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Czech pranksters replace president's flag with huge underpants
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 21 September 2015 17:32

 

 

Three members of a group critical of Czech President Milos Zeman climbed onto the roof of the presidential palace in Prague and replaced his official flag with a huge pair of red underpants.

"The flag of a man who is a shamed of nothing flies at last from the Prague castle," the Ztohoven group of artistic pranksters said on their website and Facebook page.

For the group, the colour red of their boxer-short style protest flag symbolises the unhealthily close link they believe the head of state has with China and Russia.

Zeman's detractors also reproach him for his occasional use of bad language.

Dressed as chimney sweeps, the three men, aged from 33 to 41, clambered onto the roof of the presidential building on Saturday afternoon.

They have been arrested and could face two years in prison for their actions, police said.

 

 
Fear, anger, hope fuel Trump fans on US campaign trail
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 21 September 2015 15:48

 

President Barack Obama is weak, the United States needs a bold anti-politician not beholden to special interests, and the losers running Washington must be ousted once and for all.

So say a dedicated but seemingly growing band of voters who are shunning a Republican establishment desperate to regain the White House, opting instead for a brash, uncompromising and headstrong celebrity who can revive the nation's mojo.

"Donald Trump is standing up for what Americans want," said Kim Tyrrell, 35.

"He knows what's going on in America and he will do the best to protect us."

Tyrrell was first in line to see the real estate tycoon at a rally Saturday at Urbandale High School in Iowa, where a dozen supporters -- and a few voters who remain wary of the blunt billionaire -- shared their thoughts about the controversial candidate who has rocketed to the top of the Republican heap.

In interviews with AFP both at the rally and at another, faith-based event in nearby Des Moines where Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls spoke, most acknowledged he has been light on his specific plans should he win the White House.

 

 

But supporter Mary Butler said many conservatives, furious over Republican leadership's failures in Washington, are not concerned about that just yet.

"They want to see fresh blood. They don't want to see somebody that's been around the horn for how many years in politics," she said.

Butler is rooting for Trump, she said, "because he has the smarts, the know-how to run his businesses," and understands what is at stake: "Running this country, (defeating) the Taliban and ISIS. You know, that kind of thing."

 

 
Pope's visit crowns Cuba's status as hot travel destination
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 20 September 2015 09:41

 

Good luck getting a table these days at Atelier, a trendy Havana restaurant where four charter flights of American Catholics packed the dining room on the eve of Pope Francis's arrival in Cuba Saturday.

Ditto a room in a "casa particular" -- a "private house," the family-run hostels the communist island began allowing in 1997, in its first tentative free-market reforms.

Clients at the major state-run hotels meanwhile face prices that have been jacked up 50 percent or more for the wildly popular pontiff's visit to Cuba, which has become an "it" destination since Francis helped broker a rapprochement with its long-time enemy across the Florida Straits.

Since the historic thaw with the United States was announced in December, there has been a buzz in the air in Cuba, where tourist arrivals are up 17 percent since January compared to the same period last year, according to data from the tourism studies department at the University of Havana.

 

American visitors are up 57 percent, despite the fact that the US embargo still bans tourist travel to Cuba.

And the buzz has grown to a roar around the pope's hotly anticipated visit.

David Donn, who flew down with 186 other Catholics on the charter flights organized by the Miami archdiocese, said he decided to make the trip partly to see the pope and partly because of the new allure of an island that has been taboo for American tourists.

"All my friends are totally fascinated. They've been calling me all week. They think it's wonderful," said the 63-year-old accountant from Stuart, Florida.

"With the relationship between the United States and Cuba thawing, I thought this was a great opportunity to come here and see Cuba before things start changing and the cruise ships start coming," he told AFP.

That desire to beat the impending cruise ships as the White House steadily chips away at more than five decades of policy isolating Cuba is one factor driving the increase in international travel to the island, said Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, a tourism expert at the University of Havana.

 

 
How one US state went from two quakes a year to 585
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 20 September 2015 09:38

 

 

The central US state of Oklahoma has gone from registering two earthquakes a year to nearly two a day and scientists point to a controversial culprit: wastewater injection wells used in fracking.

Located in the middle of the country, far from any major fault lines, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes of a magnitude of 3.0 or greater in 2014. That's more than three times as many as the 180 which hit California last year.

"It's completely unprecedented," said George Choy, a seismologist at the US Geological Survey.

As of last month, Oklahoma has already experienced more than 600 quakes strong enough to rattle windows and rock cars. The biggest was a 4.5-magnitude quake that hit the small town of Crescent.

Sandra Voskuhl, 76, grew up in the rural oil boomtown and said she has never felt the earth shake like it did on July 27.

First came a thunderous boom. Then the red earth shook hard, Voskuhl said.

"You heard it coming," she said. "Everything shook."

She recalled screaming as framed pictures toppled over in her home.

Then, when things got quiet, she drove over to the town's Frontier Historical Museum to help clean up antique dishes that had crashed to the ground and shattered.

"We need the oil for our workers and our economy," she said. "But these earthquakes are a little scary."

- Could a 'Big One' hit? -

 

 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of shooting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep into the earth to crack rock formations and bring up oil and natural gas trapped inside.

The process has unlocked massive amounts of oil and gas in Oklahoma and other states over the past decade.

But along with the oil and gas comes plenty of that brackish water, which is disposed of by injecting it into separate wells that are dug as deep as a mile (less than two kilometers) below ground.

The unnatural addition of the water can change pressure along fault lines, causing slips that make the earth shake, said Choy of the US Geological Survey.

There is debate among scientists over how large of a fault could be reawakened, and how hard that fault might shake.

One camp believes Oklahoma won't see bigger than a 4.0 to 5.0-magnitude earthquake, which would be enough to break windows and knock things off shelves.

Others believe a 7.0-magnitude earthquake could come about, which would be strong enough to topple buildings.

"What's at risk is that when you put water into the ground, it's never going to come back out. You're putting it in places it has never been before," Choy told AFP.

"The bigger the volume, the greater the area will be affected. And we don't know what the long-term effect will be."

- 4,500 injection wells -

 

The pace at which earthquake activity has increased has rattled many in Oklahoma, who are also worried about groundwater contamination brought on by fracking.

From 1975 to 2008, the state experienced anywhere from zero to three earthquakes a year which registered at 3.0 or higher.

Then the numbers jumped: there were 20 in 2009, 35 in 2010, 64 in 2011, 35 in 2012, 109 in 2013 and 585 in 2014.

"We are the only state where once this problem came up, we just kept going (with fracking)," said Johnson Bridgwater, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, a prominent environmental group.

 

 

 
Obama mulled not going to Oslo to pick up Nobel: book
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 18:40

 

 

The White House asked if US President Barack Obama really had to travel to Oslo to pick up his surprise Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a book due out in Norway on Thursday reveals.

In his memoir "Secretary of Peace", historian Geir Lundestad recounts some of the backstage goings-on inside the Norwegian Nobel Committee during his time as its influential, but non-voting, secretary from 1990 to 2015.

"No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama," he wrote.

The first black president was honoured with the prestigious award just nine months after taking office -- while the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with general astonishment, and some sarcasm, while Obama himself admitted his own "surprise".

At that point "his cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize," Lundestad said.

"In broad strokes, the answer was no."

Obama ultimately made a lightning visit to the Scandinavian country to collect the prize.

According to Lundestad, then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried the following year to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway's relations with Beijing.

 

 
US astronaut misses fresh air halfway through year-long mission
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 15 September 2015 12:13

 

Halfway into a year in space -- the longest ever attempted at the International Space Station -- American astronaut Scott Kelly said Monday he misses fresh air but is adapting well.

Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko agreed to double the length of a typical astronaut's mission at the ISS in order to help the world's space agencies study how long-term space travel affects the human body and mind.

Such research is viewed as invaluable as NASA aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but it is not easy for the two men, who have been circling the Earth since late March.

"I feel pretty good overall," Kelly said in an interview from the ISS, broadcast on NASA television. Kornienko did not participate in the event, which was organized by the National Press Club in the US capital.

"What I am looking most forward to is just getting to the end of it with as much energy and enthusiasm as I had at the beginning," added Kelly, whose participation in the study could be particularly useful since his health can be compared to that of his twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut participating in the study from Earth.

Asked what he missed most about Earth, Kelly said "being with people you care about, family and friends, just going outside."

 

"This is a very closed environment, you can never leave," he added.

"The lighting is pretty much the same, the smell ... everything is the same. Even most prisoners can get out but we cannot."

 

- 'Baby feet' -

 

Kelly and Kornienko's mission is the longest at the ISS, which was first visited by astronauts in the year 2000.

But the record for the longest time spent in space is held by Russia's Valeri Polyakov, who stayed at the Mir Space Station for 14 months in the mid-1990s.

Living in space can have odd effects on the body, said Kelly, who has been to the ISS multiple times and previously spent a six-month stint there, the typical mission length.

"We do not really use the bottom of our feet much," he said.

"After five months you have baby feet."

 

 

 
Low heart rate in teen boys linked to violent crime
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 13 September 2015 06:52

 

 

Boys with a low resting heart rate in their late teens run a higher risk of turning to a life of violent crime when grown, a study suggests.

The findings could lead to improved ways to stop certain people from indulging in crime before it is too late.

Experts say that low resting heart rate (RHR) is either an indicator of a chronically low level of psychological arousal, which may lead some people to seek stimulating experiences, or a marker of weakened responses to aversive and stressful stimuli, which can lead to reckless behavior.

"Our results confirm that, in addition to being associated with aggressive and antisocial outcomes in childhood and adolescence, low RHR increases the risk for violent and nonviolent antisocial behaviors in adulthood," the authors conclude.

 

 
Escaped from Eritrea, refugee route leads to Europe
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 10 September 2015 08:54

 

 

Eritrea is a day's trek through dusty hills from the refugee camp in Ethiopia, a way station for tens of thousands of Eritreans who have fled their oppressive homeland.

But while life is tough in the town-like camp of thousands -- living in baking heat in simple canvas tents or brick houses -- no one thinks of going back, or of staying in the camps.

Escape from the hermetic Red Sea state means only one thing -- to travel onwards for a better life.

"We want to go, to go anywhere," 25-year old Abraham told AFP in Hitsats camp in northeastern Ethiopia, just south of the Eritrean border.

For those who have fled the dictatorial regime of President Isaias Afwerki, which has created a repressive system in which people are routinely arrested on a whim, detained, tortured, killed or disappeared, a return home offers only a prison sentence -- or worse -- for treason.

 

 

Once they have left, the only possible move is onwards abroad - and for most, that dream is of an eventual life in Europe.

The Horn of Africa nation is no war zone, yet the people of the England-sized arid country of some six million people make up the third-largest number of those risking the dangerous crossing to Europe, after Syrians and Afghans.

New arrivals in the camp dismiss the risks of ruthless people smugglers and treacherous waters to plot travel onwards north to Sudan, and then on to Europe.

But for many their dreams are stalled, waiting for the hard cash needed to pay the traffickers to smuggle them onwards.

 

- 'We have no choice' -

 

 

"Germany, Canada, England, Switzerland," the young people say in turn, all countries with significant Eritrean communities.

Like most refugees here, they worry of reprisals against their family still in Eritrea if they give their full name.

"If it is possible to go illegally to Sudan, we will go. We know it's dangerous," Abraham added. "We know we can lose our lives, but we have no choice."

Officially, Hitsats camp houses nearly 45,000 refugees, although in reality, the number is far lower, according to aid workers.

Ethiopian authorities mark arrivals but not departures of the 112,000 registered Eritrean refugees into the country.

Perhaps less than 40,000 are in the country today: Eritreans use Ethiopia only as a stepping stone to travel onwards.

"No one wants to stay in the camps where they have nothing else to do," said Dennis Likule, a resettlement expert from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

"If we had opportunities for the refugees to be out of camps and have something meaningful then we would be encouraging a certain percentage to stay around and integrate."

 

 

 
NY becomes first US city to add salt warnings to menus
Written by Administrator   
Friday, 11 September 2015 15:11

 

 

Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. And now New Yorkers will get that warning loud and clear when they browse a restaurant menu.

New York on Wednesday became the first city in the United States to demand that chain restaurants put salt warnings on their menus in a measure unanimously approved by the health board.

It is the latest in a long line of public health measures, including a pioneering ban on smoking since adopted across the world designed to encourage healthier behavior.

"High sodium intake is dangerous. It is linked to increased blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke," said the city health department.

 

 
Has France abandoned its tradition of sheltering refugees?
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 03 September 2015 21:25

 

 

It's been nearly 40 years since Soko Phay fled Cambodia with her parents to France where she was welcomed with "an extraordinary generosity," but now she sees a country that "has changed, and not for the better".

For many years, France topped the list of destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, but by last year, it had dropped to fourth -- behind Germany, Sweden and Italy.

With 64,130 applications in 2014 it even saw a slight drop, despite the huge 44-percent increase in refugee arrivals across the continent.

This year hundreds of thousands more have headed to Europe.

Like many of its neighbours, France lacks the resources to cope with newcomers, with only 30,000 hostel beds for asylum-seekers and ever-longer waiting times for cases to be decided.

Soko Phay contrasts the difficult stories of Syrian exiles with her own arrival in Paris in 1976, aged seven, after her family fled the horrors of the "Killing Fields".

"Maybe I just had a child's point of view, but I have wonderful memories," she said, recalling holidays with French families and caring teachers.

 

 

Now she views with sadness "the nationalist turn" in her beloved adopted home.

Part of the reason may be context. France's economy is sluggish, with unemployment over 10 percent and widespread disillusionment with its leaders.

That has been fertile ground for the far-right National Front (FN), which blames much of the country's woes on foreigners and openly opposes all immigration -- "both legal and clandestine," as leader Marine Le Pen reiterated last weekend.

The FN's views are rubbing off on voters -- a 2013 poll found three-quarters of French people thought there were too many foreigners, up from 46 percent in 2009, and the party is soaring in the polls, coming first in European elections last year.

Its political rivals feel the need to match its hardline language. Opposition leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy recently compared the influx of migrants to "a burst water-pipe".

 

- Historical refuge -

 

This is not how the French Republic was first conceived. The vow to provide "asylum to foreigners banished from their countries in the cause of liberty" was written into the 1793 constitution.

For a decade up to 1985, France welcomed 110,000 "boat people" escaping communist regimes in Cambodia and Vietnam. It took some 15,000 Chileans after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet.

 

 

 
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