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Daily Archives: March 30, 2011

Palestinians to ask UN recognition in September

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki

RAMALLAH, March 30 (KATAKAMI.COM) — The Palestinian leadership will ask the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state in September despite Israeli objection, Foreign Affairs Minister Riad al-Maliki said Wednesday, XINHUA NEWS AGENCY reported.

The Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state on the lands that Israel occupied in the 1967 war, al-Maliki was quoted by local Al- Ayyam newspaper as saying.

However, he expected that a member of the U.N. Security Council would use the veto to block the draft resolution on the recognition of the Palestinian state, hinting the United States, which sees that the Palestinian state should be a result of a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, if the draft resolution was vetoed, the Palestinians can go to the U.N. General Assembly to ask for recognition according to the U.N. “Uniting for Peace” resolution, which allows the General Assembly to address issues related to peace and security when differences between the U.N. Security Council members thwart a decision, al-Maliki said.

Al-Maliki also rejected Israeli threats to take unilateral measures if the U.N. recognized the Palestinian state, saying “the Israeli threats reflect a state of confusion and fears.”

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were halted in September 2010. The Palestinians walked out of the U.S.-brokered negotiations, protesting the resumption of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. (*)
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Japan orders immediate safety upgrade at nuclear plants

In this photo taken Sunday, March 27, 2011, Junpei Endo, 31, pauses on his bicycle after collecting mementos of his destroyed home where his father was killed during the March 11 massive tsunami waves that topped the neighborhood in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan. Endo grew up in the big green house down the street from 'Hiyori Yama' - Weather Hill. He left town three years ago, when he was 28, to work near Tokyo. After hearing about the tsunami, he drove back as fast as the roads would allow. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

TOKYO, March 30, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / Reuters) – Japan ordered an immediate safety upgrade at its 55 nuclear power plants on Wednesday in its first acknowledgement that standards were inadequate when an earthquake and tsunami wrecked a facility nearly three weeks ago, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

As operators struggle to regain control of the damaged Daiichi nuclear reactors 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, radiation leakage continued, with radioactive iodine in the sea off the damaged plant at record levels. The state nuclear safety agency said the amounts were 3,355 times the legal limit.

Smoke was reported coming from a second damaged nuclear plant site in Fukushima on Wednesday, with authorities citing an electric distribution board as the problem.

It is not known how serious the problem was at the Daini plant, which has been put into cold shutdown and is several miles from the stricken Daiichi power facility.

Anger at Japan’s nuclear crisis saw more than 100 people, chanting “stop nuclear power”, protest outside the Tokyo headquarters of nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) on Wednesday.

“We don’t want to use electric power that can kill people,” said Waseda University student Mina Umeda.

A Reuters investigation showed Japan and TEPCO repeatedly played down dangers at its nuclear plants and ignored warnings, including a 2007 tsunami study from the utility’s senior safety engineer.

The research paper concluded there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

The new safety steps, to be completed by the end of April, include preparing back-up power in case of loss of power supply, and having fire trucks with hoses ready at all times to intervene and ensure cooling systems for both reactors and pools of used fuel are maintained, the Trade Ministry said.

Other measures such as building higher protective sea walls would be studied after a full assessment of the Fukushima disaster, officials said.

The immediate measures do not necessarily require nuclear plant operations to be halted, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda told a news conference.

“These are the minimum steps we can think of right now that should be done immediately,” said Kaieda.

“We shouldn’t wait until a so-called overhaul or a comprehensive revision — something major that would take a long time — is prepared. We should do whatever we can if and when there is something (which safety authorities agree is) viable and necessary,” he said.

Before the disaster, Japan’s nuclear reactors had provided about 30 percent of the nation’s electric power. The percentage had been expected to rise to 50 percent by 2030, among the highest in the world.

NO END IN SIGHT

The government and TEPCO conceded there was no end in sight to Japan’s nuclear crisis.

“We are not in a situation where we can say we will have this under control by a certain period,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news briefing.

The discovery of highly toxic plutonium in soil at Daiichi had raised alarm over the disaster, which has overshadowed the humanitarian calamity triggered by the earthquake and tsunami, which left 27,500 people dead or missing.

TEPCO will test sprinkling synthetic resin in some areas of the Daiichi complex to prevent radioactive dust from flying into the air or being washed into the ocean by rain. The resin is water-soluble, but when the water evaporates, it becomes sticky and contains the dust.

Pollution of the ocean is a serious concern for a country where fish is central to the diet. Experts say the vastness of the ocean and a powerful current should dilute high levels of radiation, limiting the danger of marine contamination.

However, just how radiation is spilling into the ocean is unclear and controlling leakage from the plant could take weeks or months, making precise risk assessments difficult.

Tokyo Electric said it would take a “fairly long time” to stabilize overheating reactors, adding four of the six reactors would need to be decommissioned. Meanwhile, the head of the company was in hospital due to high blood pressure, adding to the disarray at Asia’s largest utility.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose government faces mounting criticism for its handling of the crisis, won assurances of American support in a telephone conversation on Wednesday with President Barack Obama.

The United States has already agreed to send some radiation-detecting robots to Japan to help explore the reactor cores and spent fuel pools at the stricken nuclear plant.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chairs the G20 and G8 blocs of nations, is due to visit Tokyo on Thursday. He will be the first foreign leader in Japan since the disaster.

In further support, France flew in two experts from its state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its CEA nuclear research body to assist TEPCO.

DRAG ON ECONOMY

Hundreds of engineers have been toiling for nearly three weeks to cool the plant’s reactors and avert a catastrophic meltdown of fuel rods, although the situation appears to have moved back from that nightmare scenario.

Jesper Koll, director of equity research at JPMorgan Securities in Tokyo, said a drawn-out battle to bring the plant under control and manage the radioactivity being released would perpetuate the uncertainty and act as a drag on the economy.

“The worst-case scenario is that this drags on not one month or two months or six months, but for two years, or indefinitely,” he said. “Japan will be bypassed. That is the real nightmare scenario.”

Japan’s main stock index has fallen about 9 percent since the tsunami while TEPCO shares have fallen almost 80 percent. The government is considering a tax increase to pay for the damage it estimates at $300 billion in what could be the world’s costliest natural disaster.

Already criticized for weak leadership during Japan’s worst crisis since World War Two, Kan has been blasted by the opposition for his handling of the disaster and for not widening the exclusion zone beyond 20 km (12 miles) around Fukushima.

Kan said he was considering that step, which would force 130,000 people to move, in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

Hundreds of thousands whose homes and livelihoods were wiped away by the tsunami that obliterated cities on the northeast coast have heard next to nothing from the government about whether it will help them to rebuild.

About 175,000 were living in shelters on high ground above the vast plains of mud-covered debris with temporary housing for only a few hundred currently under construction. (*)
 
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Photostream : Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter meets Cuba's President Raul Castro

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) is welcomed by President of Cuba Raul Castro during the official welcome in the Cuban State Council, on the second day of Carter's three-day visit to Cuba, on March 29, 2011 in Havana, Cuba. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is traveling with his wife Rosalynn Carter, will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban citizens discuss Cuban economic policies and ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, according to the Carter Center. The visit comes nine years after Carter's first trip to the island, which was the first by a former U.S. president since Fidel Castro's revolution. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro (L) shake hands at the Revolution Palace in Havana March 29, 2011. Carter said on Tuesday he has spoken with Cuban officials about jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, but that he was not in Cuba to seek his release in a case that has stalled improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations. At center is Carter's wife Rosalynn. REUTERS/Javier Galeano/Pool

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (:) talks to President of Cuba Raul Castro during the official welcome in the Cuban State Council, on the second day of Carter's three-day visit to Cuba, on March 29, 2011 in Havana, Cuba. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is traveling with his wife Rosalynn Carter, will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban citizens discuss Cuban economic policies and ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, according to the Carter Center. The visit comes nine years after Carter's first trip to the island, which was the first by a former U.S. president since Fidel Castro's revolution. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

 
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'US operations in Libya cost $550mn'

A10 Thunderbolt, the American tankbuster aircraft

March 30, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) —The US military expenditures for ongoing airstrikes in Libya have topped $550 million amid warnings that a protracted conflict could emerge in the country, the Pentagon says, PRESS TV CHANNEL reported.

According to the US Defense Department, 60 percent of the funds were spent on munitions, mostly Raytheon Tomahawk missiles and bombs, with the rest going toward deploying troops and covering the costs of combat, including additional fuel needed for US aircraft and ships, AFP reported on Tuesday.

Between March 19 and March 28, the US military also fired at least 192 of the 199 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which cost $1.5 million apiece.

As the US-led military operations in Libya entered its eleventh consecutive day, the Pentagon’s latest figures indicate that the cost of the war may total $800 million by the end of September if the US continues operations.

Meanwhile, US Navy Commander Kathleen Kesler, a Pentagon spokeswoman stated on Tuesday that the Pentagon would spend another $40 million over the next three weeks as the 28-member NATO takes the helm of all military operations in Libya on Thursday.

“After that, if US forces stay at the levels currently planned and the operations continues, we would incur added costs of about $40 million per month,” she added.

According to US military officials, more than 350 aircraft are participating in the US-led campaign of military airstrikes against Libya “to protect civilians” from attacks by forces loyal to ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Apart from the US, twelve EU countries are taking part in Operation Odyssey Dawn, which began on March 19.

Experts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments say the Western countries participating in the military operations in Libya would have to pay $30 million to $100 million per week.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that a coalition of countries conducting airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces launched 22 Tomahawk missiles and flew 115 strike sorties in the last 24 hours.

The Libyan regime says that at least 114 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and 445 others injured in the campaign of US-led military airstrikes in Libya since March 20.

A new opinion poll by the Pew Research Center published on Monday shows that just under half of Americans — 47 percent — thinks it was the right decision to conduct military airstrikes in Libya. Another 36 percent say it was the wrong decision and 17 percent are unsure.  (*)
 
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Japan on 'maximum alert' over nuclear plant

Engineers check facilities at the central control room of the Fukushima nuclear power plant at Okuma town. Japan said it was on "maximum alert" over a crippled nuclear plant where radioactive water has halted repair work and plutonium has been found in the soil. (AFP/Nuclear and Industrial Safety/ Jiji Press)

SENDAI, Japan, March 30, 2011  (KATAKAMI.COM / AFP) – Japan said it was on “maximum alert” over a crippled nuclear plant where radioactive water has halted repair work and plutonium has been found in the soil, AFP reported.

The level of radioactive iodine in the sea off Fukushima reached its highest reading yet at 3,355 times the legal limit, Jiji press said Wednesday.

The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeast coast and left about 28,000 dead or missing also knocked out reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, which has leaked radiation into the air and sea.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan conceded the situation at the coastal atomic power station remained “unpredictable” and pledged his government would “tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert”.

In a stop-gap measure to contain the crisis at the plant, crews have poured thousands of tons of water onto reactors where fuel rods are thought to have partially melted, and topped up pools for spent fuel rods.

But the run-off of the operation has accumulated in the basements of turbine rooms connected to three reactors and filled up tunnels, making it too risky for workers to go near to repair cooling systems needed to stabilise the plant.

One tunnel alone holds 6,000 cubic metres (212,000 cubic feet) of contaminated water, more than two Olympic swimming pools. Still, the only choice for now is to keep pumping water, said government spokesman Yukio Edano.

“Continuing the cooling is unavoidable… We need to prioritise injecting water,” Edano told reporters.

If the rods are fully exposed to the air, they would rapidly heat up, melt down and spew out far greater plumes of radiation at the site, located about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, nuclear experts fear.

Workers have piled sandbags and concrete blocks around the tunnel shafts to contain the water, the nuclear regulatory body said. They have now also restored light in the control rooms of reactors one to four.

The water out of reactor two has measured 1,000 millisieverts per hour — four times the recently-hiked total exposure limit for emergency staff, and a level that can cause radiation sickness with nausea and vomiting in an hour.

Adding to the nuclear fears, embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said plutonium had been detected in soil samples that were taken a week ago at five spots in the plant.

Nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the plutonium data suggested “certain damage to fuel rods”, Kyodo News reported.

The US environmental protection agency says internal exposure to plutonium “is an extremely serious health hazard” as it stays in the body for decades, exposing organs and tissue to radiation and increasing the risk of cancer.

TEPCO shares plunged 18.67 percent on Tuesday, and have now lost nearly three quarters of their pre-crisis value. News reports said the government is considering taking a majority stake in the power company.

Fears have grown in Japan over food and water safety, and vegetable and dairy shipments from four prefectures have been halted.

Japan’s government has evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from within 20 kilometres of the plant, and more recently encouraged those remaining within 30 kilometres to also leave.

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace, which has taken its own measurements in the town of Iitate, 40 kilometres from the plant, urged the government to evacuate the town, especially children and pregnant women.

“Remaining in Iitate for just a few days could mean receiving the maximum permissible annual dose of radiation,” Greenpeace radiation expert Jan van der Putte said.

Jitters continued throughout Asia, with China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam reporting that radiation had drifted over their territories, even though they emphasised the levels were so small there was no health risk.

Traces of radioactive iodine believed to be from Japan’s damaged nuclear plant have even been detected as far afield as Britain, officials said Tuesday.

“We would like to ask the public not to panic. These are very tiny amounts in the air,” Philippine Nuclear Research Institute spokeswoman Tina Cerbolis said, echoing officials in the other countries to have detected the radiation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently heads the G8 and G20 blocs, will travel to Japan Thursday to meet Prime Minister Kan as a show of solidarity, according to his office.

The United States said it would send Japan radiation-resistant robots and trained staff to operate them, aiming to collect information about the reactors from areas too unsafe for humans to enter.  (*)

 

 
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Hugo Chavez, journalism award-winner in Argentina

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez shows the Rodolfo Walsh prize given to him by Florencia Saintout, Dean of the University of La Plata in La Plata March 29, 2011. Chavez, who critics accuse of stifling press freedom, was given a prize by an Argentine journalism school on Tuesday for his contribution to "popular communication." Since coming to power in 1999, Chavez has polarized his country and opponents say he has set out to silence criticism by refusing to renew the licenses of a critical broadcaster and dozens of radio stations. REUTERS/Pablo Busti

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, march 30, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) — Hugo Chavez, winner of a journalism award?

The Venezuelan leader regularly clashes with critical media, but Argentina’s University of La Plata was giving him its Rodolfo Walsh Prize on Tuesday “for his unquestionable and authentic commitment” to giving people without a voice access to the airwaves and newspapers, AP reported.

Chavez has bankrolled the growth of the Telesur network, providing a state-funded alternative to privately financed broadcast stations across Latin America.

He has a sure ally in Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who sees privately owned media groups as a bigger threat to freedom of expression than state control of airwaves or newsprint. Fernandez is trying to transform Argentina’s communications industry through a law that would break up media monopolies and force cable TV providers to include channels run by unions, Indians and other activists.

“Here there is democracy,” Chavez said after arriving in Argentina. He praised the country for having an “open debate just like in Venezuela, and a president who is an absolute defender of human rights and freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of thought.”

The two presidents also signed commercial accords dealing with food, transport and energy, and they visited a state-run factory where Argentina will build ships for Venezuela’s oil industry.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up the Rodolfo Walsh prize he was awarded by the University of La Plata in La Plata, Argentina, Tuesday March 29, 2011. Chavez received the Rodolfo Walsh journalism award "for his unquestionable and authentic commitment" to giving people without voice access to the airwaves and newspapers. The statue reads in Spanish "Operation Massacre," the title of Walsh's 1957 book. (AP Photo/Jorge Araujo)



Venezuela will import thousands of Argentine cars and 600,000 tons of food and agricultural equipment, representing a $400 million investment, Chavez’s office said. Argentine companies also will transfer their technology and help build about 20 factories in Venezuela to manufacture small motors and refrigerators.

In exchange, Venezuela will keep supplying Argentina with oil.

Chavez began his tour of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia only days after U.S. President Barack Obama skipped these countries in his first visit to South America, a goodwill tour overshadowed by the U.S. attacks Obama ordered on Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya. Both Chavez and Fernandez strongly criticized the air attacks Tuesday.

Chavez is a declared ally of Gadhafi, who honored the Venezuelan leader in 2004 with his Al-Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights, an honor he shares with Fidel Castro (1998), Evo Morales (2006) and Daniel Ortega (2009).

As for the journalism award, Chavez said he is proud to receive it, even though some say “that the dictator Chavez doesn’t deserve it.”

Venezuela also has “absolute freedom to criticize, absolute freedom of thought, absolute freedom of expression. It’s just the bourgeoisie that wants to impose its voice. It doesn’t want to hear the voice of the people. And we, Cristina as much as me, represent the voices of our peoples.”

Chavez’s government forced the opposition RCTV channel off airwaves in 2007 by refusing to renew its broadcast license. The telecommunications agency then ordered cable companies to drop RCTV International last year for refusing to carry Chavez’s speeches and other mandatory programming. The government also cited licensing issues in forcing 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air.

The majority owner of Globovision, Venezuela’s only remaining critical TV channel, fled the country rather than be jailed pending a conspiracy trial for keeping two-dozen new vehicles at one of his homes. Guillermo Zuloaga, who also owns several car dealerships, said Chavez ordered bogus charges.

Venezuela still has independent newspapers and web sites, including the newspaper El Nacional, which on Tuesday editorialized against the award.

“That a South American university doesn’t know about this grave situation and dares to honor this military leader with the Rodolfo Walsh Prize says much about the destruction of values that the Kirchners have imposed on the Argentine nation. Walsh was a victim of military repression and his example is now stained absurdly,” the paper wrote.

Walsh was an investigative journalist who co-founded Cuba’s Prensa Latina press agency and later joined Argentina’s leftist Montoneros guerrilla group. He died in a military ambush in 1977.

The InterAmerican Press Association president, Gonzalo Marroquin, said in an interview that Chavez is a “clear enemy of freedom of the press.”

“It would take a long time to enumerate the long chain of actions Chavez has taken against the right of the Venezuelan people to receive information,” he said.

Journalism professor Claudio Gomez said in an interview that the faculty decided to award Chavez the prize for “his work for popular communication, for example by creating the Telesur channel. This doesn’t mean that we agree with other measures his government has taken against critical mass media.”

Dean Florencia Saintout said the university created a new category of the Walsh award for Latin American leaders committed to giving a voice to people who are least heard from, and that she hoped for an open debate about his ideas.  (*)
 
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Photostream : Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez meets Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (C) and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner shake hands next to Chavez's daughter Rosa Virginia (L) during a ceremony on March 30, 2011 at the governement house in Buenos Aires. Chavez arrived in Argentina to sign several economical agreements and his tour will continue along Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia. (Photo by DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (2nd R) poses alongside her Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez (2nd L) and his daughter Rosa Virginia (L) at the Casa Rosada government palace in Buenos Aires March 29, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez talk after signing commercial accords during a visit to a state-run shipyard in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday March 29, 2011. Chavez is on a one-day official visit to Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez salutes next to Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez as they arrive to sign commercial accords at a state-run shipyard in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday March 29, 2011. Chavez is on a one-day official visit to Argentina.« Read less (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

 
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