Richard Mills will be the new in Helmand province, home to most of the British troops in Afghanistan.The change is part of a decision by NATO to split its Regional Command South, which oversees 50,000 U.S., British, Canadian and other troops, into two separate commands.Operations in the Nimroz and will come under U.S. command — Regional Command-Southwest — while forces in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Daikundi provinces will be led by a British commander.The new structure will take effect this summer.A Royal Marine was killed in Helmand on Friday, bringing the British death toll in Afghanistan to 286. The Ministry of Defense said the member of the marines’ 40 commando unit died in an explosion while on foot patrol in the Sangin area of Helmand province.His name was not released, but officials said his family have been informed.
Conn. Democrats endorse Blumenthal for US SenateBy SUSAN HAIGH and PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. – State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, under fire for misspeaking about his during Vietnam, easily won the endorsement Friday night of Connecticut Democrats to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd.”I have made mistakes. I regret them. And I have taken responsibility,” Blumenthal said. „But this campaign must be about the people of Connecticut.”Despite the national attention that Blumenthal’s misstatements have attracted, Democrats said they could not ignore his 26 years of political service — six years as a state lawmaker and 20 as Connecticut’s omnipresent attorney general — to the state.Blumenthal sprinted past Mystic businessman in the delegate count, leading Alpert to pull out of the contest and Blumenthal winning on a voice vote.”I do think it’s unfortunate he had some of the statements he made but this convention is with him and everyone is human,” said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford.Two miles away, Republicans were holding their to choose a nominee. Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon and Fairfield County money manager Peter Schiff were among those vying for the GOP’s endorsement.Delegates were meeting under a spotlight they’ve rarely seen.Blumenthal became embroiled in a political crisis when The New York Times reported Monday that he had repeatedly distorted his military service. The story included quotations and a video of Blumenthal saying at a 2008 event that he had served in Vietnam.Blumenthal, who was in the , said Tuesday that he meant to say he served „during” Vietnam instead of „in” Vietnam. He said the statements were „totally unintentional” errors that occurred a few times out of hundreds of public appearances.A longer version of the video posted by McMahon, who said her campaign provided some research information to the newspaper, shows Blumenthal at the beginning of his speech correctly characterizing his service by saying that he „served in the military, during the .”There have since been reports of other instances where Blumenthal was quoted as saying he served „in” Vietnam.”Already, we’ve seen them try to make this race about attacks on my character and service,” Blumenthal said Friday of his potential November opponents. „I’m proud of my service. I’m proud of the work I’ve done for veterans.”Blumenthal accused Republicans of „selling tired ideas of the past.” He spoke of stopping bailouts for Wall Street and holding insurance companies accountable, cutting waste and fraud and making the U.S. „a country where decent health care really is available and affordable.”Dave Hutchinson of Farmington, a labor official who attended the Democratic convention, acknowledged he had mixed feelings about Blumenthal’s missteps — a rarity for a man who has enjoyed strong popularity and has never been at the center of such a political maelstrom.”He’s a very articulate man. He’s attorney general, he’s a litigator, he picks and chooses his words wisely,” Hutchinson said. „I think he played the moment. But I also think that cannot be used to distract from everything he’s done good for the state of Connecticut.”Damian Maine of New Britain, who served in the Navy in Europe during the , was forgiving of Blumenthal, who he said has done good things for the state.”Sometimes his story got a little mixed up but I’m sure there’s a lot of veterans who still support him,” he said.Simmons, a , was expected to win the GOP nomination, but Republicans were not ruling that McMahon could make it a close fight.Candidates who don’t win can force a primary election in August if they gather at least 15 percent of the vote.McMahon has pledged to spend up to $50 million of her own money on the race.Without mentioning McMahon’s name, Blumenthal inferred she could be his toughest opponent: „This will be a long and tough campaign. I may be outspent, but I won’t be outworked.”
Alfalfa sprouts recalled after at least 22 illBy MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON – found in raw alfalfa sprouts appears to have sickened at least 22 people in 10 states, including a baby in Oregon, prompting a nationwide recall of the product.Caldwell Fresh Foods of Maywood, Calif., announced the recall Friday. According to the , which also announced the recall Friday, Caldwell’s alfalfa product was sold in 18 states in the West, Midwest and South.According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 people were sickened in California, two were sickened in Nevada and two were sickened in Wisconsin. Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado each had one person become ill, the said. The illnesses began between March 1 and May 2 and six people were hospitalized.A representative for Caldwell did not return a call Friday and a release issued by the company did not list the states to which the company sold the alfalfa sprouts.The company’s release did say the alfalfa sprouts were sold at restaurants, delicatessens and retailers nationwide, including many in California. Those California stores include Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Kings Supermarket, Numero Uno, Cardenas Markets, Gonzales Northgate Markets, Jons Marketplace and Canton Foods, the company said.Oregon officials said the sprouts may have gone to more than 400 stores, including Wal-Marts in several states. Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment.The company said the recalled alfalfa sprouts were sold in plastic cups and plastic bags under the Caldwell Fresh Foods brand, plastic cups under the Nature’s Choice brand and plastic containers under the California Fresh Exotics brand.William E. Keene, a senior epidemiologist at the Oregon health department, said Caldwell Fresh Foods is cooperating with an investigation.Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and in those with weakened immune systems. It can cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting.Keene said the baby who was sickened was a 4-month-old boy who was fed alfalfa sprouts mixed with other foods. His sickness made the easier to identify, Keene said, because the infant had not yet eaten many foods. He was hospitalized but has now recovered.Oregon health officials said this is the 12th outbreak in sprouts that has in the state since 1995. Keene went as far as to warn against eating raw sprouts at all, saying anyone concerned with foodborne illness should be aware of the number of outbreaks.Alfalfa sprouts are grown in a , heightening the chances of bacterial growth. The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC recommend at all times that people with a high risk of complications, such as the elderly, children and those with , not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with salmonella.This is the second large multistate outbreak in fresh produce announced this month. The CDC said Friday that they have identified additional people sickened by an outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce, bringing the total to 26 people sickened in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Seven are suspected, the CDC said.
German lawmakers back euro aidBy Madeline Chambers and Jan Strupczewski REUTERS
BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany’s parliament approved on Friday a $1 trillion safety net to stabilize the euro as fears swirled that Europe’s debt crisis and tougher financial regulation may choke economic recovery.European Union finance ministers, meeting in Brussels, backed a German call for tougher sanctions in future against states that flout the bloc’s budget rules, to prevent any repeat of Greece’s debt crisis, which required a /IMF bailout.Worries persisted that Greece’s debt troubles would spread to other indebted nations, dragging down Europe’s economy and curtailing trade to the United States and Asia.”The Greek debt crisis and its ripple effects are bad news for all corners of the world and there is a strong collective interest in containing the problem,” said , senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.European officials were eager to show they were committed to bringing down deficits without smothering a still-fragile recovery. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet sought to calm nervous markets by declaring the euro was not in danger.Both chambers of parliament approved Berlin’s contribution of up to 148 billion euros ($183.8 billion) in loan guarantees, deeply unpopular with voters, on top of an equally divisive 22.4 billion euros in bilateral loans for debt-ridden Greece.The bill passed the lower house by 319 votes to 73 with 195 abstentions after the opposition Social Democrats and Greens abstained and 10 members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition rebelled, highlighting the domestic pressure she faces.The vote was not enough to stop the fall in European shares, which lost a further 0.5 percent on the day after Asian stock markets slid again. Japan’s Nikkei average closed 2.5 percent down for a loss of 6.5 percent on the week, mostly due to worries about the euro zone.”It doesn’t make any difference what Germany does. It doesn’t make any difference what the financial reform is. Traders and investors are frightened here, and they just want out,” said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.But Wall Street rebounded, led by financial shares, after the Dow Jones industrial average briefly fell below the symbolic 10,000 point level following U.S. Senate adoption on Thursday of a sweeping financial reform bill after months of fierce debate.Merkel said the parliamentary vote was a clear German message of support for Europe. But she failed to secure the broad backing she sought to ease public hostility to bailing out zone states, despite unilaterally banning speculative trade in some financial instruments on Wednesday.The surprise German ban on naked short-selling of sovereign euro bonds and some financial shares sent stocks and the euro plunging this week and drew sharp criticism from EU partners, including close ally France, which were not consulted.HARSHER SANCTIONS-In Brussels, EU finance ministers debated how to tighten the bloc’s tattered budget discipline rules and improve economic policy coordination in the 16-nation euro zone, drawing lessons from the Greek crisis.As expected, they reached no immediate decision, but president Herman van Rompuy, who chaired the task force meeting, said there was broad support for Berlin’s demand for harsher sanctions on deficit laggards.”One of the conclusions of our debate is that it is very clear that there is a broad consensus on the business of having financial sanctions and non-financial sanctions,” he told reporters.However, he indicated that only Germany was pressing for a longer-term insolvency procedure for states crippled by debt. and his French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, told a joint news conference the EU should focus on strengthening fiscal discipline in the short term before looking at possible changes of the EU treaty, which would be harder and slower to agree and ratify.Several euro zone governments have followed Athens in announcing or planning austerity measures to shore up their credit ratings and avoid having to seek a Greek-style bailout. But doubts remain about their ability to push through savage spending cuts in the teeth of public opposition. The head of Spain‘s largest union, Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), said it could call a general strike to protest against planned austerity measures, probably for one day, although analysts regard Greek-style unrest as unlikely. Efforts by France and Germany, the euro’s founders, to patch up differences on the debt crisis and financial regulation, along with short-covering, helped push the euro up as high as $1.26 on Friday from a four-year low of $1.2143 on Wednesday. Euro zone policymakers brushed aside any talk of intervention to steady the single currency, which has lost 12 percent against the dollar this year.ECB President Trichet told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: „Let us be clear, it is not the euro that is in danger, but the fiscal policy of some countries that has to be, and is being, addressed. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup of euro area finance ministers, and Ewald Nowotny, a member of the European Central Bank‘s governing council, both dismissed worries about the euro’s level. With the United States increasingly involved in trying to contain the euro zone crisis, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit Europe next week, on his way back from a trip to China, and will meet the head of the European Central Bank and . Beijing also warned the crisis was creating global uncertainty.(additional reporting by Holger Hansen in Berlin, Paul Day in Madrid, and Gilbert Kreijger in Amsteram; Writing by Paul Taylor and Miral Fahmy; Editing by Mike Peacock, Ron Askew and Dan Grebler)
Ariane rocket launches two satellites By Franck Leconte REUTERS
CAYENNE, French Guiana (Reuters) – An Ariane rocket has orbited two telecommunications satellites after a launch from French Guiana on Friday, space officials said.The Ariane-5 rocket blasted-off from the ‘s launch center in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America at 7.01 pm (2201 GMT).Initially scheduled for launch in March, a series of technical glitches forced the mission to be postponed three times.Twenty-seven minutes after lift-off the Astra 3B satellite separated from the .Astra-3B will provide direct-to-home television and telecommunications services throughout Europe for Luxembourg-based telecommunications operator SES SA.The satellite weighed 5.5 metric tons at launch and was built by Astrium the satellite manufacturing unit of European aerospace giant EADS.Six minutes later COMSATBw-2 was released from the rocket. This satellite will provide secure communications for Germany’s defense forces throughout the Americas and the Far East. It weighed 2.5 tons and was built by Thales Alenia Space.Friday’s launch was the 36th consecutive success of an Ariane rocket.(Additional reporting by Alexander Miles)
Japan launches satellite for 2-year study of Venus By AP
TOKYO – Japan launched a new spacecraft Friday on a two-year mission to study the and its climate.A rocket carrying the Venus climate orbiter called „Akatsuki” blasted off from a Japanese space center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. Akatsuki means „dawn” in Japanese.Akatsuki is expected to reach Venus’ orbit in December. The orbiter will circle the planet for two years to examine its climate, including clouds, temperature and wind power, the agency said.The development cost of Akatsuki was around 25 billion yen ($280 million).The Venus mission follows Japan’s first lunar probe, which completed a 19-month mission last year. The lunar project was to create a detailed map of the and examine its mineral distribution.Japan launched its first satellite in 1970 and has achieved several major scientific coups in space, including the launch of a probe that made a rendezvous with an asteroid.
Astronauts make 3rd and final spacewalk of mission By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacewalking astronauts finished putting in a new six-pack of batteries at the International Space Station on Friday, a $22 million power overhaul that was their last major objective.It was the third and final spacewalk this week for the visiting crew of shuttle Atlantis.Within three hours of floating outside, Garrett Reisman and Michael Good had plugged in the remaining two . Four were installed during Wednesday’s spacewalk by Good and another spaceman.”The batteries are done,” one of the spacewalkers said. „Yeah!” shouted the other. „Can you believe it?”Replacing the station’s original 10-year-old batteries was harder than it sounded. There were many bolts to undo then redo and the batteries were bulky: 3-foot-wide boxes, 375 pounds apiece.With shuttle flights ending this year and another decade of space station operation looming, NASA wanted the orbiting outpost to have all fresh batteries. Six batteries were replaced last summer. The nickel-hydrogen batteries are charged by the solar wings and provide electrical power to the space station during darkness.Each one cost $3.6 million, or nearly $22 million for a pack of six.The removed batteries were packed aboard a platform for Atlantis’ trip home next week.Besides the , the astronauts completed an assortment of odd jobs. They hooked up a new cable for the station’s cooling system, organized tools that had been left out for some time and hauled in an extra robot-arm perch that needs more parts.They stole a view of Italy as they soared more than 210 miles overhead.”Fantastic,” Reisman said. „Smell all the pizza from here.”Later, the astronauts could see the two shuttle launch pads and the landing strip at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.”Houston, we’ve got the field in sight,” shuttle pilot Dominic „Tony” Antonelli radioed from inside. „We’d rather you not land just yet,” Mission Control replied.The spacewalkers were so eager to get going Friday morning that they went out early. As the pressure slowly dropped in the , Reisman commented: „It’s like standing on your bathroom scale and waiting for the needle to go down.”Nearly seven hours later, after everything was accomplished, they got the call: „Come on in.”The spacewalk officer at Mission Control, Lisa Shore, said it was a „wildly successful” conclusion to the huge spacewalk effort.Atlantis delivered the batteries last weekend along with a new Russian-made compartment.Metal filings were found floating inside the chamber Thursday. Newly installed air filters took care of some of the debris. The space station crew rearranged some of the contents Friday to improve air circulation and, they hope, force the last bits of metal into the filtering system. The compartment, which was sealed again for the night, is loaded with food, laptop computers and other supplies.Atlantis will undock from the space station Sunday for the last time. Only two more shuttle missions are on the books, both of them scheduled for this fall and set aside for NASA‘s two other shuttles.NASA and some members of Congress are pushing for one more flight of Atlantis, next June. The Obama administration would have to give its blessing.President Barack Obama wants to end the shuttle program fairly soon so NASA has more money to spend on developing the technologies needed to send astronauts to asteroids and . Russian rockets will continue to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station until commercial companies can perform the job with their own spacecraft.The space station is expected to keep operating until 2020.
Space Potty Training Secrets Revealed by Astronauts Karen Rowan SPACE.com
For astronauts, cranking out physics equations to calculate spacecraft trajectories and withstanding the bone-jarring forces of a rocket launch are a snap. But learning how to use the shuttle‘s toilet? That’s tricky.To that end, NASA has a specially designed training room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston where astronauts can carefully hone their „technique” before departing on a trip to orbit. Astronaut Michael put the space potty trainer in the spotlight in a behind-the-scenes video with the six-man crew of NASA’s current shuttle mission – going on now – on the shuttle Atlantis.”You know what I think of? I think of Peter Fonda in ‘Easy Rider’ riding a chopper,” Massimino said of his preferred space toilet position, holding his arms up to grip the handles of an imaginary motorcycle. „That’s the right position for me.”There are different space toilets for different spaceships. A Russian design similar to the shuttle’s is used on the International Space Station, where Atlantis is currently docked. Other systems are used on Russian Soyuz spacecraft and China’s Shenzhou crew vehicles.Space potty practice-For NASA astronauts, there are actually two space shuttle toilet stations in the training room: a positional trainer (for practice) and a functional trainer (which flushes).The positional trainer is not a working toilet, but is otherwise an exact replica of the space toilet on the shuttle. The opening in the seat is just four inches wide. (Standard, earth-bound toilets have openings measuring 12 or 18 inches.)And that’s not all. There’s a small camera inside — just under the rim of the opening — and the feed from the camera runs to a monitor just a few feet in front of the seat. Sitting here, space-flyers can make sure that their bodies are positioned so that solid waste will fall through the seat’s small opening.”Alignment is important,” said Scott Weinstein, a crew habitability trainer at NASA, as he explained the contraption during a NASA TV broadcast. „If they’re not confident that they have good alignment,” he said, astronauts can sit down on the seat, flip on the camera, and check to see if they’ve got it.When space-flyers have mastered the proper alignment, they can move to functional trainer. This is a working toilet, equipped with the same airflow vents used on the space shuttle. Here, astronauts practice how to eliminate both urine and solid waste.How the space toilet works-On the shuttle, urine is handled differently than solid waste, so it doesn’t go through the 4-inch opening. Instead, a long hose with suction power attaches beside the seat, and each astronaut attaches her or her own funnel for urination to this hose.Funnels are different for men and women.Women need to place the top of their funnels directly against their bodies, so the sides of the female funnels need to be vented so that air can flow in when the suction is turned on, Weinstein explained. And women can choose among three funnels with differently shaped tops — there are two funnels with oval-shaped tops and one with a circle-shaped top. Male funnels are simpler. They only come in one shape — the top is circular — and they do not have venting.”For men, we do not want them … docking to the funnel,” said Weinstein, so male funnels do not need venting at the top to let in air. Lastly, for paper waste, a separate suction hose on the side of the toilet can be fitted with a larger cup and lined with a plastic bag. Straps on the foot rest can help to hold an astronaut in place, and there are two thigh restraints on the sides of the toilet that can be swung over the top of the legs to help a person stay down on the toilet. But not everyone uses them. Before the most recent Atlantis mission, astronauts gathered in the room and compared their techniques for staying in position when they are weightless.”I stick my hands on the roof,” said astronaut Piers Sellers, pressing his hands palm-up over his head.The thigh restraints are helpful as handles for getting in and out of the toilet, said astronaut Steve Bowen, but he also uses the low roof over the toilet to stay in position.Massimino followed Atlantis’ astronauts as they trained for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station.The mission, which launched last week, is expected to be the final flight of Atlantis as NASA prepares to retire its shuttle fleet this year. Just two more shuttle missions remain after this one.
Atlantis Astronauts Gear Up for Third and Final Spacewalk By Clara Moskowitz SPACE.com
The spacewalking crew of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis will take one final spacewalk of their mission to wrap up a battery upgrade service call on the solar arrays outside the International Space Station.It will be the final spacewalk conducted with Atlantis while it is docked at the station, because this STS-132 mission is the orbiter’s last planned flight before retirement.The shuttle Atlantis crew woke Friday morning at 1:50 a.m. EDT (0550 GMT). The spacewalkers are due to begin their excursion – called an extravehicular activity (EVA) in NASA parlance – at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT), and stay outside about 6 1/2 hours. They will exit out of the station’s Quest airlock.Mission specialists Garrett Reisman and Michael Good will follow up two previous spacewalks on this mission to complete the job of installing on the left-most edge of the station’s backbone-like truss. Good and fellow mission specialist Stephen Bowen began the chore on Wednesday’s spacewalk, when they got ahead of schedule and installed four of six batteries, leaving only two more for the final excursion.”Originally we thought we’d have to perform three battery changes but because of the excellent work the crew did yesterday in our second spacewalk… that allows us an opportunity to get ahead,” lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin said Thursday.The batteries are ungainly, weighing about 375 pounds (170 kg) each. The spacewalkers will remove new ones from a cargo carrier in the shuttle’s payload bay, and then swap them out with the aging units currently on the station.In addition to the , the spacewalkers will remove a robot arm tool called a grapple fixture from the shuttle’s payload bay. For now, the astronauts will take it back inside the station with them; it will be installed during a later spacewalk on the station’s Russian Zarya module.”So when we repressurize and go back into station it won’t be just Garrett and I in that airlock,” Good said in a preflight interview. „We’ll have this great big grapple fixture in there with us so hopefully there’ll be room for everybody in there.”Mission Control has also planned a medley of various get-ahead tasks for Good and Reisman to do that will help outfit the station for the future.”On EVA 3 it’s kind of a clean-up day,” Good said. „It’s to get everything done that we had hoped to get done on the whole mission, so whatever’s left.”The spacewalkers will install a hose for the ammonia coolant system on the station’s exterior, and replace some errant tools in outside toolboxes.Mission specialist Piers Sellers will help out from inside the orbiting lab by operating the station’s robotic arm.Overall, Atlantis‘ mission is going very well, the astronauts said.”We are all absolutely thrilled at how this mission is going so far,” Atlantis commander Kenneth Ham said Thursday. „We’re just going to stay focused and hopefully get through the next few days.”The crew plans to undock from the space station on Sunday and land back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Wednesday, May 26.
Foreign Secretary in landmark Afghanistan visit By AFP
LONDON (AFP) – Foreign Secretary William Hague and two senior colleagues arrived in Afghanistan Saturday for their first visit since a new took power in London this month. plus Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell are to meet President Hamid Karzai as well as ministers and officials, the Foreign Office said.Hague said that getting to grips with the situation in Afghanistan was „our most urgent priority” in comments released from London as the party touched down.”It will consume a lot of our time, energy and effort and it is therefore vital that ministers have a strong understanding of the issues,” Hague said.”We need to give the strategy time and support to succeed, and we are here in to explore this at the earliest opportunity”.Meanwhile, Fox told the Times newspaper that he wanted British forces to come home from Afghanistan „as soon as possible”.”We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he said.”We are not a global policeman… we are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened”.Britain has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. There have been a total of 286 British casualties since international forces entered Afghanistan in 2001.Karzai met David Cameron, Britain’s , last Saturday. This was Cameron’s first meeting with a foreign leader as premier, underlining the importance his new adminstration is placing on Afghanistan.Britain’s new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, which only took power last week, has pledged to support the in Afghanistan.It has also pledged to „safeguard the UK’s national security”, which officials say is closely linked to the situation in Afghanistan.But with Britain facing a public spending squeeze, Cameron’s government wants to cut costs in the by at least 25 percent, although has pledged to do more to support the armed forces.The visiting ministers are also expected to meet British service personnel, while Mitchell said he would be „looking at ways to improve the quality and impact of our aid” to Afghanistan.”There are few countries where the combination of our moral commitment to development and safeguarding our is so enmeshed,” he said.”Building the capacity of the state to guarantee security and stability, deliver development and reduce poverty is central to defeating violent extremism and protecting British streets.”Fox also said he wanted to look at whether it would be possible to „accelerate” the training of Afghan forces „without diminishing the quality”.In addition to their visit, England footballer David Beckham was expected in Helmand in southern Afghanistan, the British military said.
Germany requests transfer of piracy suspects By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A group of suspected Somali pirates arrested last month by Dutch marines in a daring high-seas rescue operation appeared in court Friday to fight their extradition to Germany, where prosecutors want to put them on trial.Prosecutors in the German port city of Hamburg have issued arrest warrants for the nine men and one boy because they were detained aboard a German container ship they had hijacked in the on April 5.Their case is a rare example of Somali piracy suspects being transferred to Europe for trial after being arrested by an international armada shepherding aid and freight ships through the pirate-infested waters off the .Hanneke Festen of the Amsterdam Public Prosecutor’s Office said she expects they will be handed over under European Union rules governing the transfer of suspects.Lawyers for the men argue that because they were questioned by Dutch authorities after their arrest they should be tried in .”The Netherlands has already started proceedings against them and therefore it is a Dutch case,” Michiel Balemans, who represents four of the men, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.Festen rejected that argument, saying any talks they had with who arested them were „for military intelligence” and not part of any Dutch criminal case.”In the nine days it took to transfer them they were never charged, so a Dutch prosecution was never started,” she said.Nine of the are adults and the 10th is a minor believed to be 14 years old, Festen said. One of the men waived his right to appear, so only nine were in court Friday.Judges will announce their decision June 4. There is no right of appeal.Dutch marines slid down ropes out of a helicopter to retake the German-flagged ship MV Taipan. The ship’s crew had taken cover in a locked safe room after the armed pirates hijacked the vessel about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of .The initial hijacking and subsequent rescue left the ship’s bridge riddled with bullet holes. However, nobody was seriously hurt in the Dutch operation — the pirates all dropped their weapons and surrendered when confronted by the heavily armed Dutch boarding party.International navies who catch pirates while patrolling the waters often dump the bandits’ weapons overboard and put them back in their boats with enough food and fuel to reach the coast because of difficulties prosecuting them.That problem eased this week when Kenya announced it will resume taking from the international fleet for trial.Earlier this year, Kenya stopped accepting suspects, saying they put undue strain on the country’s justice system. That decision left more than two dozen Somali pirates scooped up by U.S. and sitting in legal limbo on the high seas.
Chinese PM to visit SKorea, Japan in four-nation tour By AFP
BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will visit South Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Myanmar on a four-nation starting later this month, the foreign ministry has confirmed.Wen will attend a three-nation summit with President Lee Myung-Bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on the island of Jeju in South Korea, ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoyu said in a statement late Friday.The summit, on May 29 and 30, will likely focus on the North Korean nuclear issue, including the alleged torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel by a North Korean submarine that killed 46 sailors.Japan’s foreign ministry announced the Japanese leg of Wen’s visit earlier this week.He is due to meet Hatoyama in Tokyo on May 31 and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on June 1.The four-nation trip will last from May 28 to June 3.Relations between Japan and China, the world’s number two and three economies respectively, have warmed but are still often strained by their wartime history and ongoing disputes over territory and resources.
BP swamped by criticism By Anna Driver and Matthew Bigg
HOUSTON/VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) – Anger, skepticism and accusations of lying washed over energy giant BP Plc on Friday as it desperately tried to contain a month-old seabed well leak billowing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.Lawmakers and scientists have accused BP of trying to conceal what many believe is already the worst U.S. oil spill, eclipsing the 1989 accident in Alaska. It represents a potential environmental and economic catastrophe for the U.S. Gulf coast.The London-based energy giant, facing growing federal government and public frustration and allegations of a cover-up , said its engineers were working with U.S. to determine the size of the leak, even as they fought to control the still-gushing spill with uncertain solutions.President Barack Obama’s administration kept up the pressure on BP to do everything possible to stop the leak.”We are facing a disaster, the magnitude of which we likely have never seen before, in terms of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. „And we’re doing everything humanly possible and technologically possible to deal with that.”Obama is naming former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Environmental chief William Reilly to co-chair a bipartisan commission to investigate the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a White House official said on Friday.The panel is patterned after past commissions that have probed incidents such as the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.Reilly had headed the Environmental Protection agency under Republican President George H.W. Bush.BP’s next planned step is a „top kill” — pumping heavy fluids and then cement into the gushing well to plug it. That operation could start next week, perhaps on Tuesday, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.Adding to the confusion, BP revised downward on Friday an estimate from Thursday that one of its containment solutions — a 1-mile-long inserted into the larger of two seabed leaks — was capturing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) of oil per day.A BP spokesman said the it sucked from the leak fell to 2,200 barrels (92,400 gallons/350,000 liters) a day in the 24-hour period ended at midnight on Thursday.”The rate fluctuates quite widely on this tool,” Suttles told reporters at a briefing in Robert, Louisiana.Many scientists dismiss an original 5,000 bpd estimate of the total leaking oil — often defended by BP executives — as ridiculously low and say it could be as high as 70,000 barrels (2.9 million gallons/11 million liters) per day or more.”There’s a huge amount of uncertainty around that number and it could have a fairly wide range,” Suttles said.A federal panel will release its estimate of the actual flow rate as early as next week, a Coast Guard official said.’HOT POTATO’-„It’s very clear that BP has not been telling the truth,” told CNN.BP denied any cover-up and said some third-party estimates of the leak were inaccurate. The company’s shares fell more than 4 percent in London. Michael Gordon, chief executive of Gordon Strategic Communications, a corporate and crisis public relations firm in New York, called BP’s handling of the spill „a case study in failed crisis communications.””It would not have been possible for them to handle this worse. They are not taking sufficient responsibility for what happened. They’ve played a game of ‘hot potato’ with the other companies involved,” he said, referring to BP’s public trading of blame with its partners in the drilling of the well. A month after the well blowout and rig explosion that unleashed the , sheets of rust-colored heavy oil are starting to clog fragile marshlands on the fringes of the Mississippi Delta, damaging fishing grounds and wildlife.Scientists fear parts of the huge fragmented surface slick will be sucked to the Florida Keys and Cuba by ocean currents.At a briefing in Mobile, Alabama, Coast Guard Incident Commander Captain Steven Poulin said an overflight of the on Thursday showed that while „minor portions of sheen” were in the Loop Current heading for the Florida Keys, there was „really no trail or elephant trunk” of oil extending down into the moving current flow.Markey said it was clear BP was only siphoning off „just a small fraction.””BP has mismanaged this entire incident from day one,” he said. „They should not be trusted.”BP representatives say the original leak estimate came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of its federal partners in the joint spill response.”I understand the frustration,” Suttles told CBS. „We’re supplying information.”LIABILITY ISSUE -„It’s obvious they are trying to limit information to protect their economic liability,” said Markey.In a sign of the Obama administration’s mounting anger and frustration, senior U.S. official have demanded BP share more data on the spill with them, accusing the company of falling short in keeping the government and public informed.BP said it was working with a newly created technical team to determine the escaping. It is also drilling a relief well to try to plug the leak but it probably would not be finished until August. The company says it has spent almost $700 million on the spill response. It has promised to pay legitimate damages claims and faces billions of dollars in expected costs for cleanup and damages.(Additional reporting by Anna Driver and Chris Baltimore in Houston, Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Tom Bergin in London; writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Ed Stoddard and Mohammad Zargham)
Canada plans new emission rules for heavy trucks By Allan Dowd REUTERS
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canada is on schedule for developing new emissions standards for heavy trucks, although the draft regulations will not be ready until later this year, the environment minister said on Friday.Canada and the United States both unveiled plans on Friday to set efficiency targets for heavy-duty vehicles ranging from large-sized pickup trucks to tractor trailers used in long-distance hauling.Ottawa expects to release this fall that will spell out the requirements for heavy-duty vehicles and engines, starting between the 2014 and 2018 model years, Environment Minister Jim Prentice told reporters.Officials said in April that Ottawa expected to release details of the proposed rules in late spring, but Prentice said the government was still on schedule with its plans to reduce vehicle emissions.”These are complicated regulations,” Prentice told reporters, adding later that they dealt with „heavy-duty vehicles that are at the very heart of our economy.” and other heavy-duty vehicles accounted for 6 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, Prentice said.He added that while the Canadian and U.S. rules would be harmonized they would not be identical, reflecting national differences, such the fact that Canadian transport trucks usually carry heavier loads.Environmentalists have accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government of lagging other countries in developing programs to fight climate change.”Again, it’s just rubber-stamping what the Americans are doing.”, said John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, adding that the rules were something Ottawa could have pursued two or three years ago.The Canadian Alliance said any new rules must reflect the impact on fuel efficiency caused by the differences in terrain and cargo that truckers across North America face.The alliance also wants the federal governments to address sometimes conflicting provincial and state rules on equipment that could increase fuel efficiency.”We interpret today’s announcement as opening the door for a meaningful dialogue on how we can move forward on this issue,” the trucking group said.WHITE HOUSE AND A TIRE STORE-There was a major style difference in how the two countries made their co-ordinated announcements on Friday.President Barack Obama made the U.S. announcement at the White House with representatives of the major truck and auto companies watching. Prentice made Canada’s announcement to reporters in front of a tire display at an autoparts store in Vancouver.Prentice said that while efforts to develop „continental” emission standards for North America now involved only Canada and United States, both counties expect Mexico to eventually become involved.”I think it is fair to say that we are further along in working together on a U.S.-Canada basis because we are so similar and our countries are at a similar state of development on the ,” he said.(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)