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Somali pirates slaughter sailers
Friday 25 February 2011, 01:38AM
  Somali pirates on Tuesday killed four Americans including a retired couple who had spent several months in Phuket, when efforts to end a hostage drama exploded into violence, the US military said. Four Somali pirates also died, two of them killed by US Special Forces, in one of the deadliest endings to a raft of hostage-takings off the coast of Somalia over the past six years. Jean and Scott Adam, a California couple, had been sailing the world on their yacht, Quest for more than seven years and were on their way from Phuket to the Mediterranean on their latest trip. Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, a couple from Seattle who joined the Adams, were also killed by the band of 19 pirates who commandeered the yacht in waters southeast of Oman, US officials said. Four US warships including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had been tracking the Quest since it was hijacked, US officials said. The US military brought two of the pirates aboard the USS Sterett on Monday to conduct negotiations to free the hostages, said Vice Admiral Mark Fox, head of the US Naval Forces Central Command based in Bahrain. Then early Tuesday morning, with “absolutely no warning”, the pirates launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the Sterett, Adm Fox said, leading US Special Forces to race to the yacht where they heard gunfire. By the time they boarded, all four Americans had been shot. The US Special Forces soon took control of the yacht, stabbing to death one pirate and shooting dead another, Adm Fox said. Two more Somali pirates were found dead inside the vessel, the circumstances of their deaths unclear but possibly the result of an earlier fight among the hijackers. The Adams, who had been circumnavigating the globe for years in their 58-foot pilothouse sloop, spent several months in Phuket, waiting for the right weather conditions, before heading across the Indian Ocean, taking friends Ms Mackay and Mr Riggle with them. They joined the Blue Water Rally (BWR), which organises groups of yachts to sail together; there is safety in numbers. Together the yachts sailed to Sri Lanka, a tough crossing with strong westerly winds followed by a flat calm. They called in at Galle in Sri Lanka, where they rested before sailing around the southern tip of India and up to Cochin and Mumbai. From Mumbai, Jean Adam emailed friends. “We stayed off the coast a bit more than the little boats. We’re anchored happily in Bombay harbour. We can see the Gateway of India [an arch built by the British in colonial times. Ed.] on shore right next to the Taj Mahal Hotel … We are getting fuel and water and a few other essentials and will be leaving for Salalah in Oman, soon.” They never made it; 275 miles off the coast of Oman they were captured by the pirates. Four days later they were dead. According to the BWR organizers, the Adams had decided to make their own passage across the Arabian Sea. In a statement posted on its site on Saturday, BWR said, “The Blue Water Rally is very distressed to learn of the hijacking of SV Quest on 18th February. Scott and Jean Adam joined the … rally just before Christmas and had been sailing with the rally from Phuket as far as Mumbai. “Quest had taken on board two well-known rally participants: Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle. “However, Quest chose to take an independent route from Mumbai to Salalah, leaving the Rally on 15 February. All information is now being handled by the US Central Command and their spokesman in Dubai.” Just why the Adams decided to leave the rally at this, potentially the most dangerous point, is not clear. The Somali piracy problem, which surged in 2005, has so far proven intractable. Somali pirates have hijacked vessels large and small over a huge area of the western Arabian Sea; from almost as far west as the coast of India and as far south as the Seychelles and Mombasa. In most cases, abductees have been released unharmed after payment of a ransom. According to piracy expert, Sharon Gill, Somali pirates amassed US$238 million in ransoms last year. – Phuket News, AFP
More than 1,000 dead in Libya: former Kadhafi aide
Thursday 24 February 2011, 10:36PM
 The uprising in Libya has left more than 1,000 people dead, 600 in the capital alone, Moamer Kadhafi's former protocol chief Nouri el-Mismari told AFP Wednesday. Mismari, who came to France late last year for health reasons, said the insurrection had so far left "more than 1,000 people dead in all of Libya" but did not say what information his estimate was based on. On Tuesday, Libya's regime said 300 people had been killed in the protests, but the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) said on Wednesday that at least 640 had died. "It's very very serious. Libyans won't stop", to end his 41-year rule, Mismari said. "This is the end of Moamer Kadhafi." "Moamer Kadhafi does not even have five percent of the country behind him," he said. Members of his clan were "not fighting for him but for themselves". Mismari whom Tripoli wants extradited said that "mercenaries" were killing masses of people. "They are shooting blindly" while the air force will not shoot at the people, he added. Kadhafi "would be lucky to get killed", he said, "if not people will want to put him on trial like Saddam Hussein". Kadhafi's regime has lost vast swathes of Libya's east to the insurrection, it emerged Wednesday, as the West prepared for a mass exodus from a "bloodbath" in the north African country. He said Kadhafi had been wearing a bulletproof vest under his clothes and protection "under his turban" during Tuesday's rambling television speech in which he ordered his forces to crush the uprising, warning armed protesters they would be executed and vowing to fight to the end. The speech was the "speech of a loser", he said. Mismari is suspected by Tripoli of embezzling public funds, a claim which he denies. He was arrested in France on November 29 pending his extradition but was freed on December 15.
Miracle needed for quake survivors
Thursday 24 February 2011, 10:15PM
 New Zealand said Thursday that only a "miracle" could save possibly hundreds of people trapped in the rubble after a devastating earthquake that has killed at least 76. Two days after the 6.3-magnitude tremor laid waste to central Christchurch and some of its suburbs, police grimly reported there had been no communication with anyone caught in the wreckage for 24 hours. "We are hopeful that we might find survivors, but as time passes hopes fade," superintendent Russell Gibson told TV3. Prime Minister John Key said an estimate of 300 missing could prove to be "wildly inaccurate either way", and urged people to be realistic about finding more survivors in New Zealand's worst natural disaster in 80 years. "That does not mean that there can't and won't be people trapped in buildings," said Key, adding that names and nationalities of some of the dead would be released later. "All over the world when we see disasters like this, we see miracle stories of people being pulled out, days and in some cases weeks after the event," he told TV3. "We can't give up hope, but we also need to be realistic." An English language school based in the six-storey Canterbury Television (CTV) building, which was razed to the ground, said 48 students and staff were missing, including 10 members of a Japanese study group. Five of the students, who included citizens from a range of Asian countries, were on just their second day at King's Education college, which was on the building's third floor. Up to 100 people may be missing in the building. Japanese search and rescue experts were on the scene and were combing the CTV site in the shadow of the listing, 26-storey Grand Chancellor Hotel, Christchurch's tallest building, which is at risk of collapse. Australian, British, American, Taiwanese and Singaporean teams are also helping about 500 New Zealand rescuers comb several sites in the cordoned-off centre of the nation's second-biggest city. Emergency workers will fan out to devastated suburbs on Thursday. Up to 30 people were rescued on the first night but only a handful emerged from the wreckage on Wednesday, including one woman who spent 26 hours under her desk in the mangled Pyne Gould building. Brief hopes were raised by a report of signs of life in the Holy Cross Chapel. But rescuers scrambling to the site were unable to find any survivors. Rescue efforts are now entering their final stage, with New Zealand's emergency chief saying most trapped people will only be able to survive for two to three days. Pyne Gould Corporation said rescue efforts at its four-storey block, which folded like a concertina, had now turned to recovering bodies rather than rescuing survivors. It said 14 people were believed to be in the building. Condolence messages have been sent from Queen Elizabeth -- New Zealand's head of state -- as well as US President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI and the Dalai Lama. New Zealand sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire", a vast zone of seismic and volcanic activity stretching from Chile on one side to Japan and Indonesia on the other. Christchurch was rocked by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in September, which damaged 100,000 buildings but did not cause any deaths. New Zealand has not suffered such large loss of life since 256 people died in a 1931 quake. Prime Minister Key on Tuesday announced New Zealand's first ever national state of emergency, allowing the country's resources to be directed towards the quake effort.
Saudi King returns home amid sweeping Arab unrest
Thursday 24 February 2011, 09:08AM
Saudi King Abdullah arrived in his homeland yeseterday after three months abroad, boosting social benefits for his people as he returned to a Middle East rocked by anti-regime uprisings. As the king's plane touched down at King Khaled bin Abdul Aziz Airport, men in white garb performed a traditional Ardha dance while well-wishers including women, most in black niqab, waited to see their ruler. Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz and Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa were among a string of officials and royals who turned out to greet the 86-year-old monarch, who was seated in a black chair set up just outside the plane's door. Saudi Arabia has declared Saturday a public holiday to mark King Abdullah's safe return home, following back surgery in New York and a recuperation period in Morocco. Hours before his arrival, the king boosted social benefits for civil servants, the official Saudi Press Agency said. He ordered the implementation of a 15 percent pay rise for state employees as well as an increase in the cash available for Saudi housing loans. King Abdullah also granted pardon to some prisoners indicted in financial crimes and announced plans to tackle unemployment. Streets and buildings in the capital, Riyadh, were decorated with national flags and large banners welcoming the monarch back to the oil-rich kingdom, whose neighbours Bahrain and Yemen are witnessing popular revolts. The front pages of all Saudi newspapers on Wednesday were dedicated to news of the king's return, as editorials linked its timing to the "unrest" sweeping the Arab world. "The king is the only pillar of stability in the region now," said the English-language daily Arab News. "The king returns today at a time when the Arab world is experiencing frightening developments to what he had left not only stable... but an oasis of peace and security full of love and loyalty," said the Arabic-language daily Okaz. Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak -- a close ally of King Abdullah -- was forced out of power under massive popular pressure on February 11. Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah in mid-January after protests toppled his regime. Tunisian authorities have formally asked Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi. Tension is also gripping Yemen as well as Libya and Bahrain, home to a large Shiite community which is demanding reform in the Sunni-ruled country. The Saudi's oil-rich Eastern Province, which abuts Bahrain, is home to most of the estimated two million Saudi Shiites. The unrest in the Arab world has pushed oil prices higher on fear of disruption in supplies, but Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, has said it has the capacity to meet any shortage. King Abdullah flew to New York on November 22 and underwent surgery two days later for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a haematoma. The monarch's advanced age combined with health problems have raised concerns about the future of Saudi Arabia, which has been ruled by the Al-Saud family since 1932. Abdullah's half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan, who has held the post of defence minister since 1962, is 83 and is believed to have cancer. Little seen at home for the previous two years, Sultan himself flew back from Morocco on November 21 to take over the running of the government in Abdullah's absence. Interior Minister Prince Nayef, 77, is third in line to the Saudi throne and was appointed second deputy prime minister in March 2009. King Abdullah is expected to carry out a cabinet reshuffle after the terms of several ministers expired on February 19 and were not extended.
Christchurch hit by 6.3 earthquake
Thursday 24 February 2011, 08:18AM
  New Zealand's Christchurch weathered a 7.1 earthquake on September 4, but a smaller 6.3 aftershock toppled buildings and killed scores, largely because it was a ``bullseye’’ direct hit, scientists said. Tuesday's cataclysmic tremor, which has left 75 dead and nearly 300 people missing and the city centre in ruins, was so close to the city of 390,000 and so shallow that major damage was inevitable, they said. “This quake was pretty much a bullseye,’’ said Professor John Wilson, deputy dean of engineering at Australia's Swinburne University of Technology. “It was quite a large 6.3-magnitude event and so close to Christchurch that we weren't surprised to see significant damage. At that close range, the level of shaking is quite severe.’’ The September quake damaged 100,000 buildings and left a major repair bill, but caused no deaths, after striking at 4.35am, when most people were safely in bed. But this week's tremor hit at the worst possible time, at lunch on a weekday, when offices were open and streets were busy with shoppers who were vulnerable to falling masonry. Its epicentre was only five kilometres (three miles) from the city at a depth of just four kilometres below the land's surface, meaning there was little ground to absorb the blow. Some of the worst-hit buildings, including Christchurch's landmark cathedral - which lost its spire. Newer office blocks such as the CTV and Pyne Gould buildings collapsed, while the towering Grand Chancellor Hotel was tottering dangerously. Australian Seismological Centre director Kevin McCue also said the tremor could increase pressure on plate boundaries across New Zealand, increasing the likelihood of a tremor elsewhere, particularly in the capital Wellington. "If you have one [quake] it ups the hazard," he told the New Zealand Herald. "This quake has the potential to load up the plate boundary, increasing the likelihood of a quake at Wellington." "Wellington has always been considered much more at risk because it straddles the plate boundary. New Zealand has been relatively quiet since the 1930s - maybe [it's] about to catch up." New Zealand sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire", a vast zone of seismic and volcanic activity stretching from Chile on one side to Japan and Indonesia on the other. Tuesday's quake is the most deadly to hit New Zealand since a 7.8-magnitude tremor killed 256 people in the Hawke's Bay region in 1931.  
UN calls for end of Libyan bloodshed
Thursday 24 February 2011, 12:31AM
The UN Security Council on February 21 condemned attacks by Moamer Kadhafi's forces against Libyan protesters and demanded an immediate end to violence in which hundreds have been killed. The 15-nation council - the Western powers along with China, India and Russia - made a pointed call for action against those responsible for the attacks. The council "condemned the violence and use of force against civilians, deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians." Libyan authorities have acknowledged at least 300 dead in the past week, but rights groups say the toll could be as high as 400. Council members "underscored the need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under their control, on civilians," said a statement released after protracted negotiations. "They called for an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate concerns of the population." Kadhafi was not named in the statement, but it made clear that the strongman who has ruled the North African nation for more than four decades was the target. The council said the Libyan government must "protect its population," allow access to international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies, as well as ensure the safety of foreigners and help those who want to leave. Libyan diplomats who have broken with Kadhafi called on the Security Council to hold the meeting and requested a UN no-fly zone over the country as well as humanitarian action. But diplomats said these plans were not discussed. "People have seen many planes overhead, they have seen helicopters overhead, they have seen tanks, they have seen some firing going on on the ground, they have seen some snipers," Pascoe said. Kadhafi ordered his forces to crush the uprising against his rule, warning armed protesters they will be executed and vowing to fight to the end. The Arab world's longest-serving ruler said he would die as a martyr rather than give up power. -AFP