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
“You all don’t ask complicated questions, but extremely
complicated questions. But complicated questions have simple
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
“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
|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
The actor who plays Homayun says he wants to give a voice to
all those Afghans who want to see a better, less corrupt
“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
Kabul citizen Yama Noori is an avid fan, glued to the show
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
Tanks raced along roads, firing as they went.
A hillside blossomed smoke as artillery and rockets opened
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
|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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
Riyadh first keeps its eye on where the price of oil is
going before making a fuller spending commitment for the
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
|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
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
Bahrain was the first to abolish the sponsorship system in
August 2009, while Kuwait said it will follow suit in
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
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
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
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