Gates Says Afghan Warnings Reflect “Pain” of War

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 1:55 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says warnings about civilian casualties from Afghan President Hamid Karzai reflect the “pain and suffering” the Afghan people have endured after 30 years of war.

Gates said Tuesday it is important for both sides to jointly investigate civilian casualties and that Mr. Karzai and the Afghan people recognize the U.S.-led NATO coalition is an ally trying to help Afghanistan see an end to the conflict.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Karzai warned NATO-led forces not to become an “occupying force” in Afghanistan after a spate of civilian casualties resulting from coalition airstrikes.

Mr. Karzai told reporters in Kabul he would take unspecified action if the killing of innocent civilians continues. He also stressed that the Afghan people can no longer tolerate airstrikes which target civilian houses, and said it was his last warning.

Gates said the Taliban causes about 80 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and that militants are targeting civilians with IEDs and other attacks.

In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Tuesday that airstrikes on buildings that might appear to be residential are necessary, but added that NATO takes Mr. Karzai's concerns seriously and will continue making every effort to prevent civilian casualties.

A spokeswoman for the International Security Forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Regina Winchester, said NATO forces have clear rules of engagement intended to minimize civilian casualties.

U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan under a U.N. mandate that is due to expire in October. Negotiations on what the status of foreign troops will be after that date continue. President Karzai has said that he will put strict controls on the conduct of international forces in any agreement.

NATO said in a statement Wednesday that one of its service members died Tuesday in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan.

Belfast Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Launch of Doomed Ship Titanic

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 1:45 am (UTC-5)
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The Northern Ireland capital Belfast has marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the doomed ship Titanic with a celebration.

A flare was set off Tuesday at the exact moment the ship was launched from a Belfast dock 100 years ago, as the city ended a century of downplaying its role in the construction of the vessel. The Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage in 1912 when it hit an iceberg en route from England to New York, killing 1,517 passengers and crew.

The story of the “unsinkable” ship has since been recounted in numerous books and a popular 1997 movie. But a priest, Chris Bennett, who led a memorial service commemorating the launch, noted that the fate of the ship had been Belfast's “shame, our secret.”

After a moment of silence, he led 62 seconds of cheers, the length of time it took for the ship to slide into the Irish Sea when it was launched. He noted that Belfast residents like to say that the ship “was all right when she left us.”

Belfast hopes to capitalize on the fame of the ship, then the largest passenger steamship ever built.

More than $11 billion has been invested in new offices, hotels and science parks on the old shipyard site now known as Titanic Quarter. A $160 million visitors' center keyed to the history of the Titanic is set to open next year. And an exhibition featuring more than 500 artifacts related to the Titanic, some of them previously not made public, has opened at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

South Korean Military Bans Kim Jong Il Images in Target Practice

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 1:15 am (UTC-5)
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South Korea's defense ministry says it will instruct training centers not to use images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his family as targets at their shooting ranges.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper says some units have been using pictures of Mr. Kim, his late father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, and Mr. Kim's son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un, to boost morale in the wake of the North's deadly bombing of a border island last November.

The defense ministry said Wednesday it will instruct units to use standard targets during shooting practice.

Khmer Rouge Prosecutor Challenges Judges in Deepening Spat

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 1:00 am (UTC-5)
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A British lawyer charged with prosecuting Khmer Rouge war crimes has formally accused the international tribunal's investigating judges of exceeding their authority in a deepening spat.

Prosecutor Andrew Cayley has formally appealed an order from the German and Cambodian investigating judges that he retract recent remarks calling for a more complete investigation of two Khmer Rouge suspects.

Cayley argued in his appeal against the order that it was arbitrary and that it interfered with his obligation to inform the public of the court's workings.

The international tribunal has already convicted a notorious Khmer Rouge prison warden and will soon open the trial of the movement's top four surviving leaders. However tribunal officials are divided on whether to proceed with a third and fourth case in the face of stiff opposition from the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The investigating judges, Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleang, announced in April that they had concluded their 20-month probe in Case 003. But Cayley objected, calling publicly for further investigation, including an examination of suspected mass graves and interrogation of the two suspects, whose names have not been disclosed.

The investigating judges, in turn, accused Cayley of disclosing confidential information and demanded that he retract the offending portions of his statement within three days.

The tribunal, involving Cambodian and international officials, was established with United Nations backing to prosecute suspected Khmer Rouge war crimes and crimes against humanity. More than 1.7 million people are believed to have been executed or died from starvation and overwork during the group's harsh rule in the late 1970s.

WHO Says Child Injuries Reach New High in Somalia Fighting

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:45 am (UTC-5)
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The World Health Organization says increased fighting in Somalia's capital has pushed the number of child casualties to a new high.

The group says children under the age of 5 suffered nearly half of the weapons-related injuries in Mogadishu last month. That number is up from 3 percent in April.

The WHO says the main causes of children's deaths were burns, chest injuries and internal bleeding from explosions, shrapnel and bullets.

The African Union and Somali government forces have mounted an offensive in recent months against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The group wants to overthrow the United Nations-backed government and set up an Islamic state. Before the offensive al-Shabab controlled all but a small part of Mogadishu.

In response to the child casualties, the WHO says it has trained 50 doctors and nurses in Mogadishu's Banadir Hospital on how to treat chest injuries and burns.

The U.N. says its humanitarian agencies and other partners have asked for $59 million to fund health services in Somalia, but have received only about $9 million.

Miami Heat Win Opening Game of 2010-11 NBA Finals

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:25 am (UTC-5)
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The Miami Heat defeated the visiting Dallas Mavericks 92-84 to take the first game of the National Basketball Association championship series Tuesday.

LeBron James led the Heat with 24 points, including four three-pointers, while the other members of the team's storied “Big Three,” Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, finished with 22 and 19 points respectively.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points for the Mavericks, who gave up an eight-point lead in the third quarter.

Dallas will attempt to even the best-of-seven series Thursday in game two, also set to be held in Miami.

China’s Manufacturing Sector Declines in May

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:25 am (UTC-5)
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The expansion of China’s manufacturing activity slowed in May to its lowest rate in nine months, reflecting the government’s attempts to cool the economy and slow inflation.

The China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing says its purchasing managers index, which measures the manufacturing sector, fell from 52.9 in April to 52 last month. The federation compiled the index on behalf of the government’s statistics bureau.

A separate PMI compiled by British-based HSBC showed manufacturing growth at 51.6 last month, the lowest figure in 10 months. HSBC’s PMI for April stood at 51.8.

A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in the sector.

Beijing has taken aggressive steps to rein in the red-hot economy, which triggered an inflation rate of 5.3 percent in April. The central bank has raised interest several times during the past year, and has ordered its largest banks to increase their cash reserves. The government hopes by limiting cash in the economy, it can slow inflation.

The government is reversing steps it took to boost the economy as the global slowdown took hold in 2009, including a $586 billion economic stimulus package and a record surge in lending.

IAEA Experts Say Japan Underestimated Tsunami Threat

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:20 am (UTC-5)
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A team of international experts investigating the Fukushima nuclear accident says Japan underestimated the risk posed by tsunamis to its nuclear plants.

The finding is contained in a preliminary report prepared for delivery to the Japanese government Wednesday. The 18-member team's full report will be delivered to an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting beginning June 20 in Vienna.

Wednesday's report says Japanese officials did everything possible in the aftermath of the March 11 tsunami, which knocked out electric power and cooling systems leading to likely core meltdowns at three of the Fukushima plant's six reactors.

But it says the accident shows that nuclear plant designers in Japan and around the world must make greater efforts to anticipate and prepare for natural disasters.

The team also criticized Japan for failing to act on an IAEA recommendation three years ago that it separate its nuclear regulatory agency from its trade and industry ministry.

The IAEA team includes experts from France, Russia, China and the United States. They have been in Japan since May 24.

New evidence of radioactive leakage continues at the plant, almost three months after the accident. National broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday that high levels of dangerous strontium 90 have been found in soil samples around the plant.

Officials are also struggling to cope with rising levels of radioactive water in the basements of several of the reactors, fed by heavy recent rains.

The broadcaster also reported that a charity offering scholarships to children orphaned by the earthquake and tsunami has received applications on behalf of more than 1,100 children.

US Space Shuttle Set to Land Early Wednesday

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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Astronauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour are headed toward a middle-of-the-night landing early Wednesday in Florida.

Commander Mark Kelly and his crew circled 320 kilometers above the Earth, aiming to touch down at 2:35 a.m., local time, Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center. It will be the 25th time the U.S. space agency, NASA, has landed a space shuttle in darkness, about a fifth of all missions.

Flight director Tony Ceccacci says the weather looks “very promising” for the landing.

Endeavour has spent more than two weeks in space, delivering a $2 billion cosmic ray detector and spare parts to the International Space Station. Kelly said the shuttle had performed “really, really well.”

Wednesday's landing will end Endeavour's 19-year space career and mark the second of three U.S. shuttles to be retired. NASA, says Endeavour flew a total of 198 million kilometers in its 25 missions.

The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to blast into space in July, in the last mission of the 30-year U.S. shuttle program.

With the shuttle program ending, NASA will have to depend on space vehicles owned by other countries or by private industry to deliver supplies and crew to the International Space Station.

In addition to Mark Kelly, the six-member Endeavour crew includes Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Kelly's wife, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is recovering from wounds suffered during a shooting in Arizona in January.