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Archive for June, 2015

1815 revisited: Ceremonies mark fateful Battle of Waterloo

June 18, 2015

BRUSSELS (AP) — Royalty, dignitaries and soldiers commemorated the 1815 Battle of Waterloo on Thursday, a watershed moment in European history that marked the end of the continent’s domination by France and its emperor Napoleon and the beginning of the British century.

Belgium’s King Philippe led a ceremony for hundreds of guests Thursday, while thousands of re-enactors gathered under the Lion’s Mount monument at the Waterloo battle site. The commemorations took place exactly 200 years after more than 10,000 soldiers died in a half-day battle between French troops and an international coalition led by Britain’s Duke of Wellington.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said “the enemies of yesterday have become staunch allies” and descendants of the top military leaders of that battle joined hands on the very grounds where their ancestors had fired guns and cannons at one another.

Still, two centuries later, Waterloo often remains an unmentionable topic for the French. Even if royalty and nobility from several of the 1815 belligerents attended the ceremony south of Brussels, France only sent a lower-key delegation — and Paris had already strongly objected to the minting of a commemorative Waterloo coin.

Yet one Frenchman on Thursday saw Waterloo as a decisive defeat. Pierre Moscovici, the European Union’s financial affairs Commissioner, said the eurogroup meeting of finance ministers needed to keep struggling Greece on board the shared euro currency. “I don’t want today’s #Eurogroup to be another Waterloo,” he said.

And the Le Monde newspaper, too, viewed the battle in the same light, exhorting Britain on Thursday to stay alongside France in the 28-nation EU. “We solemnly say to our friends across the Channel: beware, Brexit could be your Waterloo!”

To Britain, though, Waterloo is nothing but a glorious victory. Prince Charles came to the battlefield on Wednesday, then was joined by Prime Minister David Cameron at a Waterloo commemorative service Thursday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Descendants of those who fought, including the 9th Duke of Wellington, also marked the occasion at a service, which featured readings of extracts offering accounts of the battle.

St. Paul’s is the resting place of the first Duke of Wellington. “This anniversary means a great deal. The battle changed history. Had we not won, we probably would be speaking French now,” said Squadron Sergeant Major Tony Gray, 76, of the Light Cavalry.

And at NATO facilities in Kabul, Afghanistan, British and other NATO soldiers also marked one of the most famous battles in history.

Danica Kirka contributed from London

Exit poll: Danish governing bloc, opposition neck-and-neck

June 18, 2015

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s governing coalition and the center-right opposition were in dead heat Thursday in Denmark’s parliamentary election, according to an exit poll by broadcaster TV2.

The poll results gave the opposition 88 seats, and 87 for parties supporting the center-left government. That would still leave the race open because it doesn’t count the four seats from the semi-autonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.

The poll was based on about 6,000 interviews and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points. Kasper Jensen of polling institute Megafon sounded a note of caution, saying the exit poll wasn’t a final result.

It’s “only an indication of what a representative group of people had voted,” Jensen said. Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats and opposition leader Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s Liberals depend on other parties to build a majority in the 179-seat Folketing, or Parliament. The campaigns focused on immigration and welfare spending, among other issues.

In addition to the 175 seats decided by voters in Denmark, the Faeroe Islands and Greenland get two seats each. If the vote is close, those four seats could swing a result in favor of either Thorning-Schmidt or Loekke Rasmussen. Currently, the government bloc has three of the four seats. Polling stations in the Faeroes close at 1900 GMT (3 p.m. EDT) while those in Greenland shut down three hours later.

Both Thorning-Schmidt and Loekke Rasmussen have promised to further tighten Denmark’s controls on immigration. Loekke Rasmussen, a former prime minister, needs support from the populist Danish People’s Party, which wants to reintroduce border controls against neighboring countries. That’s a controversial among many in the European Union who feel it would challenge the idea of a borderless Europe. But Loekke Rasmussen appeared to endorse the proposal as he cast his vote in Copenhagen.

“I want an open Denmark, but I also want a Denmark that is efficiently shut for people who don’t want our country,” Loekke Rasmussen told reporters. Thorning-Schmidt voted not too far away, accompanied by her husband, Stephen Kinnock, who was elected to Britain’s Parliament for the Labour Party in Aberavon last month. He wasn’t voting.

Thorning-Schmidt, a prime minister since 2011, emphasized Denmark’s economic growth in recent years. “That road we have steered Denmark onto, where we have a grip on the economy, where there is money for the welfare, if that is the way you want to take, then you must vote for the Social Democrats,” she said.

Thorning-Schmidt has pledged to raise welfare spending by 39 billion kroner ($5.7 billion), while the opposition says that improvements can be achieved without expanding the public sector. Candidates were campaigning until the very end, handing out leaflets, flowers, balloons and sweets to voters on the streets and squares of the Scandinavian country of 5.6 million. According to pollsters, up to 20 percent of Danish voters had not made up their minds before the election.

Left, right are neck-and-neck as Danes vote in elections

June 18, 2015

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danes are voting in parliamentary elections that will determine whether the center-left government of Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt can continue or whether the center-right opposition will be back at the helm.

Both Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats and opposition leader Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s Liberals depend on other parties to build a majority in the 179-seat Folketing, or Parliament. Ahead of Thursday’s vote, polls show them neck and neck, with their campaigns focusing on the impact of immigration on the welfare system, among other issues. Both sides have promised to further tighten Denmark’s controls on immigration.

In a voting day poll in the Politiken newspaper and on the TV2 channel, the government side would get 49.1 percent and the opposition 50.1 percent. Pollster Megafon said some 1,800 interviews were carried out Wednesday and the margin of error was 3 percentage points.

Loekke Rasmussen, a former prime minister, needs support from the populist Danish People’s Party that wants border controls back to stop foreign criminals from entering the country. Some 4.1 million Danes are eligible on Thursday and can pick among 10 parties and 799 candidates, including 16 independents. The vote will elect 175 lawmakers in Denmark, two in the Faeroe Islands and two in Greenland, which are semi-autonomous Danish territories.

Haitians booted from Dominican Republic uncertain of future

June 19, 2015

FONBAYA, Haiti (AP) — Saint-Soi Souverin sat on a bench resting and thinking about his plight after being uprooted from his longtime home on the other side of the border in the Dominican Republic, far from the Haitian shelter where he is staying.

Dominican authorities deported the 35-year-old farm worker along with his wife and four children early this week, leaving Souverin to ponder what he will do in Haiti — a deeply poor country that he left at age 17 to find work in the relatively more prosperous Dominican Republic.

“I’m not taking this well,” he told The Associated Press in Spanish as his small daughter fell asleep on the shelter’s concrete floor Thursday. “They sent me here with two empty hands. Everything I own was left behind.”

The Dominican Republic has long had uneasy relations with migrant workers like Souverin and it is becoming decidedly more unfriendly. Human rights activists worry that tens of thousands of people will face Souverin’s plight in the coming weeks and months now that the Dominican government is pledging to deport non-citizens who did not submit applications to establish legal residency before Wednesday night’s deadline. Most of those affected are from neighboring Haiti or of Haitian descent.

An estimated 460,000 Haitian migrants live in the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Officials have said nearly 290,000 people had enrolled in the immigration registration program, but only about 10,000 provided the required documents.

Many people had expected authorities to immediately start deporting people after the deadline passed, but the government said it would be a slow, developing process. The repatriations are not going to be “a witch hunt,” Interior Minister Ramon Fadul said. “It will be a gradual process, as it should be, without any sudden surprises.”

But Dominican officials also warned that people should start carrying documents to prove they are legal residents, to avoid deportation in case authorities stop them. Advocates for the migrants have criticized the registration plan as discriminatory regardless of the pace of deportations.

Dominican military officials and immigration agents have consistently raided communities with a high concentration of Haitians and detained people based on the way they look, said Wade McMullen, managing attorney for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington.

“The Dominican Republic is shooting themselves in the foot, and it seems to be for short-term political gain,” he said in a phone interview. “Over the long term, they’re going to realize that there’s not only going to be a significant economic impact, but that the human toll is going to be even greater.”

One of those worrying about what will happen is 27-year-old Julio Mato, a moto-taxi driver who says he was born in the Dominican Republic to a Haitian mother and a Dominican father. During an interview by phone, Mato said many people he knows are fearful of being deported, and added that he doesn’t understand why the Dominican Republic wants to chase off Haitians, who mainly work in low-wage jobs, often in construction and agriculture and as maids and gardeners.

“We live off the Haitians and the Haitians live off us,” he said. Fadul expressed surprise at the number of people who sought to obtain legal residency, with dozens complaining they were turned away when the deadline expired at midnight Wednesday after standing in line for more than 24 hours.

“I don’t know why in recent days thousands of people have come,” he said, noting that the registration for legal residency began a year ago. “Who has brought them? Why didn’t they come before?” The program began last June after legal challenges delayed its original launch in 2004. Non-citizens can qualify for legal residency if they can prove they have been in the Dominican Republic since before October 2011.

Souverin said he has lived in the Dominican Republic for nearly two decades and obtained an official document two years ago with help from a nonprofit organization only to have it seized at the border when he returned from a quick trip to Haiti.

He also accused school officials of seizing the papers of his Dominican-born children, forcing them to quit school, echoing a common complaint among migrants. “I don’t like this one bit,” he said. “Why do they treat me this way?”

The government implemented the registration program amid international criticism of a 2013 decision by the Dominican Supreme Court that people born in the Dominican Republic to non-citizens did not qualify for citizenship under the constitution unless they had at least one parent who was a citizen or legal resident. The ruling rendered thousands effectively stateless. Officials said they will grant citizenship to some 50,000 people in this category.

Souverin is now one of nearly 50 deported migrants staying at the shelter in Haiti, including women who are breastfeeding their babies. He said he doesn’t know what he is going to do or how he will provide for his family.

“I don’t have a house,” Souverin said. “I lost all my resources.”

Associated Press writer Evens Sanon reported this story in Fonbaya, Haiti, and Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP writers Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Pierre Richard Luxama in Fonbaya contributed to this report.

Burundi: 100 students seek refuge at US embassy in capital

June 25, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — About 100 university students in Burundi are in the U.S. embassy’s parking lot seeking refuge amid the country’s political turmoil, an embassy statement confirmed Thursday.

The students had been camping at a construction site adjacent to the embassy grounds after their university was closed on April 30 due to political turmoil. Police persuaded them to leave the site and some went to the embassy’s parking lot, the statement said. Four people received minor injuries during the incident, the embassy said.

The students said they fear aggression after violent demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s efforts to run for a third term in elections in July. Landry Ndikuriyo, a history major at the National University of Burundi, said the police threatened the use of force to evict them from the building site causing a melee as students scampered for safety.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said some of the students were starting to leave and that all the embassy workers were safe. “There was no violent action against the embassy. This wasn’t directed at the United States,” Kirby told reporters. “There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever.”

At least 77 people have died in street protests against Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in the July 15 presidential elections, according to rights activists. Also Thursday, Burundi’s second vice president said he fled the country fearing for his life after opposing the president’s controversial effort to extend his time in power that sparked off violent protests in the capital in recent weeks.

Gervais Rufyikiri, who went to Belgium last week, said in an interview on Radio France International that he has not officially resigned. He is the most senior government official to publicly oppose Nkurunziza’s efforts to stay in power. Dozens of opposition and civil society activists, government officials and journalists have gone into exile after opposing the president’s candidacy for another term.

Critics say Nkurunziza’s push for another term violates the two-term limit for presidents set by the constitution. The street protests started April 26, after the announcement of Nkurunziza’s candidacy. The demonstrations triggered an attempted coup in mid-May that was quickly put down.

Moon engulfed in permanent, lopsided dust cloud

Boulder CO (SPX)

Jun 22, 2015

The moon is engulfed in a permanent but lopsided dust cloud that increases in density when annual events like the Geminids spew shooting stars, according to a new study led by University of Colorado Boulder.

The cloud is made up primarily of tiny dust grains kicked up from the moon’s surface by the impact of high-speed, interplanetary dust particles, said CU-Boulder physics Professor Mihaly Horanyi. A single dust particle from a comet striking the moon’s surface lofts thousands of smaller dust specks into the airless environment, and the lunar cloud is maintained by regular impacts from such particles, said Horanyi, also a research associate at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

The cloud was discovered using data from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, which launched in September 2013 and orbited the moon for about six months. A detector on board called the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) designed and built by CU-Boulder charted more than 140,000 impacts during the six-month mission.

“Identifying this permanent dust cloud engulfing the moon was a nice gift from this mission,” said Horanyi, the principal investigator on LDEX and lead study author. “We can carry these findings over to studies of other airless planetary objects like the moons of other planets and asteroids.”

A paper on the subject appears in Nature. Co-authors include Jamey Szalay, Sascha Kempf, Eberhard Grun and Zoltan Sternovsky from CU-Boulder, Juergen Schmidt from the University Oulu in Finland and Ralf Srama from the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

Horanyi said the first hints of a cloud of dust around the moon came in the late 1960s when NASA cameras aboard unmanned moon landers captured a bright glow during lunar sunsets. Several years later, Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon reported a significant glow above the lunar surface when approaching sunrise, a phenomenon which was brighter than what the sun alone should have been able to generate at that location.

Since the new findings don’t square with the Apollo reports of a thicker, higher dust cloud, conditions back then may have been somewhat different, said Horanyi. The dust on the moon – which is dark and sticky and regularly dirtied the suits of moonwalking astronauts – was created over several billion years as interplanetary dust particles incessantly pounded the rocky lunar surface.

Knowledge of the dusty environments in space has practical applications, said Horanyi. Knowing where the dust is and where it is headed in the solar system, for example, could help mitigate hazards for future human exploration, including dust particles damaging spacecraft or harming astronauts.

Many of the cometary dust particles impacting the lunar surface are traveling at thousands of miles per hour in a retrograde, or counterclockwise orbit around the sun – the opposite orbital direction of the solar system’s planets. This causes high-speed, near head-on collisions with the dust particles and the moon’s leading surface as the Earth-moon system travel together around the sun, said Horanyi.

The Geminid meteor showers occur each December when Earth plows through a cloud of debris from an oddball object called Phaethon, which some astronomers describe as a cross between an asteroid and a comet. “When these ‘beams’ we see from meteors at night hit the moon at the right time and place, we see the cloud density above the moon skyrocket for a few days,” said Horanyi.

Horanyi also is the principal investigator on a CU-Boulder student dust-counting instrument on board NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that will whip by Pluto on July 14 after a journey of more than nine years.

Source: Moon Daily.


Dissolving Titan

Paris (ESA)

Jun 22, 2015

Saturn’s moon Titan is home to seas and lakes filled with liquid hydrocarbons, but what makes the depressions they lie in? A new study suggests that the moon’s surface dissolves in a similar process that creates sinkholes on Earth.

Apart from Earth, Titan is the only body in the Solar System known to possess surface lakes and seas, as seen by the international Cassini mission. But at roughly -180 C, the surface of Titan is very cold and liquid methane and ethane, rather than water, dominate the ‘hydrological’ cycle.

Indeed, methane and ethane-filled topographic depressions are distinctive features near the moon’s poles. Two forms have been identified by Cassini. There are vast seas several hundred kilometers across and up to several hundred meters deep, fed by river-like dendritic channels. Then there are numerous smaller, shallower lakes, with rounded edges and steep walls, and generally found in flat areas. Many empty depressions are also observed.

The lakes are generally not associated with rivers, and are thought fill up by rainfall and liquids flooding up from underneath. Some of the lakes fill and dry out again during the 30-year seasonal cycle on Saturn and Titan.

But quite how the depressions hosting the lakes came about in the first place is poorly understood.

A team of scientists have turned to home for the answer and discovered that Titan’s lakes are reminiscent of ‘karstic’ landforms seen on Earth. These are terrestrial landscapes that result from erosion of soluble rocks such as limestone and gypsum in groundwater and rainfall percolating through rocks. Over time, this leads to features including sinkholes and caves under humid climates, and salt-pans under more arid climates.

The rate of erosion depends on factors such as the chemistry of the rocks, the rainfall rate and the surface temperature. While all of these aspects clearly differ between Titan and Earth, the underlying process may be surprisingly similar.

A team lead by ESA’s Thomas Cornet calculated how long it would take for patches of Titan’s surface to dissolve to create these features. They assumed that the surface is covered in solid organic material, and that the main dissolving agent is liquid hydrocarbons, and took into account present-day models of Titan’s climate.

The scientists found that it would take around 50 million years to create a 100 m-deep depression at Titan’s relatively rainy high polar latitudes, consistent with the youthful age of the moon’s surface.

“We compared the erosion rates of organics in liquid hydrocarbons on Titan with those of carbonate and evaporite minerals in liquid water on Earth,” describes Thomas.

“We found that the dissolution process occurs on Titan some 30 times slower than on Earth due to the longer length of Titan’s year and the fact it only rains during Titan summer.

“Nevertheless, we believe that dissolution is a major cause of landscape evolution on Titan, and could be the origin of its lakes.”

In addition, the scientists calculated how long it would take to form lake depressions at lower latitudes, where the rainfall is reduced. The much longer timescale of 375 million years is consistent with the relative absence of depressions in these geographical locations.

“Of course, there are a few uncertainties: the composition of Titan’s surface is not that well constrained, and neither are the long-term precipitation patterns, but our calculations are still consistent with the features we see today on Titan’s relatively youthful billion-year-old surface,” says Thomas.

“By comparing Titan’s surface features with examples on Earth and applying a few simple calculations, we have found similar land-shaping processes that could be operating under very different climate and chemical regimes,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini-Huygens project scientist.

“This is a great comparative study between our home planet and a dynamic world more than a billion kilometers away in the outer Solar System.”

Source: Saturn Daily.


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