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Archive for January, 2015

Rockets kill 30 in Ukrainian city as rebels launch offensive

January 25, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, schools, homes and shops Saturday in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol, killing at least 30 people, authorities said. The Ukrainian president called the blitz a terrorist attack and NATO and the U.S. demanded that Russia stop supporting the rebels.

Ukrainian officials rushed to defend the strategically important port on the Sea of Azov, beefing up military positions with more equipment and sending in more forces. The separatists’ top leader declared that an offensive against Mariupol had begun — then later toned down his threats as the scale of the civilian casualties became clear.

President Petro Poroshenko held an emergency meeting of his military officials and cut short a trip to Saudi Arabia to coordinate the government’s response. “The time has come to name their sponsors. The help given to militants, weapons deliveries, equipment and the training of manpower — is this not aiding terrorism?” Poroshenko said in a recorded statement.

Russia insists it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim. An AP reporter saw convoys of pristine heavy weapons in rebel territory earlier this week.

The rocket attacks came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and announced they were going on a multi-prong offensive against the government in Kiev to vastly increase their territory. The rebel stance has upended European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which the U.N. says has killed nearly 5,100 people since April.

Mariupol, a major city under government control, lies between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to capture city to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said three separate strikes from Grad multiple-rocket launchers hit Mariupol and its surrounding areas Saturday. “The area that came under attack was massive,” Mariupol mayor Yuriy Khotlubei said. “The shelling was carried out by militants. This is very clearly Russian aggression that has caused terrible losses for the residents of the eastern part of our city.”

The Donetsk regional government loyal to Kiev said at least 30 people — including a 15-year old girl and a five-year old boy — died in the attacks. A Ukrainian military checkpoint near the city was also hit and one serviceman was killed, the Defense Ministry said.

The RIA Novosti news agency cited Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying an offensive had begun on Mariupol. He spoke as he laid a wreath Saturday where at least eight civilians died when a bus stop was shelled Thursday in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine.

Zakharchenko swiftly backtracked, however. He denied that his forces were responsible for Saturday’s carnage, saying it was caused by Ukrainian error. He also said the Ukrainian defenses positions around Mariupol would be destroyed but the city itself would not be stormed.

But the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s monitoring mission said the attack on Mariupol was caused by Grad and Uragan rockets fired from areas under rebel control. Rebel forces have positions 10 kilometers (six miles) from Mariupol’s eastern outskirts. On Jan. 13, a bus near an army checkpoint north of Mariupol was hit by a shell, killing 13 people, an attack Ukraine also blamed on the separatists.

Yulia, a Mariupol citizen who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, told The Associated Press by telephone Saturday that her stricken neighborhood had no power or heat in the middle of winter due to the attacks. Many residents had boarded up their windows, fearing shattered glass from further attacks, she said.

Reinforcements were being drafted into the city and the Mariupol-based Azov Battalion was being equipped with more heavy weapons, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a posting on Facebook. Security services also detained a spotter suspected of giving rebel fighters coordinates to launch rockets, he said.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had ordered regional leaders Friday to draw up economic blueprints to put the financially struggling country on a war footing. Ukraine began its fourth wave of mobilization this week, building up manpower for its faltering war effort.

Fighting has also been intensifying for the government-held town of Debaltseve, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Donetsk. The main roads into the town are under separatist control and rebels have vowed to surround the Ukrainian forces stationed there.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the rebels’ new offensive “has been aided and abetted by Russia’s irresponsible and dangerous decision to resupply them in recent weeks with hundreds of new pieces of advanced weaponry.”

“I join my European counterparts in condemning in the strongest terms today’s horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on civilian neighborhoods in Mariupol,” Kerry said in a statement, citing reports of dozens wounded as well.

He urged Russia to close its international border with Ukraine and withdraw all weapons, fighters and financial backing from the separatists or face increased U.S. and international pressure. The European Union and the U.S. have already hit Russia with sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, moves that have hurt the Russian economy.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini echoed Kerry’s demands. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also condemned the Mariupol shelling and what he called the increased presence of Russian forces in Ukraine.

“Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with command-and-control systems, air defense systems with advanced surface-to-air missiles, unmanned aerial systems, advanced multiple rocket launcher systems and electronic warfare systems,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack on Mariupol, saying the rockets “appear to have been launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, which would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,” according to a statement issued by his spokesman.

He denounced the rebel leadership’s unilateral withdrawal from the cease-fire and “their provocative statements about claiming further territory,” according to the statement. A peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in eastern Ukraine, but that was repeatedly violated by both sides. Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed Wednesday to revive that division line but the rebels on Friday rejected the whole Minsk deal.

Senior envoys from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE issued a statement Saturday convening an urgent meeting next week to restart the Minsk peace process.

Raf Casert in Brussels and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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South Sudan finds hope in honey

26 January 2015 Monday

A harvest of honey from the equatorial forests of South Sudan will help its struggling poor and, through the pollination of bees, improve the nation’s crop yields, those involved say.

Spring production over the coming weeks is expected to deliver 60 tonnes, double the volume of an initial batch of exports last year to Kenya.

South Sudan’s honey harvests had suffered because decades of fighting closed off the former main trade route through the north.

“Honey production is not a panacea. We’re not trying to save the country or eliminate the conflict, but we do want to do our part,” Madison Ayer, head of development charity Honey Care Africa, told Reuters.

Honey Care Africa has been working since 2013 in South Sudan, where it sees potential to collect honey from bees immune to the problems that have depleted colonies in the United States and to a lesser extent in Europe.

The charity has worked in Kenya for a decade, but droughts can be a problem for honey-making there so it sought to expand. It looked at Tanzania, but decided South Sudan had greater untapped potential.

Zambia too has developed production sufficiently to allow international export and internet sales of honey from wild bees that live in rain forests.

“There is high potential indeed. When I get reports of honey exports from countries like Zambia of 300 metric tonnes and then I look at our forests here, I feel we have much more potential,” Jabob Moga, a bee expert in South Sudan’s agriculture ministry, told Reuters by telephone.

“With a little understanding, it’s a good source of income… It’s a win-win kind of activity.”

Honey Care Africa has invested $1 million in South Sudan and local farmers have received income of more than $75,000, benefiting more than 400 families.

While Sudan’s oil wealth helped to fuel the conflict, corruption and rivalry that led South Sudan to be split off from Sudan, reviving honey production can aid recovery among the poorest in one of the world’s least developed countries.

“When I get the money from the honey, I pay the school fees of my children. I buy other things like sugar, tomatoes, onions. I keep some money with me for emergencies in case my children get sick,” Lilian Sadia James, one of the South Sudanese beekeepers working with Honey Care, said.

Relations between Sudan and South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, remain fraught, leaving little hope of re-establishing the south-north route.

Honey Care Africa therefore is exporting to Kenya with a view to eventually shipping more widely.

At the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization Barbara Gemmill-Herren of the International Pollinator Initiative said “building markets with Kenya makes a lot of sense” for South Sudan. But she also cautioned that previous projections of “rivers of honey” had disappointed.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/africa/153796/south-sudan-finds-hope-in-honey.

Sri Lanka says military ‘sabotaging’ post-war reconciliation

Colombo (AFP)

Jan 29, 2015

Sri Lanka’s new government on Thursday accused the military of trying to sow unrest to sabotage its efforts to bring about ethnic reconciliation in the war-ravaged north of the country.

Sri Lanka has promised to give greater autonomy to the mainly Tamil northern peninsula, which was worst hit by the decades-long civil war, and remained heavily militarized under the former administration.

The government said it was investigating allegations that two senior military officers were training 400 troops to provoke unrest in Jaffna, capital of the northern province.

“We have information that saboteurs are being trained in small batches of 10 at a time and they are being deployed in Jaffna,” said government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne.

Senaratne said the men had been ordered to carry out small-scale incidents across the former conflict zone to give the impression that the new government had no control.

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena has moved quickly to reduce the role of the military in Jaffna since he was elected on January 8, sacking the retired army general who ran the province and replacing him with a former diplomat.

The country’s Tamil minority voted in large numbers for Sirisena, whose predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse oversaw the brutal military crushing of a Tamil separatist insurgency.

Rajapakse’s regime won popularity for ending the 37-year conflict, but he was blamed for failing to ensure ethnic reconciliation between the Tamils and the island’s Sinhalese majority.

Senaratne, who is also health minister in the new government, said senior military officers had been in contact with the former president’s brother, ex-defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, about the alleged bid to destabilize Jaffna.

He also said the new government would return land taken from Tamil residents in Jaffna for commercial exploitation by the military.

He said there was no justification for the military to retain seized land in the area, where it has established hotels, restaurants and farms.

An army spokesman said the complaint had been brought to the attention of military chief Daya Ratnayake, but declined to comment on the allegation.

The United Nations estimates that at least 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist conflict between 1972 and 2009.

Senaratne said the government was working on releasing some 275 Tamil prisoners who have been held in custody for long periods without any charges brought against them.

The authorities are already investigating claims that Rajapakse tried to use military force to remain in power as election results showed he was headed for defeat.

Police have questioned several people, including the then chief justice Mohan Peiris, who was removed from his post on Wednesday.

The government has already committed to granting limited autonomy to Tamils in line with a 1987 law that has never been fully implemented.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Sri_Lanka_says_military_sabotaging_post-war_reconciliation_999.html.

Plans to Create Russian National Orbital Station Confirmed

Moscow (Sputnik)

Dec 16, 2014

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos is currently looking at plans to create a national space station that may be included in the new Federal Space Program, Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko said Monday. “I confirm that we are looking at this variant as a likely direction,” Ostapenko said.

Ostapenko added that the high-altitude station is also being considered as a base for Russia’s lunar program. “There is also this variant, we are currently considering it,” he said.

In September, Roscosmos said it was planning to launch a full-scale moon exploration program in 2016-2025. According to the reports, the new orbital station will also be used to test manned spacecraft for the lunar mission. Spacecraft will first be delivered to the station, and then continue to the Moon.

In May, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia was considering dropping out of the ISS program, and re-direct its funding into more promising space projects.

A Russian space engineering source close to matter told Russian media in November that the country was looking to build its own orbital station, with the project set to begin in 2017. The station will use modules constructed for the International Space Station (ISS), the source added…

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Plans_to_Create_Russian_National_Orbital_Station_Confirmed_999.html.

NASA Voyager: ‘Tsunami Wave’ Still Flies Through Interstellar Space

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Dec 16, 2014

The “tsunami wave” that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft began experiencing earlier this year is still propagating outward, according to new results. It is the longest-lasting shock wave that researchers have seen in interstellar space.

“Most people would have thought the interstellar medium would have been smooth and quiet. But these shock waves seem to be more common than we thought,” said Don Gurnett, professor of physics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Gurnett presented the new data Monday, Dec. 15 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

A “tsunami wave” occurs when the sun emits a coronal mass ejection, throwing out a magnetic cloud of plasma from its surface. This generates a wave of pressure. When the wave runs into the interstellar plasma — the charged particles found in the space between the stars — a shock wave results that perturbs the plasma.

“The tsunami causes the ionized gas that is out there to resonate — “sing” or vibrate like a bell,” said Ed Stone, project scientist for the Voyager mission based at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

This is the third shock wave that Voyager 1 has experienced. The first event was in October to November of 2012, and the second wave in April to May of 2013 revealed an even higher plasma density. Voyager 1 detected the most recent event in February, and it is still going on as of November data. The spacecraft has moved outward 250 million miles (400 million kilometers) during the third event.

“This remarkable event raises questions that will stimulate new studies of the nature of shocks in the interstellar medium,” said Leonard Burlaga, astrophysicist emeritus at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who analyzed the magnetic field data that were key to these results.

It is unclear to researchers what the unusual longevity of this particular wave may mean. They are also uncertain as to how fast the wave is moving or how broad a region it covers.

The second tsunami wave helped researchers determine in 2013 that Voyager 1 had left the heliosphere, the bubble created by the solar wind encompassing the sun and the planets in our solar system. Denser plasma “rings” at a higher frequency, and the medium that Voyager flew through, was 40 times denser than what had been previously measured. This was key to the conclusion that Voyager had entered a frontier where no spacecraft had gone before: interstellar space.

“The density of the plasma is higher the farther Voyager goes,” Stone said. “Is that because the interstellar medium is denser as Voyager moves away from the heliosphere, or is it from the shock wave itself? We don’t know yet.”

Gurnett, principal investigator of the plasma wave instrument on Voyager, expects that such shock waves propagate far out into space, perhaps even to twice the distance between the sun and where the spacecraft is right now.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 also flew by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2, launched before Voyager 1, is the longest continuously operated spacecraft and is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_Voyager_Tsunami_Wave_Still_Flies_Through_Interstellar_Space_999.html.

Galactic Gathering Gives Sparkling Light Display

Boston MA (SPX)

Dec 15, 2014

At this time of year, holiday parties often include festive lights. When galaxies get together, they also may be surrounded by a spectacular light show. That’s the case with NGC 2207 and IC 2163, which are located about 130 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Canis Major.

This pair of spiral galaxies has been caught in a grazing encounter. NGC 2207 and IC 2163 have hosted three supernova explosions in the past 15 years and have produced one of the most bountiful collections of super-bright X-ray lights known. These special objects — known as “ultraluminous X-ray sources” (ULXs) — have been found using data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

This composite image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 contains Chandra data in pink, optical-light data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope visible-light data in blue, white, orange and brown, and infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Galactic_Gathering_Gives_Sparkling_Light_Display_999.html.

UK Plans to Drill Into Moon, Explore Feasibility of Manned Base

Moscow (Sputnik)

Dec 09, 2014

UK scientists have put forward goals for the country’s recently-proposed Lunar Mission One program, the BBC reported on Monday.

The researchers plan to drill 100 meters below the surface of the moon, explore its geology, and assess the conditions for setting up a human base and an observatory.

Their primary interest will focus on the satellite’s South Pole, the site of the deepest known impact crater (around 12km deep) in our Solar System.

The crater also is thought to contain rocks from tens of kilometers below the surface and even part of the lunar mantle, dug up by an impact that occurred more than four billion years ago.

The area of the South Pole that remains shadowed is much larger than that at the North Pole.

The uniqueness of its craters is in that sunlight does not reach the bottom. Unlike on the surface of the Earth, anything in the shade on the moon remains pitch black, as the spread of ambient light to areas that are shadowy is a bi-product of the Earth’s atmosphere. Such craters are cold traps that contain a fossil record of the early solar system.

Although there have been more than 50 expeditions to the moon including the six manned Apollo expeditions, there is still much to learn, the BBC quotes Professor Ian Crawford, one of Lunar Mission One’s principle scientific advisers, as saying.

“Until recently the European Space Agency had plans for a lunar lander (which have since been scrapped) and the scientific case for Lunar Mission One is quite similar,” he told BBC News. “In addition, we propose to have a drill so there will be new science too”.

The team hopes to raise the 500 million pounds needed for the project through donations from the public.

In return, donors will be able to send messages, pictures and even hair samples, which will be buried under the lunar surface.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/UK_Plans_to_Drill_Into_Moon_Explore_Feasibility_of_Manned_Base_999.html.

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