|US moves to
overturn ban on cluster bombs
|Cluster bombs are widely deemed inherently
indiscriminate weapons, but the US aims to torpedo
US is leading an effort to water down an
international ban on cluster bombs. The Convention
on Cluster Munitions prohibits cluster munitions,
requires the destruction of stockpiles within eight
years, and has been signed by 111 countries, while
the US has steadfastly refused to sign it. In a
proposal that meant to neuter the convention,
Washington now is pushing to permit the use of
cluster bombs as long as they were manufactured
after 1980 and had a failure rate of less than one
The Convention began to take effect in June 2010,
just after a US cluster bomb killed 35 women and
children in Yemen, with the Pentagon stubbornly
refusing to admit to the wrongdoing despite damning
evidence compiled by Amnesty International, which
was later corroborated by classified diplomatic
cables released by WikiLeaks.
Cluster bombs are highly imprecise weapons that work
by dispersing hundreds of smaller submunitions,
often referred to as bomblets or grenades. Often,
the bomblets do not initially explode, only to
explode later with civilians about.
Cluster bombs were used in the initial phases of the
Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the Obama
administration is currently leading the cause to
keep them legal.
|Mexico helicopter crash kills
Interior Secretary Blake Mora
Secretary of the Interior, Francisco Blake Mora, has
died in a helicopter crash near Mexico City. The
helicopter was flying to Cuernavaca in neighbouring
Morelos state for a prosecutors’ meeting when it
went down. All eight people on board were killed.
President Felipe Calderon said weather conditions
were probably to blame.
Blake Mora, 45, was appointed to the post last year
and was a key figure in the war against drug
cartels. The helicopter had initially been reported
missing. Some Mexican media reports said there was
heavy cloud at the time.
“Unfortunately the interior secretary, his
[assistants] and the helicopter crew were found
dead,” government spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said.
Deputy Interior Secretary Felipe Zamora Castro and
the interior ministry’s chief press officer Jose
Alfredo Garcia Medina were also killed in the crash
along with other government officials and the air
force crew, Sota said. She said a search for the
helicopter began when it was discovered it had
strayed from its planned course.
Mexican television showed wreckage from the
helicopter strewn across a hillside.
Sota said the craft went down in the Xochimilco
area, just south of Mexico City.
“The cloudy conditions at the time certainly make
you think about the probability of an accident,”
President Calderon said in a televised address. He
said a thorough investigation of the accident was
being launched and cancelled a trip to Hawaii for
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
The interior secretary is Mexico’s senior cabinet
position and the top official after the president,
with responsibility for domestic affairs and
security. Blake was Calderon’s fourth interior
secretary. One of his predecessors, Juan Camilo
Mourino, was killed in a plane crash in Mexico City
three years ago.
Blake began his political career in the
north-western border city of Tijuana in the
mid-1990s, later serving as interior secretary for
Baja California state. He also served as a federal
congressman from Calderon’s National Action Party.
He earned a reputation as being a hardliner in
Mexico’s struggle with drug cartels.
Blake Mora frequently travelled to cities badly
affected by the cartels, such as Veracruz and Ciudad
Juarez, to help co-ordinate the government’s
response. More than 40,000 people are reported to
have died from drug-related violence since President
Calderon sent in the army to help combat the cartels
|Gunshots reported a few blocks
from White House
CNN: Shots were
reported fired Friday night between the White House
and the Washington Monument, setting off a flurry of
law enforcement activity, a US Park Police spokesman
The incident was reported shortly after 9.00 p.m.,
according to Sgt. David Schlosser, spokesman for the
Park Police. Responding officers found an abandoned
vehicle in the vicinity of the reported incident and
were searching it “trying to figure out what
Schlosser noted that ‘no evidence’ has been
recovered to indicate shots were actually fired. “I
think, obviously, the thing that makes it of
interest is simply the location, you know, a bit
like real estate,” Schlosser told reporters. “The
fact that this occurred outside the White House
area. At this point, we don’t think that there’s any
link to the White House.”
A Secret Service official who asked not to be
identified reported that gunshots rang out as two
cars sped on the National Mall. Agents stationed on
16th Street heard the shots, then saw the cars
heading west on Constitution Avenue, the official
said. At least one witness saw that someone had
“jumped out of the vehicle and ran,” but no one was
captured, the official said.
An AK-47-style rifle was recovered in or near the
abandoned vehicle, the official said.
In a brief appearance before reporters, Schlosser
said he was not aware of any gun having been found.
|Mood grim over Mars probe
|BBC: Russian space scientists are growing
increasingly gloomy about the prospects of saving
the country’s $170m (£107m) mission to a Moon of
Mars. The Phobos-Grunt probe launched successfully
on Wednesday but then failed to fire an engine to
put it on the correct course to the Red Planet. The
probe is stuck in Earth orbit and engineers may have
only days to fix the fault before the batteries run
The project is Russia’s most ambitious space venture
in recent years. The setback extended a year-long
streak of bad luck for the Russian space programme.
Mishaps have included the failure of three satellite
navigation craft in December 2010 and the loss of an
unmanned space station re-supply ship in August this
year. Officials said that attempts to communicate
with Phobos-Grunt (‘grunt’ means ‘earth’ in Russian)
had so far come to nothing.
“The scariest thing in this field is when you get no
signal back from the craft,” an unnamed source told
the RIA Novosti news agency after Thursday’s second
failed attempt to establish contact with the craft.
“I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt,” Vladimir
Uvarov, a former senior space official at the
Russian Defence Ministry, told the government daily
“It looks like a serious flaw. The past experience
shows that efforts to make the engines work will
Another official told the Gazeta.ru website: “The
chances of it being revived and sent on its way to
Mars are extremely small.” If the problem is simply
a software issue and engineers can upload new
commands, engineers have a chance of rescuing the
mission. However, if the fault is rooted in a
hardware malfunction, Phobos-Grunt could be doomed.
The recovery efforts are complicated by the fact
that the Russian space agency Roscosmos only has a
few hours a day to reach the probe due to Russia’s
limited earth-to-space communications network. The
European Space Agency has now joined the country’s
long-distance efforts to rescue the dying craft by
enlisting its stations in French Guiana and
Australia. One glimmer of hope comes from the
observation that the spacecraft is falling back to
Earth slightly slower than first suspected.
|Western black rhino declared
|CNN: Africa’s western black rhino is now
officially extinct according the latest review of
animals and plants by the world’s largest
conservation network. The subspecies of the black
rhino - which is classified as ‘critically
endangered’ by the International Union for
Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of
Threatened Species - was last seen in western Africa
The IUCN warns that other rhinos could follow saying
Africa’s northern white rhino is “teetering on the
brink of extinction” while Asia’s Javan rhino is
‘making its last stand’ due to continued poaching
and lack of conservation.
“In the case of the western black rhino and the
northern white rhino the situation could have had
very different results if the suggested conservation
measures had been implemented,” Simon Stuart, chair
of the IUCN species survival commission said in a
“These measures must be strengthened now,
specifically managing habitats in order to improve
performance, preventing other rhinos from fading
into extinction,” Stuart added.
The IUCN points to conservation efforts which have
paid off for the southern white rhino subspecies
which have seen populations rise from less than 100
at the end of the 19th Century to an estimated wild
population of 20,000 today. Another success can be
seen with the Przewalski’s Horse which was listed as
‘extinct in the wild’ in 1996 but now, thanks to a
captive breeding programme, has an estimated
population of 300.
The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened
Species reviews more than 60,000 species, concluding
that 25% of mammals on the list are at risk of
Many plants are also under threat, say the IUCN.
Populations of Chinese fir, a conifer which was once
widespread throughout China and Vietnam, is being
threatened by the expansion of intensive agriculture
according to the IUCN. A type of yew tree (taxus
contorta) found in Asia which is used to produce
Taxol (a chemotherapy drug) has been reclassified
from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red
List, as has the Coco de Mer - a palm tree found in
the Seychelles islands - which is at risk from fires
and illegal harvesting of its kernels.
Recent studies of 79 tropical plants in the Indian
Ocean archipelago revealed that more than three
quarters of them were at risk of extinction. In the
oceans, the IUCN reports that five out of eight tuna
species are now ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’,
while 26 recently-discovered amphibians have been
added to the Red List including the ‘blessed poison
frog’ (classified as vulnerable) while the ‘summers’
poison frog’ is endangered.
“This update offers both good and bad news on the
status of many species around the world,” Jane
Smart, director of IUCN’s global species program
said in a statement.
“We have the knowledge that conservation works if
executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong
political will in combination with targeted efforts
and resources, the wonders of nature and the
services it provides can be lost forever.”
|India’s Supreme Court
‘shocked’ by Pakistanis in jail
India’s Supreme Court expressed shock on Friday that
more than 250 Pakistanis were being held in Indian
jails without ever having faced trial, with at least
one behind bars since 1965.
The court, hearing a public interest case filed by a
member of the public, ordered the central government
to file a comprehensive report explaining the
detentions. “It’s shocking that over 254 Pakistani
nationals are languishing in jails without a trial,”
said Supreme Court judge R.N. Lodha.
The inmates are being held in Jammu and Kashmir,
with many thought to be people arrested after
unwittingly crossing the disputed border in the
area, the court heard. Four are women. It is thought
that there may be inmates held without trial in
other states too.
The prime ministers of India and Pakistan said
Thursday they expected to open a ‘new chapter’ in
their fractious relationship after talks at a
regional summit in the Maldives.