mars rover was displayed at the Airshow China 2014. It was about 2 meters long, with six wheels. Its size, weight and technologies were close to those of the American Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Unlike the rover Curiosity, which uses a nuclear battery, the Chinese Mars rover will use solar power.

"Exploring the red planet and deep space will cement China's scientific and technological expertise. The knock-on effect is that innovations and independent intellectual property rights will surge, and, as a result, China's core competence will increase, pushing development in other industries," says Jia.

"As China continues with its lunar mission, glimpsing further and further into deep space, it will play a bigger role in solving key frontier scientific questions," Jia says.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Chinas_aim_to_explore_Mars_999.html.

Astronomers Discover Colossal 'Super Spiral' Galaxies

Pasadena CA (JPL)
Mar 22, 2016

A strange new kind of galactic beast has been spotted in the cosmic wilderness. Dubbed "super spirals," these unprecedented galaxies dwarf our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, and compete in size and brightness with the largest galaxies in the universe.

Super spirals have long hidden in plain sight by mimicking the appearance of typical spiral galaxies. A new study using archived NASA data reveals these seemingly nearby objects are in fact distant, behemoth versions of everyday spirals. Rare, super spiral galaxies present researchers with the major mystery of how such giants could have arisen.

"We have found a previously unrecognized class of spiral galaxies that are as luminous and massive as the biggest, brightest galaxies we know of," said Patrick Ogle, an astrophysicist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and lead author of a new paper on the findings published in The Astrophysical Journal. "It's as if we have just discovered a new land animal stomping around that is the size of an elephant but had shockingly gone unnoticed by zoologists."

Ogle and colleagues chanced upon super spirals as they searched for extremely luminous, massive galaxies in the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED), an online repository containing information on over 100 million galaxies.

NED brings together a wealth of data from many different projects, including ultraviolet light observations from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, visible light from Sloan Digital Sky Survey, infrared light from the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, and links to data from other missions such as Spitzer and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

"Remarkably, the finding of super spiral galaxies came out of purely analyzing the contents of the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database, thus reaping the benefits of the careful, systematic merging of data from many sources on the same galaxies," said George Helou, a study co-author and the executive director of IPAC. "NED is surely holding many more such nuggets of information, and it is up to us scientists to ask the right questions to bring them out."

Ogle, Helou and their colleagues expected that humongous, mature galaxies called ellipticals - so named for their football-like shapes - would dominate their search within NED for the most luminous galaxies. But a tremendous surprise lay in store for the scientists.

In a sample of approximately 800,000 galaxies no more than 3.5 billion light-years from Earth, 53 of the brightest galaxies intriguingly had a spiral, rather than elliptical, shape. The researchers double-checked the distances to the spiral galaxies and saw that none were nearby - even the closest lay some 1.2 billion light-years away. With the correct distance estimates in hand, the stunning properties of this newfound batch of whirlpool-shaped galaxies came to light.

Super spirals can shine with anywhere from eight to 14 times the brightness of the Milky Way. They possess as much as 10 times our galaxy's mass. Their gleaming, starry disks stretch from twice to even four times the width of the Milky Way galaxy's approximately 100,000 light-year-wide disk, with the largest super spiral spanning a whopping 440,000 light-years.

Super spirals also give off copious ultraviolet and mid-infrared light, signifying a breakneck pace of churning out new stars. Their star formation rate is as high as 30 times that of our own run-of-the-mill galaxy.

According to established astrophysical theory, spiral galaxies should not be able to attain any of these feats because their size and star-making potential are limited. As spiral galaxies grow by gravitationally attracting fresh, cool gas from intergalactic space, their masses reach a tipping point in which any newly captured gas rushes in too rapidly. This headlong gas heats up and prevents subsequent star formation in a process known as "quenching." Bucking this conventional wisdom, though, super spirals remain unquenched.

A vital hint about the potential origin of super spirals is that four out of the 53 seen by Ogle and colleagues clearly contain two galactic nuclei, instead of just one as usual. Double nuclei, which look like two egg yolks frying in a pan, are a telltale sign of two galaxies having just merged together.

Conventionally, mergers of spiral galaxies are destined to become bloated, elliptical galaxies. Yet Ogle and colleagues speculate that a special merger involving two, gas-rich spiral galaxies could see their pooled gases settle down into a new, larger stellar disk - presto, a super spiral.

"Super spirals could fundamentally change our understanding of the formation and evolution of the most massive galaxies," said Ogle. "We have much to learn from these newly identified, galactic leviathans."

Other authors of the new study are Lauranne Lanz of IPAC and Cyril Nader, an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who worked on this project during a summer internship at IPAC.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Astronomers_Discover_Colossal_Super_Spiral_Galaxies_999.html.

Cygnus Set to Deliver Its Largest Load of Station Science, Cargo

by Steven Siceloff for KSC News
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX)
Mar 22, 2016

A new 3D printer and research projects examining everything from adhesive technologies to the behavior of large fires in space are packed inside an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft for launch Tuesday, March 22, at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends for 30 minutes.

Launching atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the Cygnus, which carries no crew, will steer itself to the station during the course of three days. Astronauts and ground controllers will use the station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus and connect it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Cygnus will stay connected to the Earth-facing laboratory for about two months before being released to burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Much of the science will be conducted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station as they continue landmark research above Earth for the benefit of those on the Earth and future astronauts making the journey to Mars. Other science, such as the fire research and reentry data collection, will be conducted at the end of the mission and only after Cygnus drops off its materials and is flying on its own far from the station.

Named the S.S. Rick Husband in tribute to the astronaut who commanded the STS-107 mission which was lost Feb. 1, 2003, this will be the second flight of an enhanced version of Cygnus which first flew in December on a successful return to the flight for the company. Able to carry about 25 percent more volume than its predecessor, the enhanced models also feature more efficient solar arrays and other upgraded systems.

While docked to the station, Cygnus will be unloaded by astronauts who will set up the experiments and stow the fresh supplies. Altogether, the mission's cargo manifest totals more than 3 0.5 tons, including experiments by government and private researchers. Two expeditions - 47 and 48 - will conduct the research in NASA's continuing drive to unlock the secrets of long-duration space exploration.

"It's like Christmas when a supply craft arrives," said Orbital ATK's Dan Tani, a former shuttle and station astronaut who is now senior director of mission cargo and operations. "It's always fun to watch another vehicle approach and then it's like opening a box of goodies and finding some stuff you've been wanting and some surprises you didn't know about."

This Cygnus will carry more to the station than any of the previous five missions, Tani said.

A few of the scientific highlights:

- Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos' feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn't wear off,

- Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.

- Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

- Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

- Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.

The station residents depend on cargo missions from Earth to supply them with daily clothes, food, water and air, along with the equipment they need to work in orbit. For instance, this mission is carrying a spacesuit for the crew and high-pressure cylinders to recharge the station's air supply.

As the Cygnus approaches the end of its time connected to the station, astronauts will pack it with trash, spent experiments and other equipment no longer needed. It will all burn up as the spacecraft blazes through the atmosphere to end the flight with a safe impact in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Cygnus_Set_to_Deliver_Its_Largest_Load_of_Station_Science_Cargo_999.html.

Belgium Plans to Create Own National Space Agency

Brussels (Sputnik)
Mar 15, 2016

Belgium plans to create its own state space agency, and cooperate with China on a satellite launch program, media reported Friday.

According to De Morgen news portal, the space agency that is expected to be launched by mid-2016 is aimed at promoting Belgium's space sector in compliance with the country's commercial interest. In particular, the organization will cooperate with China to create a joint research program on a satellite serving the agricultural sector.

The agency will be reportedly relying on the work of some sixty companies with an annual turnover of 350 million euros (390 million dollars). The agency's own budget will amount to some 200,000 euros and will provide 60 people with jobs.

According to the Belgium Federal Science Policy Office, the country's space industry plays a significant role within the European sector. Belgium played a major role in the creation of the European Space Agency (ESA) in the mid 1970s. The Belgian municipality of Walloon also hosts the Euro Space Center, a major science museum devoted to space science and astronautics.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Belgium_Plans_to_Create_Own_National_Space_Agency_999.html.

Space travel rules needed within 5 years: UN

Montreal (AFP)
March 15, 2016

The UN aviation agency called Tuesday for regulations on space travel to be enacted within five years in order to bolster a burgeoning space tourism and transportation sector.

The International Civil Aviation Organization "recognizes that sub-orbital and outer space flights will foster new tourism and transport markets, and that investments in related research and development remain at a very healthy level," ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said.

"Personally, as an engineer, I am very excited to see the dream and theory of normalized space flight now becoming such a tangible reality," he told an aerospace symposium in Abu Dhabi.

In making its case, the agency noted an uptick in the number of spacecraft designs that have made the leap from concept to reality, saying more will follow.

The ICAO also cited a steady increase in rocket ship launches, and commercial spaceports are now becoming "operational realities," the Montreal-based agency said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, last month unveiled a new commercial spaceship 16 months after its predecessor crashed, killing a pilot during a test flight.

The company's SpaceShipOne was the first private spacecraft to reach the edge of space in 2004.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, owned by another billionaire, Elon Musk, has successfully launched a communications satellite into a distant orbit, but failed to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform earlier this month.

Rules must be put in place soon to ensure safety and security in space, as well as prevent the creation of a patchwork of regulations by individual states, the ICAO said.

The agency suggested adapting the existing regulatory framework for aviation, for which the ICAO and national governments are responsible.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Space_travel_rules_needed_within_5_years_UN_999.html.

Lawyer for Russian officer in Ukraine found buried in farm

March 25, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The body of a lawyer representing one of two Russian servicemen on trial in Ukraine has been found buried in an abandoned farm, officials said Friday. Two men have been detained in connection with his murder.

According to Anatoly Matios, chief military prosecutor, Yuri Grabovsky was drugged and kidnapped in Kiev earlier this month, then taken to the Black Sea port of Odessa, before he was transferred to the countryside nearly 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of the capital where he was shot and killed.

Grabovsky was representing Alexander Alexandrov, a serviceman captured along with another Russian, Yevgeny Yerofeyev, last year in rebel-held eastern Ukraine. The two men admitted they were Russian officers but Moscow said they had resigned from active duty. Russia has repeatedly denied it was supplying the separatists with equipment or recruits.

Matios told reporters that Grabovsky's body was found in the early hours of Friday after a suspect had told prosecutors about the location. Another suspect in the killing was detained later, he said. The prosecutor would not immediately identify the motive for the killing or reveal the names of the suspects but said they had fake IDs of law enforcement agencies.

Hearings in the trial of the two Russians were adjourned in early March when Grabovsky did not show up in court. After Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison, Ukraine's president said he would be willing to exchange the two Russian servicemen for Savchenko.

Shortly after his disappearance, Grabovsky's Facebook account was hijacked. Someone posted pictures from an Egyptian sea resort, impersonating the lawyer. His friends and colleagues said Grabovsky left his passport at home and could not possibly be abroad.

Amnesty International earlier this week raised the alarm about Grabovsky's disappearance, saying that he and the lawyer for the other defendant have been under "sustained pressure from the Ukrainian authorities" in connection with their role in the trial.

Russian military plans buildup from West to Pacific

March 25, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday. No financial details were disclosed but the buildup will likely be costly and takes place at a time when the Russian economy is in recession under the dual impact of low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukrainian crisis.

While announcing the buildup, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the deployment of NATO's forces near Russia's borders has caused concern. As part of a response, he said new units in the Western Military District, including two new divisions, will be formed.

The military forces in western Russia will receive 1,100 new weapons systems, including warplanes, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles. In the far east, the military will deploy state-of-the art Bal and Bastion anti-ship missile systems and new drones to the southern Kurils, a group of islands that Japan calls the Northern Territories and claims as its own.

The dispute over the islands, which were seized by the Soviet army in the closing days of World War II, has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end their hostilities. The anti-ship missile systems to be deployed on the disputed islands are capable of hitting targets more than 300 kilometers (over 185 miles) away.

Shoigu said Russia is also mulling the possibility of setting up a naval base on the islands. Ships of Russia's Pacific Fleet will visit the area in the summer to study possible locations, he said. The defense minister said the military will also continue to strengthen its presence in the Arctic region. As part of efforts to build military facilities on Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, the Defense Ministry delivered 9,500 metric tons of equipment and materials during last year's brief navigation season, he said.

The Kremlin has made expanding Russia's military presence in order to protect the country's national interests in the Arctic a top priority in light of increasing international interest in the region's vast oil and other resources.

Across Siberia, the military will focus on deploying top-of-the line air defense missile systems to protect the vast region, Shoigu said.

Putin: Russia can rebuild its Syria forces in 'a few hours'

March 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that Russia can again build up its forces in Syria "in a few hours" if necessary, and will continue striking extremist groups. Putin, who ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian warplanes from Syria earlier this week, said that Russia has kept some forces in Syria to support the Syrian army's action against the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other extremist groups. He also emphasized that the Russian military will be ready to use an array of air defense missile systems it has in Syria "against any targets that would threaten our servicemen."

Putin's statement underlined Russia's intention to maintain a strong military presence in Syria to keep its gains after a 5 ½-month air campaign that has helped turn the tide of war and allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to make significant advances.

Speaking during a Kremlin ceremony honoring Russian military officers who have taken part in the Syrian campaign, Putin said that the action in Syria has demonstrated Russia's "leadership, will and responsibility" in fighting "enemies of civilization."

Russian warplanes have conducted more than 9,000 combat missions since the air campaign began on Sept. 30, allowing the Syrian army "to gain strategic initiative," Putin said. He said the action in Syria cost the military about 33 billion rubles (about $480 million), adding that the Defense Ministry already had those funds earlier earmarked for maneuvers and used them instead to finance the Syrian campaign.

"There is no more efficient way of training than real combat," he said, adding that the military action in Syria allowed the Russian armed forces to test its long-range cruise missiles and other new weapons in real action for the first time.

Putin added that a Russian- and U.S.-brokered ceasefire that began on Feb. 27 has now allowed Russia to reduce its military presence in Syria. The number of Russian air missions flown in Syria has dropped from 60-80 to 20-30 a day, meaning that some warplanes could be sent home, he said without saying how many warplanes will stay in Syria.

Putin said that Assad had been informed in advance about the Russian pullout and supported the decision. Putin praised the Syrian ruler for what he described as his readiness to contribute to a peaceful settlement. "We have seen his restraint, a sincere striving for peace and readiness for compromise and dialogue," he said.

The Russian president voiced hope that the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria would send an "important positive signal" and help Syria peace talks that began in Geneva on Monday. While praising cooperation with the U.S. in negotiating the truce, Putin warned that the Russian military remaining in Syria would be ready to act against any groups that would violate the cease-fire.

"If it becomes necessary, Russia is capable of building up its groups of forces in the region to the level required by the situation in literally a few hours and use our entire arsenal," he said. "We wouldn't like to do it ... and we count on common sense of all sides, on the Syrian authorities' and the opposition's adherence to the peace process."

Without naming any specific country, Putin said that "all interested nations have been warned" about Russia's intention to destroy any target that would threaten the Russian military. The warning appeared directed at Turkey, which downed a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November.

"No one has the right to violate the airspace of a sovereign country, Syria," he said. He also said the Syrian army will press its offensive on Palmyra and drive out the IS forces controlling it, adding that Russia will continue offering all kinds of assistance to Assad's military.

"It includes financial aid, the deliveries of weapons and military gear, help in training, organization and teaming of Syrian armed forces, intelligence support, help in planning combat missions," he said, adding that Russia would also continue to provide direct air cover for the Syrian military.

Iran to send Special Forces to Syria, Iraq

Friday, 18 March 2016

Tehran plans to send Special Forces and snipers to Syria and Iraq, Deputy Chief Liaison of the Iranian Army's Ground Force General Ali Arasteh revealed yesterday. “At some point we will be ready to send our Special Forces and snipers as military advisers to Iraq and Syria," Fars News quotes Arasteh saying.

Iran has supported the Syrian regime since the outbreak of the revolution against regime President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime nearly six years ago.

Iranian officials have repeatedly denied reports that they send troops to assist regime forces in Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24560-iran-to-send-special-forces-to-syria-iraq.

Myanmar president to include Aung San Suu Kyi in his Cabinet

March 22, 2016

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's president-elect on Tuesday proposed an 18-member Cabinet that will include party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who for decades had campaigned for a democratically elected government to replace the country's military junta.

President-elect Htin Kyaw submitted the names to the parliament for a formal review and approval by legislators on Wednesday, after which the Cabinet positions of the ministers will be decided. Notable, and top on the list, is Suu Kyi, who was not able to become president because of a constitutional block, even though she led her party to a landslide win in general elections last November.

It was widely rumored that Suu Kyi will become the foreign minister, but that's far from certain because if she were to take that post she would have to give up her parliament seat and end party activities.

"I doubt that Aung San Suu Kyi would take the position of the foreign minister," said Toe Kyaw Hlaign, a political analyst. "Also, working as a foreign minister requires a lot of time traveling around the world. She will have to do a lot of international relations and overseas trips, and she won't have the time to exercise control over the government," he told The Associated Press.

Suu Kyi has said in the past that she will be "above the president" and indirectly govern the country from behind the scenes. Still, Suu Kyi's entry into the government is a remarkable turn of fortunes not only for the Nobel Peace laureate but also for the country, which had been under an iron-fisted military rule since 1962. For decades the junta kept Myanmar in isolation and economic stagnation while refusing to listen to international counsel or homegrown demands for democracy.

Suu Kyi came to prominence in 1988 when popular protests were building up. The junta simply crushed the protests that had turned into anti-government riots, killing thousands of people and placing Suu Kyi under house arrest in 1989.

The general did call elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. As Myanmar continued to wallow under military rule, Suu Kyi was released and re-arrested several times. The junta finally started loosening its grip on power in 2010, allowing elections that were won by a military-allied party after the NLD boycotted the polls as unfair.

After more reforms, another general election was held on Nov. 8 that was swept by the NLD, a reflection of Suu Kyi's widespread public support. The constitutional clause that denied her the presidency excludes anyone from the job who has a foreign spouse or children. Suu Kyi's two sons are British, as was her late husband. The clause is widely seen as having been written by the military with Suu Kyi in mind.

Still, the democracy that Suu Kyi and her colleagues are building now is not a complete package. The military has reserved for itself 25 percent of the seats in parliament, ensuring no government, current or future, can amend the constitution without its approval.

Also, it ensured that one of the two vice-presidents of Htin Kyaw is a former military man, Myint Swe, who is seen as a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. Myint Swe also remains on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist that bars American companies from doing business with several tycoons and senior military figures connected with the former junta.