Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'Noah's Ark' discoverd in a Turkish mountain

Noah's Ark have been discovered 13,000ft up a Turkish mountain


Published: 27 Apr 2010

THE remains of Noah's Ark have been discovered 13,000ft up a Turkish mountain, it has been claimed.

A group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say they have found wooden remains on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey.

They claim carbon dating proves the relics are 4,800 years old — around the same time the ark was said to be afloat.

Noah's Ark
Biblical tale ... Noah filled the ark with two of each animal species

Yeung Wing-Cheung, from the Noah's Ark Ministries International research team, said: "It's not 100 per cent that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it."

He said the structure contained several compartments, some with wooden beams, that they believe were used to house animals.

The group of evangelical archaeologists ruled out an established human settlement on the grounds none have ever been found above 11,000ft in the vicinity, Yeung said.

Local Turkish officials will ask the central government in Ankara to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status so the site can be protected while a major archaeological dig is conducted.

The biblical story says that God decided to flood the Earth after seeing how corrupt it was.

He then told Noah to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal species.

After the flood waters receded, the Bible says, the ark came to rest on a mountain.

Many believe that Mount Ararat, the highest point in the region, is where the ark and her inhabitants ran aground

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Monday, April 26, 2010

US extradites Noriega to France

Noriega's US attorney, Frank Rubino, said he was ''shocked'' the government did not show ''common courtesy''

The former Panamanian leader, Manuel Noriega, has been extradited to France by the United States after spending more than 20 years in a prison there.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a "surrender warrant" after all judicial challenges were resolved.

French officials later confirmed he was on board an Air France flight to Paris.

A court in France convicted Noriega in his absence in 1999 for laundering money through French banks, though it says he will be granted a new trial.

The 76-year-old had wanted to be sent back to Panama after finishing his 17-year jail sentence in 2007.

But in February the US Supreme Court rejected his final appeal against extradition to France.

Manuel Noriega, pictured in 1996
Became de facto ruler of Panama in 1983, head of defence forces
Formerly one of Washington's top allies in Latin America
US later accused him of drug-trafficking and election-rigging
Surrendered to invading US troops in 1990 and was flown to the US
Also faces a 20-year sentence at home imposed by Panama court

Q&A: Noriega extradition

Panama's government said it respected the "sovereign decision" the state department took to extradite Noriega.

But it insisted it would seek his return to serve outstanding prison sentences there.

Noriega was escorted onto an Air France passenger jet at Miami International Airport on Monday afternoon, shortly after Mrs Clinton signed the extradition order, US officials said.

French prison officials took custody of him once he was on board, sources in Paris told the AFP news agency.

A spokesman for the French justice ministry, Guillaume Didier, said that when Noriega arrived in Paris on Tuesday morning, he would go before prosecutors to be notified of the arrest warrant against him.

A judge would then decide whether to place him under temporary detention until his case was referred to a criminal court, he added.

Mr Didier said France had been notified of the extradition two weeks ago.

But Noriega's lawyer in Miami, Frank Rubino, told the BBC he had not been notified and had only learned of his client's transfer from the media.

"Usually the government has - does things in a more professional manner and respects common courtesy and we're shocked that they didn't," he said.

"I'm surprised that they didn't put a black hood over his head and drag him out in the middle of the night," he added.

'Prisoner of war'

Noriega was Panama's military intelligence chief for several years before becoming commander of the powerful National Guard in 1982 and then de facto ruler of the country.

He had been recruited by the CIA in the late 1960s and was supported by the US until 1987.

But in 1988 his indictment in the US on charges of drug trafficking left frayed relations.
Manuel Noriega (4 October 1989)
Manuel Noriega was once a top US ally in Central America

After a disputed parliamentary election the following year, Noriega declared a "state of war".

A tense stand-off followed between US forces stationed in the Panama Canal zone and Panamanian troops.

By mid-December, the situation had worsened so much that President George H W Bush launched an invasion - ostensibly because a US marine had been killed in Panama City, although the operation had long been planned.

Noriega initially took refuge in the Vatican embassy, where US troops bombarded him for days with deafening pop and heavy metal music.

He eventually surrendered on 3 January 1990 and was taken to Miami for trial.

In 1992, he was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.

He was handed down a 40-year prison sentence, later reduced to 30 years, and then 17 years for good behaviour.

Noriega was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 for allegedly using $3m (£1.9m) in proceeds from the drug trade to buy luxury apartments in Paris, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Shortly before the completion of his US jail sentence, the French government sought Noriega's extradition.

When his lawyers attempted to fight the request, he was forced to remain in US custody in Miami.

His legal team argued that he should not have been extradited to a third country such as France.

They said that as a prisoner of war of the US, the Geneva Conventions required Noriega to be returned to Panama.

But the US Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that the US government could send him to France without violating his rights as a prisoner of war.

Project Natal-style interface developed for mobile phones

By Andrew Lim on Monday, 26th April 2010

Forget touchscreens. The University of Tokyo is developing an incredibly cool Project-Natal-style interface for mobile phones, which allows you to interact with a phone by waving your finger around. Members of the Ishikawa-Komuro Lab have used a high frame rate camera to track the motion of a finger and recognise input gestures. As you'll see in the video below, the touchless interface can be used to navigate around a phone's screen and even to type. We can't wait to see this interface on a commercial handset or tablet.

Gene that allows planarian regeneration identified

Now we just need memory backup - and worm DNA

By Lewis Page

Posted in Biology, 26th April 2010 11:35 GMT

British boffins say they have identified the key "smed-prop" gene which allows Planarian flatworms to regenerate any part of their body following an injury - even their brains. The discovery is seen as a step towards regeneration therapy for humans in future.

Top bio-boffin Dr Aziz Aboobaker and grad student Daniel Felix, who carried out the new research, say that the discovery of "smed-prep" unlocks the mechanisms by which the hard-to-kill Planarians grow new muscle, gut and brain cells from stem-cells which are present even in adults. Even more importantly, it seems that the information contained in smed-prep also makes the new cells appear in the right place and organise themselves into working structures - as opposed to nonfunctional blobs of protoplasm.
Click here to find out more!

Understanding the process completely in worms, according to Aboobaker, is a necessary prerequisite for making it happen in humans. Another cunning worm trick he wants to get to the bottom of is the method by which the Planarians cope with rogue stem-cells producing defective cells - regeneration gone wrong, after all, in basically cancer.

The doc suggests that it may be possible in future to simply grow new organs and limbs for injuried or sick humans - even, perhaps, to repair their damaged brain in situ. This would be preferable to removing a duff brain and growing a new one, as happens when a planarian worm's head is cut off.

"If we know what is happening when tissues are regenerated under normal circumstances, we can begin to formulate how to replace damaged and diseased organs, tissues and cells in an organised and safe way following an injury caused by trauma or disease. This would be desirable for treating Alzheimer's disease, for example," says Aboobaker.

"With this knowledge we can also assess the consequences of what happens when stem cells go wrong during the normal processes of renewal — for example in the blood cell system where rogue stem cells can result in Leukaemia," he adds.

Felix, who actually did the worm-chopping during the experimental programme, said:

"It has been a really exciting project and I feel very lucky".

Felix and Aboobaker's paper, The TALE Class Homeobox Gene Smed-prep Defines the Anterior Compartment for Head Regeneration, is available here free, courtesy of the journal PLoS Genetics. ®


DARPA at phase 2 on human 'regeneration' tech

By Lewis Page

Posted in Biology, 24th March 2009 15:39 GMT

Famed US military mad-professor bureau DARPA has inked a second deal with Massachusetts researchers to develop ways of "regenerating" human body tissues cut, shot or blown off in combat. The new biotech therapies would employ the same methods used by newts in growing replacement limbs.

News of the award comes courtesy of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which announced the $570,000 agreement between DARPA and WPI-spawned company CellThera yesterday. CellThera is expected to work with the university's bioengineering department in delivering Phase II of DARPA's "restorative injury repair" programme.
Click here to find out more!

DARPA seems to be looking for full-on, science-fiction level regen therapies here. According to the military wild-science boffins:

The vision is to fully restore the function of complex tissue (muscle, nerves, skin, etc) after traumatic injury on the battlefield... with true “wound healing” by regeneration of fully differentiated, functional tissue.

The program will achieve its goals by... processes of morphogenesis leading to anatomic and functional restoration [which] will culminate in the restoration of a functional multi-tissue structure in a mammal.

Under Phase I, CellThera and WPI bioengineers "succeeded in reprogramming mouse and human skin cells to act more like stem cells, able to form the early structures needed to begin the process of re-growing lost tissues" - a process described by DARPA as "generating a blastema in an otherwise non-regenerating animal".

A blastema is the boffinry term for the clump of special progenitor cells which appears at injury sites in creatures naturally able to regenerate themselves, such as newts or salamanders. Another name, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is "regeneration bud". When you cut off a salamander's leg, for instance, a blastema appears at the stump and then grows into a new leg with muscles, nerves etc all complete.

It seems then that the Massachusetts boffins have already produced basic regen buds, potentially capable of growing into new working body parts - at least for mice.

"We are very pleased to be moving into the next phase of this work," said Raymond Page, WPI biotech prof.

We might all wish the prof luck and look forward to the day when limbs, buttocks etc cruelly snatched away before their time by the violence of the enemy, drunk drivers or horrific household accidents can simply be regrown. Or indeed to the day when we might, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, choose to sprout an extra arm - perhaps for critical multitasking applications involving drinks or complicated game peripherals.

The only people genuinely likely to be upset by this prospect would seem to be the rival DARPA-funded boffins engaged in developing the rocketfuelled, steam-powered cybernetic arm. The spraycan wound-spackle guys might still be OK, as presumably severed limbs etc would still need to be stabilised while regrowth took place. ®

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking

Jonathan Leake

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming.

John Smithson, executive producer for Discovery, said: “He wanted to make a programme that was entertaining for a general audience as well as scientific and that’s a tough job, given the complexity of the ideas involved.”

Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon.

So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances.

Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.

Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look.

Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding.

“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Arizona Immigration Enforcement Law

The Associated Press
Friday, April 23, 2010; 10:40 PM

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer ignored criticism from President Barack Obama on Friday and signed into law a bill supporters said would take handcuffs off police in dealing with illegal immigration in Arizona, the nation's busiest gateway for human and drug smuggling from Mexico.

With hundreds of protesters outside the state Capitol shouting that the bill would lead to civil rights abuses, Brewer said critics were "overreacting" and that she wouldn't tolerate racial profiling.

"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act," Brewer said after signing the law. "But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."

Earlier Friday, Obama called the Arizona bill "misguided" and instructed the Justice Department to examine it to see if it's legal. He also said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level - or leave the door open to "irresponsibility by others."

"That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe," Obama said.

The legislation, sent to the Republican governor by the GOP-led Legislature, makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants; allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws; and makes it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.

The law sends "a clear message that Arizona is unfriendly to undocumented aliens," said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor and author of the book "Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization."

Brewer signed the bill in a state auditorium about a mile from the Capitol complex where some 2,000 demonstrators booed when county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox announced that "the governor did not listen to our prayers."

"It's going to change our lives," said Emilio Almodovar, a 13-year-old American citizen from Phoenix. "We can't walk to school any more. We can't be in the streets anymore without the pigs thinking we're illegal immigrants."

Protesters gathered in Miami Friday evening at the Freedom Tower, where thousands of Cuban refugees were processed after fleeing the communist revolution.

"A thousand people a day are being deported. A thousand families being destroyed. And this comes at a very high moral and financial cost to this nation," said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said it plans a legal challenge to the law, arguing it "launches Arizona into a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions."

William Sanchez, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders Legal Defense Fund, said his group is preparing a federal lawsuit against Arizona to stop the law from being applied. The group represents 30,000 Evangelical churches nationwide, including 300 Latino pastors in Arizona.

"Millions of Latinos around the country are shocked," Sanchez said.

Mexico has warned the proposal could affect cross-border relations. On Thursday, Mexico's Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging Brewer to veto the law.

"Police in Arizona already treat migrants worse than animals," said Francisco Loureiro, an activist who runs a migrant shelter in the border town of Nogales, Mexico. "There is already a hunt for migrants, and now it will be open season under the cover of a law."

Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Estrada said the law "is a step back for those migrants who have fought" for their rights. Guatemala's Foreign Relations Department decried the measure in a statement saying "it threatens basic notions of justice."

The law will take effect in late July or early August, and Brewer ordered the state's law enforcement licensing agency to develop a training course on how to implement it without violating civil rights.

"We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent, or social status," she said. "We must prove the alarmists and the cynics wrong."

Brewer, who faces a tough election battle and growing anger in the state over illegal immigrants, said the law "protects every Arizona citizen."

Anti-immigrant anger has swelled in the past month, after rancher Rob Krentz was found dead on his land north of Douglas, near the Mexico border. Authorities believe he was fatally shot by an illegal immigrant possibly connected to a drug smuggling cartel.

Arizona has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants, and its harsh, remote desert serves as the corridor for the majority of illegal immigrants and drugs moving north into the U.S. from Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, said he closed his Arizona offices at noon Friday after his staff in Yuma and Tucson were flooded with calls, some from people threatening violent acts and shouting racial slurs. He called on businesses and groups looking for convention and meeting locations to boycott Arizona.

The bill's Republican sponsor, state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said Obama and other critics of the bill were "against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law."

Pearce said the legislation would remove "political handcuffs" from police and help drive illegal immigrants from the state.

"Illegal is illegal," said Pearce, a driving force on the issue in Arizona. "We'll have less crime. We'll have lower taxes. We'll have safer neighborhoods. We'll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We'll have smaller classrooms."


Arizona governor signs immigration law; foes promise fight

1398 comments by Craig Harris, Alia Beard Rau and Glen Creno - Apr. 24, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Moments after Gov. Jan Brewer signed Arizona's controversial new immigration law Friday, opponents promised legal challenges and economic sanctions against a state still reeling from the housing meltdown.

Before and after Senate Bill 1070 became law at 1:30 p.m., civil unrest punctuated by loud protests and several minor clashes took place at the state Capitol, where more than 1,500 people gathered to chant, pray and either praise or castigate the Republican governor.

At least four protesters were arrested, several after hurling water bottles at police officers in riot gear.

Brewer, who faces a stiff primary challenge and needs conservatives to keep her in office, said the law represents another tool for the state to "work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix - the crisis caused by illegal immigration and Arizona's porous border."

The legislation put Arizona in the national spotlight, with President Barack Obama weighing in on it earlier in the day and cable-news giant CNN broadcasting live Brewer's signing and the Capitol demonstrations.

Even the Mexican government issued a formal statement, saying it "laments that Arizona lawmakers and the executive branch didn't take into account immigrants' contributions - economically, socially and culturally."

"The criminalization isn't the path to resolve the undocumented-immigration phenomenon," the statement added.

The legislation has widespread support among Arizonans, according to one recent poll, but Latino leaders compared the bill to apartheid in South Africa and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. A handful of teenage girls, among the hundreds of high-school students attending a Statehouse rally, openly wept after it was announced that Brewer signed the bill.

"This is the most reprehensible thing since the Japanese internment," said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator and community leader. "This is the saddest day for me. It's shameful."

Arizona's immigration law, now considered the toughest in the nation, makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires local police to enforce federal immigration laws. It will require anyone whom police suspect of being in the country illegally to produce "an alien registration document," such as a green card or other proof of citizenship, such as a passport or Arizona driver's license.

It also makes it illegal to impede the flow of traffic by picking up day laborers for work. A day laborer who gets picked up for work, and traffic is impeded in the process, would also be committing a criminal act.

The law goes into effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends, likely in early May.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the bill's sponsor, called it "a good day for America," saying the law is reasonable.

Best for Arizona

After receiving intense pressure from both sides during the past week, the governor stepped to a lectern in a crowded room near the Capitol and said she would sign SB 1070 into law.

"This bill strengthens the laws of our state, protects all of us, every Arizona citizen," she said. "It does so while ensuring that the constitutional rights of all remain solid, stable."

Brewer said that she listened patiently to supporters and opponents and that, although "many people disagree, I firmly believe it represents what's best for Arizona." She criticized the federal government for a lack of action to secure the border, and she said her signature provided "security within our borders."

"We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels," Brewer said. "We cannot stand idly by as drophouses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life."

Brewer insisted that protections built into the bill and training she has requested from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board will protect citizens against discrimination based on race or color. Yet law enforcement has been split over the bill, with many rank-and-file officer groups supporting it and the police chiefs association opposing it.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is among the supporters who believe it will give officers more tools to detain illegal immigrants.

Critics suggest the law opens the door for police to make unreasonable stops based on skin color or a lack of English fluency if there's probable cause to believe someone is in America illegally.

"We've got some very serious crime problems out there, and this bill does not address them. It does not give us tools to go after criminals that are part of the cartels," said Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who is running for governor.

The faith community also weighed in, with clergy criticizing the law and calling for calm.

Inside a chapel at Queen of Peace in Mesa, a congregation gathered for a monthly healing Mass.

Father Charlie Goraieb comforted his congregation, saying in Spanish, "It's going to be all right."

His parish is 60 percent Latino.

"It's a terrible situation and a reflection of fear and overreaction and total loss of perspective and how we are as a people and as a nation," he said before Mass.

Josefina Martinez, 56, of Phoenix, said, "I lived here for 25 years. I never had to deal with this. It's not fair."

Earlier in the day, Rabbi Maynard Bell, the Arizona office of the American Jewish Committee's area director, said the law makes a laughingstock of the state and does nothing to make the border with Mexico more secure.

"It's going to cost the state economically. It's going to tarnish the state's image. It's a lamentable day for Arizona," Bell said. "I don't think it will stand up to legal tests."

Legal fights

Just after Brewer signed the bill, opponents promised legal and economic fights.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he will ask the City Council on Tuesday to consider suing the state on grounds the new immigration law is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil-rights group, promised to fight implementation of the law by challenging its constitutionality. But the ACLU said the timing and strategy have to be worked out.

"We are definitely planning on filing a lawsuit," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, the group's Arizona executive director. "This is a direct attempt by Arizona to regulate immigration laws. And it's forbidden by the federal government."

Bill opponent Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said that the legislation violates the rights of all Arizonans and that a legal team will seek an injunction to keep the law from being implemented.

Gutierrez said he will lead efforts for economic sanctions against Arizona. He declined to disclose details, but one proposed sanction would include boycotts by out-of-state tourists.

Capitol protests

At the Capitol, demonstrators exchanged catcalls after Brewer's announcement, and roughly 80 police officers from the Capitol Police, the state Department of Public Safety and the Phoenix Police Department worked to maintain order.

There were at least two breakouts of unruly behavior. One occurred when a white-haired man with a beard agitated demonstrators opposing the bill. Police tried to calm the crowd as it closed around the man, who was escorted away. Dozens of demonstrators ran into the streets, and police formed a long human barrier on West Jefferson Street just south of the Capitol complex.

Amid shouting and chanting all day, police made sure the sides were separated. Supporters of the bill stayed in the courtyard between the House and Senate buildings, guarded by police and roped off with police tape.

Supporter Terry Irish of Chandler was elated when Brewer announced her decision.

"This thing wouldn't be happening if they had sealed our borders," Irish said.

Those leading the rally urged protesters to follow the example of civil-rights leader Cesar Chavez, who in 1972 led the unionization of farmworkers in direct opposition to Arizona law. They also urged peaceful opposition, and despite several flare-ups, no serious injuries were reported.

In southern Arizona, however, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who opposed the law, closed his offices at noon after receiving multiple threats.

Arizona has about 460,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
. Currently, immigration offenses are violations of federal law, something most local law-enforcement agencies cannot enforce.

Pearce, the Mesa Republican, has been working with groups across the state and nation for years to craft legislation that would toughen enforcement.

Republic reporters Scott Wong, Sadie Jo Smokey, Casey Newton, Mary Jo Pitzl and Angelique Soenarie contributed to this article.


Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Washington, Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City, Christine Armario in Miami and Angel Sas in Guatemala City contributed to this report.
Last update: 07:55 PM ET, Apr 23
Obama Seeks Immigration Overhaul, Slams Arizona Law
By Roger Runningen - Apr 23, 2010

President Barack Obama called anew for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, saying a failure to do so will lead to “misguided” efforts such as legislation passed in Arizona.

“Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” Obama said at a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony for 24 members of the U.S. military. “That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona.”

The state legislature passed a bill that would make it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone an officer suspects of being in the country without proper documentation.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who is running for a new term this year, signed the bill into law at a ceremony attended by several state officials hours after Obama’s comments. Brewer said she expects the measure to face constitutional challenges.

The measure has sparked protests in the state, where Census Bureau figures show about a quarter of the population is of Hispanic descent. It also shares a border with Mexico and has an estimated 460,000 residents living there illegally, the seventh highest total in the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

‘Notions of Fairness’

The actions by the Arizona legislature threaten “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans,” Obama said. It also may hamper trust between residents and law enforcement authorities, he said.

He said he has instructed U.S. authorities to monitor the state’s actions and to “examine the civil rights and other implications” of the legislation.

The president’s comments came at a naturalization ceremony for 24 U.S. soldiers from 16 countries who took the oath to become citizens.

Democratic congressional leaders have said an overhaul of U.S. immigration law could advance through Congress this year if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can pick up enough Republican support to get it through the chamber.

The last try at revamping the law to create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for some of those living in the U.S. illegally was in 2007. That was blocked amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats.

Call for Solution

“Surely we can all agree that when 11 million people in our country are living here illegally, outside the system, that’s unacceptable,” Obama said. “The American people demand and deserve a solution.”

Obama lauded the work of Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, to come up with a framework for legislation that can win bipartisan support.

Graham has said he’ll introduce legislation only after it’s finished and at least one other Republican signs on. He said this week that any effort to move immigration this year will fail badly because both parties need to “lay the groundwork” politically with tough border-control approaches first.

The president has been making calls to members of Congress, including Republicans, to win support for tackling an immigration law overhaul, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at;

Friday, April 23, 2010

Biggest study on mobile phone health effects launched,biggest-study-on-mobile-phone-health-effects-launched.aspx

Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS)

By Kate Holton
Apr 23, 2010 6:00 AM

More time for diseases to develop.

The biggest study to date into the effects of mobile-phone usage on long-term health was launched on Thursday, aiming to track at least a quarter of a million of people in five European countries for up to 30 years.

The Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS) differs from previous attempts to examine links between mobile phone use and diseases such as cancer and neurological disorders in that it will follow users' behaviour in real time.

Most other large-scale studies have centred around asking people already suffering from cancer or other diseases about their previous mobile-phone use.

They have also been shorter, since mobile phones have only been widely used for about a decade.

"One of the limitations of research to date is that when you ask people about their mobile phone use say five years ago there's a lot of error," said Jack Rowley, director of research and sustainability at industry body the GSM Association.

About 5 billion mobile phones are in use worldwide. To date, groups such as the World Health Organisation, the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health have found no evidence that mobile phone use harms health.

"Research to date has necessarily mainly focused on use in the short term, less than 10 years," principal investigator Professor Paul Elliott of the School of Public Health at London's Imperial College told a news conference.

"The COSMOS study will be looking at long-term use, 10, 20 or 30 years. And with long-term monitoring there will be time for diseases to develop," he said.

The COSMOS study forms part of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR), a UK body funded by a variety of government and industry sources and run by independent experts, mostly university academics.

Professor Lawrie Challis from MTHR said: "Many cancers take 10, 15 years for the symptoms to appear. So we've got to address the question: Could there be something out there that we need to look at?"

The GSMA's Rowley estimated that more than US$100 million ($107.7 million) had been spent so far around the world on research into health risks from mobile phone usage.

Global spending on wireless equipment and services provided by companies such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei surpassed US$1 trillion for the first time in 2009, according to technology research firm iSuppli.

The COSMOS study is recruiting participants aged 18-69 in Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark through mobile carriers. It will use data from volunteers' phone bills and health records as well as questionnaires.

Rowley, while welcoming the planned study, said organisers might have trouble finding enough volunteers, citing a previous attempt to carry out a similar study on a smaller scale in Germany in 2004, which foundered on privacy concerns.

In Britain, COSMOS is inviting 2.4 million mobile phone users to take part, through the country's four top carriers: Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange. It hopes 90,000-100,000 will agree.

By late Thursday afternoon, 232 had signed up.

The study will examine all health developments and look for links to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's as well as cancer.

It will also take account of how users carry their phone -- for example in a trouser or chest pocket or in a bag -- and whether they use hand-free kits.

A spokesman for Britain's Health Protection Agency, an independent public body, said the study had the potential to give very reliable results.

"The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College is one of the best research centres in the world for this type of study," he said.

COSMOS will announce its findings as it progresses.

(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Administrative Professionals Day

Thanks goes to the Kroger ad yesterday for reminding everyone of 'Administrative Professionals Day'.

I suppose we should now refer to Administrative Professional of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or to Brian Kemp as Georgia's Administrative Professional of State?

Wiki says: "The name was changed to Professional Secretaries Week in 1981, and became Administrative Professionals Week in 2000 to encompass the expanding responsibilities and wide-ranging job titles of administrative support staff. National Secretaries Week was created in 1952 through the efforts of Harry F. Klemfuss, a New York publicist. Working in conjunction with the National Secretaries Association, later known as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), Klemfuss wanted to encourage more people to consider careers in the secretarial/administrative support field."

I can appreciate the title change, but switching out the holiday name just seems to beg the question even more in contrast to the tradition. But, I guess this is a long-term plan in terms of impacting perception.

Oh, the disambiguation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Iran boosts Troops in Venezuela

Pentagon predicts U.S. clash with Islamist paramilitary

By Bill Gertz

Iran is increasing its paramilitary Qods force operatives in Venezuela while covertly continuing supplies of weapons and explosives to Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Pentagon's first report to Congress on Tehran's military.

The report on Iranian military power provides new details on the group known formally as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), the Islamist shock troops deployed around the world to advance Iranian interests. The unit is aligned with terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, North Africa and Latin America, and the report warns that U.S. forces are likely to battle the Iranian paramilitaries in the future.

The Qods force "maintains operational capabilities around the world," the report says, adding that "it is well established in the Middle East and North Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela."

"If U.S. involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential," the report says.

The report provides the first warning in an official U.S. government report about Iranian paramilitary activities in the Western Hemisphere. It also highlights links between Iran and the anti-U.S. government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been accused of backing Marxist terrorists in Colombia.

• Click here to view the report. (PDF)

The report gives no details on the activities of the Iranians in Venezuela and Latin America. Iranian-backed terrorists have conducted few attacks in the region. However, U.S. intelligence officials say Qods operatives are developing networks of terrorists in the region who could be called to attack the United States in the event of a conflict over Iran's nuclear program.

Qods force support for extremists includes providing arms, funding and paramilitary training and is not constrained by Islamist ideology. "Many of the groups it supports do not share, and sometimes openly oppose, Iranian revolutionary principles, but Iran supports them because they share common interests or enemies," the report says.

Qods force commandos are posted in Iranian embassies, charities and religious and cultural institutions that support Shi'ite Muslims. While providing some humanitarian support, Qods forces also engage in "paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes," the report says.

The report links Qods force operatives and the larger IRGC to some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past 30 years: the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983, the bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina in 1994, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and many insurgent attacks in Iraq since 2003.

Anti-Cancer Agent Stops Metastasis

Article Date: 15 Apr 2010 - 0:00 PDT

Like microscopic inchworms, cancer cells slink away from tumors to travel and settle elsewhere in the body. Now, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College report in today's online edition of the journal Nature that new anti-cancer agents break down the looping gait these cells use to migrate, stopping them in their tracks.

Mice implanted with cancer cells and treated with the small molecule macroketone lived a full life without any cancer spread, compared with control animals, which all died of metastasis. When macroketone was given a week after cancer cells were introduced, it still blocked greater than 80 percent of cancer metastasis in mice.

These findings provide a very encouraging direction for development of a new class of anti-cancer agents, the first to specifically stop cancer metastasis, says the study's lead investigator, Dr. Xin-Yun Huang, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"More than 90 percent of cancer patients die because their cancer has spread, so we desperately need a way to stop this metastasis," Dr. Huang says. "This study offers a paradigm shift in thinking and, potentially, a new direction in treatment."

Dr. Huang and his research team have been working on macroketone since 2003. Their work started after researchers in Japan isolated a natural substance, dubbed migrastatin, secreted by Streptomyces bacteria, that is the basis of many antibiotic drugs. The Japanese researchers noted that migrastatin had a weak inhibitory effect on tumor cell migration.

Dr. Huang and collaborators at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center then proceeded to build analogues of migrastatin -- synthetic and molecularly simpler versions. "After a lot of modifications, we made several versions that were a thousand-fold more potent than the original," Dr. Huang says. In 2005, they published a study showing that several of the new versions, including macroketone, stopped cancer cell metastasis in laboratory animals, but they didn't know how the agent worked.

In the current study, the researchers revealed the mechanism. They found that macroketone targets an actin cytoskeletal protein known as fascin that is critical to cell movement. In order for a cancer cell to leave a primary tumor, fascin bundles actin filaments together like a thick finger. The front edge of this finger creeps forward and pulls along the rear of the cell. Cells crawl away in the same way that an inchworm moves.

Macroketone latches on to individual fascin, preventing the actin fibers from adhering to each other and forming the pushing leading edge, Dr. Huang says. Because individual actin fibers are too soft when they are not bundled together, the cell cannot move.

The new animal experiments detailed in the study confirmed the power of macroketone. The agent did not stop the cancer cells implanted into the animals from forming tumors or from growing, but it completely prevented tumor cells from spreading, compared with control animals, he says. Even when macroketone was given after tumors formed, most cancer spread was blocked.

"This suggests to us that an agent like macroketone could be used to both prevent cancer spread and to treat it as well," Dr. Huang says. "Of course, because it has no effect on the growth of a primary tumor, such a drug would have to be combined with other anti-cancer therapies acting on tumor cell growth."

Also pleasing was the finding that the mice suffered few side effects from the treatment, according to Dr. Huang. "The beauty of this approach is that fascin is overexpressed in metastatic tumor cells but is only expressed at a very low level in normal epithelial cells, so a treatment that attacks fascin will have comparatively little effect on normal cells -- unlike traditional chemotherapy which attacks all dividing cells," he says.

Dr. Huang and his colleagues reported another key finding in the same Nature paper -- on X-ray crystal structures of fascin and of the complex of fascin and macroketone. They demonstrated how macroketone blocks the activity of fascin. The images showed precisely how macroketone snugly nestles into a pocket of fascin affecting the way it regulates actin filament bundling. "The molecular snapshots provide an approach for rational drug design of other molecules inhibiting the function of fascin, the therapeutic target," says Dr. Huang.

This work was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.

Co-researchers include Dr. Lin Chen, Dr. Shengyu Yang and Dr. J. Jillian Zhang -- all of Weill Cornell Medical College, and Dr. Jean Jakoncic, from Brookhaven National Laboratory. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Source: Weill Cornell Medical College

Copyright: Medical News Today

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Up the Academy

Bottoms Up! Texas city revives paddling as it takes a swat at misbehavior

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

TEMPLE, TEX. -- In an era when students talk back to teachers, skip class and wear ever-more-risque clothing to school, one central Texas city has hit upon a deceptively simple solution: Bring back the paddle.
This Story

Most school districts across the country banned paddling of students long ago. Texas sat that trend out. Nearly a quarter of the estimated 225,000 students who received corporal punishment nationwide in 2006, the latest figures available, were from the Lone Star State.

But even by Texas standards, Temple is unusual. The city, a compact railroad hub of 60,000 people, banned the practice and then revived it at the demand of parents who longed for the orderly schools of yesteryear. Without paddling, "there were no consequences for kids," said Steve Wright, who runs a construction business and is Temple's school board president.

Since paddling was brought back to the city's 14 schools by a unanimous board vote in May, behavior at Temple's single high school has changed dramatically, Wright said, even though only one student in the school system has been paddled.

"The discipline problem is much better than it's been in years," Wright said, something he attributed to the new punishment and to other discipline programs schools are trying. Residents of the city's comfortable homes, most of which sport neighborly, worn chairs out front, praise the change.

"There are times when maybe a good crack might not be a bad idea," said Robert Pippin, a custom home builder who sports a goatee and cowboy boots. His son graduated from Temple schools several years ago.

Corporal punishment remains legal in 20 states, mostly in the South, but its use is diminishing. Ohio ended it last year, and a movement for a federal ban is afoot. A House subcommittee held a hearing on the practice Thursday, and its chairman, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), is gearing up for a push to end the practice once and for all. She plans to introduce legislation within weeks.

"When you look that the federal government has outlawed physical punishment in prisons, I think the time has come that we should do it in schools," she said.

A joint American Civil Liberties Union-Human Rights Watch report last year found that students with disabilities were disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, sometimes in direct response to behavioral problems that were a result of their disabilities. Many educators and psychologists say that positive tools, such as giving praise for good behavior and withholding it for bad, are far more effective for discouraging misbehavior.

Those techniques "encourage them to behave well in the future," said report author Alice Farmer. Paddling "makes students lose respect for their teachers."

Rules about paddling vary from district to district, but typically only administrators, not teachers, can mete out the punishment, which is done in private. Usually, a long, flat wooden paddle is used to give as many as three blows across the student's clothed rear end, although Farmer found students who had been hit many more times. Boys are overwhelmingly the target.

Not everybody in Texas is gung-ho about paddling. The practice has been banned in the state's big cities, and its use varies from campus to campus in districts that allow it.

In Alvin, a formerly agricultural city of 23,000 that has been swallowed by Houston's suburbs in the past decade, the policy is on the books but not used in many schools.

"I don't think it's that simple anymore," said Terry Constantine, who added that she hasn't swung a paddle in her 16 years as an elementary school principal there. "We look for our parents to work with us now."

At Alvin High School, where the technique is used, Principal Kevon Wells said he had paddled students about six times this school year. If a student continued to misbehave, he said, he wouldn't do it again. "I'm not into beating kids," he said.

But in Temple, a city just outside Fort Hood that shakes with the air horns of the trains that pass through its rail yards, many residents say they hope that the old-fashioned solution can address what they see as rising disrespect among youth. They say their discipline problems aren't different from those in any other school system in the country: students showing up late for class, or violating the dress code, or talking during lessons. Those habits were unheard of in the days when schoolteachers routinely swung a paddle, they say.

"Back then, you wouldn't throw spitballs, because you were afraid of the consequences," said Darr Kuykendall, a worker for a plumbing supply company.

"A lot of kids have tempers," said Abby Jones, a junior at Temple High School. "Those kids that would be paddled would think of it as a threat . . . and maybe would be better."

Parents also pushed for the change because many paddle their children at home and wanted consistent discipline in the classroom, said John Hancock, assistant superintendent of administration for the Temple schools, who has been an educator for more than 40 years.

"We're rural central Texas. We're very well educated, but still there are those core values. Churches are full on Sundays," Hancock said. "This is a tool we'd like in the toolbox for responding to discipline issues."

Hancock, an urbane, sturdily built Colorado native who wears horn-rimmed glasses, said the school system had banned corporal punishment about six years ago because a state law change made what was permissible uncertain. Follow-up made clear that schools could paddle, he said.

Since the policy was changed in May, the school system has paddled only one student, and that was at the request of his parent, Hancock said.

Many districts, including Temple, which is nearly evenly divided among white, black and Hispanic students, require parental consent before the punishment is given. Temple also requires the student's consent, Hancock said, and the punishment is considered equivalent to an out-of-school suspension.

Residents said restoring paddling is less about the punishment and more about the threat.

"It's like speeding," said Bill Woodward, a graphic designer. "Are they going to give you a speeding ticket, or . . . a warning? I'd speed all day if I knew it was going to be a warning."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Arizona Clears Strict Immigration Bill


Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday passed one of the toughest pieces of immigration-enforcement legislation in the country, which would make it a violation of state law to be in the U.S. without proper documentation.

It would also grant police the power to stop and verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being illegal.

The bill could still face a veto from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. A spokesman for Ms. Brewer said she has not publicly commented on the bill. Ms. Brewer, a Republican, has argued for stringent immigration laws.

Under the measure, passed Tuesday by Arizona's lower house, after being passed earlier by the state Senate, foreign nationals are required to carry proof of legal residency.

Immigrants' rights groups roundly criticized the bill. "The objective is to make life miserable for immigrants so that they leave the state," said Chris Newman, general counsel for the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "The bill constitutes a complete disregard for the rights of nonwhites in Arizona. It effectively mandates racial profiling."

The bill's author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, was in a committee session Tuesday and couldn't be reached, his offices said. Mr. Pearce, a Republican, represents the city of Mesa, in Maricopa County, whose sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has gained a national reputation for his tough stance on immigration enforcement. A spokesman for Mr. Arpaio didn't return a request for comment.

The bill is different from an earlier version, giving protections for church and community organizations from criminal prosecution for transporting or harboring illegal immigrants.

In a statement, Tuesday Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) called the measure "a comprehensive immigration enforcement bill that addresses the concerns of our communities, constituents and colleagues."

"This updated version gives our local police officers the tools they need to combat illegal immigration, while protecting the civil rights of citizens and legal residents."However, human rights groups are certain to challenge the measure in court, said Joe Rubio, lead organizer for Valley Interfaith Project, a Phoenix-based advocacy group, calling it "an economic train wreck." He added that "Arizona's economic recovery will lag way behind the country's if we keep chasing away our workforce. Where do the legislators think business will find workers?"

The bill in some ways toughens up a situation that the Obama administration had tried to roll back. Under a program known as 287g, some local law enforcement agencies were trained to enforce federal immigration laws by checking suspects' immigration status.

Mr. Arpaio, the Maricopa county sheriff, had been one of the most aggressive enforcers of 287g. However, the Obama administration in recent months has sought to scale back that program, and had reduced the resources it made available to Mr. Arpaio's office and others.
—Tamara Audi contributed to this article.

Write to Miriam Jordan at

Friday, April 9, 2010

Inkjet-like device 'prints' cells right over burns

Thu Apr 8, 3:04 PM

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Inspired by a standard office inkjet printer, U.S. researchers have rigged up a device that can spray skin cells directly onto burn victims, quickly protecting and healing their wounds as an alternative to skin grafts.

They have mounted the device, which has so far only been tested on mice, in a frame that can be wheeled over a patient in a hospital bed, they reported on Wednesday.

A laser can take a reading of the wound's size and shape so that a layer of healing skin cells can be precisely applied, said the team at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"We literally print the cells directly onto the wound," said student Kyle Binder, who helped design the device. "We can put specific cells where they need to go."

Tests on mice showed the spray system, called bioprinting, could heal wounds quickly and safely, the researchers reported at the Translational Regenerative Medicine Forumb.

"We were able to close the entire wound in two weeks," Binder said. Mice with plugs of skin removed that were not treated took five weeks to heal, he said.

The team will eventually seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to test the device on humans, said George Christ, a professor of regenerative medicine at the school.

They are working with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine to come up with ways to help soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could be used to close various types of wounds as well as burns.

Binder and colleagues dissolved human skin cells from pieces of skin, separating and purifying the various cell types such as fibroblasts and keratinocytes.

They put them in a nutritious solution to make them multiply and then used a system similar to a multicolor office inkjet printer to apply first a layer of fibroblasts and then a layer of keratinocytes, which form the protective outer layer of skin.

The wound on the mouse was completely closed by three weeks, they reported. Experts say victims of massive burns usually die of infection within two weeks unless they receive skin grafts, and normal grafting often leaves severe scars.

The sprayed cells also incorporated themselves into surrounding skin, hair follicles and sebaceous glands, probably because immature cells called stem cells were mixed in with the sprayed cells, the researchers said.

"You have to give a lot of credit to the cells. When you put them into the wound, they know what to do," Binder said.

The next step is to try the system on pigs, whose skin more closely resembles the skin of humans. Binder said it may also be useful for treating diabetic foot ulcers, a common problem. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Report: Tanker owner in talks with Somali pirates

The Associated Press
Friday, April 9, 2010; 6:44 AM

SEOUL, South Korea -- Reports say negotiations for the release of a South Korean supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates have begun.

Authorities say Somali pirates hijacked the 300,000-ton Samho Dream in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. The ship was transporting crude oil worth about $160 million from Iraq to the U.S. with a crew of 24 South Koreans and Filipinos.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed source as saying Friday that the owner of the ship has begun negotiations for the ship's release but the pirates' demands aren't yet clear.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry and the shipping company declined to comment.

Ministry officials said Thursday that a naval destroyer is monitoring the ship but that pirates have warned the ship not to come any closer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Korean Navy destroyer nears supertanker seized by Somali pirates

April 07, 2010

A South Korean navy destroyer has caught up with a hijacked supertanker under control of Somali pirates, an official at Seoul's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The destroyer has tracked down the 300,000-ton tanker, Samho Dream, heading to Somali waters, the official told reporters.

"The destroyer, Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin, arrived in waters near the Samho Dream at around 1:20 a.m. [Korean time] and is now operating in its vicinity," he said.

The 4,500-ton destroyer was keeping a close watch over the hijacked vessel about 30 miles away, a defense ministry official said.

The South Korean-operated tanker, carrying five South Korean and 19 Filipino crew members, was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean on Sunday on its way to the United States from Iraq. It sent a distress call to the South Korean destroyer saying three pirates had boarded it.

The destroyer, which had been operating in Somali waters as part of global efforts to fight piracy, was ordered to speed to the seized ship. Foreign Ministry officials earlier said the destroyer will not attempt to intercept or board the hijacked vessel, as the move could put the ship's crew at a greater risk.

The tanker was believed to be headed toward Somali waters where 26 other commercial and private vessels and about 400 people of varying nationalities are held by pirates, the Foreign Ministry official said.

The ship's South Korean operator, Samho Shipping Company, said the pirates have not yet made any contact to make demands for the release of the ship and its crew members.


Monday, April 5, 2010

South Korean navy pursues hijacked oil tanker

A South Korean navy warship is in pursuit of a huge oil tanker, hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

The 300,000-tonne Samho Dream, which was on its way from Iraq to the United States, has 24 crew on board, and is loaded with crude oil.

Reports suggest the Korean destroyer is fast enough to catch up to the tanker before it reaches the Somali coast.

Pirates targeting ships off the coast of Somalia made tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments last year.

South Korea is one of several Asian nations that have an anti-piracy warship patrolling Somali waters to guard against hijackings. Western navies are also trying to protect ships against pirate attack.

Volatile cargo

The destroyer now in pursuit of the South Korea-operated, Singapore-owned tanker was on anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden - one of the world's busiest and most dangerous shipping lanes.

It has been diverted some 1,500 km (930 miles) south-east of the Gulf to the area where the hijacking took place.

A South Korean official said the destroyer had been ordered to intercept the hijacked vessel on its expected route into Somali waters, according to Yonhap news agency.

He also expressed concern for the safety of the crew - five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos - but said the government would not negotiate with the pirates.

It is unclear what action the warship will take once it reaches the tanker.

The BBC's East Africa correspondent Will Ross says that it is extremely rare for any navy to use force once hostages have been taken.

Given the nature of the cargo there is also the risk of immense environmental damage, he adds.

Oil ambition

The value of the Samho Dream's cargo is estimated at about $170m (£111.7m).

Reuters reported that the US refiner Valero Energy Corp said it was the owner of the crude oil cargo.

It said a pirate source named Mohamed had said the ship was heading for Haradheere, the pirates' base at which many ships are held during ransom negotiations.

At least four South Korean ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates in recent years: a tuna ship with 25 crew in 2006, two ships and 24 crew (held captive for six months) in 2007, and a cargo ship with 22 sailors in September 2008.

The crew in that last attack were released after the ship's owner paid a ransom.

The first successful hijacking of a so-called Very Large Crude Carrier was of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star in late 2008.

Another VLCC, the Maran Centaurus, was taken last November and held for two months before a ransom estimated at between $5.5m and $7m was paid.