Nanjing Night Net

Moscow plans snow offensive

MOSCOW: The city’s government, led by the long-reigning Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has indicated that clearing the capital’s streets of snow is too expensive. Instead, the city is considering seeding the clouds with liquid nitrogen or dry ice to keep heavy snow from falling inside its limits.Word of the proposal has sent a shudder through Moscow just as the first dark, snowy days have fallen on the capital. It also has piqued the surrounding region, which would receive the brunt of the displaced snowfall, and has raised concerns among ecologists.”I was very surprised, because [the mayor] never even asked us,” said Alexei Yablokov, who sits on the mayor’s ecological council. ”We never discussed it at all.”The city government says it has not reached a decision. But scientists at the Central Aerological Observatory said they were deep into negotiations with city authorities and expect the cloud-seeding plan to proceed.They already seed the clouds for political effect, clearing the skies over Moscow twice a year to ensure sunny celebrations of patriotic holidays.”Victory Day is the most sacred holiday for us,” said Bagrat Danilian, the deputy chief of cloud-seeding at the observatory. ”When veterans go out to celebrate in Moscow, we create good weather for them.”All it takes, he says, is sacks of cement. Drop the powder down into the clouds, and they vanish.Russian cloud-seeding is done in moderation, the scientists insist. ”You shouldn’t overstep the threshold over which the weather would change globally,” Mr Danilian said. ”We’re trying to look for that threshold in a very careful way.” Sometimes nature wins. And, in one instance last year, gravity.As the air force toiled to chase the clouds away for last year’s independence day celebrations, a clump of cement tumbled to earth instead of dissipating into the clouds. It crashed through the roof of a house on the city’s outskirts. Rather than accept the compensation offered by the military, the owner of the house said she would file suit for ”moral suffering”.It is unlikely Muscovites would agree to forgo snow altogether. During the long, dark months of winter, the flicker of clean flakes against the sky is one of the few recurrent graces, creating a vast playground for children and briefly coating the drab winter days in sparkling white. But Mr Luzhkov is prepared to choke off any particularly massive snowfalls, for an estimated saving in clean-up costs of $US13 million ($14.6 million).”In the movies, the snow looks very beautiful,” one of Mr Danilian’s colleagues said. ”But this snow costs a pretty penny to Moscow authorities.”Los Angeles Times
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Winter cold snap jolts Europe, worse to come

PARIS: Early winter snows forced French authorities to close the Eiffel Tower and disrupted transport as north-west Europe braced for a pre-Christmas cold snap.Paris and much of the north of the country awoke to find a seven-centimetre blanket of snow on Thursday, which delayed flights from the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport by up to two hours.Train and bus services were delayed in many areas, as daytime temperatures dropped below zero for the first time this year, and black ice coated northern roads.Snow also fell in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.A light dusting across south-east England was expected to be followed by a fall of up to 20 centimetres in the east and south-east by dawn yesterday.There were predictions temperatures in Britain could plunge as low as minus 9C yesterday in the Scottish Highlands.Forecasters predicted high winds could combine with the snowfall to bring blizzard conditions to Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, in the country’s east.The BBC said conditions were expected to be worst during peak hour and travellers were likely to face transport disruption.The Government issued safety warnings as preparations were made for the snowfall.The chance of a white Christmas continued to ”hang in the balance”, weather forecasters said, and bookmakers have recently slashed the odds on it happening. One British gambler stands to collect more than £14,000 ($25,500) if it snows on Christmas Day.As temperatures continue to plunge, Andrew Harrop, of Age Concern and Help the Aged, spoke of his concern for the elderly.”For older people, protection against the cold is vital,” Mr Harrop said. ”Last winter’s cold snap sent excess winter mortality to a 10-year high, with around three-quarters of excess winter deaths recorded among people aged 75 or over.”The rail operator Southeastern said it was “working hard” to ensure a normal service would run during the forecast snow, but advised conditions might cause some disruption to services.The Automobile Association warned of the travel chaos equal to that experienced when a storm hit Britain last winter because only half of the country’s local councils had enough road salt to de-ice surfaces during a freeze lasting six days.Transport networks were almost shut down on February 2, keeping about 20 per cent of workers from their jobs at a cost to the British economy of £1.2 billion , the Federation of Small Businesses estimated.Agence France-Presse; Telegraph, London; Bloomberg
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CIA ‘guides’ torture of Hamas activists in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Palestinian security agents who have been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank have been working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, new evidence suggests.Less than a year after the US President, Barack Obama, signed an executive order that prohibited torture and provided for the lawful interrogation of detainees in US custody, evidence is emerging the CIA is co-operating with security agents whose continuing use of torture has been widely documented by human rights groups.There is a close relationship between the CIA and the two Palestinian agencies involved, the Preventive Security Organisation and General Intelligence Service – so close, say some Western diplomats and other officials in the region, that the American agency appears to be supervising the Palestinians’ work.A senior Western official said: ”The [CIA] consider them as their property, those two Palestinian services.” A diplomatic source added that US influence over the agencies was so great they could be considered ”an advanced arm of the war on terror”.The CIA and the Palestinian Authority deny the former controls its Palestinian counterparts but neither denies that they work closely in the West Bank. Details of that co-operation are emerging as some human rights organisations are beginning to question whether US intelligence agencies may be turning a blind eye to abusive interrogations conducted by other countries’ intelligence agencies with which they work.According to the Palestinian watchdog al-Haq, human rights in the West Bank and Gaza have ”gravely deteriorated due to the spreading violations committed by Palestinian actors” this year.Most of those held without trial and allegedly tortured in the West Bank have been supporters of Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been in control for more than two years, there have been reports of its forces detaining and torturing Fatah sympathisers in the same way.Among the human rights organisations that have documented or complained about the mistreatment of detainees held by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, al-Haq and the Israeli watchdog, B’Tselem. Even the Palestinian Authority’s human rights commission has expressed ”deep concern” over the mistreatment of detainees.The most common complaint is that detainees are severely beaten and subjected to a torture known as shabeh, during which they are shackled and forced to assume painful positions for long periods. There have been reports of sleep deprivation and of large numbers of detainees being crammed into small cells to prevent rest.Almost all the detainees enter a system of military justice under which they need not be brought before a court for six months.The Palestinian security organisations hold between 400 and 500 Hamas sympathisers, according to Palestinian Authority officials.Some mistreatment has been so severe that at least three detainees have died in custody this year. The most recent was Haitham Amr, a 33-year-old nurse and Hamas supporter from Hebron who died four days after he was detained by General Intelligence Service officials in June. Extensive bruising around his kidneys suggested he had been beaten to death.There is no evidence the CIA has been commissioning such mistreatment but human rights activists say it would end promptly if US pressure was brought to bear on the Palestinian authorities.Sa’id Abu-Ali, the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Minister, accepted detainees had been tortured and some had died but said such abuses had not been official policy and steps were being taken to prevent them. He said such abuses ”happen in every country in the world”.Mr Abu-Ali sought initially to deny the CIA was ”deeply involved” with the two Palestinian intelligence agencies, then conceded there were such links.”There is a connection, but there is no supervision by the Americans,” he said. ”It is solely a Palestinian affair. But the Americans help us.”The CIA does not deny working with the security agencies in the West Bank, although it will not say what use it has made of intelligence extracted during the interrogation of Hamas supporters. But it denies turning what one official described as ”a Nelson’s eye to abuse”.The CIA’s spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, denied it played a supervisory role. ”The notion that this agency somehow runs other intelligence services … is simply wrong,” he said. ”The CIA … only supports, and is interested in, lawful methods that produce sound intelligence.”Guardian News & Media
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Tide turns against bullfights in Spain

BARCELONA: Bullfighting looks likely to be banned in part of Spain as the Catalan Parliament prepares to vote to prohibit one of the country’s most emblematic, and bloodiest, traditions.In a move that campaigners hope will mark the beginning of the end for bullfighting in the country best known for it, a petition with 127,000 signatures was delivered to the Parliament this week. Under Catalan laws the Parliament must first vote on whether to accept the petition and then draw up a law, which would be subject to a second, definitive vote in several months.The law is likely to be passed. Minority separatist and far-left parties in the region are committed to supporting the ban, and the major parties allow their MPs to vote freely. Separatists claim bullfighting is not a Catalan tradition.Deputies have made it clear that, while they may ban bullfights, they will not prohibit Catalan fiestas in which bulls are chased through the streets and tormented, sometimes with balls of fire attached to their horns.The petition calls for a change in Catalonia’s animal cruelty law that would end the protection for fighting bulls.”If the deputies are going to behave like proper representatives of the people, then they must accept the ban,” Manuel Cases, of the Catalan Animals Rights Association, said. ”Seventy per cent of Catalans are against bullfighting.”The move has sparked an impassioned debate in a country where matadors are big stars. Bullfighting is referred to as ”the national fiesta” and reviews of bullfights are published in the arts pages of newspaper rather than the sports pages.Among those battling for bullfighting to continue are a group of artists and writers, including the painter Miquel Barcelo and the theatre director Calixto Bieito.”Banning the bullfight means banning part of our liberty,” they said in a manifesto published on Wednesday.They are backed by left-wing intellectuals who are unconditional supporters of the celebrity matador Jose Tomas. Tomas has done much to revive enthusiasm for bullfighting in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia.Anti-bullfight campaigners hope, however, that if the ban goes ahead other Spanish regions will follow suit.”Everywhere in Spain the majority of people say they do not like bullfights,” Mr Cases said. ”Over time this will have to be prohibited. Otherwise we will be back in the Stone Age.”Guardian News & Media
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Indonesia gets serious about nuclear energy

JAKARTA: Indonesia could formally embrace nuclear power as early as next year as senior Government members push to revive a proposal to build up to four reactors just 30 kilometres from a volcano in Central Java.Indonesia is beset by regular blackouts that are crimping industrial production and deterring investors, and nuclear energy is being resurrected as a means to meet the country’s growing electricity needs while also capping carbon emissions.But serious concerns remain about the viability of the plan, not least because Java is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that could cause catastrophic radioactive leaks.At the urging of the new Minister for Energy, Darwin Saleh Zahedi, the National Energy Council has begun assessing the construction of a nuclear reactor in the lead-up to a meeting to be chaired early next year by the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to approve a new energy blueprint.”There are pros and cons on the nuclear power issue but if you ask my personal opinion, of course I want to use it,” Agusman Effendi, a member of the council, said. ”The building should begin in 2010 because our fossil fuel resources are decreasing from time to time.”Mr Effendi suggested it could take 10 years to build the reactor.The Minister for Research and Technology, Suharna Surapranata, has identified 2016 as the possible start-up date.”The plan to build the nuclear power plant must go on,” he said this month, identifying the Muria peninsula as the most likely site.The peninsula has been favoured for as many as four 1000 megawatt reactors since 1983. Several attempts to build there have been thwarted due to public opposition, including in 2007, when Islamic clerics declared a fatwa against the proposal and locals staged a protest march.During this year’s presidential election campaign, Dr Yudhoyono appeared to back away from nuclear power when he addressed voters in Central Java. But, according to RMIT University’s expert on Indonesia’s nuclear program, Richard Tanter, the nuclear option has influential backers in the new Yudhoyono Administration.”It’s come alive with a ferocity that’s unexpected. It’s back, front and centre of the energy agenda,” said Professor Tanter. ”But it carries high-level risks for which Indonesia is not well prepared. There are very serious volcanic and seismic risks.”Gunung Muria, the volcano 30 kilometres from the proposed site, has been dormant for centuries, underpinning Indonesian confidence that the area is safe.But a 2003 study by International Atomic Energy Agency researchers obtained by Professor Tanter painted a far bleaker picture. It concluded that the 1600-metre-high Gunung Muria was capable of erupting during the lifespan of any nuclear plant, showering debris, hot gases and rocks on to the facility from vents as close as 4.5 kilometres away.Moreover, there was some evidence of a ”shallow source of magma capable of producing other types of volcanic phenomena” on the peninsula, while offshore faults could also lead to earthquakes that could rattle the plant.Such damage could lead to deadly radioactive leaks with catastrophic results, Professor Tanter said.Even so, Muria may still be the safest site on Java, which is riddled with volcanos and fault lines. The problem for Indonesian nuclear authorities is they need to build the plant on or very near Java, where the power is needed. Kalimantan is the only non-active area of Indonesia and has reserves of uranium but is too far away from population and industrial centres to make building a nuclear reactor there feasible.Indonesia has an abundance of coal, gas and geothermal energy reserves. But the coal is polluting, and Indonesia has chosen to sell its natural gas rather than deploy it in a significant way for its own energy needs.Geothermal energy – Indonesia has about 40 per cent of the world’s known reserves – has potential but is regarded as being incapable of being used on a large scale.
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