Archive for July 2012

Exclusive - Prosecutors, regulators close to making Libor arrests

Sunday, July 22, 2012 · Posted in

Exclusive - Prosecutors, regulators close to making Libor arrests
(Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors and European regulators are close to arresting individual traders and charging them with colluding to manipulate global benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with a sweeping investigation into the rate-rigging scandal.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., have recently contacted lawyers representing some of the individuals under suspicion to notify them that criminal charges and arrests could be imminent, said two of those sources who asked not to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.

Defense lawyers, some of whom represent individuals under suspicion, said prosecutors have indicated they plan to begin making arrests and filing criminal charges in the next few weeks. In long-running financial investigations it is not uncommon for prosecutors to contact defense lawyers for individuals before filing charges to offer them a chance to cooperate or take a plea, these lawyer said.

The prospect of charges and arrests of individuals means that prosecutors are getting a fuller picture of how traders at major banks allegedly sought to influence the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, and other global rates that underpin hundreds of trillions of dollars in assets. The criminal charges would come alongside efforts by regulators to punish major banks with fines, and could show that the alleged activity was not rampant in the banks.

"The individual criminal charges have no impact on the regulatory moves against the banks," said a European source familiar with the matter. "But banks are hoping that at least regulators will see that the scandal was mainly due to individual misbehavior of a gang of traders."

In Europe, financial regulators are focusing on a ring of traders from several European banks who allegedly sought to rig benchmark interest rates such as Libor, said the European source familiar with the investigation in Europe.

The source, who did not want to be identified because the investigation is ongoing, said regulators are checking through emails among a group of traders and believe they are now close to piecing together a picture of how they allegedly conspired to make money by manipulating the rates. The rates are set daily based on an average of estimates supplied by a panel of banks.

"More than a handful of traders at different banks are involved," said the source familiar with the investigation by European regulators.

There are also probes in Europe concerning Euribor, the Euro Interbank Offered Rate.

It is not clear what individuals and banks federal prosecutors are most focused on. A top U.S. Department of Justice lawyer overseeing the investigation did not respond to a request for a comment.

Reuters previously reported that more than a dozen current and former employees of several large banks are under investigation, including Barclays Plc, UBS and Citigroup, and have hired defense lawyers over the past year as a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., continues to gather evidence.

The activity in the Libor investigation, which has been going on for three years, has quickened since Barclays agreed last month to pay $453 million in fines and penalties to settle allegations with regulators and prosecutors that some of its employees tried to manipulate key interest rates from 2005 through 2009.

Barclays, which signed a non-prosecution agreement with U.S. prosecutors, is the first major bank to reach a settlement in the investigation, which also is looking at the activities of employees at HSBC, Deutsche Bank and other major banks.

The Barclays settlement sparked outrage and a series of public hearings in Britain, after which Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond announced his resignation from the big British bank.

The revelations have raised questions about the integrity of Libor, which is used as benchmark in setting prices for loans, mortgages and derivative contracts.

Adding to concerns are documents released by the New York Federal Reserve Bank this month that show bank regulators in the United States and England had some knowledge that bankers were submitting misleading Libor bids during the 2008 financial crisis to make their financial institutions appear stronger than they really were.

Among other details, the Fed documents included the transcript of an April 2008 phone call between a Barclays trader in New York and Fed official Fabiola Ravazzolo, in which the unidentified trader said: "So, we know that we're not posting um, an honest LIBOR."

The source familiar with the regulatory investigation in Europe said two traders who have been suspended from Deutsche Bank were among those being investigated. A Deutsche Bank spokesman declined to comment.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that regulators we're looking at suspected communication among four traders who had worked at Barclays, Credit Agricole, HSBC and Deutsche Bank.

Credit Agricole said it had not been accused of any wrongdoing related to the attempted manipulation of Libor by Barclays, but had responded to requests for information for various authorities related to the matter.

Beyond regulatory penalties and criminal charges, banks face a growing number of civil lawsuits from cities, companies and financial institutions claiming they were harmed by rate manipulation. Morgan Stanley recently estimated that the 11 global banks linked to the Libor scandal may face $14 billion in regulatory and legal settlement costs through 2014.

In the United States, the regulatory investigation is being led by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which has made the Libor probe one of its top priorities.

Rake shuns Barclays chairman role: sources

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Rake shuns Barclays chairman role: sources
LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Rake, deputy chairman of Barclays Plc (BARC.L), has ruled himself out of contention to be its new chairman, striking a blow to the UK bank as it hunts for new leadership to steer it through its interest rate-rigging scandal.

Rake, who was considered favorite for the job, is not interested in the role, three people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

The next Barclays chairman faces a stiff challenge. The bank was fined $450 million three weeks ago for manipulating Libor interest rates, and the scandal has unearthed deep problems in its relations with regulators, who have accused the bank of frequently being too aggressive.

The job will also attract intense scrutiny -- and possibly interference -- from UK authorities, who have been criticized for not doing more earlier to rein the bank in.

Rake would have been forced to give up his chairmanship roles at telecoms firm BT Group (BT) and budget airline easyJet (EZJ.L) to take the job.

He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Marcus Agius, chairman for 5-1/2 years, will step down once a replacement is found.

Barclays is also searching for a chief executive. Bob Diamond, who was CEO from the start of 2011, quit with immediate effect a week after the Libor settlement, following a political and public backlash. When he left, Agius took on the top executive responsibilities.

The fallout from the scandal is expected to overshadow the bank's half-year results on Friday, which should show it made an underlying profit of 3.8 billion pounds ($5.94 billion), according to the average of analysts polled by the bank.

Rich Ricci, head of Barclays' investment banks, is not interested in being chief executive, a person familiar with him said. He was not seen as a likely replacement for Diamond anyway, as he had been his key lieutenant for many years.

Barclays is expected to look for external candidates to fill both roles.

Headhunter Spencer Stuart is helping Agius in the search for a CEO and Ana Mann's MW is helping John Sunderland, a non-executive director at the bank, run the chairman search.

CEO candidates include former Barclays finance director and a current advisor Naguib Kheraj; Antony Jenkins, head of its retail business; and Bill Winters, former co-head of J.P.Morgan's (JPM) investment bank.

Candidates for chairman include former top civil servant Gus O'Donnell and Glen Moreno, the former Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) deputy chairman who runs Pearson, the Sunday Times reported.

Anthony Sal, a veteran city lawyer, is expected to be picked this week to lead an investigation into the Libor scandal that the bank has pledged to conduct as it seeks to rebuild its reputation.

(Reporting by Steve Slater, Kate Holton and Rhys Jones; Editing by Mike Nesbit)

Green fleet upstarts make conventional Washington moves

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Green fleet upstarts make conventional Washington moves

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two companies involved on the ground level of an expensive Pentagon effort to embrace biofuels have used familiar strategies in building their profiles in Washington, using hefty campaign contributions and aggressive lobbying to secure support.

One company, Solazyme Inc, a subcontractor on a $12 million alternative fuels contract from the Navy, also has raised its Washington profile by hiring as strategic advisers former senior Clinton administration officials with close ties to the Pentagon or Department of Energy, according to corporate records.

Solazyme and Gevo Inc, a Colorado company that won a small Air Force biofuels contract, are on the cutting edge of a $510 million Pentagon effort to switch to biofuels to curb reliance on foreign oil. But the high per-gallon cost of the biofuels has spurred controversy on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans have branded the program as wasteful and raised questions about political ties.

The Navy is paying $26 a gallon for the fuel it is using to test its "green fleet" concept. The prime contractor is Dynamic Fuels, a Louisiana-based company that is a joint venture of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods and Oklahoma-based Syntroleum Corp. Solazyme, which makes its biofuel from algae, is a subcontractor. Dynamic Fuels makes some of it fuel from animal fats.

The Air Force is paying Gevo $59 per gallon. Gevo makes its fuel by converting sugar into isobutanol.

Proponents of the program - as well as the Pentagon - argue that costs per gallon will dramatically drop after production ramps up and will eventually be competitive with fossil fuels.

Even as the biofuel companies work to build revenues in an emerging field, their investors and employees have worked the political system, campaign finance records show. Investors, officers and employees at Solazyme and Gevo have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns in recent years, primarily to Democrats.

Both companies have relied on extensive lobbying to help them win modest contracts.

Solazyme relies on in-house lobbyist Drew Littman, a former staffer to Democratic Senators Al Franken of Minnesota and Barbara Boxer of California. This year, it also hired McBee Strategic Consulting L.L.C., which represented Solyndra, the solar panel maker that went bankrupt after receiving more than $500 million in federal loans.

Solazyme also solicits strategic advice from two prominent Clinton administration officials - former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has served in other administrations as well, and former Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier.

Glauthier also served for five years in the Clinton White House at the Office of Management and Budget. He was on President Barack Obama's transition staff and worked on the energy portion of the stimulus bill.

"I had no contact with any agencies or others in the administration about Solazyme's bids or contracts for biofuels," Glauthier told Reuters.

Jonathan Wolfson, chief executive officer of Solazyme, said the company needs a strong Washington presence to counter the entrenched interests of rivals, including the oil industry. Shareholders of the publicly traded company deserve to know about legislative and administrative developments in Washington that might affect biofuels, Wolfson said.

Biofuels lobbying pales in comparison to the lobbying budgets of the oil and gas industries, he said.

Wolfson said campaign contributions by people associated with Solazyme had nothing to do with the company's Washington agenda. Most came from one person - board chairman Jerry Fiddler, who has given $358,000, mostly to Democrats. Fiddler, long active in Democratic politics, made his fortune selling his software company to Intel.

"Jerry's political donations are Jerry's private, personal business," said Wolfson. "I can absolutely guarantee you there are not discussions with management or with the board about what Jerry does with respect to his political donations. The fact that Jerry donated a lot of money is accurate. The fact that T.J. (Glauthier) had a relationship in DoE (Department of Energy) is accurate. But people are drawing lines to things that are not reality."

Fiddler could not be reached for comment.

Gevo spent $360,000 over three years for the services of Green Capitol LLC, according to lobbying records. The principals of the firm are a former Capitol Hill aide who worked on energy programs and a former official of the Air Transport Association, the major airlines' trade organization, who pushed the Air Force to experiment with biofuels.

Gevo's Air Force contract was worth $639,000.

A key Gevo investor is venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems and has given $474,000 in campaign contributions since 1996, mostly to Democrats, according to a Reuters' compilation of campaign finance data on

Khosla told Reuters through a spokesman that he had no knowledge of the Air Force contract and declined further comment.

Of the companies helping provide biofuels to the Navy and Air Force, Tyson Foods has by far the highest profile in Washington.

Its political action committee has given $1.9 million in contributions since 1990 to candidates of both parties. Its president, John Tyson, has made $225,000 in contributions to both parties in the past six years. The company has spent $10.7 million on lobbying in the past five years, according to

Formed in 2005, Gevo seeks to retrofit ethanol plants to make isobutanol, which is more powerful and less damaging than ethanol to the machines that burn it, including cars. Gevo reported revenues of $64 million in 2011.

Solazyme, founded in 2004, creates oil from microalgae grown in fermentation tanks. Solazyme reported $39 million in revenues in 2011.

(Reporting by Marcus Stern; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson; Desking by Vicki Allen)

Rupert Murdoch quits boards of British papers

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Rupert Murdoch quits boards of British papers
LONDON - News Corp's Rupert Murdoch has stepped down from a string of boards overseeing the Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapers in Britain, the company said in an internal memo on Saturday.

The company described the news as a "corporate housecleaning exercise" linked to the announcement in June that News Corp would split into two separate companies: a smaller publishing division and a much larger entertainment and TV group.

But the news is also likely to reignite speculation that News Corp could be preparing to sell the titles, following a phone hacking scandal at the now defunct mass-circulation News of the World that has damaged Murdoch's reputation in Britain.

The revelations of sustained criminality prompted an influential parliamentary committee in May to describe Murdoch as unfit to run a major company.

James Murdoch, who was chairman of the British newspaper arm News International when the revelations emerged, has already quit the British newspapers and moved to the United States.

"Last week, Mr. Murdoch stepped down from a number of boards, many of them small subsidiary boards, both in the UK and U.S. This is nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise prior to the company split," a spokeswoman said.

As part of the plan, the $53 billion media conglomerate will be split into two publicly traded companies, with the Murdoch family retaining control of both.

"I wanted to let you know that Rupert Murdoch has resigned as director of a number of companies, including NI Group Limited, known to most of you as News International, and Times Newspapers Holdings Limited," Tom Mockridge, the head of News International, said in the email, seen by Reuters.

"As you may be aware, Rupert resigned from a number of UK boards, including News Group Newspapers and Times Newspapers Limited, some time ago. He has also stepped down from more than a dozen boards of companies with interests in the U.S., Australia and India."

Mockridge said Murdoch remained fully committed to the business as chairman of what would become the largest newspaper and digital publishing group in the world.

Speculation had risen in the last year that News Corp could seek to sell the British papers, following pressure from shareholders over a scandal that also forced the group to cancel its planned acquisition of the whole of the lucrative pay-TV group BSkyB, which would have been the biggest deal in News Corp's history.

The announcement in June to split the business was seen as a clear signal that the group was distancing itself from its newspaper roots.

Super rich hold $32 trillion in offshore havens

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Super rich hold $32 trillion in offshore havens
Rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280 billion in lost income tax revenues, according to research published on Sunday.

The study estimating the extent of global private financial wealth held in offshore accounts - excluding non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and racehorses - puts the sum at between $21 and $32 trillion.

The research was carried out for pressure group Tax Justice Network, which campaigns against tax havens, by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.

He used data from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and central banks.

The report also highlights the impact on the balance sheets of 139 developing countries of money held in tax havens by private elites, putting wealth beyond the reach of local tax authorities.

The research estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of these 139 countries had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of "unrecorded offshore wealth" by 2010.

Private wealth held offshore represents "a huge black hole in the world economy," Henry said in a statement.

(Reporting by Chris Vellacott)

European Investment Bank agrees to fund Greek firms

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European Investment Bank agrees to fund Greek firms
The European Investment Bank (EIB) will provide 1.44 billion euros ($1.75 billion) in loans to struggling Greek firms, providing a stimulus to the debt-laden country's ailing economy, Greece's finance ministry said on Saturday.

With Greek banks dependent on ECB cash to survive and reluctant to finance any but the biggest companies, Athens and the European Union have been pushing the EIB, the EU's long-term investment arm, to step into the breach.

But the EIB hesitated for months, worried about getting too exposed to Greece -- which has not yet escaped the risk of a chaotic default that might force it to abandon the euro. EIB financing for Greek projects had dried up to a mere 10 million euros this year, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters after meeting EIB chief Werner Hoyer.

"The EIB will re-activate its engagement in Greece as soon as possible," Stournaras said. "It seems there can also be good news in this country," said Greek Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis who also took part in the meeting.

Athens is desperately looking for ways to kick-start its stricken economy, now in its fifth year of recession. Austerity measures associated with two EU/IMF-led bailouts over the past two years have plunged the economy into its longest and deepest slump since World War Two.

Gross domestic product shrank by a postwar record 6.9 percent last year, with investment slumping by about 20 percent. The economy is expected to contract by a fifth in 2008-2012.

The EIB will disburse the loans over the next three years to small and medium-sized enterprises, using Greek banks as intermediaries. The EIB will also help Greece push ahead with road construction, foreign investment and privatization projects, Hatzidakis said without giving details.

The EIB gets top-notch terms when it taps capital markets to raise funds thanks to its triple-A rating. In recent years, it has provided more than 700 million euros in financing to large Greek energy companies.

As a way to help boost Greek growth, the European Union has already increased its share of financing in certain EU co-financed projects. It has also said it would help Athens cut red tape to make more efficient use of EU funds earmarked for it.

Greece is entitled to a total 20 billion euros in so-called EU structural funds for the period 2007-2013. But it has only used about 8 billion euros so far -- partly because of red tape and partly because it could not provide adequate funds to match EU grants for certain projects.

After Colorado Massacre, Reassessing Public Safety

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After Colorado Massacre, Reassessing Public Safety
The massacre at the Century 16 Movie Theaters in Aurora, Colo., early this morning has business owners and patrons asking what more can be done to improve security at public gathering places.

“I don’t know if you could ever really avoid this,” said Geoffrey Kohl, conference director for secured cities, a national conference on urban cities. “If you could throw all the security measures at it, you could likely minimize it.” But there’s only so much that can be done.

“If you went through those drastic measures -pat downs and metal detectors – it would not be an enjoyable experience and you’d also be putting a cost on theaters that they may not have the profit to bear,” he added.

Cinemark, which owns the theater in Colorado, has 459 theaters in the United States and Latin America, according to its corporate page. The company is the third-largest chain in the U.S. with 298 theaters and 3,895 screens in 39 states.

Cinemark did not immediately return our request for comment on security measures. In a statement, the company said: “Cinemark is deeply saddened about this tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees, and the Aurora community. We are grateful for the quick and professional reaction of all local law enforcement and emergency responders. Cinemark is working closely with the Aurora Police Department and local law enforcement as more facts develop.”

Founded in 1984, the Plano, Texas-based chain operates under Century Theatres, CineArts, and Tinseltown.

Initial reports were that the Colorado gunman bought a ticket, went in and sat down with the crowd. About 30 minutes in, he exited the cinema to the parking lot though an emergency exit then returned through the same door heavily-armed and opened fire.

A spokesperson for National Association of Theatre Owners said, “”We are grateful for the quick and effective response by police and emergency personnel. Guest safety is, and will continue to be a priority for theater owners. NATO members are working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures.”

Theaters in New York City and Washington, D.C. reported they are beefing up security for movies showings in the wake of the shootings. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement that the decision was ”a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons.”

Carlo Petrick, a spokesman for Marcus Theatres, which has 600 U.S. screens, told Time in a statement: ”These senseless, random acts of violence, by disturbed individuals, can happen anywhere, but have never occurred in a U.S. movie theater in its 110-year history. Safety and security of our guests and associates is always a priority concern. We will take appropriate measures to have our security precautions in place today and every day. All showings of ‘Dark Knight’ and all other motion pictures at all Marcus Theaters will go on as scheduled.”

The Colorado theater is the just latest business impacted by violence on patrons.

About 11 days ago, a gunman wounded five people after opening fire in the parking lot of Oakland’s Jack London Square at the Regal Cinemas in California. Since the shooting, its business as usual at the multiplex, with “The Dark Knight Rises” expected to play at 11:40 a.m., according to Fandango.

In Seattle, a gunman opened fired at Cafe Racer Expresso in Seattle, killing five people two months ago. While the doors of the Cafe closed for seven weeks, an unnamed worker told ABC News today, “our community rebuilt the cafe.” While the doors were shuttered, numerous fundraising efforts were held to to help the victims of the shooting, including Cafe Racer Lover.

Kohl says theater and concert venue owners need to step up their vigilance. ”I think you have to have your staff start to identify people coming in. Maybe when you’re trying to identify people bringing in extra food, you’re scanning your customers as they come in to keep them from bringing that [weapons] in. Is there a bulk on this person that might be concealing? You have to start with your employees. Bringing them into a security awareness,” said Kohl.

Staff must be trained to react in case there’s a threat. “Questions you should ask if there is danger: Do you evacuate? Do you shelter in place. Do you turn the lights on? Do you dim the lights? What do you do with your staff? Your staff are trained in collecting tickets, making popcorn but they’re not trained as security. How do you train them in assisting guests? Bring in a professional security consultant and start to consider those,” Kohl advised.

But, ultimately violent acts by people intent on doing as much damage as they can and with easy access to firearms is unavoidable.

“This is a rare occurrence and I’d like to think this would stay a rare occurrence,” said Kohl.

Telcos get into annual Ramadhan rat race

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Telcos get into annual Ramadhan rat race
Competition is heating up among telecommunication operators in Indonesia, as each firm eyes higher profits and new customers by launching ambitious Ramadhan and Idul Fitri holiday packages. However, with an already saturated market, the competition might just become unhealthy, an expert said.

This year, celebrating Ramadhan and Idul Fitri, PT XL Axiata introduced a special offer called “Xensasi Ramadan” (Ramadhan Sensation). It offers affordable calls, with some free perks to its prepaid and postpaid customers. Customers will also be able to enjoy Islamic-themed mobile content and services aimed at Idul Fitri holiday travelers.

XL did not set up a specific target for new customers, but had prepared 4 million new cards under the Xensasi Ramadhan program, XL spokesman Henry Wijayanto said on Friday. “We hope the new customers will continue using our products after Idul Fitri,” he said.

Indonesia’s second-largest telecommunication operator, PT Indosat, recently launched the “Ramadhan Makin Penuh Berkah” (Ramadhan Full of Bliss) campaign, which boasts a variety of free services and Islamic-themed content. As part of the program, “Gratis 3 Hari 3 Malam ++”, enables Indosat’s prepaid customers to make phone calls, send text messages and use internet services for free for three consecutive days just by reloading their cards.

Indosat product development and management group head Sumantri Joko Yuwono said the company had upgraded its capacity to handle expected surges. “Now we can handle 924 million minutes of voice calls and 1.4 billion text messages per day following the upgrades,” he said.

PT Telekomunikasi Seluler (Telkomsel), Indonesia’s biggest operator, also has its special Ramadhan programs in store. Some of the services offered include mobile sermons, Islamic ringtones and free Internet during sahur (the pre-dawn meal in Ramadhan).

Telecommunication operators have to present their best promotions to win this tight competition, PT Indosurya Asset Management analyst Reza Priambada said.

In March, the Indonesian Cellular Telecommunication Association (ATSI) said the country’s telecommunication industry had reached a saturation point, with penetration of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards standing at 250 million numbers in a country of about 240 million people.

The 2011 data of TeleGeography, a US-based telecommunications market research and consulting firm, shows that Telkomsel dominated the Indonesian telecommunications market with 43 percent, followed by Indosat and XL Axiata with 21 and 19 percent respectively.

Reza said most operators expected a 5 to 10 percent increase in terms of new customers during Ramadhan, but it would be difficult because these companies were basically offering the same products and targeting the same market. “They really have to struggle to win this tight competition,” he said. This trend, he added, would repeat in the next holiday seasons. (tas)

US police: 12 dead in Colorado theater shooting

Friday, July 20, 2012 · Posted in

US police: 12 dead in Colorado theater shooting
A gunman opened fire early Friday at a movie theater in a Denver suburb, killing 12 people and leaving at least 50 others injured, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said.

The shooting occurred during a showing of the latest Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises," police said.

The violence erupted about 12:30 a.m. MDT as the gunman stood at the front of one of the Century 16 theaters at the Aurora Mall.

"Witnesses tell us he released some sort of canister. They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire," Oates said at a news conference.

One suspect is in custody and there's no evidence of any additional shooters, Oates said.

There was no immediate word of any motive.

Witness Hayden Miller told KUSA-TV that he was inside Theater 16 and heard several shots.

"Like little explosions going on and shortly after that we heard people screaming," he told the station.

Hayden said at first he thought it was part of a louder movie next door. But then he saw "people hunched over leaving theater."

Two people in critical condition were rushed to the nearby Swedish Medical Center, spokeswoman Nicole Williams said.

She said emergency crews told her staff to prepare for several more patients from the shooting scene.

"We're on standby to receive," she said.

Aurora is located on the southeast outskirts of Denver, about 10 miles from downtown.

SBY warns ministers on corruption

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SBY warns ministers on corruption
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told members of his Cabinet on Thursday not to ignore any form of budget misuse in their respective institutions amid the growing number of corruption cases involving state officials and politicians.

“If you are aware that your subordinates have misappropriated or misused the state budget, in connivance with politician culprits, but do nothing to stop or prevent it, you must share the guilt,” the President told a Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Office.

“Such actions are conspiracy. I have credible information but I want to leave it for the law enforcement bodies, especially the KPK to handle” Yudhoyono added.

Yudhoyono said that “I am serious. I know many things although only little has been said. I am tightlipped to avoid unnecessary political effects. I know that some House of Representatives members attempted to conspire with state officials to play around with state budget,” he said.

The KPK has investigated several corruption cases involving Yudhoyono’s ministers.

The alleged corruption surrounding the construction of the Rp 2.5 trillion (US$265 million) Hambalang sports complex in West Java and the bribery linked to the procurement of Koran are just a couple of the cases.

The Hambalang is a project by the Youth and Sport Ministry under the leadership of minister Andi Mallarangeng of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, while the Koran procurement is found in the Religious Affairs Ministry led by United Development Party’s (PPP) Suryadharma Ali.

“Much corruption has been uncovered by law enforcement agencies, one by one. I am very happy with this result, no matter from which party the suspects are from,” the President said. (lfr)

Nation to be ‘free of porn’ for Ramadhan

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Nation to be ‘free of porn’ for Ramadhan
The government will crack down — again — on pornographic websites to support the nation’s Muslims when Ramadhan starts on Friday, a minister has said.

“As this is the Ramadhan fasting month, we need to strengthen our efforts,” Communications and
Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring told reporters at a press conference at the ministry on Wednesday.

Tifatul, known for his antics such as claiming he was “forced” to shake the hand of US First Lady Michelle Obama during a visit to Jakarta, said that the crackdown would focus on local Internet service providers (ISP).

The minister, a politician from the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said that officials would remain vigilant in their work to limit access to pornography in Indonesia, fasting month or not.

“During our tests, we found a small number of sites that had previously not been detected. In general, we have shut down most of them. We will also be on high alert beyond the end of the Ramadhan fasting month,” Tifatul said.

The Communications and Information Ministry previously reported that more than 2 million porn sites could be accessed inside Indonesia and that 1 million sites, most of which were run by overseas providers, had been blocked on orders from the ministry as of early this month.

Twelve major local ISPs each reported 2.5 million attempts to access sites with pornographic content every month, according to the ministry, which claimed it had also received “100 million” public complaints on Internet pornography.

The number of complaints received by the ministry was up from the 835 complaints it reported receiving in 2011.

According to a report released by Google in February, Indonesia had the third-largest number of Internet users looking for pornography online, behind China and Turkey.

The ministry said that pornography topped its list of “negative” online content, along with illegally shared songs of Indonesian artists, gambling, bogus investment schemes and drug sales.

Tifatul’s statements follow President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s creation of the Anti-Pornography Task Force in May, which was required to implement the 2008 Pornography Law.

Last week, the government set up a joint ministerial team to step up efforts to stop online gambling.

The director general for informatics applications at the ministry, Ashwin Sasongko, said that the public had an important role to play in the anti-pornography campaign, given the ministry’s limited resources.

“We urge people to restrain themselves from trying to access any of those porn sites, because no matter what, they will always be available,” Ashwin said.

Ashwin said that the crackdown was launched for the benefit of Muslims, who were expected to refrain from sexual intercourse during daylight hours during Ramadhan, among other things.

“We are responsible for protecting the younger generation from consuming destructive pornographic content on the internet,” Ashwin said.

“This is really important especially ahead of Ramadhan. We hope that Muslims can fast peacefully,” Ashwin added.

The story so far

Oct. 2008
House endorses Pornography Law.

July 2010
Communications and Information Technology Ministry starts blocking porn websites and orders local ISPs to assist nine days later.

Jan. 2011
Minister Tifatul Sembiring sets deadline for Research in Motion (RIM) to ban local users from accessing pornography using the Canadian firm’s BlackBerry smartphones.

Feb. 2012
Ministry says it has blocked nearly 1 million pornographic websites.

March 2012

President sets up Anti-Pornography Task Force.

World's Narrowest Street Endangered

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World's Narrowest Street Endangered
The small, German town of Reutlingen boasts the narrowest street in the world, with a width of just 31 centimeters, and tourists come from far and wide to scrape through it. But the record is at risk because a side wall is bulging out into the passageway. Soon, it may cease to be a street. Locals are concerned.

New York has Broadway. Paris, the Champs- Elysées. And Reutlingen? The provincial town in south-western Germany has Spreuerhofstrasse. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the street as the narrowest in the world, with a width of just 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) -- or approximately the width of a standard PC monitor.

Reutlingen, in the heart of the region of Swabia, has held the record since 2007. "The Swabians are known for their modesty, so this is a typically Swabian record," said Tanja Ulmer, head of the city's tourism office. "It's is Reutlingen's smallest attraction, but a very important one."

There's not much to see in Spreuerhofstrasse. After all, the street is just 3.80 meters (12.5 feet) long. And it isn't particularly pretty. One has to squeeze past blank walls, and when it's raining, water drips from the gutter of an old half-timbered house on one side. But tourists from Asia and America flock to inspect the alley, adorned at each end with the sign "Narrowest street in the world" in German and English.

The city owes its record to a devastating fire and a city official who was either unfamiliar with his town or extremely slim. The blaze tore through the city in 1726, prompting the authorities to rule that buildings should have gaps between them to stop fires from spreading too quickly. Then, in 1820, a town hall administrator decided to elevate the status of this particular gap to that of a full-fledged public street.

Attraction at Risk

So far, so good. But Reutlingen now faces a dilemma that could cost it its global status. The wall of the near-derelict half-timbered house is starting to bulge outwards because water has seeped into the ancient beams.

Technically, that is making the street even narrower, so one might think that Reutlingen's world record is becoming even more secure. But if it goes on, the street will become so narrow that humans will no longer be able to use it.

"A street is no longer a street if no one can get through it. Then the fun would be over," said Ulmer. And Reutlingen would lose its record.

If the house is torn down, on the other hand, the street will become too wide. The answer is to shore up the building, but so far no one, including the owner, is ready to foot the bill. Building inspectors are to assess the cost of refurbishing the house.

Time is running out. "If nothing happens, the alley will have to be closed -- in 2013 at the latest because it won't stand more than one more winter," warns local tour guide Eugen Wendler, 73.

Everyone knows that something's got to happen. After all, what would the world think of a city that can't hold on to even such a small record?

Mass Shooting at Colo. Movie Theater, 12 People Dead

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Mass Shooting at Colo. Movie Theater, 14 People Dead
A shooting at a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., early today has left at least 12 people dead and at least 50 people injured, authorities confirmed.

Police now have now apprehended a 24-year-old male and recovered a gun after the shooting at approximately 12:30 a.m. at the Century 16 Movie Theaters at the Aurora Town Center in the Denver suburb.

Witnesses said that the man appeared at the front of the theater with a rifle, handgun and gas mask. The man then threw a canister that released some kind of gas, after which a hissing sound ensued, and he then opened fire on the crowd packed into the early-morning screening of the film, according to people in the theater at the time.

"They got up and they started to run through the emergency exit, she said that when she turned around, all she saw was the guy slowly making his way up the stairs and just firing at people, just picking random people," a man talked to a couple who was inside the theater told ABC News.

Of the six victims were taken to Children's Hospital in Aurora, the youngest was 6 years old.

"The gunshot continues to go on and on and then after we didn't hear anything we finally got up and there was people bleeding, there was people obviously may have been actually dead or anything, and we just ran up out of there, there was chaos everywhere," he said.

"We were maybe 20 or 30 minutes into the movie and all you hear, first you smell smoke, everybody thought it was fireworks or something like that, and then you just see people dropping and the gunshots are constant," witness Christ Jones told ABC News Denver affiliate KMGH. "I heard at least 20 to 30 rounds within that minute or two."

Patrons in the theater where the shooting took place, along with those in an adjacent theater also viewing the action-packed movie, were unsure of what was happening at the time. Jack, who was in the adjacent theater with his son, said that the commotion began as one of the action scenes was starting up.

"These guys came through, and they say someone's shooting," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, they must have heard the fireworks, you know ... I had no idea. And then the alarms started to go off in the theater.'"

An explosive device was also found inside the movie house. Police are not sure whether the device, which investigators are calling a bomb, was already in place or whether it was thrown into the crowd.

Ambulances rushed to the scene as audience members fled the theater. Aurora's police chief said that he could not elaborate on women or children injured or dead in the shooting.

Once apprehended the gunman told authorities that there were explosives in his North Aurora, Colo., residence. Investigators rushed to the apartment complex, which was quickly evacuated and is now under lockdown.

Investigators confirmed that explosives were found. It is unclear if they were scheduled to detonate or if it was part of a stockpile.

Though police have said that they believe the shooter was acting alone, they are now taking precautions and checking all cars in the parking lot and clearing near the theater.

A senior official who is monitoring the situation in Washington said that early guidance based on the early snapshot of this man's background indicated that this does not appear to be linked to radical terrorism or anything related to Islamic terrorism.

Investigators are now interviewing friends and associates of the suspect to get a sense of the man's background.

UN study foresees job gains with greener policies

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UN study foresees job gains with greener policies
The U.N. agencies for labor and environment say nations can achieve a net gain of 15 million to 60 million jobs over the next two decades by taking better care of the planet.

A study released Thursday by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization and Environment Program says some jobs would inevitably be lost by switching to a "greener" economy, but net gains of 0.5 percent to 2 percent of total global employment are possible mainly through more renewable and efficient energy use, particularly in construction.

Most of the net employment gains are expected in agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy, manufacturing, recycling, building and transportation.

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said the study — meant to influence international policy-makers — shows "we don't have to choose between protecting the environment and creating jobs."

4 ASEAN nations ready for economic integration

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4 ASEAN nations ready for economic integration
Representatives from four ASEAN nations - Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia - vowed that rules and regulations are being improved to embrace an investment flow in light of the activation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

At the Krungthep Turakij seminar on "AEC Plus: Your Business sto the New Frontier" yesterday, the representatives said that they welcome investment from neighboring countries should these benefit local workers and be friendly to the environment.

Ros Sao, Commercial Counselor, Royal Embassy of Cambodia, said at the seminar that his country is ready for the AEC, through a series of training courses to prepare its people for the integration. He said that the legal framework and infrastructure has been improved, and Cambodia stands ready to answer all questions from its neighbors.

Ade Veronica Christie, Third Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Bangkok, noted that her country is not 100 per cent ready for the integration, but Indonesia has done its best to ensure that investors and Indonesian people would gain equal benefits from greater investment.

Indonesia has amended the tax code, lowering levy on some types of investment to zero per cent. An online one-stop service centre is prepared to facilitate applications and reduce complication and fees.

The government has also identified areas for particular investment, like the Sumatras for energy resources and Java for industrial manufacturing.

Indonesia has abundant natural resources, but labor wage is lower than that of some countries in ASEAN. With the economic growth rate of 6 per cent per annum, Indonesia is in the position to draw more investment and that encourages the country to prepare for the integration, she added.

New iPad goes on sale in China after suit settled

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New iPad goes on sale in China after suit settled
Apple released its newest iPad in China on Friday after settling a lawsuit over ownership of its name and requiring buyers to place orders in advance to control crowds.

Watched by security guards, a few dozen shoppers waited outside stores in Beijing and Shanghai, which opened on time at 8 a.m. That was in contrast to the chaotic scene outside Apple's main Beijing store in January, when some customers who wanted to buy a new iPhone shouted and threw eggs after managers delayed the opening due to safety concerns about the hundreds of people waiting.

Sun Xufei, a 32-year-old computer technician who was the first customer in line in Shanghai, said he had put off buying an iPad so Apple had time to develop "a perfect one." The 30 customers in line when the store opened were outnumbered by the reporters watching them.

"I am very surprised to see there is nobody here waiting," Sun said.

Apple Inc. cleared a potential legal hurdle to the release when it paid $60 million this month to settle a dispute with a local company, Shenzhen Proview Technology Ltd., over ownership of the iPad name. Apple said it bought global rights to the iPad name from Proview in 2009 but Chinese authorities say the rights in China were never transferred.

China is Apple's second-largest market after the United States and the source of much of the Cupertino, California-based company's sales growth.

Qu Hongyu, a 20-year-old university student in Shanghai, expressed frustration that Apple waited four months after the new iPad debuted abroad to release it in China.

Qu said she could have asked a friend abroad to send her one, "but I think it's better to get the product here, because I don't want to owe somebody a favor."

Asia stocks waver as data keeps sentiment in check

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Asia stocks waver as data keeps sentiment in check
Asian stock markets wavered Friday as weak U.S. data kept sentiment in check despite continued hopes for new stimulus measures in major economies.

Investors have been anticipating further moves by China to prop up slowing economic growth and also have continued to believe the U.S. Federal Reserve will announce additional pro-growth measures despite Fed chairman Ben Bernanke giving no indication of that in his two-day testimony to lawmakers this week.

The mood of optimism in markets the past few days linked to stimulus hopes was tempered by a batch of weak economic U.S. data. Weekly jobless claims rose 34,000 to a three-week high of 386,000 and an indicator of regional manufacturing was much weaker than anticipated. Homes sales and leading economic indicators were also soft.

"The outlook ... is clouded by uncertainty surrounding the Chinese and US economies, in addition to lingering risk of a blowout in Europe," analysts at DBS Bank in Singapore said in a report. "Growth in China has been especially critical in driving growth in Asia, and even global growth."

Japan's Nikkei 225 was down 0.9 percent at 8,717.60 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 19,602.21.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was little changed at 4,206.10 and China's Shanghai Composite dropped 0.4 percent to 2,175.75.

Markets in Singapore, India and New Zealand were down while Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines rose.

In the U.S. on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent to 12,943.36 and the broader S&P 500 index gained 0.3 percent to 1,376.51 as strong corporate earnings buoyed investors.

Benchmark oil was down 53 cents at $92.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract surged $2.79, about 3 percent, to $92.66 in New York on Thursday, its highest level since mid-May.

In currencies, the euro was down 0.1 percent to $1.2260. The dollar fell 0.2 percent to 78.62 yen.

Three-year-old is the world's tiniest girl at just 1 1/2 foot tall. . . and she'll never grow any bigger

Thursday, July 19, 2012 · Posted in

Three-year-old is the world's tiniest girl at just 1 1/2 foot tall. . . and she'll never grow any bigger
With a cheeky smile and playful nature, little Liang Xiaoxiao acts just like any other child.

As she plays with other toddlers and kicks around a football, she doesn't have a care in the world.

However, the three-year-old's size compared to the other children she plays with clearly shows that all is not well.

It is believed the youngster is the world's tiniest girl.

She was born with a weight of 1.05kg and a height of just 33cm. But three years on she is only 54 cm tall and weights just 2.5kg.

Doctors in Huaihua, China, believe that a genetic mutation has stopped the youngster from getting any bigger.

But as these pictures show, it clearly hasn't dented the love of her mother who proudly watches her child play at the Children's Hospital of Hunan Province in Changsha, China.

This week one of the world's smallest surviving babies was finally allowed home.

Born weighing just 9.5 ounces, smaller than a can of soda, Kenna Claire Moore is recorded as the fourth-smallest surviving baby in the world.

After spending the first six months of her life in intensive care, when she finally left Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S, on Tuesday, it was no ordinary discharge.

Born at only 25 weeks - a typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks - doctors were not sure how long little Kenna would survive, but after 183 days of fighting for her life, parents Nicki and Sam Moore finally got to take her home in what they said was 'the happiest day of our life'.

Three-year-old is the world's tiniest girl at just 1 1/2 foot tall. . . and she'll never grow any bigger

I look like I'm 45 - but I'm only 15: Zara on her family's battle with rare ageing disease

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 · Posted in

I look like I'm 45 - but I'm only 15: Zara on her family's battle with rare ageing disease
Her teeth are falling out and she’s had collagen injections for her wrinkles – but Zara Hartshorn is no middle-aged woman trying to recapture her youth.

In fact, she’s only 15 with a rare and incurable disease that makes her look decades older than her school pals.

The genetic defect affects fewer than 30 people in Britain – but heartbreakingly her mum Tracey and sister Jolene, 23, have it too.

Yet despite getting plenty of support at home, Zara has faced years of bullies branding her “granny” and even beating her up.

She’s been humiliatingly turfed off a bus because she couldn’t prove she was eligible for a child’s ticket.

And when she started at one school she was mistaken for a teacher.

Now Zara has chosen to speak out in a bid to defy the bullies and raise ­awareness of her condition.

She said: “It makes me really angry sometimes – but I do everything normal 15-year-olds do and try not to let it get me down.”

Zara, Jolene and Tracey, 41, have lipodystrophy, which decays bones and destroys fatty tissue beneath the surface of the skin, causing premature ageing.

So while many girls use make-up to appear older to get into pubs or 18-rated films, Zara has the opposite problem.

She said: “It’s impossible to get a child’s ticket at the cinema and when I wear my school uniform people think I’m in fancy dress.

“Growing up with lipodystrophy has been really hard.

“Children started being cruel to me when I was at primary school, calling me ‘baggy face’ and ‘granny’.

“I’ve been physically assaulted at school because of how I look so Mum took me out of school for a term when I was 10 after the bullying got so bad.

“It wasn’t until secondary school I found a group of friends who accepted me for who I was, not how I looked.”

But outside school many people refuse to believe she’s so young.

Zara said: “I was once refused a child’s bus ticket in front of everyone. I went red, got off and walked home. In my first week at one school the teacher handed me a lesson plan. I said, ‘I’m not a teacher, I’m a pupil.’

“I’ve never felt so on the spot in my life – I just wanted to die.

“The same thing happened a year later when I changed teachers.”

Zara went on: “My teeth seem to be really weak and even though I brush regularly I’ve lost four already.

“Two are at the front, which makes me very self-conscious and I don’t like to smile with my mouth open.”

In 2010 Zara went to Japan to have collagen injections in her face from a world expert on lipodystrophy.

Initially the jabs smoothed wrinkles but the implant later broke down.

Zara said: “I was really excited about having collagen because I thought it might change my appearance, so I was gutted when it went wrong.

“In the future I’d like a facelift to see if I can get rid of the skin under my chin and wrinkles around my eyes.”

But despite the ravages of her condition, Zara dreams of being a beauty therapist when she leaves school.

And she already knows a thing or two about keeping skin clear.

She said: “One good thing about the condition is Jolene, Mum and me have never had a spot or skin blemish.

“I used to wear lots of make-up but now I’m more accepting of myself – some people are worse looking than me.” There are other upsides, too. Zara quipped: “I can get served cigarettes and alcohol – if I want.”

And she insists she has no trouble attracting boyfriends.

I look like I'm 45 - but I'm only 15: Zara on her family's battle with rare ageing disease

She said: “I’ve had a few and they all tell me they don’t care how I look, they like me for my personality.

“Mum raised her kids to speak their minds and be confident about who they are – what you see is what you get.”

She added: “Of course I still get upset sometimes.

“Recently someone told me I looked like I was 30 and I got really angry.

“Another time a guy asked if Jolene was my mum.

“I said, ‘She’s my sister, you idiot’ – but Jolene was really upset.”

Mum Tracey admitted she was racked with guilt after realising she had passed the condition on to her own children.

She said: “I worry what the future holds for my daughters.

“I’ve had abuse for the way I look my whole life. Other children didn’t want to play with me and later I became volatile and would lash out at people.

“The only men interested in me were a lot older.

“Then I started drinking to blot out the pain and had one abusive relationship after another because I couldn’t stick up for myself.”

She added: “Each day I look in the mirror and see the face of a woman twice my age.

“But I’m so proud of the way Jolene and Zara handle themselves.”

Tracey is also mum to Gareth 24, Michael, 21, Tommy, 19, Rosie, 20 and Chloe, 16, who don’t have the defect.

Her husband Lawrence, 62, is bedbound through a stroke and lung cancer and Tracey is now his full-time carer.

Meanwhile, experts insist there are ways to smooth out the “dented” skin even if they can’t cure the condition.

London-based dermatologist Stefanie Williams said: “A plastic surgeon might transfer fat from one area of the body to the dented area. Other treatments involve filling the dent with injectable fillers or implants.”

Chinese premier says economic woes to continue

Sunday, July 15, 2012 · Posted in

Chinese premier says economic woes to continue

China's economic woes that have brought growth to a three-year low will continue for some time, but the slower expansion remains within expectations, Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday.

Speaking during a tour of the southwestern city of Chengdu, Wen said Chinese need to recognize the seriousness and complexity of the challenges the country faces. But he added that China's economic fundamentals remain favorable.

"At present, our country's economic growth rate remains within the target range set earlier this year and we are seeing the effectiveness of stabilization policies," Wen said in remarks posted on the central government's official website.

The government will prioritize job creation and provide financial aid and tax breaks to companies suffering from slowing exports due to sinking overseas demand, Wen said. Private investment will be encouraged and the government will promote industrial upgrading and urbanization to spur consumption, he said.

"All regions and departments need to proceed with even greater determination and courage," Wen said.

His comments follow the government's announcement Friday that the world's second-largest economy grew by 7.6 percent in the three months ending in June over a year earlier. That was the lowest since the first quarter of 2009 during the depths of the global financial crisis.

Growth was down from the previous quarter's 8.1 percent, damping hopes that China can make up for US and European weakness, but in line with the government's official target of 7.5 percent for the year

Private-sector forecasters say the economy may have bottomed out during the first two quarters and China still is likely to achieve its target for the year.

Export growth has fallen and consumer spending weakened despite stimulus measures including two interest rate cuts since the start of June. The government also is pumping money into the economy through higher investment by state-owned industry and more spending on low-cost housing and other public works.

However, Beijing is moving cautiously after its 2008 stimulus pushed up inflation and spurred a wasteful building boom. Authorities have said curbs imposed on building and home sales to cool surging housing prices will remain in place. (nvn)

173 sheep killed by lightning

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173 sheep killed by lightning

A total of 173 sheep were killed almost instantaneously on Tuesday when lightning struck a mountainous area in the Hoboksar Mongolian autonomous county in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

An 18-year-old Mongolian herder recalled the incident as "a nightmare".

"It started raining heavily at midnight and it hailed at around 1 pm. I was very scared and had to hide in the yurt nearby. After the lightning split the sky, the sheep outside bleated and they all died," Alten Bagen said on Thursday.

The tightly packed sheep were sheltering from the rain under a pine tree, which acted as a conductor for the electricity.

In addition, 30 sheep were carried away by floods, Bagen said.

Bagen's father, an experienced herder, was away in the mountains looking after their horses when the accident happened.

"A smell of burned meat filled the air. If I had been here, it wouldn't have happened," the 42-year-old herder said. "The animals were the only source of income for our family of four."

Father and son collected the skins of the sheep, and buried the bodies.

"I'll sell the skins and will make some money. But we can't eat the meat because of our religious beliefs," the father said.

Jangeq Chafu, a local herding technician, said it's common for livestock to get killed by lightning in the summertime, but this was the first time that so many sheep were killed at once.

"The young man doesn't have enough experience. He doesn't know how to cope with thunderstorms in mountainous areas," said Chafu. "It's dangerous for sheep to shelter under trees."

However, Chafu also said that it is sometimes difficult to help livestock escape from lightning.

"The pastures here are in a mountainous area. Locals are used to herding sheep on the mountainside in the summer. They take their yurts and live with the herds. When lightning strikes, the herder can hide in his yurt, but the animals have no place to hide," said Chafu.

"The sheep's wool also generates lots of static electricity, which may make them more vulnerable to lightning," he added.

Chafu said that the government should install lightning rods on mountain peaks.

Fifty-three pigs were killed on July 5 when lightning hit the roof of a barn in a suburb of Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province.

The pig farmer, surnamed Chen, said the pigs were sleeping after their meals when lightning struck.

"After a streak of blue light flashed by, I heard the pigs scream. Then they were silent," she said.

The neighbors said that the ears, nostrils and mouths of most animals were bleeding, and that their bodies had traces of burns and a slight burned smell. The only pig alive had a broken rear leg and struggled to stand up, but couldn't.

"The simplest way to prevent lightning in high places is to install a lightning rod," said weatherman Yao Chuping, who has worked in the field for more than 20 years.

UFO sightings reported in Heilongjiang province

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UFO sightings reported in Heilongjiang provinceHeilongjiang residents said they saw an unidentified flying object on Friday, the second time in a week such observations have been reported in the northeastern province.

Zhang Wei and Dai Guobin, workers at a sand processing plant in Zhangjiadian village in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, said they witnessed a black flying object, the shape of an eagle and larger than an airplane, at noon on Friday.

The object hovered in the sky about 500 to 1,000 meters from the two workers for about a minute and then flew off, according to Zhang and Dai.

Zhang reported it to Chen Gongfu, 70, a retired professor from the school of astronautics at the Harbin Institute of Technology.

Zhang told China Daily that he was not sure if the object the two saw on Friday was the same one reported Sunday in the Phoenix Mountain National Forest Park, which is about 200 kilometers away from the sand factory.

Chen, who is studying the UFO reports in the forest park, said he has talked to at least four eyewitnesses who said they saw the same flying object at different times and locations.

Li Hui, a tourist, said she saw a luminous flying object hovering low in the sky at 3:42 pm on Sunday when a photographer was taking her picture at a viewing platform in the park.

Li was quoted by Harbin Daily as saying that she unconsciously looked back after taking a picture and saw a floating, shiny object.

But the flying object was taken in a picture by the photographer, Wu Chunyan, who also saw the UFO and quickly pressed the shutter.

The photo clearly shows a luminous object.

Chen, the retired astronautics professor, said the object looked a lot like a moth when he first saw the picture, but he ruled out the possibility as more eyewitnesses in different locations said they also saw the flying object.

Sun Yan, a worker in the park, who was about 10 meters beneath where Li Hui stood, and another worker who was at the gate of the park said they saw the UFO on Sunday. Sun Li, a forest worker, said she witnessed a bright object, as big as a washing basin with gaseous columns on both sides, at around 8 pm the same day, according to Harbin Daily.

Skeptical of the reports is Zhu Jin, curator of Beijing Planetarium, who has been studying UFO reports for years. He said he believes that the flying object was a winged insect.

"It's quite clear that it was an insect, and you can clearly see its wings. It's luminous because of the photoflash," he said. "There is no other possibility as far as my knowledge can tell."

Harbin Daily reported that the photographer used "forced flash" when taking the picture, meaning the camera's flash was used despite strong lighting in the background.

"Many people called us and asked if UFOs really visited the park," Kang Tai, a manager with the park, said on Friday.

Kang, who has worked in the park for more than four years, said that although he personally did not see a UFO, he received UFO pictures taken in the park by tourists several times, most recently in 2011.

In fact, 18 years ago, UFOs reportedly visited the park.

Meng Zhaoguo, a worker in the park, and two colleagues said they saw a strange unidentified object in June 1994.

"I saw the UFO as it just landed in the hillside," Meng recalled.

Curious, Meng asked a relative to go with him the next day to identify the object.

"I was suddenly pushed back (when I got close to the object) just as if I was receiving an electric shock because I had such an experience in the past," he was quoted as saying by Heilongjiang Television, "And the object was very noisy."

Meng said he saw a being from outer space at his home several days later.

As it got closer, Meng said, "my house became extraordinarily bright and I saw it standing in front of me. It was just like us human beings".

"It pushed me quickly and then ran out."

Soyuz rocket launches on mission to space station

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Soyuz rocket launches on mission to space station

A Russian Soyuz craft launched into the morning skies over Kazakhstan on Sunday, carrying three astronauts on their way to the International Space Station, where they will quickly start preparing for a frenzy of incoming traffic.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Japan's Akihito Hoshide are set to travel two days before reaching their three colleagues already at the permanent space outpost.

Families and colleagues watched the launch from an observation platform in the Russian-leased cosmodrome in the dry southern steppes of this sprawling Central Asian nation.

Liftoff took place at the exact scheduled time of 08:40 a.m. local time (0240 GMT), sending a deafening roar as the craft gained height.

Despite withstanding intense G-force pressure, the three astronauts looked relaxed in televised footage as they performed a series of routine operations.

The Soyuz jettisoned three rocket booster stages as it was propelled into orbit, which takes just over nine minutes.

At that stage, a doll given to Malenchenko as a mascot by his daughter and suspended over the three astronauts floated out of view on television footage, indicating the craft had escaped the earth's gravitational pull.

The shell that surrounds the capsule during the launch phase also peeled away, soaking the astronauts in bright yellow sunshine pouring through the viewing hatches.

The solar arrays that deployed on the Soyuz after orbital entry will provide the craft with the power it needs during its two-day trip.

Williams, tightly squeezed into the cramped craft, gave a thumbs-up sign and waved to onboard cameras as Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin congratulated the crew over radio control.

Malenchenko, who is piloting the Soyuz, is one of Russia's most experienced astronauts and is making his fifth voyage into space.

Williams, who was born in Euclid, Ohio, and raised in Massachusetts, is on her second mission and will further extend the record for the longest sojourn in space for a female astronaut. The 46-year old astronaut, who is of Indian-American heritage, spent 195 days at the space station in 2006-2007.

Sunday's launch took place on the 37th anniversary of the landmark Apollo-Soyuz mission during which crafts from the United States and the Soviet Union docked in space, setting a precedent for scientific cooperation between the Cold War foes.

Williams said in a press conference ahead of the launch that the test mission laid the ground for a long-standing friendship and collaboration in the space program.

The Soyuz is schedule to dock Tuesday with the space station at 08:52 a.m. Moscow time (0452 GMT).

Russians Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and U.S. astronaut Joseph Acaba, who make up the crew of Expedition 32, have been working at the space station since mid-May.

The space station, which orbits up to 410 kilometers (255 miles) above the earth, is braced to handle an unprecedented level of traffic.

Japan's HTV3 cargo ship will dock with the space station next week and will be the first of nine craft making contact with the orbiting satellite over a 17-day span.

Expeditions 32 and the incoming Expedition 33 have 33 experiments planned for their stay at the orbiting laboratory. (nvn)

Yahoo officially shuts down Koprol

Friday, July 13, 2012 · Posted in

Yahoo officially shuts down Koprol

Following a round of job cuts on the team running its social networking site Koprol, Yahoo announced that it would stop the operation of the locally made geo-location site it acquired in 2010.

“Yahoo has decided to discontinue Koprol effective on Aug. 28,” the company said in a statement posted in the official website,

The company said the closure was part of to its focus to “more quickly innovate with core products and properties.”

“We are shutting down or transitioning a number of products that did not meaningfully drive revenue or engagement,” it said.

Users are advised to export their profile, including all original posts, reviews, check-ins and images, by going to 'Export Data' at before August 28. (dmr)

Rolling Stones celebrate 50 years on stage

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Rolling Stones celebrate 50 years on stage

Mick Jagger may rethink the words he sang more than 45 years ago — "What a drag it is getting old."

Thursday marks 50 years since Jagger played his first gig with a band called the Rolling Stones, and the group is marking its half-century with no letup in its productivity or rock 'n ' roll style. Jagger himself is still the cool, rich frontman of the world's most successful rock band.

Now in their late 60s and early 70s, the band members are celebrating the anniversary by attending a retrospective photo exhibition at London's Somerset House — and looking to the future by rehearsing for new gigs.

Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts are getting together 50 years to the day after the young R&B band played London's Marquee Club. Taking a name from a song by bluesman Muddy Waters, they were billed as "The Rollin' Stones" —the 'g' came later.

The lineup for the gig was vocalist Jagger, guitarists Richards and Brian Jones, bassist Dick Taylor, pianist Ian Stewart and Mick Avory on drums. Taylor, Stewart and Avory soon left the lineup; drummer Watts joined in 1963 and guitarist Wood in 1975.

The band had its first hit, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On," in 1963, and soon became one of the world's biggest and most influential rock acts, rivaled only by The Beatles.

The Beatles split up in 1970, but the Stones are still going strong — something Jagger says he could never have imagined at the time.

"Groups in those days and singers didn't really last very long," Jagger, 68, told the BBC. "They weren't supposed to last. It was supposed to be ephemeral. It was only really Elvis and The Beatles that were the biggest things that ever happened in pop music that I can remember. But even (Elvis) had lasted perhaps less than 10 years, so how could anyone really last?"

Richards told the BBC that his biggest regret in the last 50 years was the drowning death in 1969 of Brian Jones, but that on the whole the band's career has been "an incredible adventure."

Music critic John Aizlewood said the Stones' contribution to rock 'n' roll is "immeasurable."

"They are a founding father of rock music as we know it," he said. "Other bands have tried and not pulled off that amount of sexiness, allied to a kind of street-fighting menace."

Aizlewood said the Rolling Stones have endured where other bands have split because "they are smart enough to put the band ahead of the individuals, despite their collective egos."

He said they are also canny businessmen, and realized early on that "once you get to a certain level, if you maintain your live performance, you can play stadiums forever."

The Stones have sold more than 200 million records, with hits including "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," ''Street Fighting Man" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

But in recent years much of their income has come from touring. Their last global tour, "A Bigger Bang," earned more than half a billion dollars between 2005 and 2007. And as they enter their sixth decade, more live shows are on the way.

Richards said the band had begun rehearsing, but dates haven't been fixed.

"There's things in the works," he said. "It's definitely happening, but when I can't say yet."

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