MOSCOW – A methane explosion tore through Russia‘s largest underground coal mine Saturday, killing 11 workers and injuring 41 others, a regional emergency services ministry official said.A second blast early
Sunday morning forced authorities to halt rescue operations when contact with 20 rescuers was lost, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.The second blast destroyed the main air shaft and caused more injuries, and there is a risk of more explosions, Aman Tuleyev, the governor of the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, who is at the site, told reporters.”The rescue work will continue when the atmosphere in the mine is restored, but to conduct rescue work now means to send people to die,” Tuleyev told ITAR-Tass.Heavy machines are removing the obstructions in the air shaft, and specialists are organizing air supply into the mine, Tuleyev said.Of the 312 miners who were below ground at the time of Saturday’s first blast, 66 remained about four hours after the explosion as rescue workers tried to bring them out, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry in Kemerovo.Later, after the second explosion, ITAR-Tass reported that by 3:30 a.m. (local time) 295 miners had been brought out of the mine, and 54 miners and 20 rescuers remained underground.Twelve miners had beent aken to a hospital, ITAR-Tass said.The mine, the Raspadskaya, produces about 8 million tons (8.8 million short tons) of coal a year, according to the company’s website.The Kemerovo region is about 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of Moscow.There was no immediate information on what set off the blast. Mine explosions and other industrial accidents are common in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics, and are often blamed on inadequate implementation of safety precautions by companies or by workers themselves.In December, nine people were killed in an explosion at an iron-roe mine in the Urals Mountains region that was blamed on faulty transportation of explosives
1st lady echoes King’s call to brace for hardship By CHUCK BARTELS, Associated Press
PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Michelle Obama told graduates Saturday to prepare to overcome adversity, building on Martin Luther King Jr.‘s 1958 commencement address at the same university, when he told students to summon their courage to fight segregation.The first lady gave an impassioned speech to 270 graduates of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff that referenced the legacy of their historically black school, which opened in 1873 with seven students, most of whom could barely read.Obama said those first students, only a decade removed from slavery, had no guarantee of opportunity once they graduated.”Let’s just imagine how those seven students would feel if they could see you here today,” Obama told a packed downtown arena.She singled out Quinna Childress of Newport, who graduated Saturday with a 3.935 grade-point average in biology and plans to attend medical school. Childress was homeless at age 16, a high school student living out of a car who worked nights and weekends as a nurse’s aide.One day at work while contemplating quitting her job, Obama said Childress thought about the lot of her patients who were struggling to overcome illness.”They needed me more than I needed to give up,” Obama quoted Childress as saying.Obama said Childress‘ hardships would add depth to her sense of compassion as a physician.”It’s going to make her an extraordinary doctor,” Obama said.Obama, a product of Chicago public schools who went on to attain degrees from Princeton and Harvard, said she encountered people in her youth who doubted she could succeed.”Even today … I know that for some of you this journey has not been easy,” Obama said.”Like me, you wanted something more, right? Just like those (original) seven students.”King spoke at the Arkansas campus after he had been arrested and tried for his work; his home had been bombed and his life was threatened. Obama noted that the late civil rights leader’s Pine Bluff address contained phrases he later used in his „I Have a Dream” speech, quoting his refrain, „Free at last, free at last,” as Saturday’s audience roared.King’s Arkansas speech came a year after federal troops protected nine black students attending all-white Little Rock Central High School. Michelle Obama’s speech came more than a year after the university’s 260-piece band marched in the inaugural parade for her husband, the nation’s first black president.People in the audience said they hope her appearance draws more attention to historically black colleges.The Pine Bluff school‘s director of bands, John R. Graham Jr., was pulling double duty Saturday. His daughter was getting her chemistry degree while he conducted 170 musicians from the wind symphony and concert band.Graham said students from across the country seek out his university because they want to attend a traditionally black college. The band has students from as far as California and Florida as well as neighboring states, he said.”She (Obama) is reaching out to a lot of states by doing this,” Graham said.Betty Scull of Little Rock was on hand with relatives to see her nephew, Brandon Glymph, graduate with a degree in business administration. He’s the seventh member of their family to earn a degree at the university, Scull said.Scull, an alumna of the Pine Bluff school, was the first in her family to graduate from college, and said the faculty helped her succeed. She went on to earn two advanced degrees.”There were teachers who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said.
Secretary Gates wants ‘hard, unsparing look’ at military spending By Brad Knickerbocker THE Christian Science Monitor
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a clear and pointed message for the US military establishment: Take “a hard, unsparing look” at what you’re costing the US taxpayer during difficult economic times, and look for serious belt-tightening measures.In a speech Saturday at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, Secretary Gates said: “In each instance we must ask: First, is this respectful of the American taxpayer at a time of economic and fiscal duress? And second, is this activity or arrangement the best use of limited dollars, given the pressing needs to take care of our people, win the wars we are in, and invest in the capabilities necessary to deal with the most likely and lethal future threats?”Gates noted that Dwight Eisenhower – who led the allies to victory in the European theater in World War II, then became president – had a “passionate belief that the U.S. should spend as much as necessary on national defense – and not one penny more.”“And with his peerless credentials and standing, he was uniquely positioned to ask hard questions, make tough choices, and set firm limits,” Gates said.Breaking the ‘iron triangle‘Other presidents and defense secretaries have tried to rein in what was seen as unnecessary Pentagon spending, in particular big-ticket items beloved by the so-called “iron triangle” of military services, defense contractors, and their champions in Congress – the “military-industrial complex” Eisenhower famously warned of in his 1961 farewell address to the nation.But “looking back from today’s vantage point, what I find so compelling and instructive was the simple fact that when it came to defense matters, under Eisenhower real choices were made, priorities set and limits enforced,” he said. “This became increasingly rare in the decades that followed, despite the best efforts of some of my predecessors and other attempts at reform over the years.”Gates noted that since 911, the Pentagon’s base budget has nearly doubled – not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.â€œRipe for scrutiny,â€In addition, Gates pointed to major weapons systems he finds questionable, including the alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the C-17 airlifter programs.“I have strongly recommended a presidential veto if either program is included in next year’s defense budget legislation,” Gates said – a challenge to lawmakers in whose districts the parts for such programs are made.That would be in line with the tough stands Gates and the Obama administration have been taking already: cancelling or curtailing about $330 billion in weapons systems.The coming fight with CongressAnticipating the fights he no doubt faces on Capitol Hill, Gates asks:Should we really be up in arms over a temporary projected shortfall of about 100 Navy and Marine strike fighters relative to the number of carrier wings, when America’s military possesses more than 3,200 tactical combat aircraft of all kinds? Does the number of warships we have and are building really put America at risk when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, 11 of which belong to allies and partners? Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?”Specifically, and in addition to the weapons systems he wants to trim or ax, Gates is demanding a two to three percent reduction in overhead costs in the fiscal 2012 budget request.But, he adds, “Simply taking a few percent off the top of everything on a one-time basis will not do,” Gates said. “These savings must stem from root-and-branch changes that can be sustained and added to over time.”In a discussion with reporters before his speech, Gates – a holdover from the Bush administration highly respected by both parties – said, “It is not a great mystery what needs to change.”“What it takes,” he said, “is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices – choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon and out.”Related: What can Robert Gates achieve in extra year at Pentagon? When Gates stared down the F-22 lobbyists
NASA to Go Boldly to the Bottom of the Sea By SPACE.com
Two astronauts, a veteran undersea engineer and an experienced scientist will soon find themselves in the ocean depths off the east coast of Florida in a mock space mission to test exploration concepts and learn more about working in an unforgiving, treacherous environment. NASA on Tuesday announced the 14th expedition, which is part of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO. The 14-day undersea mission is scheduled to begin May 10. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, a veteran spacewalker, will lead the NASA expedition to the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, which rests more than 62 feet (18 meters) below the ocean’s surface off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys.The NEEMO 14 mission will use the ocean floor to simulate aspects of another planet’s surface and a low-gravity environment.In October 2009, a team of aquanauts prepared for the NEEMO 14 expedition by placing mockups of a lander, rover and small crane that simulates a robotic arm near the Aquarius laboratory.Mock space mission ahead-The NEEMO 14 crew will live aboard the underwater laboratory, venture out on simulated spacewalks, operate the crane and maneuver the vehicles in much the same way as astronaut explorers would in setting up a habitat on another planet.As the aquanauts operate and test these developing technologies, they will provide information and valuable feedback to NASA engineers.The crew is expected to simulate removing a mockup of the Lunar Electric Rover from the lander, retrieve small payloads from the lander and the ocean floor, and simulate the transfer of an incapacitated astronaut from the ocean floor to the deck of the craft.The rover and lander mockups are comparable in size to vehicles that NASA is considering for future planetary exploration. The lander mockup is wider than the entire length of a school bus, and is almost three times as high. It measures 45 feet (13.7 meters) wide and 28 feet (8.5 meters) high, including a 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) crane. The rover mockup is slightly larger than a full-size SUV, standing at approximately eight feet (2.4 meters) tall and 14 feet (4.3 meters) long.Training for splashdown-Hadfield previously conducted two spacewalks and operated the International Space Station‘s robotic arm, known as Canadarm2, during the space shuttle‘s STS-100 mission in April 2001. He also worked extensively with the shuttle’s robotic Canadarm on STS-74 in 1995.Other team members include NASA astronaut and flight surgeon Thomas Marshburn, Lunar Electric Rover Deputy Project Manager Andrew Abercromby and Steve Chappell, a research scientist. Both Abercromby and Chappell work for Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering of Houston, an engineering firm that specializes in aerospace, information systems and integrated science and engineering. James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington are habitat technicians and will provide engineering support.While aboard Aquarius, the crew will perform life science experiments that are focused on human behavior, performance and physiology. The mission also includes a study of autonomous crew work. In other words, there will be periods when there is limited communication between the crew and the mission control center, much like what could potentially happen during missions to the moon or Mars.The Aquarius laboratory is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Russia gives Poland long-sought Katyn files By JIM HEINTZ, Associated Press
MOSCOW – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday turned over scores of volumes from an investigation into the Katyn massacre to his Polish counterpart, a move underlining Moscow’s new willingness to repair long-troubled relations with Warsaw.The World War II massacre of some 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by Soviet secret police has been an issue that soured relations between the countries for decades.After decades of blaming the 1940 massacre on invading Nazi troops, the Soviet Union in 1990 acknowledged responsibility, part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost initiatives. But officials refused to refer to it as a genocide attempt — a designation that Poland had sought because international law generally considers that genocide has no statue of limitations.The Soviet Union began a criminal investigation the same year, but it was closed in 2004. The chief military prosecutor later said the case was closed because the killings were not found to be genocide.The 67 volumes that Medvedev turned over to acting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski are files from that investigation, Russian news agencies said. Polish historians have agitated for access to the case files, and Medvedev indicated there was information to come.”Work on the criminal case, including the declassifying of material, will be continued by my order,” Medvedev was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA Novosti.Komorowski expressed gratitude.”The Katyn crime, the Katyn lie, is a stumbling block between our countries. The truth about Katyn is an ordeal experienced jointly by both Poland and Russia. It may serve as a good basis for the further development of relations between our countries,” he said according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.Medvedev presented the Katyn volumes on the day before Victory Day, when Russia will have massive, solemn commemorations of the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The move could bolster respect for Russia fitful attempts to come to grips with its bloody Soviet legacy even as it passionately proclaims the valor and sacrifice of its troops and people in World War II.Katyn inadvertently drew world attention a month ago when Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 other Poles died in a plane crash in Russia while coming to attend a Katyn commemoration.The plane crashed April 10 as it was coming in for a landing in Smolensk in heavy fog. Preliminary investigation details appear to point at pilot error, but it remains unclear why the plane attempted to land in such poor conditions.Medvedev told Komorowski on Saturday that final investigation results will be made public.
Fortunes of India’s Ambassador carmaker hit pothole by Penny MacRae AFP
NEW DELHI (AFP) – Losses at Hindustan Motors, maker of the Ambassador car — easily India‘s most recognisable vehicle — have been mounting, raising questions about the company’s survival.The snub-nosed Ambassador once ruled India’s potholed roads, but last week Hindustan Motors reported that losses widened in the last fiscal year to 429 million rupees (9.5 million dollars) from 378 million rupees the previous year.In addition, India’s oldest automaker said its net worth has tumbled by over 50 percent and it must now report to the state-run Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction — part of India’s socialist-style bureaucracy that oversees revival of „sick companies” as financially troubled firms are known.But the company remains upbeat, insisting the future appears much brighter, helped by an improving outlook for sales which took a hit during the financial downturn.”Our operations are looking up,” Ravi Kathuria, Hindustan Motors’ senior vice president, told AFP, adding that the company has extensive land assets „which can be leveraged.””We’re not in a bankruptcy situation,” Kathuria said.In a boost to the company’s spirits, the Ambassador also has been chosen as the official car to ferry athletes around at the October Commonwealth Games.But analysts are doubtful about longer-term prospects for the company, whose shares have nosedived.It „could hang on tenaciously to some small corner of the market, but it’s no longer the purchase of choice,” says Murad Ali Baig, one of India’s leading independent automobile analysts.The woes engulfing Hindustan Motors come as the rest of India’s vehicle industry booms with firms such as automaker Maruti Suzuki doubling profits in the world’s fastest-growing automobile market.Hindustan Motors, flagship company of the CK Birla Group, joined forces with Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors in the 1990s to manufacture Lancer sedans and Pajero sports utility vehicles (SUVs).But it has never returned to its glory days in the 1970s when „the Amby,” as it was affectionately known, held a market stranglehold of around 70 percent.For much of independent India’s history when the economy was closed to foreign manufacturers, „the joke was you could buy any car in India so long as it was an Ambassador,” Hormuz Sorabjee, editor of automobile magazine Autocar, said.The Ambassador was muscled out by sleek new cars that made its plump contours look dowdy when India began opening its markets to the world.Kathuria said he sees a rebound in demand for the Ambassador, with sales expected to double to 1,000 units a month in the coming year, but this represents just a fraction of India’s total annual car market of 1.53 million units.The Ambassador’s bulky design, based on the 1950s British-built Morris Oxford, has changed little since it first rolled off the assembly line in 1957, although the engine is now more powerful.For years the Ambassador was the only car driven by senior government officials and people always knew when a „power do” was on in the national capital because of the fleet of Ambassadors outside.The car’s „power status” allowed Islamist terrorists to drive an Ambassador past security and attack parliament 10 years ago, bringing nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war.But now many bureaucrats have abandoned the 9,460-dollar Ambassador in favour of sportier sedans or SUVs. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is ferried around in an armoured black BMW. Even taxi drivers — who were among the Ambassador’s most loyal buyers — are opting for more fuel-efficient compacts.”This is cheaper to run, it’s more reliable and it’s easier to drive,” said New Delhi taxi driver Rajiv Singh, who drives a small Maruti hatchback.
Australia unable to pin blame for Ady Gil crash by Amy Coopes AFP
SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian authorities Saturday said they had been unable to determine who was to blame for the sinking of a superboat during clashes between Japanese whalers and militant activists off Antarctica.The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Japan’s refusal to cooperate with its investigation had made it impossible to draw any firm conclusions about who was responsible for the collision which destroyed the New Zealand-flagged trimaran Ady Gil.”On the basis of the available evidence, AMSA has been unable to determine whether either vessel took any action intended to cause a collision,” AMSA said in an incident report published Saturday.”Logistical and jurisdictional limitations prevented AMSA from satisfactorily communicating with the relevant parties to establish facts that would allow the drawing of justifiable and definitive conclusions at this time,” it added.Harpoon ship Shonan Maru 2 and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Ady Gil collided in the Southern Ocean on January 6, with each side blaming the other for the smash which crippled the high-tech Ady Gil.The powerboat, which had its front sliced off, subsequently sank, and its captain, New Zealander Pete Bethune, was taken into Japanese custody after boarding one of the whaling fleet under the cover of darkness to make a citizen’s arrest over the crash.AMSA said it had warned the crew of the carbon-and-kevlar Ady Gil about the dangers of operating in the remote Southern Ocean, and questioned its safe operation in an ice environment.”The Australian government warned both the Sea Shepherd crew and the Japanese whaling fleet of the dangers of a possible collision,” AMSA said.”AMSA also communicated its concerns, including concerns about the durability of the Ady Gil in the event of a collision, directly to the master and crew of the Ady Gil.”Sea Shepherd provided a written account of the incident to investigators as well as footage depicting the crash, but AMSA said the Japanese government refused its requests for information „owing to the possibility that this material might be required in any investigation by Japanese authorities.””Japan indicated that this was to avoid any prejudice to possible Japanese investigations,” AMSA said.It noted Japan’s claims that the collision was the result of „continuous sabotage by the Ady Gil” but said it was „beyond the scope of this inquiry to investigate the Japanese government’s allegations against Sea Shepherd.””However, in response to a formal request from the Japanese government … Australian Federal Police is conducting preliminary inquiries into these matters,” AMSA saidIt said „no firm conclusions” could be drawn from video footage of the collision, except that the captain of the Shonan Maru No 2 had stopped afterwards to check on the crew of the Ady Gil and offer assistance.Maritime authorities in Tokyo and New Zealand were conducting their own investigations, which have yet to be concluded, it added, noting that Japan’s Coast Guard was considering a „criminal case” over the incident.Sea Shepherd declared the season to be its most successful but intensely fought pursuit ever of Japan’s harpoon ships, estimating that they had reduced the Japanese kill count by up to half at a cost of between 70 and 80 million US dollars to the whalers.
Pakistan tests 2 missiles, wants nuke recognition By MUNIR AHMED, Associated Press
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan successfully test-fired two ballistic missiles Saturday capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said, as the Islamic nation’s leader urged the world to recognize it as a legitimate nuclear power.The Shaheen-1 missile has a range of about 400 miles (650 kilometers), while the second Ghaznavi missile could hit targets at a distance of 180 miles (290 kilometers), an army statement said. Both can carry conventional and nuclear warheads.Pakistan’s missiles are mostly intended for any confrontation with archrival India, and the range of the Shaheen-1 would include the Indian capital of New Delhi. Saturday’s tests — which featured the rare launch of two missiles — are unlikely to aggravate tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, since they both routinely conduct missile tests.The latest Pakistani missile test came more than a week after the leaders of two sides met in Bhutan on the sidelines of a regional conference, hoping to improve relations that have been strained since the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior army and civil officials witnessed the launches at an undisclosed location, and the missiles „successfully hit the target areas,” the statement said.Gilani also urged world powers „to recognize Pakistan as a dejure nuclear power with equal rights and responsibilities,” the army statement said. The prime minister called for cooperation on civilian nuclear power, which would help relieve Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages.Pakistan has refused to sign nonproliferation accords and faces a nuclear trade ban.”Energy is a vital economic security need of Pakistan and nuclear energy is a clean way forward,” the statement said.Pakistan became a declared nuclear power in 1998 by conducting nuclear tests in response to those carried out by India. Islamabad test-fired its first missile that same year.The safety of its nuclear arsenals has been a matter of concern since 2004 when the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, confessed to spreading sensitive technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Pakistan has since set up strict controls to prevent any such repeat and the retired Khan is living under virtual house arrest.But a recent report, commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and released by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, found that Pakistan faces formidable risks in safeguarding its nuclear warheads. Danger persists from „nuclear insiders with extremist sympathies, al-Qaida or Taliban outsider attacks, and a weak state.”
Africa’s first high-speed train to open ahead of World Cup by Charlotte Plantive AFP
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – The Gautrain, Africa’s first high-speed rail line, will launch on June 8 in South Africa three days before the opening match of the 2010 football World Cup, the developers said Friday.French construction giant Bouygues said the train’s first segment, linking OR Tambo International Airport and the posh Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, will open in time for the June 11 kick-off of Africa’s first World Cup.The segment „will be handed over on June 8, three weeks ahead of our original schedule,” said Christian Gazaignes, Bouygues’ executive director.For 100 rands (13 dollars, 10 euros), World Cup visitors will be able to ride the 15 kilometres from the airport to the Sandton hotel district in less than 15 minutes.In rush-hour traffic, the same trip takes more than an hour by car.When finished in mid-2011, the 80-kilometre regional express train will link the capital Pretoria with national economic hub Johannesburg, running at speeds of up to 160 kilometres (99 miles) an hour and enabling commuters to make the trip in 42 minutes.”It’s going to give the country a beautiful image of modernity,” said Laurence Leblanc, international director of RATP Dev, a subsidiary of French group RATP, the company awarded a 15-year concession to operate the train.”The Gautrain isn’t specifically a World Cup project. It doesn’t serve the stadiums,” said Leblanc. „But it’s a superb project for South Africa’s image. That’s why we’re knocking ourselves out to get ready.”The Bombela Consortium, an international group that includes Bouygues, Canadian firm Bombardier and two South African companies, began construction on the project in 2006.The developers say they have „worked like crazy” to finish the first section before the World Cup, making up time lost to strikes and construction delays.The 3.2-million-dollar Gautrain is the first high-speed rail line in Africa. The north African cities of Casablanca, Algiers and Cairo all have metro lines, but none runs as fast or as far as the Gautrain.South African transportation officials say the train will form the backbone of a new public transport network that will help take traffic off the notoriously congested roads of the greater metropolitan area.”We’re targeting people who have the means to own a small car but would prefer to avoid traffic jams,” said Leblanc.RATP says it is targeting South Africans with a monthly income of 1,030 to 2,580 dollars (810 to 2,020 euros), and predicts 16,000 passengers a day will use the new rail line.To get them to the train, the company plans to roll out a network of shuttle buses serving the population centres around the train stations.RATP has set the price for the airport-Sandton route relatively high at 13 dollars.But the Sandton-Pretoria segment will cost just 4.5 dollars, rivalling the price of the mini-buses that currently provide most of area’s mass transit.Officials hope the price scheme will help turn South Africans onto public transport, in a country where mass transit systems languished for decades under apartheid policies designed to keep whites and blacks apart.RATP also promises tight security on the trains, using closed-circuit TV cameras, 400 security guards and 50 police officers to convince South Africans to abandon the protective shell of their vehicles.