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Thai bus, truck collision kills 19

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thai volunteer foundation workers search for injured passengers after an inter-province bus and an 18-wheel trailer truck collided in Saraburi Province on July 23. AFP
THAILAND : Nineteen people were killed and 20 hurt Tuesday when a double decker coach collided with a truck in central Thailand and burst into flames, authorities said.

"Altogether there are 19 dead -- 18 died at the scene and another one died at the hospital," said an official from the national institute for emergency medicine in Bangkok, who asked not to be named.

She added that 20 people were injured in the early morning crash in central Saraburi province.

The inter-province bus, which was travelling from Bangkok to Roi Et in the northeast of the country, caught fire after the crash.

Images from Thai television news showed the extent of the damage to the vehicle, which appeared to have been completely incinerated. Police, who have arrested the driver of the truck, said the crash was a head-on collision involving three vehicles.

"The truck crossed from the opposite lane of traffic and hit the bus," said local police officer Lieutenant Colonel Assavathep Janthanari, adding that a pickup truck behind the bus had also been involved in the crash.


North Korea launches annual Arraign festival

SOUTH KOREA: North Korea has launched its annual Arirang festival, featuring tens of thousands of performers in a highly-choreographed display of patriotism and support for the ruling Kim dynasty.

This year's mass games opened in Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day stadium on Monday evening with a theme that focused on the 60th anniversary of the armistice suspending hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War.

The conflict is referred to in North Korea as the "Fatherland Liberation War", and the signing of the armistice on July 27 is celebrated as "Victory Day".

The Arirang festival, named after a famous Korean folk song, is an extravaganza of song, dance, rhythmic gymnastics and mass calisthenics.

The show is played out against a constantly-changing backdrop provided by an entire bank of the stadium, where participants wield giant flashcards to create complex mosaics with a patriotic flavour.

"Spectacular scenes were presented, depicting heroic soldiers during the Fatherland Liberation War backed by effects of the colourful light rhythms, lighting and flame fireworks," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said in its report on Monday's performance. KCNA video footage highlighted scenes and slogans praising the North's founding leader Kim Il-Sung, and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il.

Current leader Kim Jong-Un, who came to power after his father Kim Jong-Il's death in December 2011, was not named as attending Monday's performance.

The festival runs until September 9, with five shows a week.

"I'm taking part for the first time. I would like to please General Kim Jong-Un with a successful performance," one costumed participant told KCNA.


Actress in Tamil as Manjula Vijayakumar is dead

Popular southern actress Manjula Vijayakumar, who was suffering from jaundice, breathed her last Tuesday at the SRMC hospital here. She was 59.

"She was admitted to Sri Ramchandra Medical College (SRMC) a week ago after she suffered a severe fall in her house. She was undergoing treatment for this and two days back was diagnosed with jaundice," a source close to the family told IANS.

She is survived by her husband Vijayakumar, popular Tamil actor, and three daughters - Vanitha, Preetha and Sridevi.

Her last rites will be performed in the evening.

Manjula, once a popular face in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada cinema, had starred in over 100 films in her three-decade long career.

She made her cinematic debut in Tamil romantic-drama "Shanti Nilayam" (1969), in which she played the teenage daughter to Gemini Ganeshan.

Some of her best films include "Rickshawkaran", "Ulagam Sutrum Valiban" and "Alluri Seetarama Raju".


Amitabh Bachchan attends the Whistling Woods 6th annual convocation ceremony

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan attends the Whistling Woods 6th annual convocation ceremony in Mumbai on July 17. AFP

Rain no dampener for New Zealand cardboard cathedral

NEW ZEALAND : Sections of an innovative New Zealand cathedral being made from cardboard have gone soggy in the rain, but the project will still be completed next month, the Anglican Church said Friday.

The structure, which has walls made from cardboard tubes, is a temporary replacement for Christchurch's Anglican cathedral, which was destroyed in a February 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people in New Zealand's second largest city.

Anglican Church spokesman Jayson Rhodes said recent rainstorms had left some sections of tubing wrinkly and sodden, meaning they would have to be cut out and replaced.

But he said builders had always expected some problems with the unusual construction material and the damage was only cosmetic, leaving the structural integrity of the building intact.

"Some of the cardboard got wet when the building was not fully enclosed... the roof is now enclosed and finished so that same risk doesn't exist," he told radio station Newstalk ZB.

"It's nothing to be worried about at all. The builders anticipated this would happen. It's just cosmetic." He said the building, the brainchild of renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, was "weeks away" from opening.

The A-frame structure consists of 600-millimetre (24-inch) diameter cardboard tubes, coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants, placed around a timber support structure and topped with a polycarbon roof.

It is designed to hold 700 people and have building life of 50 years.


Young generation gets into spirit of Mandela day

SOUTH AFRICA: Sixteen-year-old Genius Molefe wasn't born when Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president, but she joined many South Africans in 67 minutes of community service marking his birthday Thursday. Molefe joined a government and UN-backed campaign to mark 67 years of Mandela's public despite the fact her knowledge of the icon's political life is limited to books, television retrospectives and family stories.

"My father always tells me about the role played by Mandela and other leaders in ending the political violence in the townships after he came out of prison," she said.

"It is a great privilege for me to say that today I did my bit in support of Mandela Day, even if it's for the first time," she said.

The high school student from Mamelodi township north of the capital Pretoria joined her schoolmates in cleaning a local old age home. Across the country a similar picture unfolded as soup kitchens were thrown up, blankets handed out and dilapidated buildings torn down.

For Molefe it was a way of tapping Mandela's moral courage, and perhaps experiencing its impact for the first time. In the years since Mandela left public office many South Africans, black and white, have become disheartened by corruption and mismanagement that is rife in Mandela's ANC. "Helping old people, who are probably the same age as Mandela, made me feel that I'm doing something meaningful. I felt proudly South African," said Molefe.

"It feels good to do something for other people." After doing her bit, Molefe headed to the hospital were Mandela has spent 41 days under intensive care.

Outside the hospital Molefe and members of her school choir spent an hour singing spirited hymns and traditional birthday songs.


Over 1.1 m Brazilians murdered in 30 years

BRAZIL : More than one million people were murdered in Brazil between 1980 and 2011, making it the world's seventh most violent country, a survey showed Thursday.

During the period, homicides soared 132 percent to claim 1,145,208 lives, from a rate of 11.5 murders for 100,000 inhabitants in 1980 to 27 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the Map of Violence report, Among those aged between 14 and 25, homicides skyrocketed 326 percent to reach 53 per 100,000 inhabitants, said the study published by the Latin American Studies Center (Cebela).

In 2011, Brazil, now home to 194 million people, recorded 51,198 homicides, ranked seventh among the world's most violent nations after El Salvador, the US Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala.

From 2007, the study highlighted a resumption of a surge in violence after a drop in the previous decade, attributed mainly to public disarmament policies.

The survey showed that violence in Brazil, once concentrated in major metropolitan areas such as Sao Paulo and Rio, has spread nationwide over the past 10 years to the hinterland of most states, especially in the north, a trend that coincides with the expansion of new economic hubs.


More US spy revelations promised in journalist's book

US: An upcoming book by Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who was among the first to reveal details of the US government's vast surveillance programmes, promises fresh revelations, his publisher said Thursday.

The book by Greenwald -- the investigative reporter who published documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor -- is to be published next March, said Metropolitan Books, a unit of the Macmillan group.

The book, as yet untitled, will contain "new revelations exposing the extraordinary cooperation of private industry and the far-reaching consequences of the government's programme, both domestically and abroad," a statement by the publisher said.

Greenwald's articles in Britain's The Guardian and reports published at the same time by the Washington Post disclosed details of the PRISM programme, in which the NSA acquired data from Internet giants like Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

Both reports used documents from Snowden, a former NSA IT specialist with access to classified materials who is now holed up at Moscow's airport after fleeing US espionage charges.

The reports said the NSA had direct access to the servers of the major Internet firms and could track an individual's web presence via audio, video, photographs and emails.


Egyptian Islamists broach EU mediation to reinstate Morsi

EGYPT : Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would accept EU mediation in talks to restore ousted President Mohamed Morsi, even briefly before new elections, but is still planning sustained protests, officials said on Thursday.

Brotherhood officials who met EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and envoy Bernardino Leon said they believe European Union mediation could eventually lay the groundwork for a roadmap to restore Morsi's presidency before an election.

The military, which formally handed power to a transitional government after overthrowing Morsi on July 3, has rejected any such outcome.

Gehad El-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official, said he had met Leon at a Cairo square where the Islamists have been staging a sit-in demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

"The discussion with Bernardino was on how to prepare talks," he said.

"Restoring legitimacy is non-negotiable," he said of Morsi's election as president and of the constitution and senate, which the army suspended when it toppled him.

Senior Brotherhood official Amr Darrag, who served as Morsi's International Cooperation Minister, said he had separately met Leon several days before Ashton visited Cairo on Wednesday.

"He called me, through a Western ambassador. The main purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm," Darrag said.

Leon "expressed aspirations that we get involved in the political process, political discussion".

At that meeting, and later with Ashton, Darrag said he told the diplomats it was "impossible to get engaged in the political process under the rules of a military coup".

The military, which took charge after a popular revolt overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, had also overseen the June 2012 elections that brought Morsi to power.

"We made it clear: our position is to reinstate legitimacy. We will be flexible in discussing anything after legitimacy is restored," he said, referring to an early election among the options.

The Brotherhood believes a growing campaign of protests could eventually force the military to reinstate Morsi, he added. "I don't think the issue will be resolved through international mediation," he said.

"People are increasing on the street," Darrag said of Brotherhood-led protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement. "The military will definitely keep making mistakes, and definitely more people will come to our side," he added.


Palestinians rebuff US peace talks blueprint

RAMALLAH: US Secretary of State John Kerry was Friday preparing to leave the Middle East as Palestinian leaders rejected his plan to resume the stalled peace talks.

The setback for the US plan came from the governing Revolutionary Council of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's own Fatah movement, which demanded changes.

The broader Palestine Liberation Organisation, which also includes leftwing factions less sympathetic towards a compromise, said it was also drawing up a formal response to Kerry's proposals.

Palestinian member of parliament Mustafa Barghuti said "most factions" within the PLO had rejected Kerry's proposal.

"It is appropriate and encouraging that there is such a serious debate about these issues," a senior State Department official said in a statement in the early hours of Friday morning.

While Washington understood that "there are many strongly held views and appreciate efforts to find a basis to move forward," the top US diplomat would go ahead with plans to leave on Friday.

"During the leadership meeting... most of the Palestinian factions... rejected restarting peace talks based on Kerry's proposals," Barghuti said.

PLO executive committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said the Palestinian leadership had "decided to form a committee to respond to Kerry's proposals." "Kerry did not present guarantees to stop settlement building, nor base (peace talks) on 1967 borders," he said.

Kerry's plan would have seen Israel, now ruled by a coalition that has tilted sharply to the right after elections early this year, make only a tacit commitment to slow settlement construction in the occupied territories, not the publicly announced freeze long demanded by Abbas.

On Wednesday, the US envoy had expressed cautious optimism that he was making progress towards a deal to restart talks after his proposals were endorsed by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and senior Gulf Arab diplomats.

But even he had acknowledged that there were still differences over "the language" governing any resumption of talks.

A senior Fatah official said the party wanted changes to what Abbas had agreed. "Fatah wants to make some alterations to Kerry's plan... because the proposed ideas are not encouraging for a return to negotiations," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The announcement came after two rounds of intensive talks between Kerry and Abbas, who is also Fatah leader.

It was the top US diplomat's sixth visit to the region since he took office in February, to try to broker a compromise to allow a resumption of direct peace talks that have been frozen by Israel's refusal to agree to a new suspension of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Israel had rejected Palestinian demands for a publicly stated freeze to all settlement construction in the occupied territories as a condition for resuming talks, and Abbas and his negotiating team had referred the idea to his party leadership.

US President Barack Obama on Thursday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume negotiations with the Palestinians "as soon as possible," the White House said.

"The president encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible," the White House said in a statement, after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

The US State Department had earlier acknowledged Kerry was unlikely to be able to announce a breakthrough.

"There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Kerry on Wednesday had been hopeful of progress.

"Through hard and deliberate, patient work, and most importantly through quiet work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly," he told reporters. "We continue to get closer and I continue to be hopeful that the two sides will come to sit at the same table." Kerry's latest peace bid came against the backdrop of Israeli anger at new European Union guidelines for its 28 member states that will block all funding of, or dealings with, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu on Wednesday called Kerry and warned the EU was "damaging efforts to restart the talks".

The EU office in Israel said on Thursday that Kerry, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Netanyahu all called European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday night to discuss the guidelines.

It said that the EU is ready to negotiate with Israel regarding their planned entry into force from January 1 next year.

Kerry's talks also came as two rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip hit Israel without causing any casualties or damage, police said.

Hamas strongly opposes renewed peace talks between Abbas and Israel, warning that they would pose a new obstacle to reconciliation.


Fish and sharks displayed in a fish tank in the window of Sony's showroom

Pedestrians look at tropical fish and sharks displayed in a fish tank in the window of Sony's showroom in Tokyo's Ginza fashion district on July 19. Some 870 tropical fish, brought in from the waters around Japan's southern island of Okinawa, are displayed in the tank through September 1. AFP

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