Floods Cripple Indonesian Capital, 2 Dead

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 2:05 am (UTC-5)
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Much of the Indonesian capital is under waist-high water, after several days of unusually heavy monsoon rains caused floods that forced thousands to seek shelter.

Rising flood waters in Jakarta forced many government offices and businesses to close Thursday, and many roads were unpassable in the low-lying, flood-prone city of 14 million.

Forecasters warn the rain could get worse in the coming days, adding to what already has been one of the city's heaviest downpours in years.

On Thursday, authorities said water levels at key flood gates in the city already were dangerously high, and they warned the floods could spread to other areas.

At least two people have been killed and 9,000 people have been evacuated from the capital and its suburbs.

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a vast chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains.

Pakistan’s Anti-Corruption Bureau Refuses to Arrest Prime Minister

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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The head of Pakistan's anti-corruption bureau says it has decided not to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, despite orders to do so by the supreme court.

Fasih Bokhari, chief of the National Accountability Bureau, told the court Thursday that he does not have sufficient evidence to arrest Mr. Ashraf on corruption charges.

On Tuesday, the supreme court ordered the arrest of the prime minister and 15 others on charges involving private power stations.

Mr. Ashraf is accused of taking bribes for arranging to build power plants to serve Pakistan's power deficiency. Mr. Ashraf has denied the allegations.

Observers say the arrest warrants could worsen the already-existing tension between the government and the courts.

New York City School Bus Drivers on Strike

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 1:20 am (UTC-5)
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School bus drivers in the largest U.S. public school system, New York City, are on strike for a second day Thursday, leaving more than 150,000 students looking for alternative transportation to get to class.

Eight thousand unionized bus drivers walked off the job on Wednesday, taking to the picket lines to dramatize their demand for job security for drivers in any new contract. Their old contract does not expire until June 30th.

School bus drivers in New York City work for private companies under contract to the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg maintains that a 2011 court ruling prohibits the city from including job protection in new contracts.

Most of New York City's 1.1 million students walk to school or use mass transit to get there. Those who rely on buses include 54,000 special education students and others who live too far away from schools.

The city is offering free public transit cards for students affected by the strike. Officials say parents will be reimbursed if they need to drive or hire a car to bring their children to school.

No talks are scheduled in the dispute.

Boeing 787 Crisis Widens, as Global Regulators Ground Dreamliner

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 12:55 am (UTC-5)
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Aviation authorities around the world are grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jet following a safety warning issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Airlines in Chile, India and Europe are the latest to stop flying the jet, which already has been grounded in the U.S. and Japan. As of early Thursday, 39 of the 50 Dreamliners in operation around the world had been suspended.

The FAA, which sets the standard for global aviation regulators, on Wednesday warned that the next generation plane should not fly until the risk of battery fires is addressed.

The move came one day after one of the twin-engine, wide-bodied planes was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan when a cockpit warning indicated a battery malfunction and passengers smelled something burning.

Japan's two biggest airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, grounded all their Dreamliners – 24 aircraft – after the incident. The crisis over the trouble-plagued plane widened following the FAA warning.

Late Wednesday, Chile's LAN announced it would ground its three 787s, while India's aviation agency ordered Air India to do the same with its fleet of six Dreamliners. The European Aviation Safety Agency also said it would follow the U.S. grounding order.

Even before Wednesday's developments, recent problems with the 787 had prompted U.S. regulators to launch a safety review of the aircraft. A battery problem was believed to be the cause of a small fire that broke out aboard an empty 787 as it was being serviced on the ground in Boston. Other incidents have involved leaking fuel, a cracked windshield and brake problems.

Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S.-based company stands behind the plane's “overall integrity,” and “deeply regrets” the impact the situation is having on passengers.

The company's stock price fell 2 percent in trading after U.S. markets formally closed Wednesday.

Boeing has sold or has commitments to build more than 800 of the planes for airlines around the world. Boeing says the 787's revolutionary design will save air carriers money by using less fuel.

Chinese Official Calls for Dialogue with Japan on Island Dispute

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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A senior Chinese leader is calling for talks with Japan to resolve an increasingly bitter dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Jia Qinglin, who heads China's top political advisory body, says the two sides should handle the dispute in order to protect relations and preserve regional stability.

His comments, published Thursday in the state-run China Daily, were made during a meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who supports closer relations between the two Asian powers.

Jia is quoted as saying China “attaches great importance” to its ties with Japan, and will continue to develop relations “in accordance with previous agreements.”

China-Japan relations sank to their lowest level in years after Japan nationalized some of the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Since then, Beijing has sent regular patrol boats to “monitor” the Japanese-controlled islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential energy deposits.

Both countries also have sent fighter jets to the islands in recent weeks, raising fears of a conflict between Asia's two largest economies.

Japan annexed the islets in the late 19th century. China claimed sovereignty over the archipelago in 1971, saying ancient maps show it has been Chinese territory for centuries.

Yukio Hatoyama was prime minister of Japan from September 2009 to June 2010.

US Orders All Boeing 787s Grounded

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 8:35 pm (UTC-5)
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The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered all U.S.-registered Boeing 787 passenger jets to stop flying until the risk of possible fires caused by lithium batteries aboard the craft can be evaluated.

The FAA said it will work with Boeing and United Airlines – the only American carrier that currently operates 787s – to get the wide-bodied, twin-engine jets back in service as quickly and safely as possible.

The government's aviation watchdog said in a statement that all 787 operators must demonstrate to the FAA that planes' lithium batteries are safe before flights can resume.

Hours earlier, Japan's two biggest airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, grounded all their Dreamliners – 24 aircraft – after one of the new jets made an emergency landing in Japan, after a cockpit warning light signaled a battery problem and passengers reported a burning smell in the cabin. No serious injuries were reported as passengers and crew scrambled down escape chutes after the jet touched down.

Even before Wednesday's developments, recent problems with the 787 had prompted U.S. regulators to launch a safety review of the aircraft. A battery problem was believed to be the cause of a small fire that broke out aboard an empty 787 as it was being serviced on the ground in Boston; other incidents have involved leaking fuel, a cracked windshield and brake problems.

Boeing had no immediate comment on the FAA action, but the company's stock price fell 2 percent in trading after U.S. markets formally closed.

U.S.-based Boeing has sold or has commitments to build more than 800 of the planes for airlines around the world. Boeing says the 787's revolutionary design will save air carrers money by using less fuel.

4 Killed on Gun Attack on Restaurant in Eastern Kenya

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 6:05 pm (UTC-5)
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At least four people were killed and four others wounded when gunmen opened fire inside a restaurant in Garissa in eastern Kenya Wednesday.

No one has claimed responsibility for the shootings. But al-Shabab Islamic militants have threatened to carry out attacks in Kenya in response to Kenyan military involvement in neighboring Somalia.

Garissa has been the scene of several deadly attacks over the past few months.

Syrian Refugees Killed in Heater Accident in Jordan

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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At least seven Syrian refugees were killed Wednesday in Jordan when a kerosene heater caused a fire in a refugee camp.

Civil defense officials say four other refugees were injured in the accident in a caravan in the King Hussein area in the northern city of Ramtha.

Jordan houses more than 200,000 refugees who fled fighting in neighboring Syria. Some of them are being hosted by families and some live in makeshift camps with kerosene heaters used to fend off the cold.

Clinton Urges Laos to Investigate Activist’s Disappearance

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:35 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on Laos to investigate the disappearance of a prominent social activist and reunite him with his family.

Human rights groups say Sombath Somphone, a campaigner for a sustainable development in Laos, was detained in the capital Vientiane a month ago and that he is in government custody.

In a statement Wednesday, Clinton urged the Lao government “to pursue a transparent investigation of this incident and to do everything in its power to bring about an immediate and safe return home to his family.”

Lao officials say they have been investigating Sombath's disappearance, but could not find significant leads. The government has suggested that Sombath's disappearance is a result of a personal dispute.

The 60-year-old received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2005 and worked to promote education and development in poverty-stricken Laos.

The landlocked communist country has little tolerance for dissent.

US to Recognize Somalia’s New Government

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:20 pm (UTC-5)
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A senior U.S. diplomat says the United States is officially recognizing the government in Somalia, opening formal diplomatic relations for the first time since militants shot down two U.S. military helicopters in Mogadishu in 1993.

Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson says visiting Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will exchange diplomatic notes Thursday to confirm the new relationship.

Carson said the new Somali government has made significant progress in stabilizing the country and defeating al-Shabab Islamic militants.

African Union and Somali forces have pushed the militants out of a number of major towns. But al-Shabab still controls a large part of the country as it tries into turn Somalia into a strictly Islamic state.

Carson says U.S.-Somali relations are a long way from where they were when militants shot down two American helicopters in October 1993. Scenes of dead U.S. solders being dragged through the streets of the Somali capital were broadcast worldwide, arousing anger and revulsion in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Somalia has not had a strong central government since 1991. Various warlords and groups spent the next two decades trying to seize power.

A new parliament sworn in six months ago elected Mr. Mohamud president, ending eight years of ineffective and unstable transitional government.