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  Nation 2  


 

Medvedev praises ‘special India ties’
MUMBAI: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would support India if it ever had to take a hard decision against “a friendly neighbouring country”.
Addressing a query raised by a student at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), Medvedev said, “India and Russia have special relations and it is not a figure of speech.
The decision of using weapons is a prerogative of India... we are ready to help and assist as we are already doing.
“I’m not disclosing a state secret, but when I visited India four days after the Mumbai attacks I told them (the government) a simple thing, if India needs our assistance in terms of anti-terrorism we are ready to provide weapons, modern technology and know-how,” said the dynamic 45-year-old president as he addressed a hall filled with students and faculty members.
The president had requested a visit to the elite engineering institute because it was established with the help of the then USSR government.
Dressed in an open neck blue shirt and black suit, the President was greeted with loud applause although he walked in almost an hour late. “It was not that I woke up late but the airport was shut for an hour,” he said.
As he began the interaction, his only request to students was “not to be strict with their questions.”
The request fell flat when a student asked him how Russia would react if they had a terror attack like Mumbai and if their agencies were sure that the attack was rooted in Pakistan.
“You all don’t ask complicated questions, but extremely complicated questions. But complicated questions have simple answers.”
He did not rule out use of armed force to protect the interests of the country and its citizens.
“Let me not give any linkage with a specific country due to ethical reasons. But if Russia is attacked from a foreign state and were are sure that the terrorists are housed by that foreign state, we will defend our national interests and even employ armed forces,” Medvedev said.
Although he added that military force is not a solution. “One should not resort to unreasonable ways if there are others ways,” he said.
He also reiterated what he had said in Delhi on supporting India’s bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council. (HT)
Rahul exposes Congress-DMK rift
CHENNAI: The strain in Congress-DMK ties brought on by the 2G spectrum scam came to the fore when Rahul Gandhi arrived in the Tamil Nadu capital.
Meeting with Youth Congress members, the AICC general secretary, in a mood assessment test, asked all those who didn’t want the alliance with the DMK to continue to raise their hands. A staggering 80% did.
Rahul also did not make a courtesy call on DMK patriarch and chief minister M Karunanidhi.
He had done the same on his previous visit last year.
However, he didn’t make any comment on either the alliance or the spectrum scam that saw the DMK’s A Raja step down as telecom minister.
Instead, Rahul’s focus was the revival of the Congress in the state, where the all-important assembly elections and the panchayat elections are due next year.
“It’s been 40 years since the Congress came to power here and it will take a lot of hard work and time to bring it back to where it belongs,” Rahul said, adding: “I assure you, in the coming future, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu is going to be one among the Youth Congress.”
Calling Tamil Nadu one of the success stories of Youth Congress election experiments, he told the cadre: “Assembly elections are important, but more crucial to build the party are panchayat elections. I urge you to participate in maximum panchayat seats and win maximum number of them.”
“We’ve been told by the leadership it’s too early to decide on the alliance. Whoever it is, our job is to ensure the party performs well in elections,” said James G Prakash, south Chennai district Youth Congress president.
While Rahul has visited Tamil Nadu at least thrice in the past two years, the emphasis this time was on rebuilding the party at the grassroots level and returning to power in the state where it has been riding piggyback on either DMK or AIADMK for the past four decades.
Rahul expressed happiness at the ‘’energy’’ he saw among Youth Congress members and said, ‘’Youth power will play a role not only at the panchayat, but in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections as well. We need many of you at the national level.’’
Earlier Congress wasn’t very particular about giving importance to the youth, he said.
“Now, the situation has changed. Today’s panchayat-level leaders are the future of the Congress party,” Rahul said.
Heli-hopping to venues across the state, Rahul repeated his call to partymen at Villupuram in north TN and Madurai.
In Madurai, he said TN will have Congress rule and a Congress CM “but not in the immediate future”.
He got a taste of fissures within the TN Congress unit as soon as he landed in Chennai. When senior leader ‘Karate’ Thiagarajan, among those who greeted him at the airport, suggested that the party shouldn’t have any truck with AIADMK and nothing should be done to snap ties with DMK, TNCC chief KV Thangkabalu intervened sharply to say that the airport was not the appropriate place to raise the issue.
To this, Thiagarajan shot back, that only Rahul could convey to the party leadership the cadres’ views on the situation in Tamil Nadu.
‘World’s first’ glasses-free 3D TV hits stores
TOKYO (AFP) - Toshiba launched in Japan what it calls the world’s first television that allows viewers to see 3D images without having to wear special glasses, amid intensifying competition in the market.
But while curious shoppers stopped to test out the screen at an electronics store in central Tokyo as the 12-inch model of the Regza GL1 Series went on sale, there were doubts as to whether the technology will catch.
The new model with a liquid crystal display carries a price tag of 119,800 yen ($1,400), which may put off consumers accustomed to falling prices. A 20-inch model will also be released.
While other 3D-capable TVs require glasses that act as filters to separate images to each eye, creating the illusion of depth Toshiba’s new screens use processing technology to create depth-filled images.
The Regza GL1 Series also allows users to switch between 2D and 3D on normal TV programmes.
Kazuhito Gunji, a public relations official at electronics retailer Bic Camera, said the company had received several inquiries from customers on when they can get their hands on the product.
Electronics stores are hoping that the release of the latest technology will help offset declining sales as government incentives for purchasing environment-friendly home appliances were reduced this month.
The hugely competitive TV sector is a challenge for many electronics makers given that customers are increasingly accustomed to declining prices, making it difficult for the industry to generate profits.
Sony earlier said it may fall short of its sales goal of 25 million liquid crystal display TV sets this fiscal year as it struggles to be profitable in the sector, and has also embraced 3D TV technology in a bid to diversify.
Many in the industry say 3D television demand is being held back by a consumer resistance to wearing glasses and most shoppers Wednesday were curious but also cautious about the new Toshiba device.
“I want to watch on a big screen,” said a 47-year-old man who has a 37-inch TV at home. “I’ll wait for another year before buying,” he said.
Another customer, 33, said: “It’s great that we don’t have to wear glasses, which is a nuisance.”
“But I didn’t feel images were flying out of the screen on some programmes,” he added.
Toshiba says images on the 12-inch screen are best viewed directly from the front and some 65 centimetres (26 inches) away, making the 3D capability less effective for families that would view together from different points around a room.
“Customers currently think of 3D images as just an add-on function... but 3D is expected to become a standard eventually” with 3D films and video titles increasing, said Toshiba sales official Eiichi Matsuzawa.
Haruo Sato, analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Centre, said it was “a big advantage” that the new series does not require viewers to wear glasses.
“That feature could help the product’s popularity,” he said.
But Sato was cautious about whether the 3D market as a whole would see strong demand despite the fact that equipped TV sets usually attract a lot of interest at retail stores as consumers try out the devices.
“It’s questionable that consumers want 3D TVs as much as manufacturers are pushing them.”
“People may not be finding the extra value” that convinces them to purchase the relatively new technology, he said.
Rival Sharp earlier this year unveiled a small glasses-free LCD touchscreen that shows 3D images for use in mobile phones, digital cameras and games consoles such as Nintendo’s 3DS, which is set for release in Japan in February.
Good cop, bad cop -- Afghan TV creates unlikely hero

KABUL (AFP) - Hero cop Homayun is a star taking Afghanistan by storm. In the world of TV sitcom, he shuns corruption, endures personal sacrifice and uses commonsense to sniff out crime and catch the bad guy.
The charismatic character has been dubbed Afghanistan’s Jack Bauer, the uncompromising American police hero of the popular TV series “24”, and producers of the Afghan version Saper are dreaming of similar success.
In a country where police are considered the most corrupt and inefficient of the security services, makers of the weekly drama hope their hero can rescue the real-life force from the brink of disaster.
Training effective police is critical to the West’s strategy of creating Afghan forces capable of assuming responsibility for national security by the end of 2014, allowing NATO to end a costly war.
But Afghan police have a rotten reputation. The International Crisis Group think-tank last month painted them as “corrupt, brutal and predatory”.
Literacy is a problem. Desertion and a shortage of trainers are others. There are growing fears about Taliban-led insurgents infiltrating the ranks, raised by a border policeman shooting dead six American troops on November 29.
US and NATO forces are facing an uphill struggle to meet an October 2011 target of 134,000 police officers, up from the current 80,000.
The actor who plays Homayun says he wants to give a voice to all those Afghans who want to see a better, less corrupt country.
“Every Afghan has the same feeling that Homayun has in this show,” he says.
“Now, in Afghan society, people think the police are thieves. We are showing people that the police are not thieves, but they are the real servants of society.”
Saper, which means The Shield in Dari, began broadcasting on Afghan channel RTA in October and plays for 30 minutes every Saturday.
Kabul citizen Yama Noori is an avid fan, glued to the show each week.
“Afghans do not trust the police now. This TV drama teaches the police how to gain the trust of the people,” he says.
The project is funded by Canada and the European Union and made by Awaz, an Afghan production company set up by French expatriate Christian Marie.
“One of the main aims of this project was to build some kind of confidence in relations between the Afghan police and Afghan citizens,” says Marie.
“And we wanted to show that the police are not just about guns, not only about fighting. The police are also about investigating, the police are also about serving the people, the police also have a crucial role in society.”
Afghan police collect an average wage of 120 dollars per month. For so little, “the police recruit duds” says Frederic Doncieux, an adviser to the television project.
“But when the wages rise and the police have a better reputation, better recruits will come,” he says.
Wearing the blue-badged Afghan uniform that has come to represent brutal force instead of law and order.
Homayun in one early episode discovers an antiques trafficker and arrests him. But the corrupt commander is unimpressed and banishes Homayun to languish in a remote rural outpost.
In another episode, a police chief is seen enjoying a hashish cigarette while his men attempt to contact him to escape an ordeal.
When shown the early episodes, real-life police thought the serial too critical, portraying too much corruption.
Although it appears too early to see whether there has been a knock-on effect on recruitment, painting a realistic picture of security forces is seen as a way to win over viewers and potential recruits.
“It’s a good way to educate people, to entertain. Afghanistan is a very literate society and there is no tradition of Afghan policing,” says Vygaudas Usackas, the EU ambassador to Afghanistan.
So far 26 episodes are rolling out from the first series, but the show’s makers say a second series is already in planning.
A team of 40 Afghans make the programme, helped by an Indian scriptwriter, and influenced, they say, by Iranian cinema as well as Hollywood and Bollywood.
So far, there has been no mention in any of the programmes of the nine-year Taliban insurgency wracking the country.
The scriptwriters instead focus on the criminal issues of drugs and corruption, and kidnappings -- a growing phenomenon in Afghanistan’s cities.
Since Saper began to air, other police TV projects have emerged.
Private television channel Tolo made “Eagle Four”, which shows the daily life of an elite policing unit and is funded by the United States.
Next spring, a reality television show “Birth of an Army” will follow Afghan recruits as they are put through their paces in their first battles against Taliban insurgents.


Pyongyang blasts ‘puppet warmongers’; US backs Seoul’s show of force

China again urges calm on Korean peninsula

BEIJING (AFP) - China reiterated its call for calm on the Korean peninsula as Seoul’s military held a live-fire drill in a major show of strength a month after the North shelled one of its border islands.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula remains highly complicated and sensitive,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
“We appeal to relevant parties to keep calm, exercise restraint, adopt a responsible attitude and do more to ease the situation and contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula.”
She also reiterated Beijing’s appeal for a resumption of long-stalled six-party negotiations aimed at putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear programme that also involve South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.
China is the North’s sole major ally and has refrained from criticising it in public over the shelling of Yeonpyeong island near the contested western sea border last month, which killed four people including two civilians.
South Korea’s military held a live-fire drill involving tanks, artillery and jet fighters, in a major show of strength staged exactly a month after North Korea’s deadly attack on a border island.
Washington expressed support for the live-fire exercise by its ally, the second this week, but Pyongyang criticised the South’s “puppet warmongers”.
The exercise at Pocheon, 30 km south of the tense land border with North Korea, began at 2:43 pm (0543 GMT), a defence ministry spokesman said.
The exercise, the largest ground-air joint fire drill this year, ended after about 40 minutes, according to a pool report from a firing range at Pocheon.
Some 800 troops took part along with 30 K-1 tanks, 11 K-200 armoured personnel carriers, two F-15K jets, four KF-16 jets, 36 K-9 artillery pieces, three multiple long-range rockets, four 500MD helicopters, three AH-1S Cobra helicopters, and other equipment.
The navy is also conducting a four-day exercise off the east coast. The South says its drills are defensive. But tensions have been high on the peninsula since the North shelled a South Korean island near the contested western sea border on November 23.
The North said its shelling was in response to the South’s live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong island. The South said it had been staging such artillery exercises for 37 years and the North was seeking a pretext to attack.
Seoul staged a repeat drill on the same island on Monday, backed up by jet fighters and warships, but the North did not follow through with threats to hit back.
Some analysts said Seoul’s show of force deterred the North. Others said the hardline regime had been told by close ally China to exercise restraint before a visit to Washington by President Hu Jintao starting on January 19.
The military invited students and other civilians to watch the exercise.
“We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came to see this air and ground operation,” Kim Tae-Dong, a 70-year-old Internet businessman, told a pool reporter.
“I want to feel and see the level of South Korea’s armed forces,” Kim said.
“Another North Korean provocation will happen. We should prepare our military perfectly for that.”
Analysts agreed, saying that while Pyongyang had shown restraint this time it was likely just biding its time for another military strike.
“It’s not a question of whether there will be another provocation, but when,” said Peter Beck, a North Korea expert with the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
The North’s official news agency said the South’s claims that the drills are routine were an attempt “to conceal the provocative and offensive nature of the exercises”.
The wording was relatively mild. In another sign that tensions are easing, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had lowered a military alert issued for frontline areas before and during Monday’s drill.
Vulcan artillery vehicles fired into a wide valley with numbers carved on hills below to launch the show of strength.
Tanks raced along roads, firing as they went.
A hillside blossomed smoke as artillery and rockets opened up.
Hovering helicopters fired rockets at targets, and F-15 aircraft dropped bombs into the valley, sending up huge plumes of smoke.
The US, which has 28,500 troops based in the South, earlier warned North Korea there was no reason for it to respond to the latest drills.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the manoeuvres had been announced well in advance and were transparent and defensive, and “should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans”.
The South’s military was heavily criticised for a perceived feeble response to last month’s attack. It has been stressing its battle-readiness and determination to hit back harder next time, using air power.
President Lee Myung-Bak Thursday visited a frontline army unit and “confirmed troops were fully on guard against possible enemy provocations”, a statement from his office said.


Oil exporters’ strategies criticised by think tank

LONDON -- Opec is courting risks for world economic recovery by not doing enough to maintain a better balance between oil price and production, London’s Centre for Global Energy Studies warned in its Monthly Oil Report.
CGES published its analysis of Opec officials’ conduct at the recently ended ministerial conference of the producer group in Ecuador.
It said oil prices would rise in 2011 unless Opec changes its outlook.
The talks gave a “clear indication” that Opec members are quite happy to see oil prices at $90 a barrel and even higher, CGES said.
“Suggestions that rising oil prices might derail economic recovery and that the world needs more oil from Opec were dismissed with assertions that the market remained ‘well supplied’ and that prices were rising because the value of the US dollar was falling against other major currencies.”
In fact, the think tank said, the recent oil price hike had little to do with the dollar and more to do with oil supplies being tight.
Opec met in Ecuador as crude oil prices touched $90 a barrel.
Instead of taking measures to bring prices down to the $70-$80 range, OPEC leaders claimed even $90 a barrel wasn’t good enough, as it hurt producers.
CGES criticised Opec’s approach to market strategies. “While OPEC looks to developing economies in the East for future demand growth, it bases its assessment of whether or not the market is in balance on historical inventory levels for the developed economies of the OECD. This gives a false picture of the state of the global oil market,” it said.
It said OPEC needs to bring more oil into the market to stabilize prices.
“OPEC is no longer producing enough oil to meet demand and oil prices are rising as a result, just as they were in 2007 and the first half of 2008,” CGES said.
“It is one thing for OPEC to have pursued ever higher oil prices when the global economy was growing at a rate of 5 percent per annum, it is quite another when the world is struggling to emerge from recession.” Oil producers at large, CGES said, “ought to be worried about undermining oil demand growth.”
The centre, which backs up its conclusions with researched data, warned that “higher oil prices risk jeopardizing the economic recovery and are already contributing to rising inflation.”
It said: “The governments of oil consuming countries have yet to raise any protest, though, because high oil prices are also helping their own renewable energy and conservation policies, while the oil industry is as happy as OPEC with high prices.”
The centre pointed to inconsistency in the producer group’s stance on oil prices.
“OPEC’s view of a ‘fair’ price for oil seems, once again, to be rising as actual prices rise,” CGES said.
“Unless OPEC’s sentiment changes, or the global economy slows dramatically once again, the world is set for higher oil prices next year.” - UPI


Dubai to face oversupply of malls
DUBAI (AFP) - Dubai malls will have too many shops for rent and too few tourist shoppers by 2013, a report said.
“Dubai shopping mall space is set to increase by approximately 30 percent between 2010 and 2013,” global real estate consultants Colliers International said in a report.
The market will see an oversupply of over one million square metres (10.8 million square feet) of gross leasable area in 2013, it said.
“While the Dubai retail sector does benefit from strong tourist demand, the fallout from the global financial crisis is likely to have a dampening effect on this external demand,” it added.
The report said neighbouring Abu Dhabi’s retail sector, which remains undersupplied in leasable areas, is likely to see an increase to 874,500 square metres (9.4 million square feet) in 2013, and almost 1.1 million square metres (11.8 million square feet) in 2015.
“The Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets remain upbeat,” the report said.
It noted that Dubai has established itself as a “global retail platform and entry point for international brands into the region,” while oil-rich Abu Dhabi has a significant forthcoming supply of retail space combined with a strong domestic consumer purchasing power.
Dubai has emerged as a regional hub for trade and tourism, with billions of dollars invested in large and modern malls, featuring tourist attractions like an indoor ski slope and a giant aquarium.
The global financial crisis dealt a severe blow to Dubai’s economy, bringing its rapidly growing property sector to a virtual standstill, but tourism and trade are touted to be leading the economic recovery.
Biting winters driven by global warming
PARIS (AFP) - Counter-intuitive but true, say scientists: a string of freezing European winters scattered over the last decade has been driven in large part by global warming.
The culprit, according to a new study, is the Arctic’s receding surface ice, which at current rates of decline could to disappear entirely during summer months by century’s end.
The mechanism uncovered triples the chances that future winters in Europe and north Asia will be similarly inclement, the study reports.
Bitingly cold weather wreaked havoc across Europe in the winter months of 2005-2006, dumping snow in southern Spain and plunging eastern Europe and Russia into an unusually -- and deadly -- deep freeze.
Another sustained cold streak in 2009-2010, gave Britain its coldest winter in 14 years, and wreaked transportation havoc across the continent. This year seems poised to deliver a repeat performance.
At first glance, this flurry of frostiness would seem to be at odds with standard climate change scenarios in which Earth’s temperature steadily rises, possibly by as much as five or six degrees Celsius (9.0 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.
Climate sceptics who question the gravity of global warming or that humans are to blame point to the deep chills as confirmation of their doubts.
Such assertions, counter scientists, mistakenly conflate the long-term patterns of climate with the short-term vagaries of weather, and ignore regional variation in climate change impacts.
New research, however, goes further, showing that global warming has actually contributed to Europe’s winter blues.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic -- increasing at two to three times the global average -- have peeled back the region’s floating ice cover by 20 percent over the last three decades.
This has allowed more of the Sun’s radiative force to be absorbed by dark-blue sea rather than bounced back into space by reflective ice and snow, accelerating the warming process.
More critically for weather patterns, it has also created a massive source of heat during the winter months.
“Say the ocean is at zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit),” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
“That is a lot warmer than the overlying air in the polar area in winter, so you get a major heat flow heating up the atmosphere from below which you don’t have when it is covered by ice. That’s a massive change,” he said.
The result, according to a modelling study published earlier this month the Journal of Geophysical Research, is a strong high-pressure system over the newly-exposed sea which brings cold polar air, swirling counter-clockwise, into Europe.
“Recent severe winters like last year’s or the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it,” explained Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and a physicist at the Potsdam Institute.
“These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and north Asia,” he said.
The researchers created a computer model simulating the impact on weather patterns of a gradual reduction of winter ice cover in the Barents-Kara Sea, north of Scandinavia.
Other possible explanations for uncommonly cold winters -- reduced Sun activity or changes in the Gulf Stream -- “tend to exaggerate their effect,” Petoukhov said.
He also points out that during the freezing 2005-2006 winter, when temperatures averaged 10 C below normal in Siberia, there were no unusual variations in the north Atlantic oscillation, another putative cause.
Colder European winters do not indicate a slowing of global warming trends, only an uneven distribution, researchers say.
“As I look out my window is see about 30 centimetres of snow and the thermostat reads -14.0 C,” said Rahmstorf, speaking by phone from Potsdam.
“At the same time, in Greenland we have above zero temperatures -- in December.”
Heathrow boss to forego bonus

LONDON: Under-fire Heathrow boss Colin Matthews has decided to forego his 2010 bonus following the recent chaos at the west London airport.
Matthews, who is chief executive of Spanish-owned airport operator BAA, said: “I have decided to give up my bonus for the current year. My focus is on keeping people moving and rebuilding confidence in Heathrow.”
Heathrow Airport’s second runway reopened on Tuesday night, raising hopes for the thousands of stranded air passengers - many of whom have spent uncomfortable nights in the terminals. But travellers were warned not to expect services to return to normal at once.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his “frustration” at the length of the disruption at Heathrow, while airlines accused BAA of failing to have enough de-icer to cope with the situation.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Cameron said: “If it’s understandable that Heathrow had to close briefly, I’m frustrated on behalf of all those affected that it’s taking so long for the situation to improve.”
Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive of airline BMI, told The Times the Heathrow situation was “completely unacceptable”. “BAA was not prepared,” he said.
“It did not have enough de-icing fluid. The Prime Minister has stepped in and de-icing fluid has been released from other sources. This should have been possible without this kind of intervention.”
A broken-down train caused delays between London and Northampton and Rugby while a number of services in Wales and Scotland had to be axed. There were also delays and cancellations on services run by the Northern Rail company, while First Great Western and First Capital Connect were among operators that introduced amended timetables. - UKPA


Massive Antarctic IceCube to help search for dark matter
WELLINGTON (AFP) - An extraordinary underground observatory for subatomic particles has been completed in a huge cube of ice one kilometre on each side deep under the South Pole, researchers said.
Building the IceCube, the world’s largest neutrino observatory, has taken a gruelling decade of work in the Antarctic tundra and will help scientists study space particles in the search for dark matter, invisible material that makes up most of the Universe’s mass.
The observatory, located 1,400 metres underground near the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, cost more than $270 million, according to the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
The cube is a network of 5,160 optical sensors, each about the size of a basketball, which have been suspended on cables in 86 holes bored into the ice with a specially-designed hot-water drill.
NSF said the final sensor was installed in the cube, which is one kilometre (0.62 miles) long in each direction, on December 18. Once in place they will be forever embedded in the permafrost as the drill holes fill with ice.
The point of the exercise is to study neutrinos, subatomic particles that travel at close to the speed of light but are so small they can pass through solid matter without colliding with any molecules.
Scientists believe neutrinos were first created during the Big Bang and are still generated by nuclear reactions in suns and when a dying star explodes, creating a supernova.
Trillions of them pass through the entire planet all the time without leaving a trace, but the IceCube seeks to detect the blue light emitted when an occasional neutrino crashes into an atom in the ice.
“Antarctic polar ice has turned out to be an ideal medium for detecting neutrinos,” the NSF said in a statement announcing the project’s completion.
“It is exceptionally pure, transparent and free of radioactivity.”
Scientists have hailed the IceCube as a milestone for international research and say studying neutrinos will help them understand the origins of the Universe.
“From its vantage point at the end of the world, IceCube provides an innovative means to investigate the properties of fundamental particles that originate in some of the most spectacular phenomena in the Universe,” NSF said.
Most of the IceCube’s funding came from the NSF, with contributions from Germany, Belgium and Sweden.
Researchers from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, Britain and Barbados also worked on the project.
It is operated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Scientists produce ‘singing mouse’

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese scientists said they had produced a mouse that tweets like a bird in a genetically engineered “evolution” which they hope will shed light on the origins of human language.
A team of researchers at the University of Osaka created the animal in their “Evolved Mouse Project”, in which they use genetically modified mice that are prone to miscopying DNA and thus to mutations.
“Mutations are the driving force of evolution. We have cross-bred the genetically modified mice for generations to see what would happen,” lead researcher Arikuni Uchimura said.
“We checked the newly born mice one by one... One day we found a mouse that was singing like a bird,” he said, noting that the “singing mouse” was born by chance but that the trait will be passed on to future generations.
“I was surprised because I had been expecting mice that are different in physical shape,” he said by telephone, adding that in fact the project had also produced “a mouse with short limbs and a tail like a dachshund”.
The laboratory, directed by professor Takeshi Yagi at the Osaka University’s Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences in western Japan, now has more than 100 “singing mice” for further research.
The team hopes they will provide clues on how human language evolved, just as researchers in other countries study songbirds such as finches to help them understand the origins of human language.
Scientists have found that birds use different sound elements, put them together into chunks like words in human languages and then make strings of them to sing “songs”, that are subject to certain linguistic rules.
“Mice are better than birds to study because they are mammals and much closer to humans in their brain structures and other biological aspects,” Uchimura said.
“We are watching how a mouse that emits new sounds would affect ordinary mice in the same group... in other words if it has social connotations,” he said, adding that ordinary mice squeak mainly under stress.
Considering that mutant mice tweet louder when put in different environments or when males are put together with females, Uchimura said their chirps “may be some sort of expressions of their emotions or bodily conditions”.
The team has found that ordinary mice that grew up with singing mice emitted fewer ultrasounds than others, which could indicate that communication methods can spread in the same group like a dialect.
Uchimura dreams of further “evolution” of mice through genetic engineering.
“I know it’s a long shot and people would say it’s ‘too absurd’... but I’m doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day,” he said.


High oil prices underpin stronger Saudi surplus

RIYADH (AFP) - Higher salaries and huge infrastructure projects sent Saudi spending soaring in 2010 but high crude prices ensured a solid 17 percent surplus for the oil giant, the finance ministry said.
The government scored a 108.5 billion riyal ($28.9 billion) surplus in 2010 despite much higher expenditures than planned and an anticipated shortfall, the ministry said.
It also said economic growth in 2010 was projected to hit 3.8 percent, driven by a 5.9 percent expansion in the government sector which one economist called “astonishing.”
Annual revenue for the world’s largest supplier of oil was projected to hit 735 billion riyals ($196 billion) by December 31, compared to expenditures of 626.5 billion riyals.
The government originally budgeted spending of 540 billion riyals, with an anticipated shortfall of 70 billion riyals.
But with oil prices above 70 dollars a barrel for most of 2009 against the budget’s conservative projection of about $50, Riyadh has a huge cushion to keep pushing its 2009-2014 development programme worth more than $700 billion.
The ministry said the spending surge reflected increased salaries and bonuses for civil servants, university staff and the military, and greater spending on developing Mecca, Medina and other Islamic holy sites.
But it also came from massive expansions of rail and air infrastructure, universities, health care facilities and other public service sectors.
“The government expanded by an astonishing 5.9 percent,” said John Sfakianakis, economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, an affiliate of the Credit Agricole Group.
“Nobody forecast it. My forecast was 4.6,” he said.
He called private sector GDP growth at 3.7 percent “healthy,” pointing out that many companies are still restocking capital after the 2008-2009 global financial crunch.
Nevertheless, with government spending accounting for more than half of the economy, the country remains challenged in its drive to expand and diversify the private side of the economy.
For 2011, the government has budgeted a 7.4-percent shortfall, with planned expenditures of 580 billion riyals against receipts of 540 billion.
While that plan appears contractionary after 2010’s spending, economists note that the government habitually spends far more than it budgets on paper.
“This is part of their fiscal prudence,” said Sfakianakis.
“Traditionally Saudi Arabia overspends on the announced amount.”
Riyadh first keeps its eye on where the price of oil is going before making a fuller spending commitment for the coming year.
Sfakianakis said the assumption for the original 2010 budget was 48 dollars a barrel, and that by the time all spending was factored in, the break-even point was 70 dollars -- roughly the low end of oil prices for the year.
The on-paper spending plan for 2011 assumes a price of 58 dollars, but Sfakianakis projects actual expenditures to near 700 billion riyals. At that level, “the actual break-even oil price is closer to 73 dollars,” he said.
On Monday, frigid weather in Europe drove the price of Brent North Sea crude to 91.87 dollars a barrel in London trade.


New law eases ‘sponsor’ grip on foreign workers
ABU DHABI (AFP) - The UAE has eased its tough rules for foreign workers who want to change employer, loosening the controversial “sponsor” system in force in the Arab states of the Gulf.
“An employee with an expired contract can obtain a new work permit and shift to another employer” without having to wait six months and have his sponsor’s consent, the labour ministry said.
The new regulation takes effect in January and will “replace the current formalities of transfer of sponsorship for expatriate workers,” it said in a statement carried by the Emirati state news agency WAM.
It said the measure applies only if the two parties in a labour contract have “ended their work relationship cordially” and the employee has “worked with his employer for at least two years.”
However, if the employer “fails to honour his legal or contractual obligations” or if the contract is proven to have been prematurely terminated” by the employer, the worker will have the right to change jobs.
The sponsorship system practised in the Gulf’s oil-rich Arab states which employ millions of foreigners, mostly Asians, has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations, which liken it to modern-day slavery.
Seen as the cause of most abuses, the system requires foreign workers to have “sponsors,” usually local nationals, who can keep their passports and deny them the right to change jobs.
Bahrain was the first to abolish the sponsorship system in August 2009, while Kuwait said it will follow suit in February.
The International Labour Organisation in early October urged Gulf countries to protect millions of migrant workers by reforming the sponsor system and introducing a minimum wage.
The ILO suggested a monthly minimum of 60 dinars (215 dollars) for Kuwait, and it also called for foreign workers to be allowed to form representative organisations to seek redress for rights violations.
Immigration regulations in Kuwait allow for criminal charges against workers who leave their jobs, while in Saudi Arabia and Qatar workers must have their employers’ permission to secure exit visas to leave the country.
The ILO estimates 15 million migrant workers live in the six Arab states of the Gulf, making up about 40 percent of the total population.
Foreigners form a majority of the population in all six countries, except for Saudi Arabia, and more than 90 percent in the Emirates and Qatar, according to the ILO.
India, UAE ties on new high after support for UN Security Council seat
DUBAI: India’s relations with the UAE marked a new high this year after the UAE came out in strong support for New Delhi’s quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council .
The pledge came during the maiden visit of President Pratibha Patil to the UAE, home to 1.75 million Indians.
The visit came at a time when UAE has emerged as India’s largest trading partner in terms of total trade exchange in the first half of 2010, with $43 billion bilateral trade, and oil imports by India accounting for $5 billion.
India-UAE trade exchange has multiplied 13 times over the past 10 years with non-oil sectors slowly gaining a predominant share.
President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the UAE would certainly support India, which had the right to be a permanent member of a reformed UN Security Council.
The two sides also saw regional security as an area of enhanced cooperation and to address issues relating to counter-terrorism and maritime security. India has invited UAE’s Interior Minister to New Delhi for the signing of the agreement on the issue.
India and the UAE agreed to enhance the strategic relationship by focussing on areas such as education, science and technology, regional security and many other areas where there is a potential for cooperation.
India and the UAE politically share common perception on major international issues which became more evident during the visit of the President, said M K Lokesh, India’s ambassador to the UAE.
During her visit, President Patil also launched a 24-hour helpline and counselling service dedicated to help Indian workers in distress in the UAE.
A striking display of India’s growing soft power footprint in the Gulf region during 2010 was the launch, on May 24, of the international version of CBSE curriculum in Dubai.
Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal had described the CBSE as an “internationally benchmarked curriculum” with 30 Indian schools in nine countries using it from the current academic year.
The curriculum’s global format is aimed at attracting schools catering to the large expatriate Indian population as well as non-Indian students planning to pursue higher studies in India.
Meanwhile, the fate of 17 Indians sentenced to death for killing a Pakistani man in January 2009 is to be decided by a Sharjah appeals court on December 30.
The 828-metres skyscraper Burj Khalifa earlier known as Burj Dubai, the tallest man-made structure was officially inaugurated on January 4, this year attracting international attention. (TOI)