Indian activist slams police restrictions on his anti-corruption fast

NEW DELHI (BNO NEWS) — Indian activist Anna Hazare on Saturday slammed authorities for imposing restrictions on his planned fast against corruption, the Hindustan Times reported.

Hazare wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of his fast and slammed the conditions imposed by Delhi Police on him for giving permission to fast. He questioned the rule under which restrictions are being imposed on him by police and said that no democracy has such restrictions for a peaceful protest.

The 73-year-old plans to start fasting on August 16 and to continue until the government passes an anti-corruption bill. However, Delhi police only gave him permission to fast for no more than three days. Hazare has refused to sign an undertaking that the fast will end within that period of time.

Earlier this month, supporters of Hazare burned copies of the government’s version of the Lokpal bill and slammed the legislation for exempting the prime minister, the judiciary and lawmakers. They called it the “anti-poor” law for excluding the office of the Prime Minister from the purview of a new ombudsman.

Hazare threatened to continue protesting the exclusion of some recommendations made by civil society representatives from the bill until August 16. The Gandhian social activist went on hunger strike in April to force the government to form a joint panel of ministers and activists to draft the Lokpa bill.

The bill follows a series of corruption scandals involving government officials. Transparency International ranked India, one of few yet to ratify the United Nations convention against corruption, at 78, placing it below neighboring rival China.

UN warns of cholera epidemic among fleeing Somalis

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — The United Nations on Friday warned of a growing cholera outbreak among the displaced Somalis who have arrived in the country’s capital of Mogadishu.

The reported cholera epidemic is affecting a highly vulnerable population which has already escaped drought, famine and conflict in their hometowns. At least 181 people have so far died from suspected cholera cases in a single hospital in Mogadishu alone this year and there have been a number of confirmed cholera outbreaks across the country.

“Most [outbreaks] have been declared under control, but alarming rates of confirmed cholera cases among internally displaced people have been reported in Mogadishu,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarek Jasarevic told a news conference in Geneva on Friday.

An estimated 100,000 Somalis have fled to Mogadishu over the past two months in search of food, water, shelter and protection. In addition, the country’s capital was already accommodating more than 370,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were forced to leave their homes before the current wave of displacement.

The health of the IDPs in Mogadishu is already vulnerable and the threat of diseases like cholera is particularly high among the malnourished and those living in overcrowded camps for the displaced, the UN warned.

“The key concern is the root cause of cholera, which is related to water and sanitation,” said Michel Yao of the WHO. “Right now with IDPs and population movement, this increases the risk of further spread of the disease because we cannot control population movement.”

“The issue is to make sure that we have an integrated intervention with our water and sanitation partners so that we provide services to minimize the risk of spread,” added Yao.

Somalia has also seen an increase in cases of acute watery diarrhea, which has led to the deaths of at least 11 people, including four children, in Mogadishu, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To prevent and mitigate the risk of cholera, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is sending cholera kits to areas with rising numbers of acute watery diarrhea. It is also massively scaling up access to water, sanitation and hygiene for those areas of Mogadishu with a high concentration of newly arrived refugees.

Meanwhile, UNHCR stated that the second of three humanitarian flights landed at Mogadishu airport on Thursday, bringing a 32-ton consignment of shelter and other aid items.

The UN agency has been shipping relief supplies to Mogadishu by sea and land, but due to the increasing number of people in need of help, it decided to airlift supplies to save time.

Some 3.7 million people, nearly half the Somali population, are directly at risk of famine and tens of thousands have already perished.
An estimated 12.4 million people in the drought-hit Horn of Africa, which includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, are facing severe food shortages and are in need of international assistance.

According to the UN, the drought which is causing the famine in the Eastern Horn of Africa is expected to continue until early 2012, and the number of people in acute livelihood crisis is expected to increase from 8.8 million in the coming months.

Train derailment in central Poland kills 1, injures dozens

WARSAW, POLAND (BNO NEWS) — One person was killed on Friday afternoon and dozens more were injured when a passenger train carrying some 280 people derailed in central Poland, officials said on Saturday.

The accident happened at around 4.15 p.m. local time in the town of Baby near Piotrków Trybunalski, a city in Lodz province. The train, which was operated by the PKP company, had earlier left Warsaw at 2.04 p.m. local time and was scheduled to arrive in Katowice at 6.30 p.m. local time.

According to TVN24, the accident happened when all four carriages of the train suddenly derailed and overturned. Initial reports had indicated four people were killed, but officials only confirmed one fatality.

In addition, around 70 people on board were reported wounded, the five most serious which were airlifted to hospitals in Lodz, Sosnowiec, and Konskich. Uninjured passengers were transported to a nearby school.

However, officials said the death toll may rise since the overturned carriages have not been lifted yet, and police fear victims could still be trapped under the carriages. Police Brigadier Mariusz Konieczny said authorities were waiting on two trains to lift the fallen carriages.

While rescue dogs continue searching for possible trapped victims, prosecutors said investigations have been launched to determine the causes of the accident. Authorities are still working to determine where exactly the train derailed.

In August 1980, at least 67 people were killed and more than 60 others were injured when a freight train collided with a passenger train near Otloczyn, a village in north-central Poland. It remains the country’s deadliest train accident.

Two Bangladeshi shot dead at Indian border

DHAKA (BNO NEWS) — Two Bangladeshi workers were shot dead on early Friday morning while another was injured by Indian Khasia tribesmen at the border, local newspapers reported.

The incident occurred when Indian Khasia tribesmen from the other side of the border fired into a group of Bangladeshi laborers collecting stones from the River Bagaiya at Gowainghat around 4:30 a.m. local time on Friday.

The deceased were identified as 32-year old Kamal Uddin and 30-year old Kamal Miah.

Uddin’s body was immediately recovered by fellow workers using boats while Miah’s body sank into the river and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) had to recover it later. A third man, Imam Uddin, resulted injured in the attack and was taken to a local clinic for treatment.

BGB 5 Battalion commander lieutenant colonel Shafiul Azam told the local daily New Age that India’s Border Security Force (BSF) was immediately contacted over telephone and a complaint was lodged regarding the killing of the two Bangladeshis.

A meeting between BGB and India’s BSF was held Friday afternoon to discuss the incident. At the meeting, BSF officials assured they would warn their citizens against firing at Bangladeshis in the future, Azam said, adding that the BSF had little control over their civilians.

Both sides committed to maintaining peace in their respective areas, Azam concluded.

U.S. court releases audio sex tapes of convicted rapist Warren Jeffs

TEXAS (BNO NEWS) — A Texas court has released the disturbing audiotapes of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in which he can be heard training the girls, who he claimed were his “spiritual wives”, to have sex with him.

The tapes, which were obtained by many media outlets including CNN, contain what prosecutors say is evidence of Jeffs instructing underage girls to have sex with him. Several times, the 55-year-old refers to having sexual relations with him as “heavenly sessions,” and he instructed the young ladies that they also “must assist each other” during these sessions.

“You have to know how to be excited sexually,” Jeffs said. “The Lord has intended that my ladies, all of my ladies be trained.”

The audiotapes were key pieces of evidence in the trial of the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Last week, a Texas jury sentenced Jeffs to life in prison for aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl and 20 years in prison for the sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl.

Authorities seized the audiotapes from the polygamous sect leader’s car and the church’s Yearning For Zion Ranch compound in Eldorado, Texas.

Jeffs was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in May 2006 for allegedly arranging illegal marriages between his adult male followers and underage girls. In 2007, he was sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years to life in Utah, but Utah’s Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 2010.

He was then extradited to Texas, where he was found guilty of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children.

Elephant census begins in Sri Lanka despite boycott

COLOMBO (BNO NEWS) — Sri Lanka has begun the country’s first census of elephants in all its national parks despite a boycott by conservationists groups, the Colombo Page reported on Saturday.

Over 3,500 officials have been deployed to count the elephants at 1,500 waterholes and lakes. The census will be conducted over the next two days during which the parks will be closed for visitors.

H.D. Ratnayake, director of the Wildlife Department, said that they are looking for the assistance of Indian and American specialists in order to get accurate figures.

Conservationists boycotted the census after Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister Chandrasena said that, under a presidential directive, baby elephants that could carry caskets in religious pageants would be identified during the census. The animal welfare groups fear that the census will be used to capture elephants and hand them over to temples for parades and ceremonies.

Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population, which has been reduced in recent years to about 5,000 – 6,000 elephants, is under threat as their habitats are increasingly encroached by the human population.

Japan agrees to set up new nuclear agency under Environment Ministry

TOKYO (BNO NEWS) — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced that, along with Cabinet members, they have agreed to set up a new nuclear safety agency under the country’s Environment Ministry.

The final decision to create the new agency will be made on Monday, the Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday, adding that the new entity would be formally set up in April 2012. Last week, the Japanese government had announced its plan, but it was still considering setting up the agency under either the Environment Ministry or the Cabinet Office.

The decision was made as the government has faced strong criticism due to the country’s handling of the nuclear disaster that began since the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Kan has been pushing for separation of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the industry ministry as it promotes the use of nuclear energy.

Following the agreement, the government will now be setting up a preliminary panel as early as this month in order to submit related legislation during January’s ordinary parliamentary session, Kyodo reported.

Japan’s nuclear crisis began when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged on March 11 when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami devastated the country. The disaster disabled the cooling systems of the plant and radioactive elements leaked into the sea and were later found in water, air and food products in some parts of Japan. Subsequent power shortages throughout the country have further complicated recovery efforts.

At least 23,482 people were killed while 8,069 people remain missing as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. There are still more than 88,000 people who are staying in shelters in 21 prefectures around Japan.

Rights group urges release of Chinese activist

LONDON (BNO NEWS) — Amnesty International on Friday urged Chinese authorities to release a human rights activist detained for organizing a demonstration in support of bloggers as her trial took place on Friday in Beijing.

Wang Lihong was arrested on March 21 on charges of “assembling a crowd to block traffic or undermine traffic order” amid a government crackdown on dissent which is likely to stem from fears among China’s leaders that the country could empathize with democracy protests carried out recently in the Middle East and North Africa.

The 56-year old activist pleaded not guilty to the charges which relate to her participation in a peaceful protest in April 2010 in support of three internet activists from Fujian province who were charged with defamation for posting questions online about an alleged police cover-up in the death of a young woman.

Wang Lihong’s lawyers said they had limited access to her case documents, in violation of legal provisions on lawyers’ rights, and that during the trial, which only lasted a few hours, they did not have enough time to present a proper defense as they were interrupted by the judge repeatedly.

The court verdict is expected within a month but if convicted, Wang Lihong could face up to five years in prison. “Wang Lihong is one of many Chinese activists locked up in recent months on spurious charges, simply for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression,” said Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “Her trial is a farce and she should be released immediately.”

Amnesty International also warned about Lihong’s health condition which has deteriorated after several months in detention. “The Chinese authorities must ensure Wang Lihong has access to the legal representation of her choice, and that she is not tortured or ill-treated in custody,” Catherine Baber said.

Wang Lihong is a widely known human rights activist who has often provided help and support to fellow activists and their families. Many activists across the country have been campaigning for Wang Lihong’s release and, on Friday, they gathered outside the court room in Beijing to express their support.

Five dead after rivers overflow in southern Laos

VIENTIANE (BNO NEWS) — Five people have been killed in southern Laos since the Mekong River and its tributaries burst their banks earlier this week, the Vientiane Times reported on Friday.

Three boys were killed in the country’s Champassak province while one man and one boy were swept to their deaths in Savannakhet province. Flooding has also left thousands of residents without clean water and food in both provinces.

“We believe the three boys died trying to help their parents move possessions and livestock to higher ground after flooding swept through their homes,” said Khamtaeng Tiengvoravong, member of the Champassak provincial disaster management committee.

“The boy in Songkhon district died while trying to catch crickets in floodwaters but the reason for the man’s death in Vilabouly district is not yet known,” Savannakhet provincial Administration Office head, Bounyou Thammavong, told the Vientiane Times.

Khamtaeng added that high water levels of the Mekong and Xedon rivers have already flooded more than 20,000 hectares of rice fields and more than 200 hectares of other crops in Champassak. Around 26,480 people from 5,800 families in eight districts have been affected by the loss of crops.

Meanwhile, over 48,000 residents of 206 villages in nine districts of Savannakhet province are experiencing similar issues after Mekong tributaries spilled over during the weekend.

In Thakhek district of Khammuan province, the Mekong water level rose to 13.20 meters (43.30 feet) and is expected to rise to 13.64 meters (44.75 feet) on Friday. Over 60,000 hectares and 300 villages have been hit by flooding in Khammuan, but no deaths have been reported.

Astronomers discover darkest known planet

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS (BNO NEWS) — Astronomers have discovered the darkest known exoplanet, according to a report released by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) on Friday.

The CfA report said that a distant, Jupiter-sized gas giant known as TrES-2b is blacker than coal or any planet or moon in our solar system, as it only reflects less than one percent of the sunlight falling on it. More than a third of the sunlight reaching planet Jupiter in our solar system is reflected in bright clouds of ammonia. However, TrES-2b, which was discovered in 2006 by the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey, lacks reflective clouds due to its high temperature, the report explained.

“TrES-2b is considerably less reflective than black acrylic paint, so it’s truly an alien world,” said astronomer David Kipping of CfA, who is also the lead author on the paper reporting the research.

Co-author David Spiegel of Princeton University, meanwhile, noted that it was not completely pitch black, explaining that it is so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove.

The exoplanet’s particular atmosphere contains light-absorbing chemicals like vaporized sodium and potassium, or gaseous titanium oxide. However, Spiegel said it was still not clear why the planet is as dark as it is, as none of these chemicals fully explain the extreme blackness of TrES-2b.

TrES-2b orbits its star at a distance of only three million miles (4.8 million kilometers), and the star’s intense light heats TrES-2b to a temperature of more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (982 degrees Celsius), which is much too hot for ammonia clouds, the report explained.

Kipping and Spiegel determined the reflectivity of TrES-2b using data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which is designed to measure the brightness of distant stars with extreme precision. The team monitored the brightness of the TrES-2 system as the planet orbited its star. They detected a subtle dimming and brightening due to the planet’s changing phase.

TrES-2b orbits the star GSC 03549-02811, which is located about 750 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Draco. (One light-year is about 6 trillion miles (9.6 trillion kilometers).