Monthly Archives: January 2019

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NASA smashes speed record

The unpiloted X-43A aircraft used a scramjet engine to briefly reach a speed of 7,700 km/h (4,780 mph) or Mach 7.

It was launched from a B-52 bomber off the coast of California, and then flew for 10 seconds on its own power before gliding for six minutes and then falling into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA spokeswoman Leslie Williams said: “Everything went according to plan. I actually thought it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. We’ve been waiting a few years.”

Rather than carrying both the fuel and oxygen needed to provide acceleration, like a conventional rocket engine does, scramjet engines carry only hydrogen fuel and pull the oxygen needed to burn that fuel from the atmosphere.

Ms Williams said: “It doesn’t have any moving parts. You have to get it up to at least Mach five because the air must go through supersonically to make it work.

“It scoops the oxygen, rams oxygen into the inlet and then comes out the end, out the nozzle in the back as thrust. So it really has no moving parts except for the front engine door… and scramjets have been around actually for 30-something years but like I said it’s only been done in ground testing facilities, it’s never been done in free flight.”

The success of the NASA test, which comes three years after an attempt to fly an X-43A ended in the destruction of the vehicle when its launch system failed, was hailed by project manager Joel Sitz.

He said: “The ramjet-scramjet is the Holy Grail of aeronautics in my mind.”

Researchers at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre at Edwards Air Force Base, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, hope the new engine will revolutionise aviation, speeding the development of significantly faster aircraft and lowering the cost of launching payloads.

198 killed in Madrid blasts

World leaders condemned the attack as an assault on democracy, coming just three days before Spanish general elections scheduled for Sunday.

The Government has announced three days of mourning over the atrocity and election campaigns were halted early, although the elections will go ahead.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes said there was “no doubt” the separatist Basque group ETA, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and EU, was behind the attack.

The group has been held responsible for more than 800 deaths over a nearly four-decade violent campaign for an independent homeland in northern Spain.

However, Mr Acebes says the government has not excluded the possibility that Islamic terrorists carried out the attacks, after police discovered a van in Madrid containing detonators and a tape in Arabic.

The banned Basque political party Batasuna, denied ETA militants were involved, instead blaming “Arab resistance”.

Batasuna party leader Arnaldo Otegi highlighted Spain’s role in the US-led occupation of Iraq, which has already drawn warnings of revenge attacks from al-Qaeda.

Mr Acebes says a total of 10 bombs exploded within minutes of each other in and around three railway stations in the southeast of the capital, starting at around 7:30am (local time) when trains were packed with suburban commuters.

Another three devices were found and set off in controlled explosions.

A Spanish anti-terrorist official says the explosive in the attacks was dynamite, commonly used by ETA militants.

He added that the devices appeared to have been on timers and some may have been placed in the train wagons themselves.

Scenes of carnage followed the blasts, with emergency workers attending to critically injured passengers and hauling away bodies to a makeshift morgue.

“The coach behind mine was packed with bodies. Some people were burnt in their seats,” said one passenger who survived, Antonio Villacanas.

“There were people like me going to school. It was a strange sensation. I can’t explain the feeling, dead people all around,” said a student at Atocha station.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia visited survivors in hospital.

A spokesman for the royal household said the monarch would make a statement later on Thursday.

No charges for second Delta Brit

Tarek Dergoul, 26, a former care worker from east London, had been questioned by anti-terrorist police since being flown back from the United States detention camp in Cuba.

Three of five men returned to Britain on Tuesday on a Royal Air Force (RAF) flight are still being questioned by police in London.

Four of the returnees – Ruhal Ahmed, 22, Asif Iqbal, 22, and Shafiq Rasul, 26, and Dergoul – were arrested by police on their arrival at an RAF base outside London.

A firth man Jamal al Harith, 37, was only detained at RAF Northolt for four hours under immigration rules before he was reunited with his family at a secret location. He was not charged.

The US released the men from the Camp Delta prison in Cuba two years after their arrest in Afghanistan on suspicion of terrorism.

Mr Dergoul’s lawyer, Louise Christian, had argued for his release on Wednesday under the Terrorism Act, which allows for a review of the detention after 24 hours.

She said Tuesday night’s procedures had gone on far too long, been unnecessary and protracted with fingerprinting continuing late into the night.

“It was very clear that they should have been allowed to sleep long before they were and it was very clear that their cells were too cold,” she said.

But the National Co-ordinator for Terrorism, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, said normal British law and procedures would be followed “to the letter.”

Four other Britons – Feroz Abbasi, 23, Richard Belmar, 23, and Martin Mubanga, 29, all from London, plus Moazzam Begg, 36, from Birmingham – are still detained at Guantanamo Bay.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett said they will probably face trial in the US as they had been picked up “in the combat zone” in Afghanistan.

EU appoints anti-terror tsar

At the start of an EU summit overshadowed by the Madrid bombing, former Dutch deputy interior minister Gijs de Vries was named as the counter-terrorism “tsar”, to work under EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

New measures agreed include monitoring data from mobile phone calls and a single EU-wide arrest warrant.

The summit will also seek ways to restart talks on a constitution for the EU that will grow to 25 members in May.

“We the European Union must be sure that everything that can be done to protect our citizens from the scourge of terrorism is done,” said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who was chairing the two-day EU summit.

“Terrorism is not confined within national borders. We need to improve our international cooperation… The threat of terrorism is a threat to our security and our democracies and our way of life in the European Union.”

The EU leaders, adopting proposals from emergency interior ministers’ talks in the wake of the March 11 Madrid attacks, also agreed to boost intelligence-sharing, cut funding to extremists and adopt an all-for-one solidarity clause.

But proposals for a European-style CIA failed to win support from countries such as Britain and France which jealously guard their secret intelligence.

Some EU members are also under pressure to implement measures already agreed on after the September 2001 attacks in the United States, such as a European arrest warrant.

“We have first and foremost to implement the legislation introduced after the events of September 11, 2001,” said European Commission chief Romano Prodi.

“Too many are awaiting ratification in member states.”

After adopting a solemn “anti-terrorism” declaration, the EU leaders were also expected to seek a breakthrough to resume stalled negotiations on a first-ever constitution for the EU, set to expand from 15 to 25 members in May.

Journalist killings on the rise

The war in Iraq has been blamed for the sharp increase from 19 in 2002, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Thirteen journalists, almost a third of the total, were killed in hostile actions in Iraq, while six others died from illness or traffic accidents while covering the war, said the CPJ in its annual report, Attacks on the Press.

It is the highest annual total from a single country since 24 journalists were killed in Algeria in 1995, at the height of civil strife between the government and Islamic militants.

“Western correspondents, who stand out and can be mistaken for coalition personnel or foreigners in general, were particularly vulnerable,” said the report.

However, the bulk of journalists killed last year were far from any battlefield.

Five were killed in the Philippines for their coverage of local corruption or criticising public officials.

Four more died in Colombia, three of them murdered for reports they had written.

The editor-in-chief of a Russian hard-hitting provincial paper was stabbed to death outside his house – the paper’s second editor-in-chief to be murdered in 18 months.

“Most murders of journalists continue to be committed with impunity,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

The report also pointed out that 136 journalists are behind bars around the world – 36 of them in China and 29 in Cuba. It is the fifth year in a row that China is the greatest jailer of journalists.

The watchdog also pointed out the example of Morocco where a long record of relative tolerance for critical media was broken last year by the arrest of several journalists under a new anti-terrorism law.

Iraq hostages paraded on TV

The footage shows a masked man holding an assault rifle as two men crouch in front of him holding up their passports.

The masked man said the hostages will die if their governments fail to condemn the occupation.

The foreigners have identified themselves as Turk Bulent Yanik and Egyptian Victor Tawfiq Jerges.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the Egyptian delegation in Baghdad is following the situation and maintaining contact with the relevant Iraqi authorities.

Meanwhile, weeks after their capture, three Italian hostages taken hostage in Iraq were shown on a video broadcast on an Arab television station.

Four Italian men working as private guards in Iraq were kidnapped April 12. Soon after, the captors executed one, Fabrizio Quattrocchi and issued a videotape of his killing.

The footage shown on Wednesday on the Al-Jazeera satellite network – and immediately re-broadcast on Italian television – depicted the three remaining hostages eating and sitting in chairs before the camera.

The men were bearded and a little haggard but seemed not to have been physically harmed.

Although it was not clear when the footage was filmed, it was the first video of the men since April 26, when Arab TV channel Al-Arabiya showed footage of the three eating food from a large pot with their fingers.

Italians have followed the fate of the three with great concern. After initial indications that the three would be freed, their captivity has dragged on.

During that period, the Italian government has been working to free the three but is not speaking about the negotiations.

An Iraqi armed group calling itself the Green Brigade has said it was behind the abductions.

Iraqi leaders sign charter

The Council cast aside its communal and religious differences to sign the groundbreaking document after several delays.

Council members hailed the document, saying it enshrines basic freedoms and the protection of human rights in Iraq after decades of living under former dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the country’s top Shi’ite cleric has refused to endorse the interim charter.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who holds sway over the country’s 60 percent Shi’ite majority, said the document would make it harder for Iraq to agree on a permanent constitution, a crucial foundation for democracy.

Ayatollah Sistani’s objections to the document forced the signing of the constitution to be abandoned at the last minute on Friday, when five Shi’ite council members backed out of the ceremony.

After talks on the weekend with Ayatollah Sistani and other clerics in the holy city of Najaf, officials went ahead with the signing on Monday Iraqi time.

The Shi’ite politicians said Ayatollah Sistani gave them the go-ahead to sign despite his objections because he did not want to seem to be blocking progress.

Blasts rang out across Baghdad just before the signing, as a crowd of children dressed in Iraqi national costumes sang traditional songs to assembled dignitaries at the ceremony.

Police said insurgents fired mortars at a police station, wounding three civilians and two policemen. Security forces had been on high alert for attacks aimed at disrupting the signing.

Iraq’s US governor, Paul Bremer, also hailed the agreement and noted the difficulties it had faced.

“We are witnessing the birth of democracy and birth is painful, as we’ve learned over the last few evenings,” he told the council.

“Not everyone got everything they wanted in this law – that’s the way of democracy.”

The act also clears a major hurdle in Washington’s plans to hand power back to a sovereign Iraqi Government at the end of June, after missing the original deadline last month.

It will last until a permanent charter is drawn up by a new parliament directly elected by the people before the end of January next year.

Martha Stewart facing jail

Stewart, 62, was convicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars.

Her former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, was found guilty of four of the five charges against him.

However Stewart has continued to protest her innocence, in a message posted on her website, and has vowed to appeal.

US District Judge Miriam Cederbaum set the sentencing date for June 17. It is believed Stewart will most likely spend one to three years in jail.

The charges stem from her trading in a bio-tech company, ImClone, run by her friend Samuel Waksal, a day before the company announced news that caused the share price to plunge.

Police said she had received an improper tip that ImClone’s anti-cancer drug would not be approved, however she claimed she had a prior arrangement to sell her stock in the company should the share price dip below a certain level.

Waksal is now serving a seven-year prison term after pleading guilty to securities fraud and other charges.

“I am obviously distressed by the jury’s verdict, but I continue to take comfort in knowing that I have done nothing wrong,” she said on her website

“I will appeal the verdict and continue to fight to clear my name,” she said.

US Attorney David Kelly however rejected her depiction as a victim.

“The victims in this case are the entire American public who rely on the integrity of our system to make sure that justice is done and they can invest their money safely and securely,” Mr Kelly told reporters outside the court, adding that Stewart was treated the same as any other defendant.

Juror Chappell Hartridge told reporters the jury was convinced of her guilt, largely due to her “inconsistent story.”

Through Stewart’s own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, she stamped her style on everything from magazines, recipes, bed linen and other lifestyle products.

After the verdict, Omnimedia shared plunged 22.6 percent.

UAE to increase oil production as OPEC meets

The United Arab Emirates has already announced it will increase oil production this month by 400,000 barrels per day over its OPEC quota to help ease record prices.

And Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said Riyadh and OPEC aim to bring down soaring oil prices to $US22-28 a barrel.

“We are now producing at 88 per cent of our capacity,” said OPEC head Purnomo Yusgintoro, who is also the Indonesian energy minister.

“We want to contribute for the settlement of the high oil prices,” he said.

Without a supply increase, dearer oil could dramatically slow global economic growth.

He added that OPEC is now producing well above its ceiling of 23.5 million barrels per day. Output, including Iraq, is around 28 million barrels per day.

Iraqi output is not included in the quota system as the country is allowed to produce as much as it can to make up for losses incurred by past wars and the sanctions imposed during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

UAE Oil Minister Obeid bin Saif al-Nassiri said its increase is a response to client demand, “and to help contain prices on the international market and to stabilise the world economy”.

The UAE, one of only a few OPEC countries with spare production capacity, has a quota of 2.051 million bpd.

Meanwhile analysts say oil prices look set to remain above $US40 a barrel for some time to come after weekend terrorist attacks in the Saudi Arabian oil city of Khobar drove crude prices to record highs.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said here Wednesday that Riyadh and OPEC aim to bring down soaring oil prices to the price band of between 22 and 28 dollars a barrel.

OPEC producers have gathered in Beirut for a meeting overshadowed by the attack.

They are expected to agree to raise the cartels’ output, ahead of their formal meeting on Thursday.

Boeing discrimination allowed

Boeing has been seeking exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws for employees of its Australian subsidiaries.

It argues that without being able to choose the nationalities of its Australian employees, the subsidiaries would have difficulties complying with American laws covering defence contractors.

Exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws have already been granted to Boeing in Victoria and Queensland, and a similar exemption is being sought in New South Wales.

The exemptions allow Boeing to ask employees to wear a badge identifying whether they are Australian, American, Canadian, or another nationality and will limit non-Australians’ computer access.

A Boeing spokesman in Australia says the exemptions will not compromise the rights or position of any existing employee.

But Greg Connellan, from the civil rights group, Liberty Victoria, says the new rules are discriminatory.

“What they are being asked to comply with, in no way addresses security issues. All it does is enable certain employees to be discriminated against and presumably other employees to have discrimination in their favour on the basis of their country, does nothing to address real security concerns and may in fact make the security situation worse.”

David Bernie, vice-president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, says the exemptions mean overseas companies are being allowed to infringe on Australian laws.

“It is the first time that I’ve known of exemptions being given effectively because of commercial pressure really from a foreign country, because the situation here is that Boeing would be commercially disadvantaged if it did not comply with these provisions and it is a great shame to see that basically we are selling away hard won rights and giving up on those rights in these circumstances.”